AND so it goes …

My intention was always to come back to this Blog!
But alas, life intervenes…

New blogging about to happen on all things design in Home Decor over at: Studio West Designs (aka “the DAY job”) – stay tuned this year for tips on re-decorating your home as I take on our own cluttered mess this year. I’m also working on multiple Interior Design projects (including 3 Penthouses) coming up, so all I learn and see, as well as shops visited in town and on travels (San Fransisco, Vancouver, Paris, Seattle, Portland this year) will be passed on!

New business! My partner, Cindy, and I are into our second year of Joue Design, a Home Decor company based on a combination of our own artwork and textiles. It’s looking like a crazy year ahead already and we’re SO excited to be finalizing our SP/SU line in the next few weeks!! Don’t forget to sign on with your email to receive early sneak peeks of our new line, as well as VIP-only Sale Codes. Our blog can be found on our website, or at Joue Design Blog, and touches on all things design-related. We’re constantly being influenced by everything we see and do.

New – and old – businesses have brought us to journal all the ups and downs of being a startup over at our Shoestring Moguls blog. It’s a light-hearted commentary about starting a new business where we fess up on all the good, bad and ugly. And we also fess up to how much wine may be being consumed in the process…

With grown girls and new homeschool reporting for the boys, The Kent Chronicles and Tt’s (Boo’s) Adventures are no longer running. In their place, Tt (now almost 11) has started his own blog, the Junior Food Dude. He seriously loves his food, and this was a great tool for getting a lazy boy to actually write stuff! He’ll even be posting from Greece this Spring on what new foods he finds, and will definitely document the big Truffle Dinner we’re doing for his #11 Birthday.

AND, being the crazy person I am, a few more things are also in the works for this year, so stay tuned!
Great to still see so many followers here on Kent Chronicles, even after all these absent years 🙂

XO Alison

P.S. While you’re browsing, don’t miss my Joue-partner Cindy’s new blogs, the Vancouverite Blog about all things local and her online vintage shop Handsome + the Duck!

 

Cali Road Trip 2009

Whew!

Who’s idea was it to take a 2-yr old on a road trip again????!
Oh, I guess that would have been my idea…
On the “not great” side, 2-yr olds don’t bode well on car trips.
On the “great” side? We’ll never have to road trip with a 2-yr old again.

Next time he’ll be 3.

We actually had a great – albeit exhausting – drive down to California as far as Oceanside/Carlsbad.
And, naturally, wanting to one day achieve a “perfect road trip”, there are lots of tips and tricks for me to remember and to share. Some might be repeated from other “travelling with kids” posts, but we’ll just tack that up to old age.

1. Take a GPS. And train your hubby how to use it BEFORE it’s late one night and you’re driving because he can’t drive at night and he doesn’t have a clue how to work it and you really don’t want to stop the car unnecessarily because it will wake up the finally sleeping 2-yr old in back but you really really need to find the next potty stop.

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2. Wal-Mart SS’s (24-hrs) ROCK! Am I the only person who feels JIPPED to spend $80+ on a hotel that you’re only going to use for 8hrs or less while driving through?? We slept/shopped at a Wal-Mart SS lot (apparently you can stay up to 3 nights free) one night when I couldn’t drive past 1:45am, and were back on the road at 4:45am. Three hours. Done. Gone. Thanks. AND we picked up groceries for the next day all in the same spot. Sweet.

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3. ALWAYS plan to make stops, even if you feel like you can keep driving, and ESPECIALLY BEFORE A MAJOR CITY where rush-hours will keep you locked in for extra hours. Always. Do it. With Boo we tried to stop every 3 hours, even if he had just napped for 2 of them. Targets and Wal-Marts were abundant and easy for a potty break, cheap toy bribe and a kiddie run-about, but next time I think I’ll mix them up with more rest stop stops. They’d cost less.

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4. Check the schedule of all theme parks/activities!!! We almost missed Legoland, having no idea it would possibly be closed mid-week on a regular basis. Whew! Also, if we’d wanted, we could have scheduled Disneyland on a week when they didn’t have masses of tour groups – you might be able to call ahead and check what big groups will be there the week you’re planning.

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5. Plan a “flex” day – or have an extra day or two built into your schedule. Upon seeing how gorgeous Oceanside is (purely by accident), we ended up ditching Sea World (I’m sure Shamu will understand) and spending a day at the beach. It became the hilight of our entire vacation. Surfboards and all.

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6. Chat with locals to get great food/restaurant advice. A few times now we’ve found amazing food by asking some locals (i.e. random lady sitting beside me at Legoland) where to eat off the beaten touristy path. This round was some great Mexican in Oceanside, through which we also found a great pizza place, and through that we found our surfboard.

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7. NO FAST FOOD! While this may be do-able for adults, we didn’t bother as much with the kids, especially Boo. We were just happy when he’d eat ANYTHING. As the boys get older, it’ll get easier. We had a cooler, and bought tins of salmon which they loved and other yummy healthy alternatives like fresh grape tomatoes and english cucumbers. I confess I ate Disney food twice – fish ‘n chips (disgusting) and caesar salad (disgusting). I regretted both and wish I’d brought a baguette and some fresh tomato at the very least. Next time I’ll bring a thermal lunch bag for the days milk/salami/tomatoes, etc.

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8. Hotwire it, baby. We didn’t book ANY hotels before hand (easy because it was off-season, but we’ve done it in July too). This worked sometimes, didn’t work others. After our WM parking lot, we went d/t San Fran with no rsvp and grabbed whatever we could find downtown for $150USD. Ouch. We could have saved HALF by using Hotwire.com to get a hotel. We used Expedia on the next hotel, but could have done much better on Hotwire.com again. The third hotel was a Hotwire deal – nice, clean, beautiful 3.5 star hotel 1 block from Disneyland, for $80USD. Sweet. I’m sold – goodbye Expedia.

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9. Take time to do nothing. Go nowhere. It can’t be a vacation if you’re rushed the whole time, trying to do far too much, now can it?? We spent an entire day in a hotel room just hanging out once. It was great.

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10. Take a chance on something new. Every year we try to see one new thing in San Francisco. This year my sis-in-law suggested the “Exploratorium” and we all loved it! Even Boo – there were so many things to touch and move and watch. We spent almost 4 hours there and could easily have gone another 2. It was a homeschoolers dream, but more appropriate learning-wise for 6-12 yrs old. (Last year was the Monterey Aquarium, which was also fabulous).

Whew!
Well, we’ll see how we do next Spring… With a 3-yr old…

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Other posts you might enjoy:
Travelling with Kids – Roadtrip 2009 Warmup

Travelling with Kids – Extra Advice
Travelling with Kids – Italy

Travelling with Kids – Roadtrip 2009 warmup

This SPRING, Hubby + I are driving the boys down to San Diego and back.
Hubby is trying desperately to get out of actually driving, but even with $100 per person airfares, it’s still at least $800 cheaper for the holiday for us to drive. I told him I’ll still save him money if we drive AND I spend $400 in clothes. He’s not amused.

pic-0142(no, I’m not actually driving in this photo…)

It just so happens that we’ve had to take a number of short trips, both in US and Canada, so I’ve been paying attention to the boys to prep myself for the “big’un”. Here are the top 10 things I’ll need to remember for our drive to San Diego:

1. Small boys can only go 3 hours without a pit stop to stretch. Momma can only go for 3 hours after each latte before needing to pee. That will add 4-5 hours to our driving time between here + San Fran, 2 hrs between SF + LA.

2. Target (with Starbucks!) + Wal-Mart (Supercentre) are good places to stop. Boys like to run up and down aisles and inbetween clothes – let ’em go for it (sorry, Target + WalMart employees…). At one I get a latte, at the other we can pick up fruit + drinks, etc. Win, win, win.

3. Put boys each in a seat that reclines slightly for longer napping times. Leave a seat between them for avoiding fights to save Momma’s sanity, and for fitting their new lap trays to play on.

4. ALWAYS, always have the following handy: can opener, swiss army knife, napkins, empty kiddie cups that don’t leak when they get thrown onto the floor or left on a seat. The seat that I’ll most likely end up sitting on next.

5. Have a full supply of GOLDFISH in all 3 flavors, to be purchased at first Target stop, on hand at all times.

6. Take Gramma/Grampa’s GPS to find all necessary Targets and Walmart Supercenters before the actual turnoffs.

7. For the “itchies” between stops, have at least 3-4 small “treats”, and a few new DVD’s to watch hidden to pull out for emergency surprises, aka BRIBES, also to be purchased at first Target stop – secretly.

8. Momma to bring her own music. LOUD for driving later in the evening to keep her awake, MELLOW for a sanity break during boys naps.

9. Bring a few learning tools for the car rides for “extra fun”, aka School!

10. If all else fails – get out the bubbles.

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2 months to go… and counting.

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Travelling with Kids – Extra Advice

A few more things that have come to mind that we’ve learned while travelling with our Kids.

1. Plan. Have an itinerary. For Italy (and Paris before that), not only did we have an itinerary, we had addresses, maps and photos of each place we would need to find. It was a crazy amount of detail, but when you have 4 cranky kids and you don’t really know where you are or where you’re going, you need all the help you can get. Besides, photos of what your hotel looks like from the street, and a walking map from the train station to the hotel – it’s all available online nowadays.

dsc_9137(Our lose-it-and-we’re-screwed, EVERYTHING folder. It kept our passports, air tickets, train tickets, emergency information, stubs, souveniers, hotel confirmation numbers, detailed (!) itinerary – you name it, it was in what I lovingly called our “FOLDER OF FUN”, as in “KIDS!! Who’s seen the FOLDER OF FUN??? I left it RIGHT here!”)

2. Plan more. I had pre-researched a number of things to do in each city, with, of course!, maps and photos. Then we kind of went with the flow – if we wanted on the spur to visit a museum, I already had the hours, fees, directions all handy.

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(The itinerary to beat all itineraries – even including how much a cab should cost (but didn’t…), check in/out times, maps between our hotels + the train stations, and sometimes what the hotel breakfast buffet would look like!)

3. Got milk? Foreign countries don’t drink milk. If your kids gotta have it, it’s best to try to find out ahead of time where your next milk will come from. We didn’t, and paid for it a few times. Next time I would pre-locate a number of supermarkets about each town. Also, we didn’t prepare for the 11 hr plane ride back home and, so everyone knows, airplanes don’t drink milk. Again, next time we’ll better prepare.

4. Be aware if you have an “Extra Kid”. I’ve learned over the years to treat Hubby as an “extra kid”, who rarely knows where we’re going, needs to have something also of interest for him, needs daily naps!, gets cranky without food… Generally, he needs all the same care, attention and concessions as the other 4 kids do. On holiday, he IS the 5th kid. (Which, you may realize, means it’s never really a holiday for ME.).

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Happy travels!

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Paris 2011 – update

A little bit more research done in anticipation of Paris 2011!
Check out the “Paris” page for the whole gamut. I haven’t figured out how to add flags to my map yet…

During my second visit to Paris, I bought a Leondardo da Vinci book – in French – planning to one day know enough French to read it. I’ve decided, instead, to use it as a way to learn French by translating it. Page by page. Paragraph by sentence by phrase by word. Ya. I’ll let ya know how that goes. In the meantime, I still have the French CD’s we play in the car to teach Tt.

New research:

“the” perfect sweets: We bumped into this place on our last trip – Gerard Mulot patisserie/boulangerie for apparently “THE” best macaroons. I attempted making these for B’s last bday (France), so I have a new appreciation for a perfect roundness, a light cookie that isn’t chunky with not-so-ground almond flour and a buttercream that isn’t much too sweet. My mouth is watering already… 76 Rue de Seine (6th).

“the” most fascinating food market: We really enjoyed walking through a market that was near a mall, a park, a church and a university or Georges Pompidou. I have no idea – we’ll have to walk about and see if we can bump into it again. In the meantime, I’ve come across another possibility (or maybe the same one!): Marche Monge Market, every Wed/Fri/Sun, a block from Rue Mouffetard, 5th.

Also worth a walk is “The Ultimate Grocery Store”, La Grande Epicerie de Paris, 38 Rue de Sevres, 7th.

“the” most beautiful park: I’ve already been, I believe! Parc Monceau was gorgeous, and I plan to hit it once more with Hubby. (I’ll mark it later). I also read about Parc des Buttes-Chaumont which sounds lovely and out of the way – NE Paris, Rues Manin + Botzaris, 19th.

“the” littlest tea shoppe: This one was on my list last trip, but alas – there was no time for “me” things with 3 kids and a needy Hubby about. Mariage Freres apparently is a “tea lovers paradise” with 450-500 varieties and a museum to boot! 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, 4th.

“the” kitchen gadget shop: Passed these two possibilities in a writeup about the arrondissments – A.Simon and M.O.R.A., at 13 and 48-52 Rue Montmarte respectively, 1st. We’ll HAVE to take a look – apparently one of them supplies “the” chefs of Paris! I can’t find a site for M.O.R.A., so I’ll dig further on that one.-

“the” place to find free music: Apparently those “in the know”, know that Thursdays at 12:45pm there are free outdoor concerts at which to enjoy an outdoor lunch break. Place d’Estienne-d’Orves, near Gare St.-Lazare, 9th.

Finances 2009

I have a new financial challenge for 2009.

The last 6 months of 2008 were spent (lol) trying to find ways to cut down on our (meaning MY) needless spending. However, debt still remains because, well, we took a giant trip to Italy last summer for one. And for two, since cutting the cost of having a 2-afternoon-per-week nanny I’ve been completely unable to work.

Looking ahead at 2009, I want to know that we can still do SOME travelling. So Hubby has challenged me to “save up” for my personal list of desired holidays out of my daily budget.

I have a daily budget of $100 for groceries, gas, activities, books, lattes for the 6 of us… Believe me, I’ve been doing the math. I think we can survive on canned beans and salmon for the next 6 months. Maybe I’ll even lose those last 8lbs around my middle!

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This is Manteo Resort – our favorite stay in Kelowna. Generally we end up in Kelowna 2-4 times per year, mostly in spring when the girls play volleyball. While we COULD stay at the cheap team hotels, this resort is actually reasonable off-season if we go early enough. The other one we like is Grand Okanagan, but mostly I just like it because it’s downtown and there’s a great Mexican place downstairs. When/if we go in the summer, Manteo has a boat rental shop right there for our wakeboarding/waterskiing thrills.

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Another tournament is in Bellevue, 20 mins east of Seattle, and it should come again this season. Twice I’ve been out to Alki Beach near Seattle for a lovely walk, so this year if we hit the May tournament this will be one of my destinations. Also because I’ve already bought all the kitchen gadgets I can manage at Sur la Place downtown Seattle.

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In April Hubby plans to take an ENTIRE WEEK OFF to hang with me + the boys, so I thought it’d be a great chance for another ROAD TRIP. I’ve mapped it all out – I think we can hit San Fran to visit my bro + sis-in-law, Disneyland, a day “off”, Legoland, Sea World and head on home in 10 days. Whew! Ya, not much of a “holiday”, but it’d be nice to do something for the boys, and I DO like to drive…

0-maui_masterHubby has a “big” birthday coming this summer which I won’t mention TOO many times because he says it’s starting to depress him. BUT, what can cure the blues like a vacation in Maui?? HOPEFULLY there is enough money left/saved to book 5-7 days in Maui. And maybe even to hit a tacky touristy LUAU to sing in his new decade.

Well, that all would get us to the end of August 2009 (plus remembering to save for GRAD stuff/gifts/etc and Hubby’s actualy PARTY). I doubt as though there would be ANY money saved or left for one last trip, but it would be nice to spend 3-4 days or so in Vegas or Palm Desert with Hubby in the fall. How many cans of salmon can we possibly eat again?? And who needs gas for the car! We’ll just walk 3 hours to swimming lessons.

Travelling with Kids – Italy

“Are you CRAZY???”

As I’ve said, I really hear that a lot, therefore it must be true. This past summer we decided, since it was potentially B’s “last” chance to travel with us for awhile, to take a big, BIG trip to ITALY as a family. With backpacks. With a 4 1/2 yr old, and a 14 month old. We visited 4 cities in 14 or 15 days and came home exhausted, but happy. We borrowed just about every penny and it’ll take us about 3 years to pay it off, but it was absolutely worth it. And, yes, we learned a bit more about travelling with Kids.

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1. Travel EARLY! It would have been far easier to travel with Boo BEFORE he was able to walk, as we had with Tt to Paris. BUT, c’est la vie – we weren’t going to NOT travel just because we had little ones. We bought and packed 2 umbrella strollers (the super cheap ones). Even though they both COULD walk, didn’t mean they WOULD for 8+ hours a day.

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2. Again (and again?), something for everyone. It was kind of hard to find things for Tt throughout Rome, Florence, Venice and London, but somehow we managed even if it was to find the ONE toy shop in town. He’ll never forget the Colliseum (of course – there was fighting there once!), the girls got to do some afternoon shopping every day in every city, Husband got to see some art galleries and we ALL loved the beaches in Lido (Venice). While I would have enjoyed an hour long afternoon latte each day, I’ll just have to catch that when I return ;-).

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3. Mix it up. Like our roadtrip to San Diego, and another trip I had taken to Paris 10 years ago, it seems to work great to mix it up – and in this order – big, stinky city first, smaller shopping town second and gorgeous beaches last. Ahhhhhh. We “accidentally” found Lido in Venice (via Expedia) and it was definately THE highlight of our holiday.

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4. Work your flights. We started out with flights around $9,200 for all 6 of us (yes, they charge something for under 2 yrs). They were on hold, but then I did more research and found flights for $8,800 or so if we left from Seattle. I figured it was a free nights hotel stay, so why not save a bit. When I told the travel agent about the flights, she did more research and came up with separate flights (return Vancouver-London Transat, return London-Rome BA) for $7,000 total. Next time I’ll really work the internet, then take whatever I find to my travel agent to make sure the flight is “good”. She just comes up with the cheapest things she sees, but once she knew I was working it, she worked a bit harder too. Our flight times/days changed off and on, but we were flexible within a day or two.

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5. Beware the European Hotel in your budgeting… I had a pretty well-researched budget going into this trip, and Husband had given me a specific overall “allowance” (then I added about $2,000…). That said, I didn’t realize that travelling with more than TWO people adds to every single hotel cost. (We weren’t staying in any one city long enough for apartments, etc). We ended up having to get 2 rooms in almost every city, PLUS pay an “extra person” fee in one room (Boo didn’t count in the other). It sure adds up when you’re not expecting it, but fortunately the savings in airfare covered most of the extra hotel costs.

dsc_2376(this was the one hotel all 6 of us fit in one room – we paid dearly for it (Lido, Venice), but it was a nice change and big and roomy for the boys to run about)

6. AND BRIBES  still WORK! Tt again was allowed one new toy (again, around $5) every day. He found little Gladiators in Rome, Knights and a mini-soccer ball in Florence, double-decker bus and one of those guards with the funny hat in London – mostly little plastic figures that he collected and played with every day. It kept him entertained throughout the trip, and the only other “toys” we had to pack going was his blankie, a stuffed shark and a pad of paper.

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7. Plan on being in the hotel. With really small kids, sometimes the hotel room IS the holiday. To Tt nothing else really mattered but having time to run around and play in the hotel, as opposed to being told to “behave properly” amongst traffic, art galleries and unfamiliar places. And Husband always appreciated a nap – good thing we always had two rooms, one “quiet” and one “play”!. We spent at least 2 hours every afternoon before dinner just relaxing.

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8. Two words – RED EYE. We took a red eye that left Vancouver at 9pm on the way there and it was smooth sailing. Boo fell asleep before takeoff, and Tt, B + A slept on each other in another row almost the entire way. Bliss. The way back was not a red eye, and it was miserable for Boo. (Note – airplane creamers in a bottle cannot be substituted for a bottle of “real” milk. Lesson learned. Lap thrown up on. Noted.)

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9. Cameras for everybody! They might not be big photographers, but sometimes that one or two shots they catch are great and memorable. Plus, it means even the “trip photographer” gets to be in a few pictures! Tt took up a camera a few times and it was hilarious. Some trips I even buy a few waterproof disposables to hand around.

dscn2798(even a 4-yr old can catch some real memorable moments!)

10. Save a gem for your last night. Every time a holiday is about to end, we really just want to get HOME, NOW. A few times now we’ve treated ourselves to a really nice hotel on our last night, and it sure makes the wait to get home soooooo much more bearable. Nothing like a nice hot shower in a gorgeous, comforting bathroom and a fluffy fluffy clean bed to end a trip on a high note. Our last night was in London and we sure enjoyed the airport hotel – Sofitel – at Gatwick.

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