My Kind of Town, Chicago

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The food. The sports. The art. The theater. There is a lot to love about the city of Chicago. And I have the good fortune to report on all things fabulous in the third coast for Travel + Leisure Magazine.

With the holidays upon us, everyone is talking about what to do over the vacation. So, herewith, I am spilling the cultural beans on some excellent activities guaranteed to keep siblings, best friends, parents and kids engaged and happy. Below is my segment on ABC’s Windy City Live. And beneath that is a link to my local expert’s guide to Chicago for Travel and Leisure.

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Check out my local expert’s guide to Chicago for Travel + Leisure here!

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Inspired! The Marvels Of Marrakech

I have just returned from a family trip to Marrakech and my head is exploding with color, print, flavor and ideas. Visiting the souk in the old medina is a visual experience like none other. We watched leather being tanned, fabrics being woven, herbal elixirs mixed, lanterns constructed and donkeys carting products throughout the narrow alleys.  These items are beautiful, yes. But how they are made is fascinating. Furnishings, decorations and all types of clothing are hand crafted  by artisans  on site in the exact same ancient  manner as their ancestors.

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The souk is tough to navigate (there are no signs and multiple entrances and exits, so we hired a guide.) Mohammed helped us weave through the maze and led us to some incredible artist cooperatives that required a secret knocking sequence to gain entry. Housed behind massive wooden doors,  these spots had the feel of Aladdin’s  Cave; with row upon row of copper pots, pottery, jewelry, tea sets, leather bags and shoes. There are no price tags in the souk. Fierce negotiation skills are required.  If you ask the price of, say, a small dish, the response is always the same: “I make you good price! You are my first customer!” When your lust list is piled up, a ridiculous number  is written down. You laugh and say this is way too high. They ask what you want to pay and you offer half of that price or less. And so it goes for about 15 minutes until both parties are satisfied.  As the items are wrapped, a small gift was offerered at each stop  for my daughters.

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I went a bit mad on the pillow and pouf front. At the Maison du Caftan. I stocked up on a rainbow of stunning decorative items for my house. The furniture is what  really made me swoon: carved, inlaid wooden tables, punched copper chairs, mother of pearl mirror. Obviously these items can’t be stuffed into luggage so I had to walk away empty handed. I am already dreaming of my next trip to Morocco. Rest assured I will be  organizing a container to ship pieces home.

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Family Travel Must-Haves!

Since I travel so much with my family, I field a ton of questions from fellow parents on how to navigate the travel process. Here are some answers to common challenges of travelling on an extended trip with kids.

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Q: What are your travel must haves? kid travel must haves?

In order to aim for a stress free trip, kids need to be equipped with activities to get them through transit and  potential lulls in activities and depending upon your child’s age, pack up an array of books, coloring books, small games, crossword puzzles, etc. of course, video is essential to nip issues in the bud. It’s always a good idea to have a few movies pre-downloaded. Also, it is critical to pack double the amount of food you think you need for flights, car rides and even a day out. This means snacks, meals and, most important, “forbidden” foods to use as bribery to coerce good behavior.

Q: Tips to get kids excited and engaged with the destination?

I like to show them the map and discuss the destination and how it is different from where we live. If they are a bit older, I think creating a worksheet with questions about the destination is a great way to get them invested in the trip. You can (pretend) to put them in charge of explaining the background of the destination, the culture, the food and even specific activities. I also like to present an array of activities and let them help pick out what we will do.

Sample Worksheet:

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Q: What preventative measures can you pack in case of illness?

Always have a “pharmacy in the sky” stocked with Kids Advil, Tums, band aids, ear plugs, benadryl cream and cortisone. My new must-bring are the Be Kool stick on sheets; they cool the head and calm headaches in minutes. http://www.drugstore.com/be-koool-soft-gel-sheets-for-kids/qxp88938

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Have a great trip!

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London with the Family

Sometimes the best trips are the most laid back; the leisurely afternoons where random wandering yields the stuff of scrapbooks (or, pinterest boards).Having hustled my kids to every landmark last year, I decided to ditch the psychotic sightseeing and spend our week in London exploring the city with minimal structure.

Here is the full story which appeared in Travel & Leisure:

london with the family

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Parenting With A Passport

Have Kids, Will Travel. Just Not To Disney World.

I am one of those parents who consider a trip to Disney pure punishment. Instead, Our family trips (I have 2 daughters) are culture & foodie fueled getaways designed for parents and kids to get inspired and have a blast. At this stage in my life, I spend every extra dollar on international travel with my kids. Why? Wanderlust defines me. Since the age of 14, I have finagled international trips-air courier, exchange student, covering fashion shows for magazines-on a whim. I have ridden elephants in Thailand, driven to Morocco from northern France, Hitch hiked through Spain and stayed in the Sex & The City suite at Plaza Athenee, Paris. Then, I had kids. Glamorous getaways came to a screeching halt. For five years, travel –if we dared-was based on the availability of kid camps. Then, as if by magic, everything changed. Diapers and strollers became accoutrements of the past. International travel was on the horizon.

For the past four years we have dedicated three weeks off the summer to globetrotting. Provence? Budapest? London? Florence? Corsica? We have divided and conquered them all. Yes , the process of planning such a getaway is daunting. It requires research and effort. But, as a working mom of two, I can attest to the do- ability factor. And the payoff. Travelling requires kids to step outside their comfort zone.  Seeing and doing the unexpected inspires question asking and curiosity on every front. Engagement and interaction (versus burying one’s nose in an ipad) is the foundation of learning.

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There are rules. The kids have to try every type of food I give them and cannot moan and complain about lifestyle differences. E.g. eating late, siesta, (nothing open from 2-4), annoying cigarette smoke, slow service. And, before we go, they have to fill out worksheets about where we are visiting and historical significance of each location. This way, they are invested in the trip. This year we have an incredible itinerary: Iceland, Amsterdam, Spain, Morocco and England.

Fasten your seatbelts! I’ll be blogging from the road, so stay tuned!

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Twitter Party: Last Minute Holiday Travel Tips with Amy Tara Koch

(As seen on: http://momsfashionfile.com/last-minute-holiday-travel-tips-with-amy-tara-koch.html)

Fashion File Twitter Party –RSVP here!

Date: Wednesday, December 15th
Time: 9:00pm EST/8:00 pm CST/6:00 pm PST

Your Stylish Hosts:
@savvysassymoms @momtrends @sassymomchicago

Special Guest – Amy Tara Koch, style expert, author of Bump It Up, journalist and all-around fashion aficionado will be our special host, sharing her last minute holiday  travel tips and joining in the conversation. Amy is a trend reporter for NBC (WMAQ-  TV) and contributes to American Baby, Pregnancy, Mom and People.com’s Mom and  Baby, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Travel & Leisure, American Way, Self, NPR and The Huffington Post. Follow@AmyTaraKoch

Tweet Grid Party Link: http://is.gd/impJN

Fashion does not have to be overwhelming, in fact it should be fun!

Grab a girlfriend, a glass of wine and join the fashionable conversation. Holiday travel sparks anxiety in the most unflappable parent. The trick to keeping it all together? Patience, preparation and packing like a pro. Amy is joining the conversation to share her picks and tips to make your trip a breeze!

These parties are for YOU and open to anyone wanting to learn or share some friendly style advice.   We want everyone to feel confident in their own individual Mom Style.

Moms Fashion File Agenda

“Last Minute Holiday Travel Tips

  • What to wear (for Moms)
  • Of-the moment toys to keep kids busy
  • Cootie protection-toilet in route and in the air
  • Bribery material: snacks and games
  • Organizational products for packing
  • Best Carry-ons
  • TECHY-needs for Moms and family
  • Organization a go go-in-bag pouches

Giveaways throughout the event from Kodak, Endless.com, Miracle Body Jeans, MomAgenda.com, Cream of Wheat, Tide, Duracell, Episcencial and Belli Skincare!
Over $400 will be given away during the party.

*Please RSVP by linking up here! You must RSVP to be eligible for the prizes
*Must be  a US Resident

*Entrants must answer the questions asked by MomsFashionFile hosts and post answers on Twitter
*Winners are picked at random by said hosts
*Winners are DM’d after the event with specifics on how to claim their prize

Example:
Link Title should be your Twitter handle

@fashionmama007
Samantha@fashionmama007.com
Link to your Twitter Account (http://twitter.com/fashionmom007)

1. @sassymomchicago 2. sarahmcobb
3. @bobabyali 4. @momtrends
5. @mommiemoore 6. @mellanhead
7. @chelyea 8. @childmode
9. @finntannermom 10. @ladyboarder9669@yahoo.com
11. @selfmademom 12. @lovelimes
13. @miraclebodyJean 14. @cnaes
15. @YUMMommies 16. @MrsScorziello
17. MillionMama 18. @kygurl62689
19. @iheartmarcusb 20. @SuperMomCentral
21. @friendshipbook 22. TravelMamas
23. @ottosadventures 24. @westoftheloop
25. @yswy 26. @echlfan
27. Tprutherford 28. @chloeescloset
29. @StressFreeBaby 30. @adendyut
31. @ConciergeforMom 32. @elyssasanders
33. @runnrchk 34. Chicago Nannies
35. Jbjovibabys 36. http://twitter.com/#!/disneygurl
37. @MiraclebodyJean 38. @bellecarrier
39. jeanined99 40. @justmared
41. @kelsvigil 42. @shawnmh
43. @katrinawilley 44. @SheilaW9
45. kimkbrooks 46. @BugOffChairCover
47. kearnslw

Accepted links may take a few minutes to appear.

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J’ADORE CHRISTOPHER BAILEY & HIS BURBERRY PRORSUM ACCESSORIES!

Add some fierce fabulosity to your look with BURBERRY studded bracelets.

I am hosting a holiday soiree for Vogue at Burbery Dec 7 in Chicago and had the pleasure of shopping for MOI (versus everyone else on my list) for two hours. An accessories lover, I fell hard for the fantabulous studded bracelets and PLISSE leather bags. This, ladies, is what I call INVESTMENT PIECE

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AN ODE TO THANKSGIVING: GRACIAS ACQUALINA, FOR GIVING ME THE GIFT OF PEACE

Thankfulness comes in many forms: Good health, Prosperity, Great family life. Love. But, on a recent trip to Miami, my gratitude quotient skyrocketed to a dazzling new dimension. For years, I took the term “family vacation” to be a cruel play on words. In my pre-mom life, Vacation→relaxation. Being with my children is hard core work. Therefore, going to a resort with my family was like a juicy carrot dangled before my frazzled face. My fantasy? A hybrid scenario where I—a working mama with maximum responsibilities and minimal downtime- could log in family time with a few hours to read, work out and nap. This meant that I had to unearth a property proffering the crème de la crème of kids programs.

So, with an event in S. Florida looming on the horizon, I tried something new. Instead of parking myself in hedonistic South Beach where children are treated as an unfortunate fashion “don’ts” and the expectation of “service” yields haughty glares, I booked a room at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, FL just north of Bal Harbor. This resort -the only 5 star on Miami Beach-boasted generous rooms, an Espa spa and Il Mulino restaurant. But, it was the Marine Biology based program that held the most cache. Would my daughter willingly oblige me with three hours of free time each day?

The answer was a resounding yes. After swimming for 2 hours and collecting shells, we approached Acquamarine. Every mom knows the rules of engagement. The first five minutes are crucial. Obviously trained in the high art of sharpie’s, glitter and paper plate self expressionism, Brette was immediately sucked into the world of whales .Art projects. Shell hunting. Swimming .Lunch. I scooted out and ran-literally-to the spa. After a massage, I took a nap. I read. And, at 1pm, refreshed, I picked her (and mountains of artwork) up so we could spend the rest of the day together. I was on cloud nine. This divine schedule persisted for the entire four day trip. By 8:30 each night, we retired to our cozy room, juices in hand. She of the Macintosh apple variety. Me, some heady “mommy juice”, a Pinot Noir. Needless to say, I will be returning soon.!

AAA Five Diamond Award 2010; Spa Finder Readers’ Choice Award 2009, Allure Magazine ‘Best Day Spa in Miami’ 2009, Conde Nast Traveller Top Spas in The Americas and Caribbean 2008, Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2008, Sun Post Best Resort in Miami 2008, Robb Report’s Top 100 Exclusive Luxury Resorts 2007

http://www.acqualinaresort.com/

17875 collins avenue, sunny isles beach, fl 33160

305 918 8100 Reservations

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TUNE IN FOR MY ULTIMATE GIFT GUIDE FOR MOMS & MOMS TO BE

HINT: We don’t want a vacuum cleaner. Bakewear is a bust. The monogrammed coffee holder for the car (to energize us for schlepping the kids) is not our idea of good gift. Oh, we always smile and muster a joyful expression. But, the truth is that these gifts are for YOU, not us. What do we really want? I will spill the beans on fantabulous gifts that will really help mom grin as large as her to do list!

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Amy helps style Heather Nauert of Good Day New York

Click Here to watch the video of me styling Good Day New York’s Heather Nauert

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