On Trend, Not Trendy

How Real Women Should Use Runway Trends

I love fashion shows. And celeb gawking.  But, these directional, dramatic  looks can be sported by the rarefied few that do not dabble in real life scenarios often.

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Runways shows are designed to inspire. They are barometers, not checklists. Stylists look at seasonal trends and dissect them. Then they incorporate these elements of style-midi skirts, animal print, pops of orange, graphic prints, pastels- into an existing wardrobe. An elegant minimalist wardrobe + trendy accents = polish

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Amsterdam with the Family

I hadn’t been to Amsterdam since my post college graduation Euro-railing days. I remember flea markets, cheese, canals and a youth hostel. But, I had to pick a European destination on the Air Iceland route and the flight dates and times worked seamlessly with my itinerary. Epiphany: Amsterdam is what Paris used to be pre-Euro nose dive/Francois Hollande econo-nightmare. Translation? Vibrant, artsy, fashion-forward and above all, happy!

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              A Gouda Paradise                                                                A Canal in the Nine Streets

We stayed in the Nine Streets neighborhood, a shopper’s paradise tucked into a maze of canals and super narrow bridges within walking distance to all of the museums. The Dutch have imposed a law in this district: no chain stores. The result is, again, what Paris used to be: a super local series of independent, shops, art galleries and boites that exude a singular Dutch style. Within moments, I fell in love with au courant designer Tony Cohen and profited from the end of summer sale. My kids only tolerated my shopping because they knew that there would be a reward. Amsterdam is known for Pannekoek, fluffy mini pancakes dusted in powdered sugar. We used these light-as-air treats as bribery material every time I needed a fashion pick-me-up.

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Nemo Science Center

WHAT TO DO

Amsterdam is made for wandering. I planned a cultural activity per day and we spent the rest of the time meandering through the canals and side streets enjoying the architecture. A canal cruise is the perfect way for families to get their fill of the city’s vast history. We took the blue boat tour which, at 75 minutes, is the perfect amount of time. Boats are small and pleasant equipped with headphones so guests can listen to the guided schpiel or tune out and enjoy the scenery. Art lovers are ecstatic over the re-opening of the famed Rijksmuseum. Hours can be spent exploring the furniture, decorative objects and bevy of Dutch and international masters. To perk up the kids, head outside to the Museum Gardens where fourteen massive Alexander Calder stabiles and mobiles are displayed surrounding an interactive fountain that invites kids (and adults) to run in and out of the water stream. The groovy Renzo Piano designed Nemo Museum is paradise for pint sized science lovers. While my kids enjoyed four floors of hands on science exhibits, I chilled out on the rooftop “beach” that proffered a killer view of the city.

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Nemo Science Center,  Fountains at Rijksmuseum

The Dutch are up front about the atrocities that befell the Jews in World War II. It is mentioned often on tours and numerous Holocaust memorials are peppered throughout the city. For a real feel of Nazi occupied Amsterdam, we visited the Resistance Museum. Exhibits document the political upheaval of 1940-1945 with authentic household artifacts, propaganda posters, documents and behind-the-wall hiding spots which echo the chilling feel of the period. There is a special exhibit for kids which showcases the painful reality inflicted upon Jewish children. We were all emotional. But, reality was reality and I felt this museum was important to visit.

The food in Amsterdam was excellent; honest, innovative and fabulously fresh. Personally, I love fish for breakfast. Caffeine + pure protein =sightseeing energy. Of course, the coffee shops in Amsterdam are world famous. I avoided the ones with grassy offerings on this trip. But, we did indulge in the café culture. Like Paris. Amsterdam has outdoor cafes in the town squares and in front of the canals where people have a coffee or a beer and simply luxuriate in the moment. If you are in the mood for a trendy meal ( I always am), chic restos are plentiful. We loved the Lion Rouge and Café Daalder, an adventurous gastropub. After dinner each night, we strolled back to the hotel basking in the golden Dutch sunset. Sublime.

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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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My Kind of Town: Chicago

I am knee-deep in an extended project for Travel + Leisure magazine, spotlighting all that is fabulous in my hometown of Chicago. The best part? I get to explore the nooks and crannies of my city to cull the best experiences for locals and tourists alike. Here are some of my favorite finds.

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Wrigley Field, View from Tilt, the New Attraction at the John Hancock Center

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Caffe Streets, Wicker Park

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Hyde Park – 57th Street Books, Robie House, Plein Air Cafe

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Lincoln Park –  Nature Walk, Green City Market

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Logan Square – Longman and Eagle,  Scofflaw, Billy Sunday

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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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