Marriott Comes to the Balkans – Rewards Card is Worth it!

RISarajevoBefore leaving the Unites States, some wise friends of ours recommended us to apply for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. We were already Marriott Rewards members, but the credit card takes it to the next level. Initially, we experienced a bit of sticker shock, but trust us: The $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year, then $85 annual fee is well worth it.

The Marriott Rewards Premier card has quite a few perks to recommend it. First off, the signup bonus. Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. It has a great rewards rate of 5 points per $1 spent at the Marriott; 2 per $1 spent on airlines, car rentals and restaurants; and 1 per $1 spent elsewhere. And then come the perks. Oh, the perks. Yes, there’s an $85 annual fee (waived the first year).

Since we received a free nights stay in a Category 1-4, we of course wanted to stay the at the best, but the only problems is that we lived in Southeast Europe, AND Marriott had all its hotels in Western Europe. Wait…did I just see a “coming soon.” Yes, Marriott was opening its first hotel in the Balkans in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. WooHoo! That’s not too far from us, and we have never been to Bosnia…yet. 🙂RISarajevoBedResidence Inn Sarajevo is amazing as soon as you walk in from the brisk, cold winter day. The staff, speaking both English and Bosnia, great you with a smile and a wealth of information about the area. As soon as you turn the door knob to come into your suite, you see the fully-equipped kitchen and separate areas for eating, working and relaxing. The well-designed rooms promote productivity with large, well-lit work desks, ergonomic chairs and complimentary high-speed Internet. A welcoming and restorative feel is created throughout with warm, earthy colours and light wood fixtures and fittings. Natural light floods the rooms through floor to ceiling windows and each suite has its own private terrace.RISarajevoLobbySince the Real Geek Dad is in graduate school, the public spaces on the ground floor were inviting, feature flexible seating for working or relaxing and a 24-hour Market selling drinks, snacks and meals. He also squeeze in some time to release some the tension in the fitness center. The Residence InnSarajevo also provided a delicious continental breakfast.RIColdFood RIHotFoodIdeally located near Old Town, the Residence Inn Sarajevo provided convenient access to the city’s historical and cultural attractions as well as restaurants, cafes and shops.

Here some other benefits that offset the fee, you’ll get:

  • One free night’s stay after your account approval, plus one night a year on your account anniversary
  • 15-night credit towards Elite status
  • No foreign transaction fees (key for international travelers – these usually set you back 3% of everything you spend abroad)

The anniversary free night’s stay, by itself, wipes out the annual fee with room to spare. The Marriott Premier gives you quite a bit in terms of rewards and bonuses – the signup bonus alone is better than the industry standard of $200-$300. I cannot wait to use this reward in a year!

The Center Stage Studio (and My Second Childhood)

CSS's cast of Annie takes a bow

CSS’s cast of Annie takes a bow

When we first realize that our child is interested in our own passions, the first thought is elation. I KNOW that! I know how that world works, I did it once too! We can chat with the other adults running the program as if we are old colleagues. We know the requirements, the routines, the general culture around it. And of course there’s that evolutionary parent pride, knowing that they must have gotten some gene that made them more like you.

CSS summer camp production of Matilda

CSS summer camp production of Matilda

But then the next emotions come through: yeah, I know that world. I remember the hard work, the heartbreak, and all the things about it that scared me and made me doubt myself.  Is that what my child will go through? How will she balance it all? Will she be better than me? And I worry, have I subconsciously pushed her into something she wouldn’t have otherwise chosen? I’ve certainly taken her to more theater than sports events. I’ve sung show tunes as lullabies since the day she was born. I will plunk down money to see a show faster than for clothes or beauty products (obviously), and surely she’s sensed that. So how can I make sure that she only does it because she really wants to?

Inara as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Inara as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Thankfully when we moved out here to Southern California, I found The Center Stage Studio, a triple threat school in Orange County (Aliso Viejo), California. We have a 30-minute drive from Laguna Beach and it is well worth it for what they do. Triple Threat in that world means acting, singing and dancing, the foundation skills of a successful career on the stage, specifically in musical theater. Each semester a new show is chosen, and there are classes every day of the week that kids can join. Each class has its own cast, and everyone gets a part regardless of their level of training or talent. The mini versions of Broadway hits are performed at the end of the semesters (or ends of special camp weeks in the summer and winter) on an impressive stage with a shared set, with shared costumes, and the kids get head microphones to wear so they can be heard by all of their fans in the audience. The studio provides training, but even more importantly it provides fun and confidence. My little one still doesn’t grasp the concept of being nervous; it’s all just play for her. And as long a she feels that way, I will enjoy every moment of this “stage mom” life.

Scene from CSS's Annie

Scene from CSS’s Annie

And if it becomes something more than play? She has far more opportunities than I ever had. The studio is run by true professionals, and she’s trained by and alongside Broadway and television veterans ready to take a kid to the next level when they (and their parents) are ready. CSS has over 500 students rotating through the school a year, in shows and classes for all elements of performance. Inara spent a week learning a mini version of the Broadway show Matilda over the summer (one of my favorite Broadway shows), this fall she played a tiny blond Miss Hannigan in Annie, and in the spring she will join one of the casts of Seussical The Musical. During this upcoming winter break the studio is offering 2 week-long camp sessions to do a Frozen-themed musical for all the little Elsa and Anna wannabes in Orange County. And for those mamas like me who may have a missed calling or two, they even occasionally offer adult classes. Every city has its own offerings for performance training, but we feel very lucky to live near The Center Stage Studio and will be involved as long  as we live in Southern California (and as long as my mini-me wants to be).

It’s a wonderful feeling to pass the proverbial torch on to our kids. And the answer to the question “Will she be better than me?” has already been answered: undoubtedly. And I couldn’t be more elated.

CSS Summer Camp cast of Matilda takes a bow

CSS Summer Camp cast of Matilda takes a bow

 

 

 

 


 

Center Stage Studio is located at 27101 Aliso Creek Road Suite #136, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 Phone: (949) 305-9758

For General Info, Registration, Birthday Parties, email: csseventskristen@gmail.com

Dallas CityScape Visits Galleria Dallas

DallasCityScapeAACThe annual Dallas CityScape exhibit features over 20 models of Dallas’ famous landmarks, all crafted out of Lego bricks, perfect for fans of The Lego Movie or future architects and creative types. There will also be an interactive kids construction zone for anyone to try their hand at building a masterpiece and test their college enrollment process skills with a “College Knowledge IQ” game.DallasCityScapeGalleriaThe goal of Dallas CityScape is to bring together families during the holidays at this unique and interactive exhibit, as well as to showcase the Dallas community and build the foundation for sustainable change in education. This kid and family-friendly exhibit is all for a good cause: All proceeds from the exhibit benefit Education Opens Doors, a local nonprofit that empowers students to purposefully navigate through high school to college using the Roadmap to Success Program.DallasCityScapeReunionAdmission to the exhibit is $5 until January 4, 2015, and each child receives a free toy car with their ticket purchase.

Education Opens Doors from Jayda Batchelder on Vimeo.

Live Nation Will Open The Music Factory in 2016

Last night at the House of Blues, Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s leading live entertainment company, announced that it will open an all-new, state-of-the-art concert venue in Irving, Texas.the-pavilion-at-the-music-factory-indoor-theaterThe Pavilion at The Music Factory lifestyle center, will open in Spring 2016 and will play host to world-class artists! The Pavilion will be the perfect anchor for Irving’s highly anticipated new entertainment and restaurant complex known as The Music Factory. It was Irving that decided it needed to have an entertainment-destination development such as The Music Factory. Live Nation looked throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth before landing in Irving as a regional destination. The 17-acre site sits adjacent to the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas has proximity to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, State Highway 114, State Highway 183, Interstate 35E and Interstate 635. The proximity to roadways wasn’t the only appealing aspect, he added. The Pavilion at The Music Factory also will be located near rail stations on the newly completed DART Orange Line, include 4,200 dedicated parking spaces and 15 valet stands.Irving Music FactoryThe innovative new venue in Las Colinas will convert from a 4,000-seat indoor theatre to an 8,000-person capacity boutique open-air pavilion! Can’t wait until it opens – live music just got bigger and better in DFW! The convertible concert venue gives Live Nation the ability to bring in a wide variety of concerts ranging from A-list headliners to growing artists by using electronic doors that fold up horizontally before being lifted vertically at the back of the venue to open up in a panoramic view to the grassy lawn.
the-pavilion-at-the-music-factory-outdoor-open-air-pavilionThe live entertainment company plans to hold 60 to 70 concert events at The Pavilion at The Music Factory each year. The Pavilion gives Live Nation the ability to round out its venue portfolio in the region, which is the fourth largest metro area in the United States. The Pavilion at The Music Factory is scheduled to open on April 1, 2016. Live Nation plans to begin marketing shows at the concert venue in fall 2015.

Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy

Author's daughter watches the glassblowing demonstration at the Sawdust Art Festival's Winter Fantasy

Watching the glassblowing demonstration at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy

For those of us lucky enough to live in or be visiting Southern California this month, a can’t-miss event is the Sawdust Art Festival’s 24th Annual Winter Festival. As this is our first winter living in Laguna Beach, we were eager to attend the opening day festivities on Saturday. We spent the afternoon and evening walking the sawdust-covered paths through the hand-crafted village with new friends; the kids got their faces painted while the adults enjoyed wine, the weather was SoCal-perfect (Hats and gloves? Purely for fashion’s sake!), and we all filled our heads with visions of local art under our trees this year.

Playing with the pretend snow at Sawdust. Photo Credit: Mary Hurlbut

The festival grounds have been transformed into a winter wonderland, where 175 artists create, display and sell the most unique holiday gifts in all of Southern California, including jewelry, clothing, fused and blown glass, ceramics, woodwork, forged metals, painting, photography, sculpture, clothing and textiles. The experience is heightened with live holiday entertainment, fabulous outdoor cafes, art classes and demonstrations for young and old, a petting zoo, and of course Santa himself, ready to hear Christmas wishes and pose for photos taken by Laguna Beach photographer Mary Hurlbut. Special activities for families and kids include pottery wheel throwing in holiday-themed shapes at the Ceramic Center, and many art and craft projects at both the Children’s Art Spot and Studio One. The Towne Square at the entrance of the festival grounds offers plenty of photo opportunities, including Santa’s House and Sleigh and falling “snow!”

Jayne and her family visit Santa at Sawdust. Photo credit: Mary Hurlbut

My family visit Santa at Sawdust. Photo credit: Mary Hurlbut

Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy: Holiday Tradition will continue over the next four weekends, including the Friday after Thanksgiving, from 10 am to 6 pm each day: November 29, 30 & December 1, December 7, 8, December 14, 15, December 20, and 21, offering plenty of time to do your holiday shopping. Also, November 29th just happens to be Small Business Saturday; what better small businesses to support than your local artisans? Special community events include partnership with Toys for Tots every Sunday of the festival. Toys for Tots is a foundation with a mission of collecting toys to distribute as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. Visitors can show their support by contributing new unwrapped toys for children, newborn to 17, every Sunday during the festival. Those that donate a new toy with a value of $5 or more will receive free one-day admission to the Winter Fantasy that Sunday.

Adult admission is $7; $6 for Seniors (65+); $4 for children (6-12); FREE for children (5 & under); and $10 for a Season Pass. The festival is located at the Sawdust Art Festival, 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For additional information, please visit www.sawdustartfestival.org or call 949-494-3030.
Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy 2014