Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Geologist's Rock Garden

Finally finished this project in our backyard, after almost 2.5 years!  So I decided to stick all the pics in one place to show the beginning to end transformation.

So this is what it looked like when we moved in...
Most of the plants were already dead, aside from a honeysuckle bush that had kind of taken over--which we dug up and transplanted into a pot.  
There were a few "blackberry lilies" which we decided to pull out because...well, they look like blackberries but will make you sick, and we have a small child (and a small dog at the time).  We liked the clumpy grass so we moved it into some flower boxes between other plants.
There was an abundance of extra large flat rocks in the landscaping elsewhere around the house, so we moved them to this area.
Eventually, we got some geotextile mat (on sale at Menards for $10) and put that down to keep weeds out, and then distributed the rocks on top.
Like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box...
And then it sat like that for probably about a year before we finally got some pea gravel at Menards (on sale, 2/$5).  It took a little less than 2 bags. I used a cup to spread them through the cracks between rocks, and then swept it with a broom to get the stragglers off the big rocks.  I think it will settle a little more with time and rain.  Glad to have this project finally "all the way" done!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Why We Love AirBNB for Family Travel

So I'm not sure if staying at AirBNB's three times makes me an expert, but after three fabulous stays, it sure feels like it.  We admittedly had reservations about it initially as well, but if you're a frequent traveler, it's definitely a tool to have in your arsenal for cheap travel. (PS--check out the link at the bottom of this post to get $55 off your first AirBNB stay!)
Why Do We Love It?

1. It's Generally Cheaper than A Hotel
If you're only going somewhere for a night or two, maybe a hotel is fine.  But when we're traveling for more than 2-3 days, those day rates really add up.  And it just seems silly to spend a ton of money on a hotel room you're barely in!  You really just need a place to lay your head in the evenings. For most of our AirBNB stays, cost has been less than $100/day after taxes and fees. Having access to a kitchen also allows you to make some meals at "home", saving money on dining out (leaving more money for beer, for beer travelers like us, but also for things like museum admissions, tours, etc...aka FUN things!)

2. It's Also Quieter Than a Hotel
I once saw a shirt that said "Boys are Just Noise Covered in Dirt".  That is 100% true for our Lil' Man.  So we'd rather be somewhere that he's not going to be bothering folks. Likewise, hotels are often noisy places, close to the interstate with heavy traffic, other guests coming in late,  dinging elevators, slamming doors, stomping around on the floor above you... last week we stayed at a hotel where a swarm of middle schoolers kept running up and down the hallway at 10:30pm.  You wake up my kid once I finally have him down?  We're gonna have some WORDS.  Staying at an AirBNB eliminates some of those issues--though with small/rowdy kids, you may still have concerns about your kiddo bothering the Host, which is why it's nice if you can book a whole condo/apartment.

3. Space, Space, Space!!!
If you have kids, you know that sleeping in the same room as them can be pretty restless for everyone--I already sleep light in new places, so hearing our kiddo every time he turns over (and secretly wondering if he's going to fall out of bed)?  Bleh.  Plus our toddler is an early riser, which means a tot-size face at 5am asking if he can get into bed with you.  Not my fave.  So when we have the option, we really love to have a second room for him--we ALL seem to get better sleep that way. But a suite-type hotel room doesn't come cheap. Residence Inn Extended Stay hotels offer a 2 bedroom suite--generally at least $200/night or more, depending on the city.

But an AirBNB gives you all the flexibility you need to find a place that's perfect for your family.  Kids okay to bunk together, or do they fight constantly/wake each other up?  No worries--I've seen up to 6 bedrooms in a AirBNB.  Our kid goes to bed at 8pm, but we don't go to sleep until if we stay in a hotel, either we have to go to bed at the same time, or leave him alone in the room for an hour or so while we...what?  Go down to the lobby? Or sequester ourselves to a balcony (assuming our hotel room has one)?  With an AirBNB, we can put him to bed, then go in the living room and watch TV, play games, chat and have a drink, etc.  

(Having your own bedroom is also quite handy on vacay in the event that you and your spouse feel like being romantical...just saying.)

4. It just feels a bit more like home.
There's something about staying in a house rather than a hotel room that feels comfortable when traveling as a family.  It's still a new-to-you space, but being in a neighborhood rather than a commercial district feels like you're getting a little more authentic experience in the city you're visiting--you can sense the culture of a neighborhood, walk to a local park, and be away from the main drag or interstate.

Since we've stayed in a variety of types of AirBNB's, I decided to give a little more detail on each type below.

Whole Apartment AirBNB:
Our first AirBNB stay was an apartment above a business in Hermann, Missouri, for just The Hubs & I.  We wanted a romantic weekend getaway, but all the traditional bed & breakfasts and hotels in Hermann were on average about $200/night.  
Our three day stay ended up costing a little under $300 total (taxes and fees included). It was right downtown, within walking distance to everywhere we wanted to go (whereas a lot of the B&B's in Hermann are further away from the downtown area).  
We had the whole apartment to ourselves, and only interacted with the Host via the AirBNB Messaging Center.  Which honestly, for a couple introverts like us, was perfectly fine.  The stay came with free street parking, WiFi, and fresh pastries from a local bakery upon our arrival.

Whole House AirBNB:
We decided to use AirBNB again for a week-long family trip to New Orleans over Labor Day Week. We found a gorgeous condo (half of a double shotgun-style home) that had 2 bedrooms, full kitchen, all the fixins--for about $60/night.  
Our host lived in the other half of the house--we chatted with him a few times out on the porch.  Really great folks.  It came with off-street parking, WiFi, Netflix, Hulu, Prime...and several great nights' sleep.  
The Mid-City location was perfect for us since I'm pretty familiar with New Orleans and am comfortable driving around NOLA.

Private Suite in Host's Home:
For our most recent trip, we went to Chicago the week of Memorial Day.  Hotels were all $200-300, before taxes and parking. While looking for things to do in Chicago, we noticed that a lot of the breweries people were noting as "kid-friendly" were in the Logan Square neighborhood, so that's where we decided to look for lodging, so they'd be within walking distance.  
Definitely check out Hopewell Brewing if you decide to stay in Chicago.

We had trouble finding an AirBNB that would get us a whole apartment to ourselves, so we ended up going with a private suite inside someone's house.  
The space had a twin "trundle-style" bed, where the pull-out portion could pop up to the same level as the top bed, converting into a functional queen for my husband & I.  For our kiddo, we brought our inflatable toddler bed, which helps keep his tossing and turning confined.

It came with garaged off-street parking, was close to the "L" train and bus routes, and there was a great playground park across the street that our son wanted to play in every day.  
It was a beautiful historic old neighborhood with tall greystone and brownstone buildings, interspersed with newer construction.
Our Host travels a lot for work, so he ended up only being there one day while we were in town, and told us we had run of the house while he was gone, aside from the 2nd story (his bedroom/private quarters, which was locked).  

So while our suite was down in the basement, we were still able to use the kitchen, living area, back yard, and most importantly--the espresso machine. Mmmm...Going back to a Keurig will be tough.  
So ultimately, we paid about $100/night to have an entire house to ourselves.  You just can't beat that!

If you'd like to try out AirBNB, you can get $55 off your first stay by using this link!  I get a small credit toward future AirBNB travel as well, so it's a win-win!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Rebranding the FeauxCajun Blog

So recently The Hubs and I took a trip to Cancun, while I was reading the book "Quitter" by Jon Acuff.  Now, I really enjoy my day job as a geologist, and I make pretty good money doing it, so I have no delusions about leaving that job to become a professional blogger.  This has always been a hobby for me--a venue for me to exercise my creative writing skills.

A little history about me: I originally went to school to be a journalist. I wanted to work for a newspaper, or a magazine...for a while I really wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic.  At times I wanted to become a screenwriter, or maybe a casting director, or a critic who reviewed movies and restaurants for a living.  I graduated with a degree in Mass Media with a minor in geology (because at the time my career arrow was pointed toward "environmental journalist").

And then...the internet happened.  And suddenly, everyone could be a' FREE.  I had a realization that unless I was willing to move to Orlando, New York, or Hollywood, I probably wasn't going into TV or the movies, or National Geographic.  I did work as a production assistant for a local TV station for a while right after college. And it WAS super fun.  But I wanted something...more.  I wanted to play outside for a living.   So I decided to go back to school to get my master's degree in Environmental Science, and go into environmental consulting.  That was about 15 years ago, and it brought me to Louisiana.

I'm happy I made that career change, because it led me on the path that my life has followed and I have no regrets.  But the underlying joy within my original degree path was CREATIVITY.  I wanted to be creative and have someone pay me for it.  The downside about being a scientist--while there is a lot of problem solving involved, there's not a lot of traditional "creative outlets".  My journalism background has helped me become excellent at writing reports that have good flow and are easy for the average person to read and understand.  Now a big part of my job is to help others I work with build and grow these skills by training them and reviewing/editing reports for them.

But this blog is my place to just be CREATIVE.  Be that with food or words or photos.

It originally started with my journey to learn to cook Cajun food in 2008.  But over the last decade, this blog has changed, as I'VE changed.  I've become a wife, a mom, a beer traveler, a home brewer, a debt-free thrifty person.  

And so, I've decided to rebrand this blog.  The name won't be changing, because I'M still the "FeauxCajun".  That's a big part of my identity, just like the other parts of me.  (Also, it would be a giant pain in the butt, and y'all know I'm lazy.)

But the look of this blog will be changing, as will the focus of future content.  I want to spend more time focusing on the things that drive me today.

- Beer Traveling: (still with a focus on kid-friendliness)
- Home Brewing: with a lot of help from The Hubs, our unofficial "brew master".
- Travel Adventures: restaurant, event and hotel reviews, both with and without our kiddo.
- Money Saving Tips: Mostly on travel deals, but also just how we save money on a day-to-day basis, including on home renovations.
- Cajun Cooking:  Yes, there will still be some of this, but I want to focus more on creating my own recipes, rather than just remaking someone else's recipe that I found on Pinterest.  Things that are my own creation, or a collaboration with friends, like Crawchos and Bacon Wrapped Boudin Jalapeno Poppers.

So that's the plan.  If you, as a reader, have any feedback on these changes to come, I'd love to hear them!