From the category archives:

Epic Roadtrip

Epic Roadtrip

Image and text by Gabrielle.

As promised, this post is about some of the logistics of the Epic Roadtrip. I’ll start with a few overarching details. We started the trip with 11 people — 8 Blairs, 1 French exchange student, 1 English exchange student, and a niece. In Las Vegas, the niece was picked up by another family of cousins, so we were down to 10. Then, during our stay in Salt Lake City, the French exchange student flew back to Paris (it was the end of a 3-month stay with us). So on the drive home from SLC to Oakland, there were only 9 of us.

We rented a 12-seater van for the trip. On some days there were long drives, on other days, were were only in the car for an hour or so. When we started out, the three teenage boys were in the 4th row, the three teenage girls (well, Olive is almost a teen) were in the 3rd row. Oscar, Betty & June were in the 2nd row, and Ben Blair and I were in the front row.

Click here for details on Food, Hotels, Itinerary and more!

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Salt Lake City

Image and text by Gabrielle.

We originally built this roadtrip around two family events. Cousins Week in St. George, and our nephew’s wedding in Salt Lake City. The overall trip was probably longer than we typically would have chosen, but it made sense if we wanted to attend both of those events. That said, by time we arrived in Northern Utah, we were definitely feeling travel worn — craving home-cooked meals and our own beds. So we tried to keep our schedules pretty simple.

Visiting Salt Lake City felt different than other parts of our trip. We did less of the touristy activities, and instead, tried to connect with family and friends in the area as much as we could. The touristy parts included a visit to Temple Square — where we stopped into the famed Tabernacle and were able to hear someone playing the astounding pipe organ — and a visit to the mountains as well. We drove up a canyon without a solid destination in mind, then stopped at Solitude Ski Resort to hike around and play in the creek.

The city heat was not as bad as Las Vegas or St. George, but still pretty intense. So it was fun to show the kids that with a short drive into the mountains, it’s like a whole different world. Lush green, cool and comfortable. No red-rock desert in sight.

The rest of our visit was family focused. It was refreshing to step away from the van and the maps and the tourist brochures and just hang out. The wedding was lovely. Spending time with old friends made us happy. And late-night talks with siblings and cousins at Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a highlight.

We woke up on Sunday morning with the plan of driving across Nevada to Lake Tahoe, and staying there for the night. It’s not the halfway point, but it’s a good place to break up the trip between Salt Lake City to Oakland. But everyone was bummed out by the idea of checking into yet another hotel. The kids brought up the idea of skipping Tahoe and driving all the way to Oakland in one shot. Everyone was on board with the idea, so we did! We cancelled out hotel reservation and prepared for a long haul drive. More audiobooks. More ice for the cooler.

Then, late last night we arrived home. There were cheers all around! Jumping on the beds. Exploring the house. Remembering we had pulled up the carpet in the family room the night before we left. Hah!

Within minutes of making it home, the whole family was in bed. We were exhausted and slept soundly. Oh my. The feeling of coming home just can’t be beat!

And thus concludes Epic Roadtrip 2014.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever visited Salt Lake City. Were you there to ski? For business? To visit family? Any favorite things to do with the kids? Feel free to share — the comments on these roadtrip posts are such a great source of ideas!

P.S. — I have a post I’ve been working on with tips on logistics and what worked for us on the drive. I’ll try to finish it up and share it this week.

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A Few Things

August 1, 2014

Solitude Ski Resort in Summer

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How was your week? We are still in travel mode — we’re in Salt Lake City at the moment and will be attending our nephew’s wedding tomorrow. I counted up my posts for the week and this makes number 10! Trying to keep up with my roadtrip posts has added a bunch of additional content this week. I hope it hasn’t been too much for you. You may be happy to hear there only only a couple more roadtrip posts to go. Hah!

Today is emotional for our little band of travelers. Charles, our exchange student from France is flying back to Paris this morning. He’s been with us for 3 months and feels like a part of the family, so it’s hard to see him go. We had a going away dinner for him last evening. He picked a sushi restaurant, because it’s hard to find sushi in his little town of Argentan. We took turns going round the table and sharing our favorite moments with Charles over the last few months. We will miss him thoroughly!

I’m signing off now to run some pre-wedding errands, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- The best parents in literature. Who would you add? And would you subtract any of these picks?

- In praise of the trusty rice cooker (remember when Raleigh reminded us it should be in every first apartment and college kitchen).

Art Everywhere: The masterpieces, coming to a billboard near you. So cool!

- But don’t get too distracted while you’re driving. Keep your eyes on the road. Thanks, Yvonne.

Happiness is love. Full stop. Thanks, Travis.

- One Parisian mom wants you to actually get to know her city like a native. Her solution? A custom-tailored Parisian experience perfect for you and your family. (Just imagine if your travel agent actually lived in the city you’re visiting!) I love that she’s a mom and understands what traveling with small children is really like as she helps you craft your adventure.

- I feel like a learned a bunch from this article about an asexual married couple.

- Amazon’s list of 100 Books Children Should Read in a Lifetime. (And here are my top 50 Favorite Picture Books.)

- Have you seen this powerful ballet focused UnderArmour ad? Thanks, Heather.

- I’m switching things up over at my Babble column. Instead of 4 posts per month under the topic of “celebrations”, I’ll be posting twice a month and focusing on more home-based topics. Happily, one of those monthly posts will be an original DIY project. I’m very excited about this! The first DIY just went live, and it’s very cool. Concrete Initial Paperweights. Go see. The title is not as descriptive as the photos. : )  And it’s a really easy project, too. You’ll want to make a dozen.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I hope August treats you beautifully. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Monument Valley

Images and text by Gabrielle.

After Lake Powell, we loaded up the car and started the drive to Moab. It’s not a short drive. Something like 6.5 hours. And making a stop at Monument Valley makes it even longer, because it’s off the highway several miles. But Ben Blair had always wanted to see it, and honestly, I felt the same way when I realized it was in Utah, and that I had grown up in Utah but had never seen it. For some reason, I thought is was either in Arizona or New Mexico (based on absolutely nothing but my lack of geography knowledge). I’m so glad we made the stop! I think it might be my favorite part of the trip.

You could make Monument Valley your end destination. There is a hotel right there, and a restaurant as well. From what I could see, you can hire a jeep that will take you on the road right next to the monuments, and there’s an excellent gift shop. But unless you’re particularly obsessed with spending time there, I would probably recommend it as a stop on the way to Arches or Canyonlands or Lake Powell, versus a destination in itself. All we really wanted was that epic view! We stopped for about an hour and that felt just right. Totally satisfying.

I didn’t understand this until we got there (note my lack of geography knowledge mentioned above), but Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Reservation and managed by the Navajo Nation. I note this because it means that the National Parks pass which can be used at Yosemite, Zion, Lake Powell, etc., doesn’t work at Monument Valley. Just a heads up.

My oldest brother is a Navajo and before I was born, my family lived on the Reservation in New Mexico while my parents taught at a school there. When we settled in St. George, there were Navajo rugs, Navajo sand art, and Navajo turquoise jewelry in our home — and it wasn’t unusual to have friends from the Reservation drop by on their way north. So for me, it was fun to be on there and see the gift shop filled with gorgeous Navajo wares and have it all feel so familiar.

The funnest part: while we were taking in the view, a gorgeous storm moved in. We watched the clouds until the rain reached our view point. Then the kids ran for the van, while Ben and I stayed and let the rain soak us. I was in heaven! I love summer storms in the desert.

Sandstone Arch

After our visit to Monument Valley, we made our way to Moab so we could visit Arches National Park. Neither Ben nor I had been to Arches since college and it was fun to be back.

Arches is great for kids! It’s a relatively small National Park compared to Yellowstone or Yosemite or Zion. There’s one visitor center, a small gift shop, and even a Junior Ranger program — but there is no lodging within the park borders, and no restaurants or cafés either. And you can drive from one end to another in an hour or so. The way it works, is that tourists stay and eat in Moab — it’s just minutes away.

We did some kid-friendly hikes in the morning, then returned to Moab because a storm had moved in. We ate, swam in the hotel pool, and then returned to Arches after the storm. We were hoping to hike to Delicate Arch, but the road was flooded from the storm and we couldn’t get to the hike. So we went to Sand Dune arch instead. That’s Sand Dune arch above. Can you spot Betty?

Then, yesterday morning, we hiked to Delicate Arch. A longer hike, and hot! But worth it. Seeing it feels like you’re seeing nature’s most iconic creation. It really is remarkable, and sort of unbelievable — like it shouldn’t exist.

After the hike, we packed up the van, stopped for a late lunch, and hit the road once more. Next stop: Salt Lake City and Provo!

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever adventured to Arches or Monument Valley? Thoughts? Advice? Favorite parts? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — My Instagram stream is full of snapshots from our roadtrip. Feel free to check it out!

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Antelope Canyon at Lake Powell

Image and text by Gabrielle.

As I mentioned in the last trip post, we weren’t originally planning to stop at Lake Powell, but knowing it was on our way, we ultimately decided to squeeze it in. And we’re so glad we did!

Lake Powell was one of the main destinations for my family vacations growing up and I have a dear place for it in my heart. To me, the ideal way to visit Lake Powell is on a houseboat. I want to stay for 5 days at least, and have access to a motor boat for water skiing and exploring the canyons, and wave runners too. It’s a particular sort of trip and it requires a ton of preparation because you have to bring all food and supplies with you.

I suppose that’s why I didn’t put Lake Powell on the original schedule — I think I forgot you could enjoy the lake even if you only have one day, and even if you don’t have access to a house boat. : )

This was how our last minute day worked out:

We drove into the Wahweap area after noon, and looked for signs to boat rentals. We knew chances were slim, but we thought it was worth a try. But as we predicted, the boat rentals were taken. Waverunners too! Had we been there earlier, or had we been able to book via the internet (at Jacob’s Lake, where we stayed the night before, we didn’t have internet or cell phone coverage), I’m sure we would have had better luck. But no matter. We quickly made plan B.

We drove from the Boat Rental area to the Wahweap Swimming Area. We took our towels down to the beach and got in the water as quickly as we could. The sun was brutal that day! So it was heavenly to be in the water, and there were beautiful views of Castle Rock from the beach. After about an hour, we saw the sky changing and watched as a summer storm came in. When the winds reached us, we finished up our swimming and sought out a late lunch.

Since we couldn’t rent a boat, we decided to take a boat tour instead — we really wanted the kids to see what it was like out on the water. Boat tours launch from the Lake Powell Hotel & Resort (also at Wahweap), so we booked our tickets and ate lunch there at the hotel while we waited for our launch time. The boat tour was beautiful. It was an hour and a half and took us past the Glen Canyon Dam into Antelope Canyon.

One thing about Lake Powell: it’s not inexpensive. Well, if you want to swim only, it’s actually totally affordable. An annual National Parks Pass gets you in for free, and swimming doesn’t cost a thing. But if you want to get out on the water, the costs add up fast. A speed boat rental, plus skis, or a wakeboard, or a tube, is not cheap. Either are boat tour tickets. So our day at the lake felt like a splurge. But we all concluded it was worth it.

After the boat tour, we jumped in the lake one more time, swam for another half an hour, then said our goodbyes.

I hadn’t been to Lake Powell for years and it was interesting to see what it was like with the water levels lower than during my childhood. The peak water level was during 1983 and 84, and it’s much lower now, but still gorgeous. As a child, I assumed Lake Powell was universally loved. It had never occurred to me that there were many people who thought it was awful that we had filled in a huge section of gorgeous Glen Canyon. My teenage brain couldn’t really understand the issue until someone said to me: Imagine if we’d filled in the Grand Canyon, or even a section of it. And then it clicked for me and I realized what an insane manmade alteration we’d made. But still, I can’t help but love Lake Powell. It’s a magical place.

A last tidbit about the lake. The next morning, we drove over the Glen Canyon Dam on our way toward Moab. If you’re in the area, the Dam is worth a visit. On one side you see the Lake, and on the other side, you see the deep, deep, canyon with the Colorado River running along the bottom. All of sudden you realize that while you’re floating in the water in the middle of Lake Powell, you’re actually hundreds of feet above ground. So crazy!

Have you ever been? Did you go on a houseboat and stay for awhile? Or maybe camped on the beach? Or did you drop in like us, just to catch a glimpse and a swim?

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Grand Canyon

Image and text by Gabrielle.

This was an especially fun stop for me because I hadn’t been to The Grand Canyon since I was very small, and only had vague memories of it. As I write this, I can see my thoughts on The Grand Canyon are a bit scattered, so I’ll write things up in a list form. That way, I’m less likely to forget things — and I can skip from topic to topic freely. : )

- First, The Grand Canyon is BIG. So much bigger than it was in my head. In fact, while we were there, we read that you would have to rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere several miles in order to see the whole canyon at once. So when we took in a view from the edge, the canyon seemed massive, and yet we knew we were just seeing a bit of it.

- I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but peering off the edge of the rim, down into the canyon made me catch my breath. I kept feeling like it was the view from an airplane. The canyon is so deep — a mile deep in places — that being on the edge of it feels insanely high.

- From what I could tell, if you’re at The Grand Canyon for one day, it’s mostly about taking in the views. Even the hikes we went on were on the surface and were all about ending at a great view looking down into the canyon (at other National Parks, even in one day, you can interact with the park a bit more). If you want to go below the rim and really get into the canyon, plan on a multi-day commitment or maybe even a legit backpacking experience. Someday, I’d love to hike with the whole family into Havasupi Falls. I hear you have to get hiking permit reservations over a year in advance! (But that could totally be a rumor.)

- We were on The North Rim. The South Rim is much more popular and touristy than the North Rim, and most of the famous photos you’ve seen are taken from The South Rim. But we loved the quieter option! We picked it because it was less driving based on where we were coming from, but we were delighted with our choice. The North Rim still has a grand lodge, grand views, a visitor center, food options, and a gift shop — but it feels calm, and there are fewer people than at any other National Park stop we’ve made. The North Rim and South Rim are only 12 miles across from each other, as the condor flies — but the drive between the two is over 5 hours.

- It was a super hot day, so after we’d taken in some of the short hikes off of the Visitor Center, we hung out at the lodge and listened to the Ranger talks. One was about the California Condor and one was about the Grand Canyon Rock Formations. We learned that at a few years ago, the California Condor population was down to 22 birds, and predictions of total extinction were everywhere. But hopeful conservationists have brought the population up to over 400 birds. They are still endangered, but the progress is good! The rock formation session was essentially a geology class and we loved it. Flashbacks to middle school earth science class! All the ranger talks are free.

- Speaking of the Lodge, the old school National Park lodges are fantastic, and this was no exception. Grand views, huge old leather chairs, an amazing dining room.

- Many of the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program specifically geared toward that park. Oscar and Betty did the program at Yosemite and another one at The Grand Canyon. The programs are free. The kids pick up a booklet with instructions and after they fulfill the requirements — things like taking in nature observations or asking a question of a Park Ranger — they are sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge. My kids LOVED this.

- The drive coming to The North Rim surprised us. The landscape changed from red rock desert to forests and grassy plains and grazing bison. It felt like I was in Yellowstone land!

- We had originally planned on staying two days at the Grand Canyon, but switched up our plans so that we could fit in Lake Powell as well. And that was good. We took in the views, hung out at the lodge, took advantage of the Ranger talks, and had a more physically relaxing day than we’ve had at other parks.

- We stayed at Jacob’s Lake that night. It’s a hotel about 15 minutes outside of the park, famed for it’s homemade cookies! The next morning, as we went to the little shop to round up some breakfast, we ran into our niece Lindsey, who is working at Jacob’s Lake for the summer before she heads to college. The best sort of surprise!

Yay for the Grand Canyon! Have you ever been ? North or South rim? Any tips?

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Zion National Park

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Well now! We’ve done a bit of traveling since my last post. On Friday, we went to Zion. On Saturday we went to the Grand Canyon. And earlier today (Sunday), we went to Lake Powell. I’ll write about the Grand Canyon tomorrow, and I’ll write about Lake Powell on Tuesday. But today, I want to share a little report about Zion National Park. Since I grew up so near Zion, it’s the National Park I know best and I’ve visited most. I love getting to share it with my kids.

Zion is the sort of place where you could spend a week or more, but it’s small enough, that you can also get a good taste of it in a couple of days. Earlier in the week, as part of Cousins Week festivities, my mom had taken the kids to Zion to tube in the Virgin River, so when we visited on Friday, we considered it Day Two at Zion. And we didn’t even have the whole day — we had some tasks in St. George on Friday morning, and it was already early afternoon by the time we arrived at the park.

So we kept it simple. We started by watching the IMAX movie about Zion. I was nostalgic about it and was excited for the kids to see it, but man oh man, I was surprised to watch it and realize it felt dated and a little cheesy. Oh dear! But, the nice thing about the movie, is that while we watched, a summer storm moved in. By the time we got out of the theater, the temperature had dropped from obscenely hot to totally reasonable, and everything smelled all-caps AMAZING.

One funny thing: During the movie, there’s a flash flood scene, and right when it was happening, all the cell phones in the theater started buzzing with texts about a flash flood warning in the area. For a minute, I was wide-eyed and wondered how in the world the movie triggered the alerts. Then it finally dawned on me it must be storming outside the theater. Silly me, I know.

After the movie, we hiked to the Upper Emerald Pool. It’s the perfect hike for a family of all ages — uphill enough to get your heart pumping, but ultimately short and sweet, with lots of beautiful water spots along the way. The hike was particularly wonderful because everything was so fresh from the storm, and grey skies kept the sun from beating down.

Once we reached the Upper Pool, we cooled our feet in the water, scrambled around the rocks and dunked our heads per family tradition. There’s no swimming allowed there, or we would have jumped right in, clothes and all.

I didn’t have our big camera with us, but I took some iPhone photos that might be the best I’ve ever captured in Zion. The light was just spectacular that day!

After the hike, we knew we had time for one more thing before we drove back to the hotel. We gave the kids a couple of options and they chose a visit to Grafton — the ghost town that’s near the park. We hadn’t been back since we filmed in Grafton for Olive Us, so the kids were excited to see it, and our exchange students were fascinated by the idea of a ghost town as well.

I think it was one of our best days on the trip (at least so far). Not too much driving, and a good balance of indoor and outdoor activity. I keep looking at the photos from that day on my Instagram stream because they make me grin.

Have you ever been to Zion? Do you have a favorite hike or activity there? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — If you grow up in St. George, when you say Zion, you pronounce it Zi-yun. But when I talk to people that grew up in other places, many pronounce it Zi-yawn. What’s your preferred pronunciation?

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A Few Things

July 25, 2014

St. George

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How was your week? We are in the middle of our #epicroadtrip. Today, we are headed to Zion, and tomorrow the plan is the Grand Canyon. Very exciting. Also, very hot!

From growing up in St. George, I learned that I can handle dry desert heat pretty well if I have an ice water in my hand. But if I don’t remember to bring an ice water, and we’re hiking or getting into a car that’s been sitting in the sun, I am a total crab. It’s like I turn grumpy and hopeless instantly. So you can imagine, I have a cooler full of icy bottles of water in the van with us at all times. : )

Before I finish up my work week and head out on the next leg of the roadtrip, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Lace Graffiti.

- What are your thoughts on this Weird Old Trick?

- Simpsons Marathon. The entire series!

- Jenny the Bloggess wrote an amazing and compassionate response to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr. I’m lucky to call her a friend.

- Hah! What every trendy restaurant menu looks like.

- Big happy news!

- Everything iconic about summer in New York City, all in aerial.

- Still laughing about these Instagram confessions.

- Changing Tides. Thanks, Maude.

- The best places to raise kids. Is your home on the list? The state I’m writing this in (Utah) is rated high. The state we actually live in (California) is rated low.

- These toasters print selfies.

- Have you seen this inglorious fruit campaign? (The video made me homesick for France. Intermarché was our closest grocery store. Seeing the store signs and even receipts made me happy. I can’t believe we’ve been gone for a year!)

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Cousins Week Begins

Image and text by Gabrielle.

On Sunday afternoon, we dropped the kids off at Cousins Week, and we picked them up yesterday afternoon (Thursday, if you’re keeping track).

What is Cousins Week? It’s an annual tradition, hosted by my sister, Sara and her husband, Steve. All cousins age 8 or older are invited. They go to Sara & Steve’s house in St. George, and have this sort of kid-paradise vacation. There’s a ton of swimming in the backyard pool (which is essential because St. George is crazy hot), the kids can stay up as late as they want, they can eat dessert for breakfast if they want, and they get a break from their typical schedules.

Lots more about Cousins Week. Keep reading!

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A Few Things

July 20, 2014

Blairs at Yosemite

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How has your weekend been going? I’m here with a Sunday edition of my weekend link list. The fact that I’m posting this two days late will give you some sense of how behind I’m feeling on work at the moment. Hah!

We’re off to St. George next, but while we get packed up and back on the road here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- When to use tu or vous in French? A helpful flowchart. Thanks, Allysha.

- Haunting photos. Living below the poverty line in Troy, New York.

- For those of you who found Overdrive lacking, I just heard about Kindle Unlimited — all the ebooks and audiobooks you want for $9.99 per month.

- Would you ever try a babywearing ballet class?

- A letter from John Cleese.

- A modern treehouse.

- Woah. It can happen to anyone. Can’t stop thinking about this video.

- I don’t know why this is so funny to me, but it is!

- I don’t care if you like it. (Be aware: the article has some cussing.)

- 5 ways to raise kind children.

I hope your weekend was the much needed break you deserve! I’ll meet you back here this week. I’ve missed you like crazy.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Las Vegas Boulevard

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Waving hello from Las Vegas! We’re staying at the Golden Nugget — it’s in the old school downtown part of the city. And we’re having a fabulous time!

I have such nostalgic feelings for Las Vegas. Growing up in St. George, Utah, meant Vegas was our nearest big city. St. George has grown like crazy in the years since I left for college, but while I was a kid, it was a small town. So when we needed Costco, or a mall for school shopping, we drove to Las Vegas. My first concert was in Las Vegas. And the Las Vegas airport is the one I would fly in and out of.

We didn’t spend a ton of time in the casinos, but we’d drive by all the neon with wide eyes. And I remember a family vacation where we stayed at a hotel/casino called The Imperial Palace.

The Fashion Show Mall would also draw us to Las Vegas Boulevard, fondly known as The Strip. That mall had expensive stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. We couldn’t afford those stores, but my mom would make a point of having me window shop there so I could see the current styles — those window shopping trips were part of my early design education.

I also came to understand that gambling was infused into life in Las Vegas — that even in the suburbs, there were slot machines everywhere — in the grocery stores and the pharmacies and every possible spot.

I remember the Vegas skyline changing when I was in my teens. I remember the Luxor pyramid being built, and the Mirage and the MGM Grand. But the next big growth spurt — the Bellagio and the Venitian — happened after I’d moved away from St. George. The whole strip has continued to develop like crazy and when I’m in Las Vegas I no longer feel oriented. The suburbs have also grown like crazy and it’s easy to imagine that most residents of the Las Vegas area probably rarely interact with the touristy, casino part of the city.

My kids haven’t ever really been to Las Vegas. Since my hometown is so close, we usually just drive through on our way to see cousins. But we thought on this roadtrip is would be a good destination. Vegas feels very American. Lots of neon and shopping and commercialism. A contrast to the very natural National Parks, and something fun for our exchange students to see. This is also the main spot on our trip where they’ll be able to shop.

Vegas is contrasts. The shopping is as good as the biggest cities in the world — I think I counted 6 Louis Vuitton shops over about a mile of the Las Vegas Strip. Hah! The newest growth spurt brought in fine dining, and luxe spas. Of course, the city has always been known for great concerts and performers. There are even world class art exhibits now. And all of that shares real estate with endless, dark, smoke-filled casinos and the trashiest shows you can find anywhere. In the same brochure where you can get info on Seigfried and Roy, you can also find tours to the Grand Canyon. Much of the city is for adults only, but at the same time, there are a surprising number of attractions designed to attract families with young kids.

Our hotel is on Fremont Street. Sassy Sally and Vegas Vic of my childhood are now part of a walking district. There is a roof over the whole street making it a semi-indoor space, and the entire ceiling functions as a giant screen. The whole outdoor walking area is air conditioned! I mentioned Vegas not being eco-friendly on Instagram and there were comments that Vegas has actually done a ton with water recycling — which I was comforted to know! But when you’re in this desert oasis, surrounded by a million light bulbs and outdoor air conditioning, it’s hard not to wonder how much energy it takes to power this crazy place. (No judgment from me, I promise. I can’t pretend I’m awesome at being earth-minded. I’m a tourist here just like everybody else.)

Our hotel, The Golden Nugget, has a real live gold nugget on display. The biggest ever found. From Australia. But it’s not much of a draw. Instead the pool is the thing. First, because it’s super hot out and cool water feels amazing. And second, because the pool surrounds a salt water aquarium full of sharks. But that’s not all. There’s a water slide at the pool and it goes through the shark tank!

We were laughing with the kids and wondering what it would be like to be part of a Vegas hotel/casino planning team, trying to come up with more and more jaw-dropping attractions. We imagined a conversation like this: This pool is pretty nice, but it needs something more. Hmmm. How about a giant aquarium that you can see when you swim? Wait. How about a giant aquarium full of sharks?! And what if there’s a water slide that goes by the shark tank? No. Even better: What if the water slide goes through the shark tank?! Bingo!

Las Vegas is a city where creativity and talent abound. And at the same time, everything gross about our country is present there and in full view. But one thing that I observed on this trip: Everyone in Las Vegas seems like they’re in a good mood! There are no desks in the Golden Nugget hotel rooms. No one comes here to work. Vegas is all about play.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever been there with kids? What are your favorite spots in the city, or favorite attractions? And whether you’ve been there or not, I’d love to hear about your impressions of the city. I think it’s so much fun! But I can only handle a couple of days and then I’m ready for something a little less neon. : )

P.S. — When we lived in New York, our neighbors would be wowed when they heard we were flying into Vegas (on our way to a family reunion). To them, Vegas was the coolest possible destination. Is that how you think of it, too?

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Yosemite Summer Sunset

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Yosemite. This place! This place is heavenly.

It’s our first visit here and we’re already thinking about future trips and imagining what it will be like to visit in the winter (ice skating!), or spring (legendary waterfalls!), or fall (fall color? I have no idea what happens here in the fall. Hah.).

We drove here this morning in a giant rented van. Eleven people. Me and Ben. Our six kids. Our two exchange students (one from France, one from England). And my niece Roxcy, who happily joined us at the last minute. That’s a lot of people! And a lot of teenagers. : )

The weather is hot, but we have a cooler full of icy water, we jump into the river whenever we get the chance, and we have lots of audiobooks.

Actually, I need to mention the audiobook tip before I forget. Janssen told me about an app called Overdrive and it’s genius. You use it to look up your local library — for example, we looked up the Oakland Public Library system — then you log in with your library card, and you can instantly read any e-books or listen to any audiobooks that your library has in their collection. Best part: totally free! Amazing right?

Anyway. The trip started this morning and it feels good to get going. This is the first stop of many. We’ll be here two nights, then it’s on to the next destination. Have you ever been to Yosemite? What are your favorite spots?

P.S. — In case you’re curious, we’ve been listening to Speaker For the Dead today — it’s the second book in the Ender’s Game series. Are you an Ender’s Game fan?

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