From the category archives:

travel

Flying to France

June 20, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from the Oakland Airport! Our bags are checked. We’ve gone through security. Water bottles are filled. Snacks are at hand. We have about 30 minutes till our flight boards. Then it’s on to Paris, France!

But before we get to France, we have a longish layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Ben Blair and I spent a lovely week in Sweden two summers ago, but our kids have never been, so we’re hoping to take a little adventure while we’re there. Then, we have a short flight to Paris. Our flight arrives around 8:30 in the evening; we’ll rent a car and head straight to a hotel for the night (with a possible fieldtrip to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle). Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to Normandy — it’s about a 3 hour drive to our destination.

That’s a lot of different stops and transitions in a short time — I’ve tried to forewarn the kids that they are very likely going to feel crabby and impatient before we actually get to our destination. But it’s worth it: Two whole months of our family being together. Heaven!

We’re all super excited. Lots of reminiscing and anticipation going on — we’ve been going through our old travel photos and watching some of the Olive Us videos we filmed in France (like Betty in Paris).

Crossing our fingers for smooth travel! Feel free to follow along on Instagram.

P.S. — I did my first Facebook Live video cast just before we left the house today. I gave a little tour of our master bedroom and bath — it’s going to be transformed while we are away! So if you want a peek at the “before” you can check it out.

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18 Tips for Traveling with Kids — From a Mother of Six!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Alamo. Have you signed up for the Alamo Insiders program? Details below!

I’m working with Alamo on a family travel series (first post here). And today, I want to tackle traveling with a big family (related Pin board here). But that’s a really broad topic! So I’m going to focus in a bit. This post isn’t about time on the plane or how to pack or where to go or where to stay. Instead, I’m going to share everything I’ve learned about what the days are like (and how to make them awesome!) once you are at your destination. Sound good?

I have lots of tips, so I put them in list form. And I hope as you read them, they’ll remind you of your own tips — which you should totally share in the comments, because I would LOVE to learn from you! Also, as the title declares, yes this is about travel with a big family, because that’s what I know best. But the reality is, most (if not all) of these tips would work for small families, too. So really, this is about travel with kids.

Traveling with Kids — 18 Solid Tips from a Mother of Six

Here it is! All my travel knowledge, in no particular order:

1) When thinking about your day, plan based on the lowest common denominator, meaning the youngest in the group. If you’ve got a little one, they can’t walk all day and they don’t suddenly have new or different schedule needs because they are in a new place. So keep the schedule really simple and be ready for lots of stops. In Rome, we’d take gelato breaks like 5+ times a day.

2) Only put ONE big destination/activity on the schedule each day. That’s it. Only one. “Visit the Van Gogh Museum.” “Go horseback riding.” “Take a city bus tour”.

Yes, if it was just grownups, you could pack the day and see a million things. But with kids, it pays to be less ambitious. Keep it simple. If things go wrong, and they often do — maybe you get on the wrong bus, or have a hard time finding a lunch spot, or the weather turns crummy — it won’t wreck your schedule. You’ll feel great that you accomplished your one big thing, and when you’re done, if the family still has lots of energy, you can always add on a bonus activity.

3) On the way to your big event or tourist spot of the day, stop at every park you encounter along the way. Why? Partly because it’s fun and part of seeing what this new place is like. There are so many different kinds of parks, big green spaces, urban asphalt parks, tiny neighborhood play spaces. Your littlest kids probably won’t remember the trip, but spending time at parks will make sure they have a wonderful day, and that helps the whole group.

It’s also a way of losing time, or of filling the day in a positive way, without stressing anyone with a packed schedule.

Traveling for Big Families. 18 Tried-and-True Tips!

4) Bring water. It should be the only heavy thing in your pack. If you don’t want to carry it, know where your water sources are quickly and easily. Having clean water on hand is essential. First, for thirst, but also for rinsing scrapes and cleaning off sticky hands.

5) Instead of packing them ahead of time, buy snacks in local grocery stores. It’s a small adventure in the larger day. Use it as an opportunity to explore a non-touristy piece of the place you’re visiting. There’s nothing like going to a grocery store — especially in another country — to give you a glimpse of what it would be like to live there. What do their milk bottles look like? Do they refrigerate the eggs? How are the fruit and vegetables packaged and sold? Any new veggies you’ve never seen? What does the toothpaste look like? Is it a huge supermarket or a tiny corner grocery? Any familiar brands? Maybe with different flavors/products than you have at home? How about the candy aisle?

6) Even if you’re past the diaper stage, always carry a package of wet wipes. They come in so handy! They can wipe down a table at a restaurant, and they can wipe down a bottom when the public restroom is out of TP. You already know how awesome they are.

Twelve more tips! Keep reading.

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Alamo. Have you signed up for the Alamo Insiders program? Details below!

You may remember that I’m working with Alamo this year on some quarterly travel posts, and each quarter, I’m also creating a collaborative Pinterest board with a related topic. I hope you’ll come follow along! As I was working on my first post and pinboard, I started to get all meta about what vacations are for. What’s the goal? Why do we take them? Well it turns out there are as many reasons for traveling as there are people who travel. : ) But you already know that. So then I narrowed it down to our family, the Ben and Gabrielle Blairs. Why do we travel? Why do we put such an emphasis on it? Why do we make so much time for it?

I discussed it with Ben Blair and we both agreed that our primary motivation is family togetherness. Traveling together, vacationing together, it really, truly, helps us keep our family relationships strong.

And I know it’s not just in my head. We all feel more connected to each other when we spend undistracted time together. I can practically see the bonding happen before my eyes! And the only real way we can get a good chunk of undistracted time, is by leaving our house and normal daily schedule, or in other words, when we take a vacation.

So for my first post, I want to talk about 3 types of vacations that we love, and that are especially good at keeping our family relationships strong.

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Vacation Type #1: Family Retreats.
This is a vacation where the main thing on the schedule is to talk about the goals and aims of your family. It’s where you discuss your family culture and what you’d like it to be. Essentially, it’s like a productive business retreat, but for your family.

This idea may not be a common one for family vacations, but they are well worth your time, I promise. They don’t have to take long, and if a “productive retreat” doesn’t sound appealing they can be combined with ideas from category 2 (below),

One of our best family retreats, happened during the 2014 holiday break. We drove 2 hours north to the Russian River area of California, and rented a house. We already knew the area and didn’t feel the need to be tourists; it was off-season there anyway. Instead, we slept in. Hung out and relaxed. Maybe took a walk. Made food together. Then in the afternoons and evenings we had family meetings, and we had a basic itinerary planned out beforehand.

We did role plays of conversations depicting healthy relationships. We talked about goals for the next year, and what we’d like to do together as a family. Stuff like that.

It was fantastic. After just a couple of days we could have gone home, because we all felt rested and connected. But. We happened to have the house for a few more days, so we turned the last half of our stay into a movie marathon. We watched all the Star Wars movies and all the Lord of the Rings movies. Woot!

Ben Blair and I did something similar as a couple for our 20th anniversary. On our trip to Lake Louise, we set aside time each day as our Couples Retreat time, where we pulled out notebooks and made plans together. What would the next 20 years bring? How can we be better parents? What can we do to make our marriage even better? Again, it was only a small part of each day, but it was so good!

Deauville, France | Design Mom

Vacation Type #2: Relax & Re-energize.

Think of this as the classic vacation. It’s meant to be an energizing break from your typical daily schedule, and ideally, the only things on the itinerary are things you really love to do. And maybe, there’s no itinerary at all!

A vacation with the goal to relax and re-energize will look different for every family. For some people it might mean sitting on a warm beach with nothing to do. For another family, it might be the same beach, but with a schedule of surf lessons, hula dancing, and hiking.

Or maybe a relaxing and re-energizing trip for your family would be in the city — taking in museums, or watching a live show, or taking cooking classes. For yet another family, it might be camping. Or remember the movie marathon I mentioned above? That was definitely a relaxing and re-energizing thing for our family.

The nice thing is, vacations with the goal of relaxing and re-energizing don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t have to be long. We’re big on squeezing in Saturday-Sunday mini vacations that are close to home.

For example, our reading weekend took virtually no planning, had very little cost, and we didn’t have to miss work or school to make it happen. Another example is the photo above, featuring the Deauville Beach umbrellas in France. Deauville was about an hour and a half north of our home, and anytime the temperature hit 75 or above, we’d hit the beach for the day. No plans. Just sunning ourselves and playing in the water, with a picnic lunch. No hotel, no dinner reservation. And no cell phone coverage! It was just a day, but the break from our schedule, and from the internet, would do the trick.

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Vacation Type #3: Make the World a Better Place Vacation.

This type of vacations is a family trip focused on service and working together. It might be building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or planting trees at a orphanage, or volunteering at a big event, like a marathon. Depending on the ages of your kids, this might be something you do with one parent and one teen. Or maybe you can take the whole crew!

We’ve had a few different experiences with this type of vacation and we’ve never regretted it. One of the best, was when Ralph and Ben Blair went to Haiti as volunteers to make a movie about a new language exchange program for Haiti Partners. It’s the sort of experience that can really change your perspective and get your family engaged around important work. Not only did they make the video, which was a big help, they also became life-long advocates. Ben Blair and Ralph, and really the whole family are now big supporters of Haiti Partner’s programs. Getting to see and interact with an organization up close makes it so much easier to support a cause with your available resources — both time and money.

There’s another aspect of this type of vacation that I love. It’s the working! In fact, I’m one of 8 brothers and sisters, and we find we relate best to each other when we’re working together on something big. If we all get together and just hang out, there’s a high probability we’ll start teasing and being obnoxious and we’ll hurt someone’s feelings. But if we’re working together — we used to put on Triathlons in Southern Utah, and now we work together on Alt Summit — it’s like it brings out our super-powers. We solve problems right and left, laugh a whole bunch, and feel like we’ve accomplished something worthwhile when we’re done. Working together can bring out the best in people.

Okay. Now it’s your turn. I have lots of questions. What are your thoughts on these 3 types of vacations. Have you tried all three? When it’s time to relax, what sort of vacation do you crave most? Forest, beach, library — or maybe a fancy spa? What about a volunteering vacation? What sort of volunteer opportunity do you think your family would do best?

Oh. Are you feeling ready to calendar your next vacation? Check out the Alamo Insiders program. It’s a loyalty club with free membership, that offers 5% off retail rental rates! You can sign up here.

P.S. — I know I mentioned the collaborative pinboard above, but I wanted to tell you a little more about my thinking behind it. Once our kids hit school age — say ages 5-18 — we only get 13 summer vacations, 13 winter breaks, 13 spring breaks, and maybe thirty 3-day weekends before they’re all grown up. Think of it as max 70 chances to share adventures with our kids. 70 is not that much! So I thought it would be fun to pin every awesome place I want to take my kids. And if we only hit some of them? Well, that’s better than none!

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Christmas Vacation

December 29, 2015

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hi there! I’m waving hello from a ski day in Utah!

This has been a really lovely holiday break. Christmas Eve was spent with family. It was all about carols and favorite foods, with a Nativity reenactment by the kids in the evening. Then on Christmas morning, the kids woke us up at 6:00 and we opened presents. I have to say, Christmas morning with little kids in the house is one of the most magical things that you can experience on this Earth. I know we only have a few years left and I’m already broken-hearted just thinking about it!

Ben Blair and I followed up the unwrapping with a very long nap, and when we woke up, we decided to pack everyone up and drive to Utah! It was sort of last-minute, but not totally. We’d been toying with the idea of going — because of a Blair family event — but weren’t sure what the roads would be like or if we would really be up for it. But the kids loved the idea, so we packed the suitcases, and started out that evening. We arrived in Midway, Utah on Saturday and we’ll be here until we drive back this Friday, New Year’s Day.

The snowfall in Utah has already been generous this year, and Midway, which is a tiny charming town, is looking particularly lovely with a thick layer of white. We feel lucky to be here and lucky that we get to enjoy a really picturesque Christmas vacation. The snow is especially enjoyable since we know we’re headed back to sunny California in a few days. : )

Today, Ben Blair and the kids are skiing, and since skiing is not my favorite, I’m sitting in the lodge and cracking open my laptop for the first time in a week. Ski days are fairly complicated for our family of 8 — rentals, tickets, shuttles, hauling gear, etc. — and even though I don’t hit the slopes, I’m still an integral part of making it work. Perhaps that will change when we no longer have little kids. I feel like I should write up a post on how we make it work, for fellow families who describe themselves as not-frequent skiers. Hah!

I hope all of you are having a wonderful holiday break as well. Are you doing anything fun? Are you traveling, or staying in, or some of both? Is the weather too warm or too cold where you live, or is it business as usual? Whatever is on your schedule this week, I hope you’re getting to enjoy your kids before they go back to school. Monday is coming too darn fast!

P.S. — I’ve been sharing photos of our trip on Instagram, if you’d like to see. Also, I have a couple of other fun posts to share with you this week and will publish them in just a bit.

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Family Travel in 2016!

December 16, 2015

Evert's Boathouse in West Sweden. Offers hotels rooms, fishing adventures on the sea, and fresh seafood feasts.

Photo and text by Gabrielle. I snapped this photo on one of our favorite trips.

I’m looking ahead to 2016. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s really just 2 weeks away. And I can tell it’s going to be a good year. One of the topics I love writing about is family travel, and I hope to do a whole bunch of it in the next twelve months. So I’m delighted that today I get to announce: I’ve partnered with Alamo!

In 2016, I’m working on a series of Family Travel posts with Alamo. These won’t be travelogues or simple reports on our vacations and weekend getaways. Instead, they’ll be focused on helping you make the most of your travel. Trip ideas, how to keep the kids occupied, packing tips — that sort of thing. And I’ll be creating family travel Pinterest boards to go along with the content I’m creating!

Today, I’d love to hear: What kind of travel questions do you have for me? And what sorts of family travel topics would you like to see covered? My first post will go live in January, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll follow Alamo on Pinterest‚ and Design Mom, too — so you don’t miss a thing!

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Volcano Adventure! Day Two

October 9, 2015


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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.

It’s time for the Day Two report on our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. (You can find the Day One report here .) Oscar (he’s number four of six) is here as a Guest Blogger to help me out:

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Hi! I’m Oscar Blair. I’m ten years old. I’m excited to be a Guest Blogger! I get to tell you about Day Two of our road trip. Day Two was mostly about hiking. And about throwing snowballs! (Oh. And I fell in a lake too! More about that later.)

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The hike we went on was to a place called Bumpass Hell. It’s called that because there was a guy with the last name Bumpass, and he was showing people around and telling them to be very careful, because the ground was unstable. Then, the ground gave way and his leg fell into one of the boiling mud pits. He got a serious burn! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

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It was weird because there was lots of snow, but it was right next to boiling mud pits — in the summer! And it felt warm outside. I don’t know if it was old snow from last winter, or if there was an early storm.

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But June kept saying, “Hey Dad, are you hot?” And then Dad would say, “Yes!” And then June would throw a snowball at him! That happened like a hundred times.

Keep reading for the rest of Oscar’s report!

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Volcano Adventure! Day One

October 8, 2015


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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.

As promised, I wanted to report on our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Holy moly it was a great little trip! Two things before I jump into the report: First, I asked my kids to be my Guest Bloggers and help me report about the trip. So Olive is helping me with this report about Day 1, and Oscar is helping me with a report about Day 2.

The second fun thing is Ford lent us a new 2016 Explorer for our adventure. It’s a six seater, and we’re a family of 8, so at first I was like aw shucks, I don’t think we can make it work. But then we found out Maude had a cross-country commitment that weekend, and Ralph had a video job that weekend, and they both needed to stay home. At which point we said, “Well then heck yes! Let’s try the Explorer!”

So off we went on a little weekend adventure. And now I’ll hand the report to Olive Blair:

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Olive Blair here. I’m 14 years old and I’ve never been a guest blogger before. But I am happy to tell you all about the first day of our trip!

We got to Lassen National Park after about a 4-hour drive from Oakland. We put all our suitcases in our hotel room and headed straight for the park.

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Once we got there, we stopped at the visitor center but it was closed, so we decided to do some exploring on our own. First we found this hot spot called Sulphur Works. It was really cool. It had bubbling mud and it smelled like eggs. We just sat and stared at it for like 10 minutes because it was so cool. My mom shared a video of the bubbling here.

We later found out the mud bubbles because of magma six miles below the surface.

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We also did a little hiking in that area. You’ll note from Oscar’s stance that hiking on volcanos makes you feel pretty unstoppable!!

More of Olive’s report straight ahead!

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

It’s been about 5 weeks since our anniversary trip to Lake Louise, but I wanted to tell you all about it before I forget my best tips — and also because it’s fun to write it up and remember our little getaway. Gosh it was a good trip! When we planned it, we were hoping for a romantic destination — gorgeous hotel room, room service (it was our 20th anniversary after all). But we were also interested in using this getaway to do a lot of planning and goal-making for our next 20 years — so we wanted a place where we didn’t have a mile long wishlist of things we wanted to see.

Turns out Lake Louise was perfect! We didn’t really know anything about the area at all before we booked our room. I’ve mentioned it before, but the only reason I even knew about it, is because I had seen photos in an issue of Victoria magazine when I was 19 years old. Hah!

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We flew into Calgary, then rented a car and drove to Lake Louise — about two hours away. Lake Louise is both the name of the little village near the lake, and also the name of the actual lake.

The photos in my memory were so magical that I was more than content with the idea of getting to see the lake, and then sitting in the hotel room working on goals for the rest of the trip. That’s not what happened, but since I didn’t know anything about the area, there was nothing but “see the lake” as far as my destination expectations were concerned.

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And that lake! I was sure it couldn’t be as beautiful as it was in pictures, so I actually tried to have low expectations as we approached. But there was no need. Lake Louise is so beautiful it almost looks pretend. It’s stunning!

It’s an adventurous sort of place. If there are theaters or museums or fancy shopping around, I didn’t notice them — they were definitely not the focus. Here it’s all about taking in the magnificent scenery and hiking and getting out on the water. And we did all of that — plus, also worked on our goals. It was pretty much heaven!

If you go, here are 5 things to put on your itinerary…

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Lake Tahoe

March 16, 2015

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By Gabrielle. The photos are of the home we stayed at, but they’re not mine. I took lots of photos, but it was overcast, and I like these shots from the rental description better. : )

Waving hello from New York! Gosh, I’ve got a lot of travel on my calendar at the moment. (Which reminds me, I’ll be announcing my book tour dates either shortly!) But this post isn’t about New York. It’s about last week’s last-minute trip to Lake Tahoe!

This was a ski trip, and it was the first ski trip we’ve had in over 4 years. We had visited Tahoe last year in the Spring, but this was our first time seeing it with snow. Really, we’re at the tail end of the ski season, and it feels like spring/summer in the rest of California, but in our minds, this was a winter trip. We built fires, hung out in the hot tub after skiing, and did a whole bunch of baking.

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There were two big things that I’ve been thinking about from this trip. One, is that all of my kids now know how to ski. I feel like I’ve passed some sort parenting stage. Hah! Before this trip, June had never skied before, but we enrolled her in ski school and she really took to it. On the second day, they moved her up a class because she was doing so well. (Those are definitely not my genes!) Obviously, she’s still just a beginner, but she had a fantastic time. It won’t be long until she’s spending the day skiing with her older siblings.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, I grew up skiing, but I don’t enjoy it. I’m not sure what it is. I’ve spent many winters of my life skiing, and just have no interest. I think the last time I willingly skied was in college. So last week, while the rest of the family hit the slopes, I spent the days in the lodge catching up on work, and being a drop-off location when my kids wanted to shed their layers. I’d meet up with everyone for lunch and then get back to work.

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But there was something about seeing June ski that made me think I might enjoy skiing in the future. I can picture the whole family on the slopes together, and I like that picture very much.

Anyway, the second thing I noted about the trip is that we felt like we really scored on the location. The house is a rental that we originally found on Kid & Coe. As it turns out, I ended up getting introduced to the owner, Domonique of The Simple Proof, who lives in the Bay Area. When she had a unscheduled week come up for her Tahoe place, she generously offered it to us, and we dropped everything and made the last-minute trip happen. And we’re so glad we did!

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The house really was perfect (you can see more photos of it here). It was easily roomy enough for our big family. Every one had their own bed, with extra sleeping spaces to spare. There was a big gathering room where we could watch movies and play board games, and an oversize table that could seat everyone. The kitchen had every tool we could possibly need and except for one night of ordering out for pizza, we did all our cooking at the house.

But the best part, is that the stunning lake was just down the path. After skiing, it was still light enough that we would walk down to the lake to skip rocks, or explore, or just hang out on the dock. And it was so easy to picture how amazing this same house would be in the summer.

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One of the biggest traveling challenges my family has is finding accommodations that really fit us — not just enough beds, but a place where we can all hang out together. So when we find a location that seems to solve the where-to-stay puzzle for us, it feels like we’ve found a treasure! After a couple of days at Domonique’s house, we were already talking about scheduling rental dates for the summer, and then again for next winter, and making it a regular thing. The idea of planning a vacation and not having to think about where to stay — to just already know! — seems like the most amazing thing ever.

Anyway, I’m curious about several things: Do you ski? Do your kids ski? Is there anyone else out there like me who has skied a bunch but isn’t a big fan? Have you ever been to Lake Tahoe? Do you have a favorite season there? And how do you handle vacation accommodations? Do you return to the same spot over and over? I really like that idea!

P.S. — I mentioned Kid & Coe on Instagram and received a few emails about them. I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you about their services, but we’ve become big fans. They offer airbnb-type rentals, but they focus only on family-friendly spaces, and they only list really good ones. No duds! 

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Lake Tahoe

Image and text by Gabrielle.

I’m so late posting today because we have been on the road all day. We had a last-minute opportunity come up and we’re spending a few days at Lake Tahoe!!! We’re so excited. We are going to ski our hearts out before the (minimal) snow the resorts received this year disappears. : )

With the exception of Olive, who spent a ski week with her school class in the French Alps when we lived in Normandy, we haven’t been skiing since we lived in Colorado! That seems like a really long time ago. It was a really long time ago.

So, I’m late with my posts today, but I won’t be skipping out on work — I’ve got great stuff scheduled for the rest of the week. Plus, I’ll be Instagramming our trip if you’d like to follow along. Lake Tahoe is gorgeous! I snapped the photo at top last spring when we visited for the first time. We all feel super lucky that we get to be here this week.

P.S. — We’re staying at a really cool place that belongs to a Bay Area local friend, Domonique of The Simple Proof. You can see photos of it on Kid & Coe. It’s fantastic! I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

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Haiti Partners

January 12, 2015

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By Gabrielle. Images by Haiti Partners.

Did you know today marks five years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti? You can go here and scroll down to refresh your memory of what happened that day. So many people lost their lives, that we’ll never know the true number.

Ben Blair and Ralph are arriving in Haiti as I type, and I am looking forward to hearing from them and getting a report. What are they doing there, you ask? Great question. I’m excited to tell you.

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We have a good friend named Jesse Engle, who I met years ago at the very first BlogHer I attended. Jesse and his family live here in the Bay Area and he works in the tech and startup sector. Jesse’s brother John lives in Haiti and started Haiti Partners, an organization that is dedicated to helping Haitians help Haiti through education. You can read about their approach here, and their work here. Jesse is also very involved with Haiti Partners, and we’ve been getting involved with the organization through him.

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Broadband internet has recently come to Haiti, and Haiti Partners is figuring out how to make the most of it. One of the things better internet makes available is video chat. So one of the big ideas Haiti Partners is considering is to create a community of English speakers who can have conversations, via online video chats, with Haitians who are trying to learn English.

The new program is going launching this week, and that’s why Ben & Ralph are there. First, to help with the launch in general. Second, because Ben Blair’s education and professional experience is heavy on language learning techniques and he’s very excited about the possibilities of this program. And third, because Haiti Partners would love to have a video made so they can show people what the program is about, and Ralph is going to capture the footage and create the video. French is one of Haiti’s national languages, so Ralph’s French is going to help as well.

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We’re so impressed with Haiti Partners — it’s a really top notch team doing important work. And as a family, we’re over the moon that we can be involved and use our skills to help in even a small way. I’m sure many of you would love to get involved as well — if you have an internet connection and a computer, you could be a video chat volunteer! The program is so brand new and experimental, that they’re not ready to sign up volunteers yet, but as soon as they are, I will let you know. I think it would be a really cool thing to get your kids involved in, and could open their eyes to how big (and small!) the world is.

Tell me, Friends, have you ever been to Haiti? Or maybe followed updates about the country since the earthquake? As you’re picturing it, imagine warm, warm warm — the weather is supposed to be 90 degrees there this week! If you’re curious to know more about the status of Haiti right now, the links and videos here and here are informative and helpful. Is there a cause or organization or program you or your kids is working with this year? I’d love to hear!

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Russian River

December 29, 2014

Russian River

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I’m writing today from a little rental house on the banks of Russian River — about 2 hours north of Oakland. We’re here to enjoy some concentrated family time without the distractions of home. I think this is the most laid back trip we’ve ever taken — consisting entirely of board games, puzzles, movie marathons, baking, napping and reading. We originally planned to do some hiking and exploring, but 6 out of 8 of us are under the weather (thankfully nothing worrisome), so hanging out in pjs feels just right. We haven’t really left the house!

It’s been a nice little internet break for me as well. I took several days away from my phone and laptop, and am just checking in lightly this week. Feels good!

The last week of the year always seems like such a limbo week to me — like I couldn’t keep to a standard schedule if I tried. Are you the same? What’s this week like at your house? Are you back at work? Hanging out with your kids on their school break? Have you put holiday decorations away? Are you traveling this week? I’d love to hear!

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galaxy-s5-and-iphone-6

 

By Gabrielle.

Alright, Book Lovers. Tell me your thoughts on Oyster. Have you heard of it? I first read about it on Jenny Komenda’s blog and was intrigued. If it’s new to you, here are the basics: it’s being called “Netflix for books.” You subscribe for $9.95 per month and you get access to unlimited ebooks in their collection, which features over half a million books across every genre and continues to grow daily. There’s a real focus on design and user experience — you can customize the display settings on the app, and there’s a feature that makes it easier to read in the dark as well. Yes, it’s available on any operating system (Apple, Android, Kindle, etc.). And yes, you can try it FREE for 30 days.

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I know I’m not unique in saying that reading is one of my great pleasures, though I have been awful at making time for it lately. But I’m not the only voracious reader at the Blair house. I described Oyster to Maude and her eyes lit up like Christmas morning. As many books as she can read at her fingertips? No finishing a book at 8 PM and then having to wait until the next day to pick out something new at the library? Instant access? She was all over it! And we signed up right away.

Books I Want To Read

Of course, Maude’s excitement has me itching to do more reading myself. In fact, I have a flight to D.C. today (I’ll tell you about the trip tomorrow) and I’ve been making a list of possible options that I can read on the plane. This is what I’ve narrowed it down to:

1) The Steve Jobs biography. Ben Blair read it and loved it when it first came out and it’s been on my list ever since.

2) Angela’s Ashes. I still can’t believe I’ve never read this. I’ve heard I need to be in certain emotional state to handle it.

3) The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. I don’t know much about this one, just that it was recommended to me by someone I trust.

4) The Handmaid’s Tale. This is another one where I sort of shake my head at myself that I haven’t read it yet.

5) David Sedaris’ Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. I’ve read a ton of his work, but not this one, and I wanted something on the list that I knew would make me laugh.

Speaking of which, I LOVE book recommendations. In fact, I would say that beyond instant book access, the features of Oyster that are most interesting to me are the recommendation options. I can exchange book picks with friends on the app, and also get Oyster’s recommended books based on what I’ve liked before. They also have a really good editor-curated selection that I’ve found especially helpful — I feel like I add a handful of titles to my reading wish list whenever I check it out.

If you’re curious about Oyster, you may want to start by checking out the list of popular titles — it will give you a sense of what you’ll find there. You can also read more about Oyster’s features here. Want to try it? You’re in luck: Sign up and you’ll get the first 30 days free!

Now I’m off to the airport, and very much looking forward to it. There’s nothing better than reading a great book on a cross-country flight! Before I head out, I’d love your opinions on my narrowed down flight reading list. What do you think of the picks? Have you already read them? Any that you would start with? Or avoid completely? And what are you reading lately?

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This post is brought to you in part by Oyster.

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Marstrand Island in West Sweden

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Okay. Here’s my final report on our big Sweden trip. I wanted to share the West Coast Itinerary that the West Sweden Tourist Board created for us. World class cities are fairly straightforward to visit — they offer lots of hotels, excellent restaurants, good shopping, and terrific museums. But once you get out of the city, exploring can feel intimidating. So I was truly grateful to have an itinerary set that helped us take advantage of the best of the best that West Sweden has to offer, without having to spend a ton of time researching options.

I’m sharing our full itinerary here, so you can see when we stayed at each of the hotels I wrote about. I’ve also included notes on the museums we visited — and the amazing meals!

Day 1 Bohuslän 

We left Gothenburg in the morning and drove to the sailing destination, Marstrand Island (the drive takes about 45 minutes). We parked the car at the big parking lot near hotel Marstrands Havshotell, then we caught the ferry to Marstrand. You buy your tickets in the tobacco shop in the port. Tickets costs 25 sek per person. The boat leaves every 10 minutes.

Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden

We explored Marstrand. Suggested exploring included visting the Carlstens fortress, hiking around the island, doing some shopping or buying some fresh shrimp for lunch and eating on the rocks overlooking the sea. They also suggested the beautiful spa at Marstrand Havshotell in case we wanted to relax.

Public Swimming Pool, Swedish Style. On Marstand Island.

We explored to our heart’s content, and caught our breath when we saw the island’s public “swimming pool”. There’s a diving board nearby as well!

Full itinerary ahead. Keep reading!

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Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

Images and text by Gabrielle. Some photos by Ben Blair too!

Okay you guys, before the trip gets too far away from me, I have two more Sweden posts! Today’s post is all about where we stayed once we left the city and started exploring the coast. In tomorrow’s post I’ll share our full itinerary, including museums and restaurants.

Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

There are 5 amazing accommodations we got acquainted with in West Sweden as we explored — Salt & Sill on Tjorn Island, Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast, Evert’s Boathouse in Grebbestad, and Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle — plus one bonus spot: the Guest Studios at the Nordic Watercolor Museum. I think finding a place to stay is the hardest part of any trip, so for those of you wanting to see Sweden, hopefully this will take some of the planning burden from your shoulders.

Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

First up, my favorite one to photograph, Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast. I took a TON of photos at this home. In fact, everything you see pictured before the “click through” is from Lådfabriken. I told the owners it was the coolest house I had ever been to, and I meant it.

Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

The B&B is run by Marcus and Johan. They’ve put their heart and soul into the place, slowly transforming it over the past 7 years. Every knob, every fixture, every surface was lovingly pondered, and most additions/renovations are totally custom — designed and fabricated especially for this house.

They opened it to guests about a year and half ago. Though it looked perfect to me, they told me the house still has many projects ahead and they consider it to be at “toddler” stage — much more growth and change until the house is an “adult”. Hah!

Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

The B&B has 3 guest bedrooms, each one ridiculously charming, and each with their own bathroom. The bedroom we stayed in can be converted for a family — there’s a king size bed, and two twin size beds that hide in the wall. And the bookshelves include cute selections for the kids.

Garden at Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

The back of the house opens onto a beautiful garden that is steps away from the sea — you can take an early swim in the ocean before breakfast! Johan said that kids love to spend the day on that beach catching tiny crabs and then releasing them.

Breakfast table set at Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

I highly recommend a stay at Lådfabriken. The whole house will inspire you, and it’s worth the trip just to meet Marcus and Johan! I love that by staying here, you get to have conversations with actual locals. So often when we’re traveling, we really don’t get to talk to anyone except the hotel desk clerk — so I loved having conversations over breakfast with the hosts and the other guests and asking all my Swedish cultural questions.

Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast - West Sweden

If you’re worried about not speaking Swedish, don’t be. Johan is Swedish, but commutes to Boston, and Marcus is from The Netherlands. They actually speak to each other in English. : )

More favorite hotels! Keep reading.

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Visit Sweden: Volvo Factory

August 21, 2014

Volvo Tour3

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As part of my agreement related to this Sweden trip, I was asked to include the hashtag #inavolvo as I document our trip. A separate blog post about Volvo was not part of the agreement. So this post is not a sponsored post. But I wanted to write about what I learned at Volvo factory because I think you’ll find it interesting. I certainly did.

The Volvo factory is just outside of Gothenburg, and part of our itinerary included a visit to the facility to attend a safety demonstration and get the scoop on the Overseas Delivery Program. This program is pure genius and whoever figured it out wins the prize for… I don’t know, being a genius.

Basically, it’s this: If you live in the United States or Canada and you buy a new Volvo, you’ll get airfare for two to Sweden, plus a night in the Radisson Blu in Gothenburg (a lovely hotel, I included a photo of it at the bottom).

Why? For several reasons (free trip to Europe!), but the main one is that it actually brings down the price of the car. For reals. As a customer, you buy the car from your local U.S. Volvo dealer, then you come to Sweden, pick up the car from the factory, drive it around the countryside, or maybe take a side trip north to Norway. Then, you drop it off at the factory again, and they deliver it at no charge to your U.S. dealer. By doing this, it allows the car to be brought to the U.S. as “used” instead of “new” and the import tax is lower. Which, like I said, brings down the overall cost of the car.

So in a nutshell, if you’re buying a Volvo, taking a free trip to Sweden will get you the best price!

Fantastic, right?

Volvo Tour2

While we were at the factory, we met three couples from the U.S. who were all taking part in this Overseas Delivery program. One of the couples was taking part for the 5th time! The program has been going on for about a dozen years, and apparently there’s at least one couple who buys a Volvo every year, and then spends the summer touring Europe. Hah!

Keep reading, more info and photos ahead!

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Stockholm Day Two05

Images and text by Gabrielle.

We packed a ton into our Day Two Stockholm itinerary (see Day One here). And we loved it! There’s just so much to see. We started by meeting a tour guide, found via Visit Stockholm, at the hotel first thing in the morning. Her name is Elisabeth Daude and she’s a total Stockholm expert.

Stockholm Day Two03 Stockholm Day Two04

The first stop on our tour was a visit to the lake front to see the old palaces, and the building where the noble families historically met. We had a fun discussion about the roles royalty and nobility play in current Swedish political and social life.

Which reminds me, my favorite thing about tour guides is getting to ask a local all the million questions I have about the country’s culture and customs. With Elisabeth, we discussed two aspects of Swedish culture that I’ve been thinking about like crazy since our conversation — I’ll mention them at the bottom of the post so that I don’t get too distracted before I write up our itinerary.

Click here for the rest of our day two itinerary, plus lots of photos!

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Stockholm Day One08

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Day one in Stockholm! Such a great day. We spent the morning with Karina Lundell, Head Designer at Polarn O. Pyret. I first met Karina a few years ago and she is fantastic — so talented and delightful to hang out with.

Stockholm Day One05

We started at the PO.P offices where Karina took us through the fall line, the holiday line and the outerwear line. We talked about the new fabrics and features and discussed Sweden’s famous outdoor preschools. (Completely outdoors! Even in the middle of winter!)

Polarn O. Pyret is a classic Swedish brand — any Swede could identify the signature stripes. And Victoria, the Princess, who recently had a baby, carries a PO.P diaper bag and has dedicated personal shopping hours at PO.P stores. She’s expected to dress the baby in this classic Swedish brand (and has even been criticized if she doesn’t).

Polarn O. Pyret Fall 20141

Each season, PO.P chooses a new theme for their line, and this fall it’s “cooking with kids”. Based on the theme, they created two new prints, plus kitchen accessories in the signature Polarn O. Pyret navy and red — a chefs hat, dishtowels, over mits, and aprons. I’m nuts about the polka dotted chef’s hat!

Stockholm Day One07 Stockholm Day One06

After the HQ visit, we went to Polarn O. Pyret flagship store in the Gallerian shopping center so we could see the complete wares. All those stripes!

Stockholm Day One09

Next up, lunch at Restaurang Prinsen with classic Swedish food on the menu. Can you guess what I ordered? Swedish meatballs — with mash potatoes and lingonberry sauce, of course! Really, really yummy. The restaurant has a perfect location for access to the best shopping in town. We ate outside and watches the fashionable people walk by while we chatted.

Lunch in Stockholm1

One cute little detail: I liked how the dinner rolls were stacked on a stick!

Click for more of our Day One report!

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Stockholm

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Good morning! I’m waving hello from Sweden! As I mentioned, we’ll be spending much of our time here in Gothenburg and West Sweden, but we’re starting our trip with a few days in Stockholm. Stockholm is gorgeous. Gorgeous and super cool. It’s like cool overload.

We arrived yesterday evening, checked into our hotel, then wandered around Old Town, and watched the sun set on the water. There were stages and live music, playing late into the night, all over the city. And twinkle lights hung back and forth across the cobbled streets. Pretty glorious.

Today, we’ll be getting a shopping tour of the city from the Head Designer at Polarn O. Pyret. Can’t wait to report!

P.S. — Our hotel room has a turntable and stack of records! Made me happy. We listened to the Eurythmics while we unpacked. : )

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Rootbeer Flavored Cookies

August 13, 2014

donut sign 21

Image and text by Gabrielle.

We were laughing yesterday about some of things our exchange students noticed about America. The first thing they commented on was how BIG everything seemed, from the moment they disembarked from the airplance. The cars, the freeways, the buildings, the stores — they were wide-eyed at how huge everything was in comparison to their own countries.

They also had a talent for zeroing in on the craziest or most extreme items in the grocery stores or on the menus at restaurants. For example, during his last week here, Chris purchased a package of Rootbeer Float Flavored Chips Ahoy Cookies. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Don’t they sound like the strangest concoction? I had no idea they existed! Another time, we were at an outdoor mall and stopped at Fuddruckers for burgers. Victor and Charles ordered the enormous 1-pound burger just to see what it was like! Of course, I had never noticed it was on the menu and had certainly never heard or seen anyone order it. It’s one of those things that’s much more of a novelty than an actual menu item. During the roadtrip, when we were stocking up on snacks, Charles requested a bottle of Easy Cheese — as a Frenchman, he prides himself on knowledge of the best cheeses, and wanted to see this mockery of cheese product for himself.

We didn’t mind at all when they pointed out the strange things they would see. America has a reputation for crazy food and lots of it, so I think they were pre-disposed to notice the oddest bits. And we know we did the same sort of thing when we lived in France. We couldn’t help but notice the large glass jars of snails at the grocery store — though I never actually saw such a jar in anyone’s grocery cart.

To balance out the extremes, we would also try to give them common experiences. Sample breakfasts might be a bowl of corn flakes or Cheerios, another morning might be donuts, or something more traditional like sausage and eggs. Beyond food experiences, they would join us for family screen time, or run errands with us.

It was fun to see our world through their eyes. And now, when I’m at the store, I’m more likely to notice any strange new food items that have popped up.

If you were making an itinerary for visitors to your own town, what are the strangest things, and the most common things, you’d put on the schedule? What do you think they’d notice about where you live? What would you hope they’d notice?

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