From the category archives:

travel

Lake Tahoe

March 16, 2015

laketahoe

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.

exterior

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.

livingroom fireplace

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!

table kitchen

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.

bedroom masterbath

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

Haiti Partner School 4

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.

Haiti Partner School 1

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.

Haiti Partners School 3

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.

Haiti Partners School 2

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.

ipad-iphone-macbook

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 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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Sweden!

August 6, 2014

Sweden

By Gabrielle. Photo here.

Oh my. I am laughing while I write this post. I am still in the middle of stacks of post-roadtrip laundry, and at the same time making a packing list for our next trip. We are going to Sweden!

This trip is just for me and Ben Blair. No kids. Just us as a couple. I keep thinking about that line, something about what parents really need after a family vacation is a vacation. Hah! There’s definitely some truth to it — a family vacation isn’t much of a vacation for the parents. So I’m delighted to have a getaway on the schedule just for the two of us.

But that’s only one part of why we’re going. We didn’t come up with this plan for a trip to Sweden, though it’s been on our travel wishlist for years — this is one of those opportunities that came to us via blogging (and yes, I’m completely aware of how crazy lucky we are!). Sweden’s Tourism Board reached out with a fantastic promotion. They’re sponsoring 4 different bloggers on 4 different trips, each one with a specific theme — The Explorer, The Foodie, The Eco-Tourist, and The Curator. Our trip’s theme is The Curator, and the itinerary is fantastic. It takes us up and down Sweden’s West Coast and includes things like art museums, historic neighborhood walks, famed restaurants, sculpture parks and charming hotels.

The board wants us to see as much of the West Coast as we can, so instead of checking into one hotel and using it as a base, we’ll be checking into a new hotel every night, each one in a different town. In fact, one of the trip sponsors is Volvo. When we arrive in Gothenburg, we’ll be touring their factory and they’ll loan us a car so we can drive to destinations up and down the coast. Should be amazing.

For sure it feels like a wild time to be taking a trip. August is crazy at our house. There is back to school prep, two birthdays, house guests, kid camps, etc. Not exactly prime vacation time for us as parents. But the ultimate reason we said yes to this trip to Sweden, even in the midst of August chaos, is our wedding anniversary. It happens on August 19th — right in the middle of the trip. We are awful about celebrating our anniversary. We almost always let August busy-ness push the day to the bottom of our priority list. So saying yes to this trip felt like intentionally carving out time to celebrate our marriage and carving out time to be together, just the two of us.

Oh man. I could not be more excited about this trip. Every time I look at the itinerary I get goosebumps. Even hanging out with Ben on the plane ride sounds dreamy as can be. We fly out on August 13th — that’s a week away. I’m giddy just thinking about it!

And now I’d love to know, have you ever been to Sweden? I’d love to hear about your favorite spots. Also, I’m curious how you handle trip itineraries. When we travel as a family we tend to keep things pretty loose and plan the next day’s activities the night before. But for this trip, our schedule is set and we essentially won’t need to make many decisions about the day’s activities. Kind of refreshing. How about you? Do you travel with a plan?

P.S. — Of the 4 bloggers participating, I’m the last to travel, so you can already see their reports when you check out #inavolvo and #westsweden on social media. I’ll be adding to the hashtags when I get there!

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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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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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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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