Design Mom » travel http://www.designmom.com The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Sat, 25 Apr 2015 18:17:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 Lake Tahoe http://www.designmom.com/2015/03/lake-tahoe/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/03/lake-tahoe/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 17:15:51 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=54280

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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Last Minute Trip to Lake Tahoe! http://www.designmom.com/2015/03/last-minute-trip-to-lake-tahoe/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/03/last-minute-trip-to-lake-tahoe/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 02:22:23 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=54230

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 http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/haiti/ http://www.designmom.com/2015/01/haiti/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 20:08:14 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=52784

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 http://www.designmom.com/2014/12/russian-river/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/12/russian-river/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 18:52:15 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=52597

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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Books I’m Considering for Today’s Flight http://www.designmom.com/2014/10/books-im-considering-for-todays-flight/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/10/books-im-considering-for-todays-flight/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:00:08 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=51402

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?

——-

This post is brought to you in part by Oyster.

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Visit Sweden: West Coast Itinerary http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-west-coast-itinerary/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-west-coast-itinerary/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:00:50 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=50366

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!

Gallery on Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden

2.00pm — We took a guided tour at Gallery Strandverket on Marstrand Island.

Gallery on Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden

It’s such a cool museum — just the right size and housed in a fantastic historic building surrounded by the water. They have two floors, each one dedicated to a different exhibit, and the exhibits change 3 times a year. During our visit, the first floor featured sculpture by a French artist, and the upstairs had painting by a Swedish woman — she didn’t get her big break until her mid 50′s!

Gallery on Marstand Island - Four Days in West Sweden

There’s also a café and an outdoor sculpture garden that is free to the public, and you can rent out the rooftop garden for weddings or events! If you visit Marstrand Island, I would say Gallery Strandverket is definitely a don’t miss.

Next, we drove to Klädesholmen at Tjörn island — known as Herring Island (the drive takes about 1 hour). We checked in at Salt & Sill hotel (see my hotel report here).

Itinerary: Four Days in West Sweden

8.00 pm — We dressed up for dinner at Salt & Sill‘s famed restaurant. Since this is “herring island” the restaurant’s speciality is herring, of course. We had their herring plate, with herring prepared six different ways. The herring is eaten with hard cheese, boiled egg, chopped red onion, and salt.

Salt & Sill Restaurant - Four Days in West Sweden

Salt & Sill hosts a huge herring contest each year, and the winners’ recipes are served in the restaurant. Our herring plate featured award winners from the past three years, plus some traditional options.

Day 2 Bohuslän 

We ate complimentary breakfast at the Salt & Sill Hotel, then checked out.

We drove to Skärhamn (the drive takes about 20 minutes).

Nordic Watercolor Museum - Four Days in West Sweden

11.00 am — In Skärhamn, we visited the Nordic Watercolor Museum.

Nordic Watercolor Museum - Four Days in West Sweden

Oh man, we LOVED this place. It features one big gallery room, one small gallery room and one theater. The exhibit was about the work of a Swedish artist named Lars Lerin. His paintings are unlike any other watercolor art I’ve ever seen. We came home with a book about him. I’m still thinking about his work.

Grounds at the Nordic Watercolor Museum - Four Days in West Sweden

But it wasn’t just the museum that we loved. The whole area was remarkable. Across the water from the museum sits the 5 Guest Studios that I mentioned in the hotel post, and there are wooden walkways around the museum that go way out into the water.

Grounds at the Nordic Watercolor Museum - Four Days in West Sweden

At the end of one walkway, there is a high dive! A school class of children was visiting the museum, and afterwards we watched them run out to the high dive and jump in the water. But we were amazed because the wind was crazy that day and we were bundled in our coats. The kids jumped in the water like the weather was nothing!

Pilane Sculpture Garden - Four Days in West Sweden

2.30 pm — We visited the Pilane Sculpture Park. It was founded by a local citizen that could see the natural landscape of his childhood disappearing. So he set up a nature preserve, and then introduced a sculpture park on the preserve so that people could interact with the landscape. He also introduced sheep to the sculpture park — they keep the paths trimmed with their grazing.

Pilane Sculpture Garden - Four Days in West Sweden

We really appreciated how intentional this place was. As you follow the path of the sculpture, you get to experience the variations in the landscape. And the whole place is designed for generations to visit — grandparents take their grandchildren, and the sculptures spark thoughts for both of them.

Sheep grazing on an ancient burial ground. Pilane Sculpture Garden - Four Days in West Sweden

At the end of the sculpture path, you’ll walk by an ancient burial ground with stone circles. When we walked by, the sheep were napping there — they blended right in with the grave stones!

The sculptures change each year, and there are 60,000 visitors to the park every summer.

Next, we drove to Orust, and checked in at the chic Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast (see my notes and photos about this awesome place here).

The view from Nösund - a restaurant in West Sweden.

8.00 pm — Dinner at Nösund. The setting is totally picturesque, overlooking a coastal village and the ocean. The food was a set seafood menu and it was excellent.

Day 3 Bohuslän 

We had breakfast and checked out of the Lådfabriken Bed & Breakfast.

Then we drove to Fjällbacka (the drive takes about 1 hour 20 minutes).

Rock Carvings from the Bronze Age. At Vitlycke Museum in West Sweden.

11.00 am — We took a guided tour at Vitlycke Museum. It featurese Rock Carvings from the bronze age.

Rock Carvings from the Bronze Age. At Vitlycke Museum in West Sweden. Rock Carvings from the Bronze Age. At Vitlycke Museum in West Sweden.

The carvings were made over centuries, but they all maintain the same simple style. There are hundreds of carving sites over a several square mile area.

Based on other artifacts found from the time period, we know the people had developed fine metal work and carving skills, yet they continued making these very simplistic carvings. No one knows what they mean.

I love stuff like this!

Long houses from the Bronze Age. At Vitlycke Museum in West Sweden.

After we visited the carvings, we checked out the Bronze Age Farm on the premises, featuring two long-house replicas from two different times.

The hike up to Kungsklyftan to see the stunning view over the Fjällbacka archipelago. West Sweden.

Next, we visited the charming fishing village, Fjällbacka, and explored.

This is the home town of the Swedish crime writer Camilla Läckberg and used to be the summer destination for Ingrid Bergman.

The view from Kungsklyftan over the Fjällbacka archipelago. West Sweden. The view from Kungsklyftan over the Fjällbacka archipelago. West Sweden.

We took the hike up to Kungsklyftan to see the stunning view over the Fjällbacka archipelago. Then we took a “fika” at Ingrid Bergman’s favorite café “Setterlinds Bageri”.

The seafood feasting room at Everts Sjöbod hotel in Grebbestad. West Sweden.

Next, we drove to the oyster village, Grebbestad (the drive takes about 30 minutes). Fun fact: 90% of the Swedish oysters comes from Grebbestad! We checked in to Everts Sjöbod hotel (see my notes here).

Seafood feast at Everts Sjöbod hotel in Grebbestad. West Sweden. Seafood feast at Everts Sjöbod hotel in Grebbestad. West Sweden.

Everts Sjöbod offered a fresh-as-possible seafood dinner.

Day 4 Göta Canal Area

We drove to Lidköping (the drive takes about 2 hours).

Rörstrand Museum. It's one of Europe’s oldest porcelain factories. West Sweden.

11.00 am — We visited the Rörstrand Museum. It’s one of Europe’s oldest porcelain factories. We were there on such a busy day!

Rörstrand Museum. It's one of Europe’s oldest porcelain factories. West Sweden.

The Museum is connected to a shopping center. After a quick run through the museum, we took advantage of the shopping, and we actually found several of our best souvenirs here.

Next, we drove to Läckö castle at Kållandsö (the drive takes about 30 minutes). We checked in at Victoriahuset (see my description and photos here). We parked the car at the big parking lot near the castle.

Läckö Castle in West Sweden.

3.00 pm — We took a guided tour at Läckö Castle. It’s a stunner. It has medieval foundations and has been well-preserved since the Baroque period. It’s considered one of the country’s most beautiful castles.

Entrance of Läckö Castle in West Sweden. Inside Läckö Castle in West Sweden. Fireplace detail inside Läckö Castle in West Sweden.

The castle tour was excellent. We were guided through the 3rd floor and then welcomed to explore the first and second floors on our own. I think it’s nice to get to go on your own and pace yourself however you like.

Hvita Hjorten, restaurant at Victoriahuset hotel in West Sweden. Meal at Hvita Hjorten. The restaurant at Victoriahuset hotel in West Sweden.

8.00 pm — We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Hvita Hjorten. This is an award-winning establishment that uses only the freshest local produce — grown in the small castle garden and purchased from local vegetable growers. Fish and meat come from the fishermen of Lake Vänern (the lake that sits alongside the hotel), local farmers and hunters. The menu is determined each day depending on what’s available. This was maybe my favorite meal of our whole trip!

Day 5 Departure

Drive to Gothenburg, drop off car, and head to the airport.

westsweden_2

I should note one schedule change. Because of our early flight time, we shifted things around a bit and drove back to Gothenburg the night before we flew out. We stayed at the Hotel Pigalle back in the city. It’s a super stylish hotel, with a popular bar and restaurant. I got a kick out of the fact that they had old school room keys, and smiled when the desk clerk greeted us in a top hat!

And there’s the whole itinerary. I hope you found it helpful/interesting. : ) For our trip, the goal was to have us see as much as possible, so we stayed somewhere new each night. But really, any of the locations we stayed in would be ideal for a week. You could unpack and use your hotel/B&B as a base for exploring. Whirlwind itineraries have their own excitement, but staying for awhile at any one of the beautiful stops would have been equally wonderful.

Now, I’m curious to know if you’ve ever traveled with an itinerary that was prepared for you. There’s something lovely about not having to make decisions, but customizing the exact trip you want is so satisfying. What’s your itinerary preference?

P.S. — Find all the posts from our Sweden trip here.

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Visit Sweden: The Five Coolest Places to Stay on the West Coast http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-the-five-coolest-places-to-stay-on-the-west-coast/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-the-five-coolest-places-to-stay-on-the-west-coast/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:03:46 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=50030

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. : )

Salt & Sill Hotel and Restaurant in West Sweden. Floating hotel rooms!

The second place I want to share with you is called Salt & Sill. It’s a floating hotel!

The story with Salt & Sill is that the owners had already established one of the finest seafood restaurants in West Sweden (I talk about our dinner there here). They wanted to add a hotel to the restaurant location, but the available land didn’t make sense, so in 2008, they built a floating hotel instead! It’s an eco-friendly hotel and when they built it, they also created an underwater reef to support marine life.

Salt & Sill Hotel and Restaurant in West Sweden. Floating hotel rooms!

The yellow building is hotel check in, and the brown buildings at the back of the photo are the floating hotel rooms. Throughout the night, we could feel the building gently rocking on the water. Lovely.

Swimming at Salt & Sill Hotel and Restaurant in West Sweden. Floating hotel rooms!

The hotel rooms are designed facing the water, and you can jump in for a swim at anytime. Ben Blair took a dip before dinner!

Salt & Sill Hotel and Restaurant in West Sweden. Floating hotel rooms!

The other fun thing about this hotel, is that there is a floating sauna as well. While we were there, it was docked near the hotel and guests were going back and forth between the hot sauna and the cold sea water. Apparently, the sauna/boat can be taken out into the archipelago — you can schedule a sauna anywhere!

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

The next hotel I want to share with you is called Everts Sjöbod which translates to Evert’s Boathouse. Staying at Evert’s feels like an adventure. The yellow part of the building is 130 years old — it has big open rooms for gatherings or parties, and seafood feasts are hosted there regularly.

The brown portion of the building is newly built and houses 6 hotel rooms plus modern kitchens.

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

Guests at Everts Sjöbod often like to stay for several days or a week, so they use these gorgeous new kitchens to cook their own food — perhaps even the seafood they caught on a fishing adventures with the owners.

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

When the current owners — two brothers — bought the place, it was full of antique fishing accessories, all sea-worn and aged to perfection. They kept everything and used all the artifacts as decoration. So the whole place is packed with a million wonderful details. I took too many photos!

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

The brothers keep two gorgeous wooden boats, made in the 1950′s, docked at the hotel. They take guests and tourists out to the sea for fishing adventures and sightseeing daily.

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

On the dock, they have two wood hot tubs. During the winter, they are filled with sea water and heated. Guests go from the hottub to the ocean and back in the hot tub again. We want to visit in the winter just to do this! : )

Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle in West Sweden

Fourth, the one-with-nature Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle.

Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle in West Sweden

This is a new hotel, opened in May 2013. It’s located alongside Lake Vänerns (Sweden’s biggest lake, Europe’s third biggest) and functions as the visitor center for the Djurö National Park. It faces Läckö Castle which dates from the 16th century.

Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle in West Sweden Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle in West Sweden

The architecture of this hotel is stunning, and the whole building is built around a nature theme. The materials are all natural. As you walk down the hallway, nature sounds play from hidden speakers. The ceiling is a layer of woven sticks.

Victoriahuset Hotel at Läckö Castle in West Sweden

The lobby has interactive displays about the National Park.

Läckö Castle in West Sweden

The hotel has bikes for guests to borrow, and we spent a morning exploring the grounds of the National Park.

Canoeing at Läckö Castle in West Sweden Canoeing in the lake at Läckö Castle in West Sweden

Then we rented a canoe and went for a row in the lake with the castle for a backdrop. We loved every minute of our time there!

Visitor's Studios at Nordic Watercolor Museum in West Sweden

Here’s a bonus one! The fifth place I want to make sure to tell you about is the Guest Studios at the Nordic Watercolor Museum (I’ll talk more about the Museum itself in tomorrow’s post). We didn’t actually stay here but the studios really caught our imaginations. They’re big! Two stories each, and they aren’t quite a hotel. You bring your own sheets, or rent them from the museum, and you clean up after yourself as well.

Our museum guide mentioned that artists get half off on Guest Studio rentals. So awesome! Wouldn’t it be amazing to come here and paint? The location is jaw-dropping. The studios are just across the water from the museum.

So, that’s the report of the amazing places to stay we encountered. I’d love to hear — do any of these places seem particularly appealing to you? And when you travel, are you more likely to pick one hotel and use it as a base, or do you like to move around and try different accommodations?

P.S. — You can find all the posts from our Sweden trip here. If you need more help in planning your own visit, I highly recommend The Visit Sweden website, and also the West Sweden website.

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Visit Sweden: Volvo Factory http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-volvo-factory/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/visit-sweden-volvo-factory/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:25:54 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49950

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!

Of course, I asked a million questions. The first of which was: So, why doesn’t every Volvo customer participate in this program? And the answer was three-fold. One, not everyone enjoys traveling. Two, sometimes a customer wants to buy something off the lot because they need a car in a hurry (ordering a car through the Overseas Delivery program is a 2 to 3 month process). And three, not every dealer participates, so not every customer knows about the program — but you can find the nearest participating dealer here.

Other things I learned about the program from Volvo reps and from the couples who were participating:

When you pick up the car, it has a temporary license plate and temporary insurance. The insurance is good for two weeks, or you can increase it up to 3 months for an additional fee. The license plate is good for 3 months at no extra cost. What that means is that you don’t have to keep the trip to 24 hours, you can travel around while you’re there — for a few days, two weeks, or even up to 3 months! Related, many European countries have visitor visas that expire after 3 months, so this timing matches that.

The couples we spoke to were all making an extended trip out of it — the trip of a lifetime for one of the couples: three weeks all over Scandinavia. Gothenburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Finland, Oslo, Bergen and the fjords! This is all totally drivable.

Another couple was driving the car south to France and Spain. They are going to drop it off in France after their travels are done. Then, the Volvo dealership will send it back to Gothenburg (for a fee) and it will be shipped at no cost to their U.S. dealer.

So basically, you can use the free airfare and turn this into a European dream vacation if you’re so inclined.

On the other hand, if you simply want the better price, you can make the trip as short as possible and drive around Gothenburg for a bit, then hand the car back over to the factory for delivery.

Volvo Tour4

Another thing I learned is that by ordering a car through this program, you can specify exactly what you want. Make, model, color, upholstery, add-ons, accessories — you get to build your ideal Volvo. This appeals to me for obvious reasons.

Okay. So I’m obviously fascinated by the Overseas Delivery program. But as I mentioned, I also attended a Volvo safety demonstration. I wasn’t expecting to get much out of it, but Ben Blair and I have since discussed it at least twice a day since we attended.

Volvo Tour6

First we talked about the importance of safety, and what happens to the weight and impact of humans, pets and objects in a car during a wreck. Then, three volunteers got to test their speed reflexes — Ben Blair’s were the fastest (of course). I already associated Volvo with safety, but just assumed it was their marketing tactic. I didn’t understand it was the company’s core guiding value, and the number one thing they’ve focused on from the beginning. They take safety super seriously.

They invented the 3-point harness, then, when they saw how effective it was, quickly made it available to all car manufacturers. And to this day, it’s the safety innovation that saves the most lives. But they didn’t stop at an improved safety belt.

Every time there’s a serious accident here in Sweden that involves a Volvo, their engineers go to the scene. They study and document the wreck, then they recreate the same crash in their massive safety labs so they can figure out how they might lessen the impact to the people inside the cars. They don’t just sort-of recreate the crash. Their machinery allows them to stage a wreck inside the lab from any angle or point of impact. It’s truly amazing.

My brain doesn’t work like that. Like everyone, I know serious car wrecks happen every day, and I just assume it’s part of the gamble of life. I hear about safety improvements in car advertisements, and shrug and think they don’t really change the overall safety statistics. I accept that cars are dangerous, and try to block out the worst case scenarios from my mind.

Volvo Tour5

But Volvo engineers’ brains are different than mine. Like me, they know car crashes are going to happen, so they figure out every possible way to either prevent them, or lessen their impact. They take what they’ve learned from studying real-life wrecks and make improvements. Real improvements. A decade or so ago, 10% of car crashes involving a Volvo resulted in major injury or death to the people in the car. Then, they made more safety improvements, and brought the number down to 4%. Then, they made more safety improvements, and at this point, they’ve brought that number down to 2%. Those numbers represent real people and real lives that are being saved.

Their current goal is to bring the number to 0% by 2020. And based on their track record, I have no doubt they’ll reach it. Just think: By 2020, if you are driving a Volvo and get in a serious accident, there will be 0% chance that you will receive a serious injury. Zero percent chance that you will die. I’m stunned by that thought.

And that’s what Ben and I have been discussing. We don’t own a Volvo. We’ve never owned a Volvo. There isn’t actually a Volvo that seats 8 people, so we’ve never even considered it. But suddenly, we were feeling irresponsible for driving around our kids in anything but a Volvo. Or what about teen drivers who are particularly at risk for car wrecks? We have two teenagers, both working toward their drivers licenses — if we could reduce their chance of being seriously hurt in a car crash to 2 percent, why wouldn’t we do that?

Of course, that brought up bigger questions like: should safety features this good be required by law for all new vehicles? And even though these safer cars are more expensive to make, do they ultimately save money for a country because of fewer catastrophic injuries and related medical care? Would safer cars mean less car insurance and far fewer associated legal battles? Should governments subsidize the purchase of safer cars to make them available to all income levels?

Obviously, these are big questions, and I don’t pretend to have the answers, but as you can imagine, we have been discussing this topic repeatedly since the safety demonstration, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing it for weeks and months to come.

Volvo Tour7

As we finished up at Volvo, the last step was to pick up a car that we could drive up the coast. The car they loaned us for the week is a V-60 R-Design. It has sporty details and smart features — like it shows you on the dashboard what the speed limit is on whatever road you’re driving, and the number changes instantly whenever the speed limit changes. It’s both good-looking and highly functional — exactly what I expect from Swedish design.

We love it and we feel safe as we drive on these new-to-us roads. If you’re following along on Instagram, you may have seen  a peek of it. It certainly feels like the ideal car to be driving around Sweden, where something like one in every 7 vehicles is a Volvo. : )

Volvo Tour8 Volvo Tour9

I know I covered quite a bit in this post, but I’d love your thoughts on any of it. What do you think of the Overseas Delivery program? Does it get your European vacation imagination going? And what are your thoughts on the 0% serious injury goal? I’d love to discuss either with you!

P.S. — Related to that 0% goal, in the next 3 years, there will be 100 self-driving cars in the streets of Gothenburg. These will be customer cars, not test cars. Wow!

Volvo Tour1

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Visit Sweden: Stockholm, Day Two http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm-day-two/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm-day-two/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 13:30:01 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49933

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.

Stockholm Day Two06

We used the Stockholm Card to get around on the city buses — it includes access to all public transportation and most museums and attractions. A super good deal for tourists.

Since we had seen some of the town center the day before, Elisabeth took us to the South Island — it’s a residential area that we probably wouldn’t have visited on our own, and it’s super cool! It has that in-the-process-of-being-regenetrified hipster feel, with lots of second hand stores and vintage furniture shops and restaurants that celebrate local producers — old school Swedish food made new and fresh again. It’s called the SOFO neighborhood. Our favorite stops:

Stockholm Day Two09 Stockholm Day Two10 Stockholm Day Two07

Grandpa. A terrific collection of artifacts, vintage goods and new Swedish-made products — old leather chairs, a giant antique Danish flag, a vintage Swedish school map of the North America.

Stockholm Day Two11 Stockholm Day Two08

There was a wall of classic canvas backpacks by Sandqvist. They are stunning. Leather details, super sturdy and well made. Plus, they are designed and built in Stockholm! We bought one for a souvenir — and are using it to hold the other souvenirs we pick up. : )

Stockholm Day Two15 Stockholm Day Two16

Meatballs for the People. There’s nothing more iconic than meatballs as far as Swedish food goes. They have a cart for deliveries, family style eating in the restaurant, and take home options as well. The meatballs are made simply, using local ingredients, and there’s a map that shows where in Sweden the different meats come from. (And yes, they have veggie meatball options as well!)

Stockholm Day Two12

Swedish Hasbeens. These gorgeous wooden+leather clogs and sandals have been on my wishlist for ages. But the high quality and high design means they’re quite pricey. So when we happened on a store in SOFO having a 50% off sale, you can imagine I couldn’t resist. I bought a red pair and can’t wait to show you!

Stockholm Day Two14 Stockholm Day Two13

Acne Studios. A modern, sometimes experimental/edgy Swedish style brand. This Swedish line has grown and there are now stores across Europe and even two in the U.S.. Definitely peek in if you ever get a chance.

Pärlans Caramels. Handmade the old fashioned way in a little shop using the recipe of the founder’s grandmother. The shop is charming as can be — decorated with furniture and wallpaper inspired by her grandmother’s home. We tried 9 different kinds — peppermint & polka, vanilla & sea salt, and pistachio & sea salt were my favorites.

Of course, for every shop we stopped into, there were another 5 we didn’t have time for. So this is just a tiny sampling of the SOFO area. It’s a place to shop, to walk, to fill your inspiration well, to see what’s new and cool in Swedish wares.

Stockholm Day Two17

After exploring SOFO, we made a visit to Svenskt Tenn. We met their creative director for lunch (taking tea in the Svenskt Tenn tearoom is high on my recommend list!), and spent a couple of hours learning about this amazing Swedish store/cultural institution.

This was a life changer for me. I can’t stop thinking about the founder and her vision. I’m quite obsessed! And I came away with two books — one about the founder, and one about the lead designer. I’m going to mention our visit here, but not tell you much about it because I have too much to share. But I will definitely be writing up a separate post about this place!

Stockholm Day Two18

During the afternoon, we made our way to the Vasa Museum. (Our Stockholm Card gave us free entry.) We’ve heard it’s the number one tourist attraction in Sweden. It’s a massive wooden ship with an infamous history. It was commissioned by a Swedish king centuries ago as a way to intimidate on the sea. But against the ship builder’s advice, the king demanded the ship be built higher and higher — 4 stories high. The day it set sail, it sunk almost immediately, never even making it out of the Stockholm harbor. The king was so embarrassed, he wouldn’t let anyone talk about it and tried to erase the incident from history.

Stockholm Day Two19

But the secret was passed along, and 300 years later, the ship was discovered and brought up from the ocean floor. It was in remarkable condition, and you can see the whole restored ship (98% original!) at the Vasa Museum.

By the way, next door to the Vasa is the Pippi Longstocking museum. If we’d had our kids with us, we would have gone for sure! Which reminds me, I was struck at how family friendly Stockholm is. Lots of parks. Tons of strollers. Babies in restaurants. Every museum has a kid program or kid section. Even the airport has awesome spaces for kids to play.

Stockholm Day Two25 Stockholm Day Two21 Stockholm Day Two22

That evening, we took a boat ride out into the archipelago and ate at Fjäderholmarnas Krog. Truly amazing! It’s just a 25 minute boat ride away from the city. The views were stunning. The meal was excellent — I practically licked my plate clean.

The restaurant is found on a small island that takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes to walk around. So beautiful! After dinner we explored the island a bit and happened upon a small outdoor theater where an Abba singalong happening! And then we watched the sun set while we waited for the boat back to Stockholm.

Stockholm Day Two20 Stockholm Day Two24

A magical end to a magical day.

That covers our day two itinerary, but I still want to mention two of the things we discussed with our tour guide. First, Elisabeth mentioned that at some point in the last century — maybe 50 years ago — the country of Sweden decided they would stop using the formal version of their language. Like many world languages, they had a formal and informal mode of speech, and they knew that by getting rid of the formal version, they would be taking a big step forward to equalizing citizens and breaking down class separations.

I thought that was amazing! We’re talking about a major cultural change. Language develops over centuries and affects the way we think and act. To officially ask (require?) citizens to stop using certain words or ways of speaking all of a sudden is a BIG deal. And the idea that the whole country simply accepted it for the sake of the greater good is remarkable to me. Elisabeth said that as a result of the change, she would address any other Swede she met — including the Prime Minister — by first name.

A second topic that came up and that I keep thinking about, is that Elisabeth mentioned having a housekeeper or house cleaner is generally frowned upon, even if you are wealthy enough to hire someone. She said the idea is that Swedes are expected to clean up their own messes. She also mentioned this cultural guideline has become more lax in the last few years. There has been a wave of immigrants who don’t speak the language, but are in need of work, and housekeeping jobs make sense while they integrate into the culture.

So now I’m dying to know: What’s your response to their no-hired housekeeping approach? And what do you think it would be like if your country made significant changes to your language? (I was trying to imagine what it would be like if American kids called all adults by their first names — even their school teachers.) Also, have you ever visited Stockholm? What were your favorite parts? Did you get a chance to have any cultural discussions while you were there? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — For a full list of shopping recommendations, I loved this guide — with categories for fashion, design, vintage and food.

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Visit Sweden: Stockholm, Day One http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm-day-one/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm-day-one/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:00:13 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49703

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!

Stockholm Day One10

In addition to lunch, Karina also walked with us through the posh shopping area and pointed out the best of the Swedish brands. We stopped at famous Swedish department store, NK, and checked out super cool, modern Swedish brands like Hope, Dagmar, Tiger, Filippa K, Whyred and Rodebjer. Swedish design is so good! I truly loved everything, but especially gravitated to Filippa K and Rodebjer and Dagmar.

As we walked, Karina mentioned that many of the designers behind these brands got their start at beloved Swedish clothing brand H&M. In fact, Karina herself, started her career at H&M as well. And we ended up discussing more about H&M and the influence it has had on the Swedish fashion scene — it’s almost like a school for Swedish designers!

Stockholm Day One12

H&M has not only launched a generation of independent designers, they’ve also added two new store concepts under their company umbrella. One is called COS. I’ve written about it before when my sister introduced me the shops in Paris. The other one is called & Other Stories. Both stores are like high-end big-sisters to H&M. Really fabulous stuff, but still totally accessible.

One thing I noticed in both COS and & Other Stories, is that the women shopping were all ages — hip teens to chic, grey-haired grandmas. Of course, I think it’s wonderful that the lines appeal to so many women!

Stockholm Day One11

Outside of NK, we toured more of the fashion district, particularly focusing on Swedish brands — some I didn’t even know were Swedish, like Hestra Gloves and  Happy Socks!

Seeing all these Swedish brands got me asking questions about Swedish pride. I asked Karina what companies Swedes are most proud of. The first 5 mentioned were Ikea, H&M, Volvo, Skype, and Spotify. 

Stockholm Day One01

I know when people think of fashion centers, New York and Paris are the cities we talk about. So it was really fun for me to realize how much influence Sweden has on the world of fashion as well. The city is really cutting edge as far as style goes, but it’s paired with a smart Swedish sensibility.

Karina talked about how the women wear practical shoes — rarely or never heels. They expect to be outside for at least a portion of every day, and heels simply don’t make sense for the harsh winters. She also mentioned that Swedish women don’t like to iron their clothes, and that every piece of clothing they purchase needs to be washable at home. If it’s dry clean only, they won’t buy it.

I love that thinking! I’m not above wearing an uncomfortable shoe for the sake of fashion, so I enjoyed hearing about the Swedish style mindset. Swedes are looking for beautiful pieces that are totally practical, and that can be worn for a long time. How does that align with how you dress?  And when you think of Sweden do any particular brands come to mind?

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Visit Sweden: A Quick Hello from Stockholm http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/stockholm/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:02:37 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49911

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 http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/rootbeer-flavored-cookies/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/rootbeer-flavored-cookies/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 12:00:57 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49865

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! http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/sweden-2/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/sweden-2/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 17:13:54 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49645

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 — Tips & Details http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/epic-roadtrip-tips/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/epic-roadtrip-tips/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 16:16:02 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49586

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.

FOOD

- In the car, we kept a cooler between the front seats. For the long drives we would stop at a grocery store and stock it with water bottles, sliced meats like salami, ham, pepperoni and prosciutto, sliced cheeses, red and green grapes, nectarines, and apples. Outside the cooler, we kept a grocery sack filled with crackers, chips and sweets (ideally nothing melty). We would pass food around the car and everyone would snack as we drove. We would fill the cooler with ice from the hotel ice machines.

- If a grocery store wasn’t available, we would stock up the cooler at a gas station mini mart. Not ideal, but fine for a meal here and there.

- We also relied on fast food. Once in awhile it was during a drive, but more often it was because we arrived back at the hotel after a long day of hiking and wanted to eat as quickly as possible before we fell into bed.

- Other times we ate a sit down meal at a full-service restaurant. Sometimes it was a pizza place — which is often the most inexpensive way to feed a big group. Other times it was whatever restaurant was best reviewed online and also family friendly. These meals were the most expensive, so we spaced them out.

- The hotels we stayed in generally offered a complimentary breakfast. This was ideal on some mornings, but on others, we wanted to sleep in and we would miss the breakfast. The hotel rooms also had small refrigerators, so we could keep milk and cereal around for random meals as well.

By the end of the trip we were so excited at the prospect of home cooked meals!

DRIVING

- To fight boredom on the drives, we definitely made use of screens and head phones. On the evening before a long drive we would remind the kids to take advantage of the hotel wifi and stock their ipods with podcasts or movies for the day ahead — and remind them to charge their devices as well.

- We also listened to audio books over the car speakers. Speaker for the Dead and Anne of Green Gables were both well-received. If a particular kid wasn’t into the story, they could put on headphones and listen to something else.

- We played car games, but we did so sparingly. We’ve found over the years that they can get irritating fast. The most popular was: I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing…  The first person says something that starts with A. As in, I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing an Antelope. Then, the next person says something that starts with B — I’m going to Yosemite and I’m bringing an Antelope and a Banana. The third person repeats that and adds something that starts with C. The game ends with someone naming everything that has been chosen from A to Z.

- At the beginning of the trip, Ben Blair assigned each child a color of car to track. For example, Betty counted turquoise cars and Oscar counted orange cars (over the course of the whole trip, he noted 53).

- As a group, we also tracked license plates. I need to check with the kids, but I believe we found all but 14, plus two from Canadian provinces.

- Sometimes we would take a break from audiobooks or personal screen time and one of the kids would play DJ. We turned up the speakers and everybody would sing along.

- As we planned the schedule, we did our best to separate the long drive days. This helped a ton. We also tried to communicate what to expect the next day as we said our goodnights, so that no one was surprised by a long stretch on the road. I think this definitely helped. Expectations can have a big affect on attitude.

- We didn’t bring pillows in the car. We weren’t really opposed to it, we just didn’t bring them. But, we did bring a stack of beach towels, because I knew we would want to stop and play in every river or lake we could find. The towels ended up doubling as pillows — the kids would lean up against the window for a mid-drive nap, with a towel to rest their head on.

- We also kept one big blanket in the car for unpredictable weather or impromptu picnics. More often, it was used to help regulate the air conditioning in the van. If the back row was hot and wanted  more AC, but the middle row felt chilly, the middle row could use the blanket.

HOTELS

- You could definitely rent an RV for this sort of trip, or even camp the whole way. But with the limited amount of time we had to plan, we knew hotel rooms would be the fastest option for us. We needed 3 rooms, so we looked for bargains. Clean and cheap were the goals. Sometimes that meant staying a little out of the way in order to find something that worked with our budget. We started by sourcing places on hotels.com, but later ended up booking almost everything through the Choice Hotels website — I didn’t know this till I was on their website, but they seem to own all the most common roadside hotel chains throughout the west — Comfort Inn, Econolodge, Roadway Inn and a dozen more. In fact, in almost every town we stayed in, they had 3 or 4 different hotel chains.

- The exceptions were in Las Vegas and near the north rim of The Grand Canyon. In Las Vegas, we got a recommendation from my brother, and stayed at The Golden Nugget. And we stayed at Jacob’s Lake Inn on our Grand Canyon visit.

- We did laundry 3 times, always at the hotels we were staying in. We brought a box of laundry detergent with us, so we just needed quarters for the machines. We would gather everybody’s dirty laundry, sort it all, and do 3 loads (darks, mediums and whites) late at night.

- Unless we knew we had to be on the road early, we would draw the blackout curtains on the hotel windows and sleep in as much as possible. If you’re traveling with teenagers, I highly recommend this. (I love sleeping in as well.)

- As I mentioned above, the hotels we stayed at typically offered complimentary breakfast. Betty was always up earliest and was most likely to eat breakfast at the hotel. Some mornings, Ben would go down to breakfast and bring up a few plates of muffins or pastries and we’d eat in the hotel rooms after the kids were all awake. Other times we missed the hotel breakfast altogether and would pick up something like donuts at a local shop. On at least 2 days, we slept in so late that our first meal was lunch!

- If we’d planned well in advance, I would have loved to book rooms right in the National Parks at Yosemite and Zion and The Grand Canyon. Oh well. Next time!

ITINERARY

This was our schedule (you can find posts about each stop here):
Day 1 – Drive to Yosemite, visit the park in the afternoon.
Day 2 – Spend the day in Yosemite.
Day 3 – Drive to Las Vegas and sightsee in the evening.
Day 4 – Sightsee in Las Vegas.
Day 5 – Last sightseeing in Las Vegas in the morning, then drive to St. George. Cousins week welcome BBQ started at 3:00.
Day 6 – Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 7 - Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 8 - Kids at Cousins Week, Parents working at the hotel.
Day 9 – Pick up kids from Cousins Week, stay at hotel in St. George that night.
Day 10 – Photo shoot in the morning for work, then Zion in the afternoon and Grafton in the evening.
Day 11 – Drive to Grand Canyon, sightsee at the park, sleep at Jacob’s Lake.
Day 12 – Drive to Lake Powell, spend the day on the water.
Day 13 – Drive to Moab, but stop for an hour at Monument Valley on the way.
Day 14 – Spend the day at Arches.
Day 15 – More time at Arches in the morning, then drive to SLC, and stop at Ben’s parent’s home in Provo on the way.
Day 16 – Sightsee in SLC and drive into the mountains. Going away dinner for our French exchange student.
Day 17 – Take it easy in SLC. Visit the mall. Catch up on sleep. Dinner with friends.
Day 18 – Wedding in Salt Lake City.
Day 19 – Drive to Oakland.

- If you were keeping track, I realize my instagrams didn’t always line up. At most of the parks there was no phone coverage or wifi, so I would have to post pics later, when we got to the hotel, or even the following day.

- I think this trip was a bit too long. Two weeks would have been ideal, but we were planning the trip around Cousins Week and a wedding, while also trying to space out the longer drives, so the length of the trip couldn’t totally be helped. Happily, the kids were really good sports. We would review favorite parts of the trip as we went, which helped give it that epic feeling, and helped everyone remember the amazing things we’ve seen and how lucky we are.

- An annual national parks pass is only $80! We bought ours on our visit to Sequoia National Park a couple of months ago, so we were set for this trip. It gave us free entry to Yosemite, Zion, The Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Arches. Not bad!

LASTLY

- This one is a silly tip, but I noticed when we were at Zion and at other red rock destinations, the photos looked best when the kids were wearing blues and greens. Reds and oranges make them blend into the landscape!

- Something I reminded myself of as the receipts piled up: Vacations are not for saving money. We save our money, so we can spend it on vacations.

- Ben drove the entire time. What a champ! He knows driving is not my favorite thing, so I managed kids and food and charging devices while he did the driving. I know his was the harder job!

Okay. That is lot of information. I hope it’s more helpful than overwhelming. And I’d love for you to add your own tips, advice or observations in the comments. I’m sure many of you are roadtrip experts! Also, I’m curious: if/when you take roadtrips, do you prefer to be the driver or a passenger?

P.S. — On an earlier post, someone asked if the exchange students chipped in. We found it simplest to have our exchange students pay for their airfare and any souvenirs they wanted, but we took care of the rest of their expenses while they stayed with us. Ralph will be heading to their homes this fall and we can make the same arrangement in reverse.

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #8: Salt Lake City http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/epic-roadtrip-stop-8-salt-lake-city/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/08/epic-roadtrip-stop-8-salt-lake-city/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 14:00:01 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49411

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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Epic Roadtrip Stop #7: Monument Valley & Arches http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-7-monument-valley-arches/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-7-monument-valley-arches/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:00:35 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49410

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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Epic Roadtrip Stop #6: Lake Powell http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-6-lake-powell/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-6-lake-powell/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:00:16 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49409

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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Epic Roadtrip Stop #5: Grand Canyon http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-5-grand-canyon/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-5-grand-canyon/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:00:47 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49408

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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Epic Roadtrip Stop #4: Zion http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-4-zion/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-4-zion/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 04:00:09 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49406

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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Epic Roadtrip Stop #3: St. George & Cousins Weeks http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-3-st-george-cousins-weeks/ http://www.designmom.com/2014/07/epic-roadtrip-stop-3-st-george-cousins-weeks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:00:46 +0000 Design Mom http://www.designmom.com/?p=49359

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.

On each day there’s an adventure or two with the aunts or uncles or Grandma. Things like tubing in the Virgin River at Zion. Or cliff diving in the Sand Hollow Reservoir. Or rock climbing. Or hiking the narrows. Or seeing a musical at Tuacahn. Or visiting the sand dunes at night. Or tie dying t-shirts.

But mostly, it’s swimming and sugar. In fact, there’s a whole freezer dedicated to popsicles, and a whole drawer dedicated to candy — the kids call it the Drawer of Wonders and talk about it with hushed, sacred tones. : ) When they need a break from the sun or the pool, they watch movies and look up favorite videos on YouTube. Though the adults are right there, ready to help, it’s definitely a very kid-centered week.

My kids LOVE cousins week. There are a lot of cousins in my family, and the cousins live, and have lived, all over the place. So this is an amazing time for them to get to know each other with no distractions. Oscar starts talking about the next cousins week as soon as the current one is over. It might be his favorite thing in the world.

Betty turned 8 in May, so this was her first year. I was so worried about her getting sunburned. She burns so easily! But she made it through with skin intact and she had a fabulous time. When cousins get to college age they sort of graduate from cousins week. They might make an appearance if they can get to St. George, but they usually have jobs or summer semester or study abroad programs that keep them away.

Cousins Week typically starts with a BBQ for the families — even the parents and the kids under 8. And it ends with a “talent show” on Thursday afternoon, again, for the whole family. I put talent show in quotes, because it’s very silly. The cousins don’t really perform their traditional talents, but instead do lip syncs and make crazy videos and do funny skits — the kids put together their talent show performances during the week.

After the talent show, we search the house for missing flip flops and track down random socks, then pack everyone up and head out. The kids are happy and exhausted. Ready for a break from their cousins, but already looking forward to next year.

Some of my siblings drop off their kids and then head home — even if they live hours away — then return on Thursday for the talent show and pick up. But we live far enough away, that Ben Blair and I always stay in St. George during cousins week. We check in to a hotel or stay at a friend’s house, then we hang out with the kids that aren’t old enough to go — when Cousins’s week started, Olive, Oscar, Betty & June weren’t old enough yet, but now it’s just June! We might visit my dad’s grave, or hang out with friends from my high school days, or go to dinner with my siblings or my Mom.

On this trip, my sister-in-law, Erin, had June over to the house to play with her two youngest, which was amazing! I was able to have solid work days and tried to catch up on as much email as possible.

Now, I think that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about Cousins Week. Hah! But I’d love to hear: Did you grow up close to your cousins? And are your kids growing up close to their cousins? Has your family ever tried something like Cousins Week? Would you ever be the host of something like Cousins Week? I don’t think I could it, but my Sara & Steve seem to love it!

P.S. — We don’t really do family reunions on the Stanley side of the the family. Between Alt Summit conferences and Cousins Week, we seem to get our fill of one another’s company. How does your family handle reunions?

 

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