DIY Snack-time Placemats - Free Printable!   |   Design Mom

Photos and text by Gabrielle. // This post is brought to you by Blue Diamond Almonds.

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It’s Back to School season! I love this time of year — really, I love anything that gives a feeling of fresh-starts and new chances and do-overs. One of the things I want to refresh as we head into fall is our snacks. Last school year we made great progress on cutting crappy food from our diet. But our efforts seemed to evaporate as summer came on. Popsicles and ice cold soda and ice cream sandwiches are hard to resist!

DIY Snack-time Placemats - Free Printable!   |   Design Mom DIY Snack-time Placemats - Free Printable!   |   Design Mom

There’s no time like the present to reintroduce healthier snacks. Of course, I could just serve them up as is (and probably will on many days), but I thought it would be a fun option to make our after-school snack times a little more playful. So, I drew up some simple illustrations and had them laminated as placemats. A fox, a cat, a man and a woman.

Click here for the full post and free printable!

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Rootbeer Flavored Cookies

August 13, 2014

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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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By Gabrielle. Photos by Maris Garcia.

The Dolgin’s Chicago apartment is as hard-working as they come. Scanning through Amy’s introductory photos, I kept coming back to her hallway and getting more ideas. (Built-ins and a desk nook are now on my wish list!) Somehow, she’s made an apartment feel as wide-open comfortable as a sprawling house! You know I enjoy a good vertical solution as much as anyone, so I was particularly taken with this tour. The window seats, the all-white with vibrant accent wall colors, a sleek and friendly kitchen — and did I mention the gorgeous built-in storage — all sealed the deal. I like this space.

Please be warned: This tour might make you yearn for a citified life. Friends, please welcome the Dolgins!

Q: Please introduce us to this Chicago clan.

A: There are five of us: me, my husband, Harell, and our three kids. Mischa is six, Romy is four, and Emmett is one. A family of five sounds so big to me when it’s in reference to other families, but doesn’t feel big to me in our home at all. I think that’s part of me still feeling a bit stunned by being a parent to three children! Kind of like how my age doesn’t really match how I feel anymore. I just turned 34, but feel stuck at 28 inside.

Harell is a contractor in a family construction business, so he renovates and builds both residential and commercial spaces. Although I was trained in public health and nursing, I recently started working with him to help during this period of fast-paced growth in the business. I still teach a Women’s Health course at a local university too, but I’ve loved getting involved in construction and design beyond it being a hobby or obsession. Harell is the calmest person I know. I feel so lucky about his general calmness, as he balances out some of my anxious and wanderlust tendencies. He is the eternal optimist, finding the silver lining in any challenging situation.

Our oldest daughter, Mischa, is finishing up her first year at our neighborhood public school as a kindergartner, and our middle daughter, Romy, will start kindergarten there in the fall. Mischa is determined and driven, but also silly and musical. She literally sings her way through each day. Romy cares deeply about clothing, colors, sparkles, and things being just the way she envisions them. She idolizes her big sister, but is also the only one in our family that Emmett kisses – and he does so about a hundred times a day! Having two girls so close in age (18 months apart) has been both exciting and exhausting, but we’re coming out the other end of those early years with girls who love each other endlessly and keep good company together. We waited a while longer before having our third child, Emmett. He is such a funny combination of cuddly and reckless, and we are loving every minute of his baby stage since we know how short it really is. I like to think that growing up with two big sisters will help him learn to be a respectful man.

Coming right up: the hardest-working hallway!

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Ideal Meals for Busy Weeks

August 11, 2014

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

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I’ve seen Blue Apron covered on many of my favorite blogs over the last couple of months. I’ve read the posts, thought it looked interesting, but assumed it wouldn’t really work for my big family. Until last week.

We got home from the epic roadtrip and all we wanted was home cooked meals. But, it’s this crazy, crazy time between the roadtrip and the Sweden trip — we’re trying to squeeze a month’s worth of family tasks and errands into a week and a half. Of course, this isn’t our first busy period. Typically, we’ll rely on take-out or drive-thrus to assist us with meals when life gets crazy. But in this case, no one could stand the idea of yet another cheeseburger after being on the road for 19 days. The whole family was craving dinners around the table with real food, prepared right in our kitchen.

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Enter Blue Apron. We ordered 3 meals, each with ingredients for 6 people. The ingredients for all three meals were delivered last Tuesday. They arrived in a refrigerated box, and we cooked the meals Tuesday night, Wednesday night and Thursday night. I hoped it would be helpful, I assumed it would be a nice plus, but it turns out we LOVE this service. In fact, this post is much longer than I expected to write, but we found this service to be so helpful that I want to thoroughly explain why I’m such a fan.

With Blue Apron, all the thinking and errands are done for you. As someone who likes to be in control, you would think I would hate having the decisions taken away from me. But it turns out, removing the menu planning, the grocery list making, and the errands from our task list is hugely helpful. Sometimes it’s really, really nice to have the decisions made for you and save your brain space for other tasks.

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Dinner time would roll around and instead of panicking, the ingredients and recipe would be waiting for us. And not just any old ingredients — farm-fresh, beautiful produce, with tons of variety, and sourced from local suppliers. We were delighted that the meals introduced our family to ingredients and dishes we’d never tried before, like the crispy fennel root salad pictured in this post. So yummy! On the second night, the side dish included green tomatoes — I’d only eaten them fried before and had no idea how wonderful they were raw. The food was delicious and menus (which are created by chefs) were unusual enough to makes the meals feel extra special.

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The cooking was simple. It would take about a half an hour — less time than if we’d had to run out for dinner ingredients or fast food. None of the prep was super involved. No special skills or unusual tools were needed. And having the kids follow the recipes felt a bit like cooking lessons. Our kids were learning how to make things beyond their favorite family comfort food recipes.

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I realize these are not bargain meals. This is not a college student eating cup noodles. They are $9.99 per person. I admit, at first that sounded high to us — each of the 3 meals we prepared last week cost $60. Then we thought about what a fast food meal for our family costs, and this was in the same range — but the food quality is much, much higher. And if we were to eat an equivalent meal at a sit-down restaurant it would be 3 times as much! So again, for us on a busy week, Blue Apron makes tons of sense. We would have been spending to eat out anyway, but instead of french fries or pizza, we ate delicious, fresh, home cooked meals, and learned some new recipes in the process.

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Another thing we did to make it more economical: We had servings for six delivered, but we were feeding 7 or 8 or 9 people each night (sometimes one of the kids has a babysitting job or other activity that takes them away during dinner time). So we served the food “family style” instead of plating it, and we found the amount of food typcially served all of us. And if it wasn’t quite enough, we could stretch it. For example, on one night, we were planning dinner for 7, but added two more people at the last minute. We knew there was plenty of the side dishes, but we were worried about the amount of meat in the main course, so we grabbed some chicken from the freezer, and cooked it with the rest of the ingredients. Easy peasy. We could have done the same thing with rice or potatoes if needed. My point: I found that the meals could be easily stretched when necessary.

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The last thing I wanted to mention, is that I really like that I didn’t waste ingredients. On the first night, the recipe called for fresh tarragon and Blue Apron sent just exactly the amount we needed. If I’d done the shopping, I would have had to buy a whole package of tarragon which would have too much for one recipe. Perhaps we would have used the remaining tarragon in a future meal, but it’s just as likely that it would have eventually been thrown away. I liked not having extra ingredients to deal with (or waste).

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Anyway. I know I am raving about Blue Apron, but I really felt like this was a huge blessing for us. It totally saved the day last week. We have Blue Apron meals coming this week and next week, too while Ben and I are in Sweden. We thought it would be helpful to Audrey & Nick as they get into the rhythm of taking care of six kids. I’m curious to see what’s on the menu! They have a huge selection of recipes and add new ones each week. It will be fun to see what arrives.

I can easily see us ordering again in the future when one of us is traveling for work, or we have another particularly crazy week. We feel so much better about making Blue Apron than ordering take out.

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What do think of the Blue Apron concept? Would you ever try it? Would it ever make sense for your family? Delivery is available in 80% of the country (see this map), so there’s a good chance they cover your home, too! If you do want to try it, you’re in luck. The first 100 Design Mom Readers who sign up will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order! If you don’t like it, no stress. There’s no commitment — you can skip or cancel the service at any time, and shipping is always free.

P.S. — Fun fact: chefs in training around the world wear blue aprons – it’s a symbol of lifelong learning in cooking.

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Gag Me With A Spoon

August 11, 2014

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By Gabrielle. Max here.

I’m not even sure where he first heard it, but the other day, Oscar asked me what “gag me with a spoon” meant. And that question turned out to be a trip wire of sorts — we ended up spending an evening talking about phrases and words that have fallen out of fashion since Ben and I were kids. The conversation highlights:

“Grody” and “grody to the max” got the biggest response. They all thought the word and phrase sounded horrible and they were glad it was gone.

In my hometown, St. George, the word “nivey” was popularized during my high school years, but I don’t think anyone ever used it again the moment they graduated. It had a negative meaning, as in, “Ugh, I’m having such a bad hair day. I look nivey.” Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I don’t think it ever took off with the population at large. Whenever I hear it now, I think of that line in Mean Girls: Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!

But the one that the kids marveled at the most was, “You think you’re hot snot on a silver platter, but really you’re a cold booger on a paper plate.” This was the ultimate insult in my elementary school circa 1984. Anyone else? I laughed when Maude pointed out to me that she wouldn’t want to be either snot or a booger. Hah! Apparently, my 9 year old self had never considered that.

Of course, the conversation made me curious. What phrases or words have passed out of your vocabulary since you were a kid? Anything particularly memorable? Can’t wait to hear!

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A Few Things

August 8, 2014

Vase of Flags

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you doing? We are having another big good-bye at our house. Tomorrow, Chris — our exchange student from England — is heading home. He’s been with us for a month, and we have loved having him! He will certainly be missed. And I must say, I think it will feel strange to have only our family at home. We’ve had visitors since early April so it’s been awhile. I’m sure we’ll enjoy the novelty, but just for a minute, because our dear friends, Audrey & Nick, are coming next week. They’ll be staying at the house to watch the little kids and hang out with big kids while we’re in Sweden. We can’t wait to welcome them!

Before I sign off for the weekend, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- On technology, patterns, and creating, from the guy who invented Gmail. “Escaping dogma is hard. From the inside, it simply looks like truth and reality.” Thanks, Emily.

- Modern Office.

- Maybe it’s parents, not kids, who need limited screen time. Thanks, Amy.

- I love working with The ONE Campaign. They recently launched the ONE Girls and Women Facebook page — I encourage you to like it. Then sign up for girls and women at one.org/women (halfway down the page).

- 3-D printing for kids!

- How to make strong passwords and protect them.

- Apparently this has already made the rounds, but it was new to me. Made me laugh so hard!

I can’t breathe. Thanks, Kelly.

40 years of birthday self-portraits. One woman, from age 30 to 70. (She’s bare-chested, so don’t look if that will bother you.)

- Are we spanking the gray matter out of our kids? This is an interesting conversation about social mores — and science.

- Look what you can do with shrinky-dinks! So cool.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — We still have our vase of flags out on the patio from our 4th of July get together. I think we’ll just keep it there through Labor Day. Or maybe Election Day!

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My Sweet Muffin Giveaway

August 7, 2014

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By Gabrielle.

I’ve got a giveaway for you today that’s perfect for August. It’s hosted by My Sweet Muffin and they’re offering a $150 gift certificate!

My Sweet Muffin is one of my long time sponsors and I always get a kick out of seeing their new collections. Shina, the owner, does a really wonderful job of seeking out the very most interesting and unique and beautiful and quality gifts and toys. Her wares are perfect for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, and My Sweet Muffin is definitely one of my go-to online shops when I’m seeking a really good gift to give to a little one.

My Sweet Muffin Back To School 2014

This month, I’m taking inspiration from the My Sweet Muffin Back-to-School Ideas. Check out this page for a visual guide to prepping for the first day of school — the cutest backpacks, lunch boxes and art supplies. The happy products would make any child excited for the new school year! My favorites? The Fox Backpack, the Panda Bear Water Bottle, and the Circus Bento Box.

Visit My Sweet Muffin and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear if your kids will be eating school lunch this year, or bringing their own. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

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Betsy is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Sweden!

August 6, 2014

Sweden

By Gabrielle. Photo here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Gabrielle. Milk bottle macarons via Raspberri Cupcakes.

There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to childbirth methods — and the opinions don’t stop after delivery! Whether from well-meaning friends and family, the latest issue of a parenting magazine, or even complete strangers at the grocery store, the opinions come. And they often bring a dose of parenting guilt with them. Worst of all, is when the reigning advice, guidance, or child-rearing tradition doesn’t work for your baby or your family. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s a great reminder at any stage of life: Sometimes, what is best for most might not be best for you. And that’s perfectly okay.

In Danielle‘s case, it was all about the breastfeeding. Some of us have been in the same spot as Danielle, some of us have had the completely opposite experience. I think, however, there’s a lesson here that everyone can relate to. Please enjoy Danielle’s story.

Danielle’s touching story, just ahead.

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Epic Roadtrip

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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By Gabrielle.

With a blog called Less Than Perfect Mama, you can bet that Lindsay has a good grasp on this whole living with kids thing! The day before Hurricane Sandy flooded her home, she packed all of the family’s important stuff: toys, clothes, the family’s favorite books, and photos. I love that she chose much comfort over more costly items, don’t you?

Please join me in welcoming Lindsay. I know you’re going to enjoy touring her home and reading her words. (If only there was an option for this former pastry chef to bake a little something for us!)

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

A: I live with my husband, Michael, in a tiny house in a small beach town on Long Island. We have two kids: Luke (7) and Madeleine (4). I’m a stay-at-home mom these days, and I try to nurture my creativity by writing a blog about the ridiculous nonsense that goes on around here in addition to anything food-related. I was a professional pastry chef before I had the kids and I still love, love, love to bake. Michael is an arborist, which means that often he spends his day dangling from a tree with a chainsaw in hand. I try not to think about that!

Luke is an old soul. While he has all the silliness of a typical kid, he also has a serious, intense side to his personality and can be quite focused when he wants to be. He’s an unyielding Thomas the Train enthusiast and says he’d like to drive trains when he grows up and also have a model train shop on the weekends.

Note to self: Steal Lindsay’s china cabinet. See it up next!

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Salt Lake City

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thus concludes Epic Roadtrip 2014.

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

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

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A Few Things

August 1, 2014

Solitude Ski Resort in Summer

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness is love. Full stop. Thanks, Travis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Mamagama Giveaway

July 31, 2014

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By Gabrielle.

I’ve got a giveaway for you today from a shiny new sponsor. I know you’ll love it! Have you heard of Mamagama? You might like their intro as much as I do: ”Mamagama sells awesome maternity t-shirts for gorgeous, broody, moody, ice cream and pickle eating superstars.” Isn’t that fun? And the prize is a $100 gift certificate to their shop!

beachball_maternity_tshirt

Mamagama is a small shop that focuses on the coolest pregnancy t-shirts. Something I love about their wares, is that they are illustrated by talented artists from around the world and include entertaining maternity stories. Even better, Mamagama maternity t-shirts are extremely soft and made of organic bamboo with just a little bit of stretch — which makes them fit a pregnant belly in a lovely way!

flirty_maternity_tshirt bloom_organictshirt funny_maternity_tshirt

The creative mind behind the brand is Hong Kong-based, Romanian designer, Raluca Stroe. Her vision of pregnancy makes me smile. A Mamagama pregnancy embraces the bump, and feels free to be a little irreverent about it too. : ) I have 5 dear friends expecting at the moment, so if I won, I would buy a t-shirt for all of my favorite mamas-to-be!

Visit Mamagama and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear your take on dressing the bump. Do you favor hiding it, or showing it off as soon as possible? The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

P.S. — Don’t miss the Halloween maternity t-shirt edition!

——

Sarah is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

pumpkin_maternity_tshirt

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Monument Valley

Images and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

Sandstone Arch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Item, Three Ways

July 30, 2014

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kid Room

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Lindsey Rose Johnson. This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Room Essentials to make modern life easier.

This is the second post in my two-part series about Target’s revamped, and super affordable, Room Essentials line. You can find the first post here. For this post, I wanted to demonstrate the versatility of the pieces in the Room Essentials line by taking one item and showing how it can be used in three different ways. For the example, I chose this handsome metal piece with wheels.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kids Room Art Supplies

Though toys are probably not the first word to come to mind when you see it, this cart would make a fantastic playroom addition. The top could be a play surface — the perfect height for little ones to build with blocks or make Lego creations or set a doll house or draw up a masterpiece.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kids Room Blocks

Then, you could use the lower shelf to store the toys in happy baskets. (The orange baskets, also from the Room Essentials line, are nice and deep — perfect for blocks, dress-ups, stuffed animals, or any of the other zillion toys that need a home — and they are only $5!)

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Coffee Table

Or, how about in the living room? A cart like this would work beautifully as a coffee table in front of the sofa. It has locking wheels so it doesn’t go anywhere unless you want it to.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Coffee Table Pillow

During family movie night, you could fill it with popcorn and sodas and easily roll it to the side, to make room for pillows and blankets on the floor. And it adds a pop of color that would bring cheer to any room!

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kitchen

Of course, it would also be brilliant in the kitchen. You could set it near a sunny window as a place to grow a kitchen herb garden. You could use it to hold odd-sized kitchen items (like a bread maker) that might not fit in the cupboard. You could stack it with plates and bowls — easy access when your kids are setting the table, or use it as an additional pantry space and fill it with baskets of onions and potatoes.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kitchen Herb Plants-2

As I was coming up with ideas for how this cart could be used, the list got longer and longer. As a TV cart. Next to a bed. In the garage. On a patio. The size — and the wheels — lend themselves to all sorts of flexibility. And for me, flexible furniture is key to creating a house that works for my family.

Do you own anything like this? A piece of furniture you’ve used in several rooms in your home? I’d love to hear about it!

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Alt Summit Summer

July 30, 2014

Lunch Menu at Alt Summit

By Gabrielle. Images by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit.

I know Alt Summit happened a month ago, but I’ve been waiting to write about it until the Keynote Videos were edited and ready to share. And now they are!

This was the very first Alt Summit Summer and I loved it. It had that shiny new event feel. Almost all of the attendees were new to Alt, and most I hadn’t met before. Just like at Alt Winter, the attendees were smart, encouraging and enthusiastic. Alt Summer was started because we (fun fact: I’m an Alt Summit founder) wanted to give the full Alt conference experience to more people, but we didn’t want to increase the size of Alt Winter — at 750 people, it’s still small enough that if you want to meet a particular speaker or connect with a sponsor, it’s totally doable.

So instead of opening more spots at Alt Winter, we created an event that mirrors it, but happens in the summer. Alt Summer follows the same format as Alt Winter, with topics that are equally engaging, and opens up spots for a whole new group of people. Instead of going to both, attendees can choose which conference fits their schedule better.

Going in, it felt like a bit of an experiment. Would Alt Summer feel as awesome as Alt Winter? Will people come? Will the speakers be as excellent? Will the keynotes be as inspiring? Happily, the answer to all of those questions was a flat out YES!

Some of the highlights I don’t want to forget:

Joy Cho’s keynote address, which was sponsored by Sherwin-Williams. Joy opened the conference with her talk, and learning about the path she’s taken as she’s built her fabulous company was fascinating and inspiring. If you missed out on Joy’s speech, you can see the whole video here, and see photos here.

- Then, at lunch, I loved seeing the tiny party hats from the Oh Joy for Target line decorating the tables. I wore my hat for the rest of the day!

Dance Lesson at Alt Summit

- That night, the Party in the Park made me grin. I loved watching the street dancers do their thing, and I loved that they gave us a little dance lesson. I loved the food trucks. I loved the chalk art leading the way to the party. And I was laughing that we needed jackets in June in Salt Lake City — the chilly weather was such a fluke. Hah! See photos from the party here.

- And speaking of parties, the Garden Party was probably even more memorable than the Party at the Park. Such a visual feast! The ribbons in the trees. The yellow cruiser bikes. The pastel mopeds as photo op. The lemonade tables. And the gorgeous attendees! The party was beautiful from every angle. Tons of photos here.

- But the thing I remember most is Martha Stewart’s keynote. Since I launched Alt Summit years ago, Martha has been at the top of my wishlist of keynote speakers for the conference. I couldn’t believe she was really there!

Martha Stewart before her keynote

I was able to spend a little time with here before her keynote started. She was kind and friendly, totally with-it technology wise — teaching Kevin Sharkey how to use Instagram as we waited for the cue to come on stage. Entrances happened from behind the stage and to get there, we walked through the behind-the-scenes parts of the hotel — through the kitchens and delivery doors. As we walked, she took time to compliment the kitchen staff, shake the chef’s hand, and get photos with everyone. She made sure to ask where each person was from. Gracious as can be.

Martha Stewart Alt Keynote

During the keynote, which was sponsored by Bing, I interviewed Martha. I was definitely nervous as I prepared, but once we were on stage, I felt calm and ready. I suppose it’s because I have followed Martha’s career since I was in design school and I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her. And really, I couldn’t go wrong, because Martha is easy to interview. She’s smart and funny and has so much knowledge — and she shares it freely.

Martha Stewart Keynote at Alt Summit

I’ve admired her passion for design and attention to detail since her magazine launched over 20 years ago, and though I’d briefly met her before, this was the first time I’d really had a full conversation with her. I don’t keep a life list, but if I did, this would have been on it. How wonderful it was to have her at the conference and get to learn from her. I wasn’t surprised at all that she received a standing ovation before and after her keynote. If you’d like to see the interview, you can watch the full Martha Stewart keynote here.

After the interview, there was Q&A from the audience, and Martha had time to take photos with a few attendees. Then it was time to say goodbye as she went on her way to see the sites of Salt Lake City before her next event. Right before she left, I snagged a selfie with her! You can see more photos of her keynote here.

A couple of days after Alt Summer was over, Martha sent a personal thank you, and she wrote a lovely blog post about the event as well — making sure to acknowledge individuals, which made everybody’s day.

I’m still sort of stunned at how fabulous Alt Summer was. I hoped it would be good. I suspected it would be. But I had no idea it would be that good! I think I’m still on a post-event high. : )

I’d love to know if you’ve ever had the chance to meet one of your heros. Were they what you expected? Were you emotional? Did you take away anything from the experience? And if you watch the interview, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

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Antelope Canyon at Lake Powell

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

This was how our last minute day worked out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Gabrielle.

When Sharon‘s friend, Chedva, contacted me to inquire about a home tour for her pal, it was an easy, easy yes. All she had to do was mention Israel, the Maharal Valley, and Paper Bella. Then there were the photos of Sharon’s home. And then there was the view.

I was hooked. And I was curious, especially, to see how Israel’s ever-changing and charged political climate affects the entire process. Turns out, that’s not even a factor – or, at least, not in the way I imagined. The view, however, is. Enjoy the tour!

Q: Tell us all about this sweet family in Israel.

A: Are you ready? We’re quite a group! I’m the artistic type, which means I’m constantly losing my glasses and then finding them in the fridge. Everyone is used to it by now and try to make up for it. My husband Alon is a businessman which should mean that he’s the grown-up in this relationship, but actually he’s a kid at heart who goes to flea markets on Saturdays at 5 am to collect old transistor radios and antiques, and rides an off-road motorbike.

Yahli, our 10 year old daughter, follows in my footsteps, which means she’s very musical and extremely messy. And then there are Ben and Daria, our twins. Ben’s highest goal in life is being Messi (as in the football player). We call him our Mowgli because he just loves being outdoors as much as possible. Daria is in charge of our family; at just seven years old, she is amazingly responsible and together.

The kids love watching TV with Alon, but their other favorite pastime with their dad is being outside in nature. With me, we spend hours on crafting websites, downloading patterns for paper-cutting projects, and things like that. As a family, we love taking trips, hikes and mini-journeys, and going anywhere where there’s water – like trips to lakes or going to the beach.

More inspiration, straight ahead!

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Grand Canyon

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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