Tag Archive | travel

Comfort on the road

A couple of weeks ago we returned from our 3000 mile journey down to Colorado and back to see my family. Growing up, my family often made the reverse trek from Colorado to see my dad’s family in Oregon. Even with generous 80 mph speed limits in Idaho and Wyoming (because really, who wants to linger there?) (don’t get offended Idahoans; I lived in Southern Idaho for four years — you and I both know there’s nothing to see) (I’d soothe the egos of Wyomingites, too, except, well, I’m pretty sure there are more cattle than people) (Utah, you get a pass because, even though your scenery isn’t fantastic in that particular corner, it’s better than hundreds of miles of flat scrubland) — what was I saying? Oh yeah, even at 80 mph, 3000 miles round trip is a lot of ground to cover in a car with a seatbelt digging into your shoulder. We needed seatbealt pads and STAT!

This sounds like a job for…


Not that a few seatbelt pads were going to eliminate much of my fabric scraps, but I’m all about cheap as free and saw no need to buy new stuff when I could just as easily make it at home with the stuff I already have. Except for the Velcro. I ran out of Velcro.

I wanted a fabric that was soft yet sturdy (it’s going to be sliding up and down on a seatbelt and needs to not wear through), which is how I landed upon the sizable scrap of corduroy which you may recognize from this dress. It’s all well and good until the day when I wear that dress in the car and get stuck to the seatbelt like some kind of Sunday school flannelgraph. We’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.

Next order of business was to measure the width of our seatbelts. I used my soft measuring tape to measure across the front, around the back, and then allowed one inch overlap onto the front for attaching the pad to itself around the belt and came up with a measurement of 5.5″. I think most seatbelts are pretty standardized nowadays so you could use that, too, if you want to follow along and make your own.

So the finished cover is going to measure 5.5″ wide, but we need to account for seam allowances (of which I used a skimpy 1/4″, but you can add more if you want, just adjust all the measurements all the way around), giving me a width of 6″. Length of the pads is a little bit subjective, but I went with 7.75″ which seemed to cover the area that the seatbelt would come into contact with.  Got all that? I’m gonna apologize up front for the pitiful lack of in-progress photos. I swear I took more, but I don’t know where they are. Apparently figments of my imagination. However, it’s a pretty simple project and I have faith in your ability to follow step-by-step instructions.

Materials: thick fabric; quilt batting; Velcro
Finished cover: 5.5″ x 7.25″
Cut two rectangles of fabric and one of batting: 6″ x 7.75″
Cut two Velcro strips: 2″ (mine were 1.5″ only because I was trying to eke out as much from my Velcro remnant as I could)

1. Sew the batting onto the wrong side of one of the fabric rectangles.


2. On the right side, sew the two soft Velcro strips 1/2″ away from the top and bottom edges and 3/8″ from the left edge.

seat belt cover diagram

3. On the other fabric rectangle, also on the right side, sew the two scratchy Velcro strips 1/2″ from the top and bottom edges (be sure to line them up with their counterparts on the other piece of fabric) and 1/2″ from the left edge.

4. Place the two fabric rectangles right sides together (the soft and scratchy Velcro will be on opposite sides, NOT hooked together) and sew around three sides. Trim corners. Turn.

5. Press the seat belt pad and fold in the seam allowance on the unfinished edge. Sew closed.

6. Wrap around the seatbelts in your car and travel in style and comfort!


Yay, Wyoming.

Yay, Wyoming.

Bag lady

I have returned! My trip back East was wonderful beyond words. We didn’t really “do” anything other than just spend time together. It went by so quickly (well, maybe not for anyone else staying in the same hotel who had to listen to us), but it was worth everything it took to get there.

A couple of days before I left, I assessed my carry-on luggage options and decided that I needed a new bag. I had a small carry-on suitcase for my clothes, but I needed something that I could actually get into on the plane without thunking another passenger on the head, not to mention big enough to hold all my entertainment during hours of layovers. My purse doesn’t cut it. I like to keep my purse as small as possible. This bag needed to be able to hold my purse plus a water bottle, book, and small crochet project all while still looking like a purse so as not to arouse the ire of picky flight attendants.

I needed the body of the bag to be big enough to hold all the aforementioned items without being too big (Please store your personal item under the seat in front of you). Neither did I want it to be just one big cavern where small items would sink to the bottom making me That Person in the security check line. Obviously, multiple pockets were required to hold those smaller things. Also, knowing that I would be schlepping this thing through multiple airports, I wanted to have a long strap that I could wear cross-body to keep my hands free. This is more practical in my daily life, as well, when I’ve got to be ready to guide kids across parking lots and through busy stores. It needed to be a wide strap that could bear the weight of the bag without digging into my shoulder. With those criteria in mind, I spent some time searching online and I found two tutorials for different bags that I liked and created an amalgam of the two. I used the body of the Pleated Tote by Artsy-Craftsy Babe and the strap and pockets from the Olivia Bag by Dixie Mango.

Both of these tutorials are well-written, well-illustrated, and produce great-looking bags. And that’s high praise coming from me, because I’m not normally one to get excited about bags and purses.

Finished bag ready to fly!

Finished bag ready to fly!

So next came the question of fabric. Since it was only two days before I left, I didn’t have time to go to the store and I knew that I had enough in my stash. Sadly, the fabric I had in mind for the interior was actually yardage I had bought to make another blouse like the rose/leopard one of a few weeks ago. Why “sadly”? Because the print was terribly, obviously off-grain. That made it unsuitable for clothing, but for the inside of a bag — who cares if the stripes are a bit askew? I needed something heavier than just a plain cotton for the outside and, lucky for me, I had enough denim leftover from a skirt I made years ago (I think that was pre-blog). Well that was easy!

After cutting out pattern pieces, the first order of business was getting the pockets sewn onto the interior fabric. I made an easy pouch pocket for one side of the bag and sewed it down in little sections to fit my phone, pens, and pack of tissues.


But, the most fun was the zipper pocket that I put on the other side! I have never done anything like this before, but it went together like magic. More scrounging in my stash turned up this bright green zipper that I had bought years ago. It was originally intended for a dress, but… I changed my mind about the fabric and all of a sudden I had a bright green zipper with no immediate use in sight. Ah, but that’s why I save everything. The zipper was a few inches too long for this pocket, but a little zigzag stitching at the right length and *snip* Hello, appropriately sized zipper! The link to the zipper pocket tutorial is included in the Olivia Bag post, but I’ll give it to you here, too, just in case that’s all you’re interested in. Show me the zipper pocket!

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Interior of the zipper pocket, in progress

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!

Zipper inserted and looking all professional!


Two other features that I wanted for my bag that were not included in either tutorial were an elasticized pouch for my water bottle and a flap to keep the bag closed. The flap was easy enough to devise on my own, just taking measurements of the bag and sketching out a pleasing shape on paper to use as a pattern. I sewed it onto the exterior of the bag at the same time that I sewed the ends of the strap on, before attaching the lining.

The pouch for my water bottle wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it did take a little bit of advance planning. I measured around my water bottle, allowing enough for seam allowances and a slight bit of ease, and I also measured how high I wanted the pouch to come up on the bottle. It took a few pinning sessions to figure out the placement of the pouch within the bag. I actually sewed the side edges of the pouch onto the individual interior bag sides before sewing the bag sides and bottom together. The rest of construction was the same as the tutorial.


I found the outside a little plain in just the denim, so before I had sewn the exterior together, I cut out a little flower from the interior fabric and appliqued it the the bottom front. It’s not really “my style” necessarily, but it’s nice enough.


So how did the bag fare on the actual journey? Well, I packed that thing to the gills. And therein lay the only real problem I had with it: When I had sewn on the toggle button, I hadn’t taken into account where the buttonhole on the flap would fall once the bag was packed. I ended up really straining the buttonhole to reach the button. It doesn’t look so hot anymore. I’m going to have to reinforce the buttonhole and move the toggle button up higher on the bag so that it won’t be a problem for next time. Other than that, though, the bag worked beautifully. The strap gave nice support, the pockets held my stuff. The water bottle pouch was a wee bit flimsy so next time, I would interface it first to give it a little more structure. But all in all, I deem it a success! And was surprised to find that I had a lot of fun sewing it. If you’re on my Christmas list, you may end up with a bag.

Leaving on a jet plane

Tonight — at midnight — I’ll be flying clear across this gigantic country to meet up with a group of incredible women. These ladies have been my dearest friends over the last nine years and I am excited like you wouldn’t believe to meet them for the first time in real life (The only one of this group I have met can’t come to this big reunion, but I will see her later this summer. Miss you, Angry Mandee! Unfortunately, three others are not able to make it, either, but 11 out of 15 is awfully good!). We share a history and experience that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies: All of us have lost at least one child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or other complications. All of us were broken and hurting and found comfort in sharing our stories and pain at an online forum called Silent Grief, started by a wonderful, godly woman named Clara Hinton who also knew that pain and wanted to reach out to young, grieving mothers. And what a godsend that site was. At the time of my miscarriage, Mr. Gren and I were in France, away from home and family. There were a handful of church members there who really took the time to care for us, but most people couldn’t understand, didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t know what to do for us. Silent Grief made an incredible difference in my life. These ladies I’m going to see this week in New York lived it with me. They were there, too. They can remember their own pain at the loss of their little ones. We were there for each other.

And all of us can testify to God’s restoration and healing. After bearing with each other through all the sorrow, we were able to rejoice with each other as, between 6-8 years ago, all of us were able to welcome a living child into our families. And some of us have tacked on a few more! So this group of ladies, who met in the worst of circumstances, branched off into a private message board where we could share more openly with each other; supported each other through first days of kindergarten, the deaths of parents, and all sorts of other life difficulties; celebrated new babies, new jobs, new houses; this group who met so long ago, will soon get to meet in person, in joy, laughter, and exuberant hugs. It’s going to be a good time.

This is a rather uncharacteristic post for me, I know. But I felt like this was monumental enough to deserve recognition. And, just so you know, I made a couple of things specifically to take on this trip which I will write about next week. That way you know you have something to look forward to. ha!

Saturday in Spain VII

“Maman, wish we went to Spain,” a wistful little 3 year old voice tells me at least once a week. “How we get to Spain?”

“We would fly in an airplane.”

Konik heaves a sigh of exasperation and replies, “But you have to take a car to the airport.”

“Ok, yes, we would take a car to the airport and then get on an airplane and fly to Spain.”

He gives me a satisfied smile and then continues, “Wish we went to Spain and then I will unlock all the doors.” He holds up the large key ring that normally hangs on the back of the door.

I see you

I see you

The keys are really our only souvenir from our trip to Spain — long before Konik was born, but he has heard the stories and seen the pictures. And like the other two kids, he has developed a desire to travel and see places. The poor child has barely had the chance to leave the state, but he knows there’s more out there to the world. And he’s 3. I love that.

Mr. Gren, baby Rana, and I took our vacation to Valencia, Spain in February 2006. I had bought a Lonely Planet guidebook prior to going and had studied the few pages on Valencia, marking things that I thought we should try to see. One of those was the Plaza Redonda — a circular market place not too far from our hotel. We ended up criss-crossing through it quite often on our way to other locations in the Velle Ciutat (Old City). It was interesting, but I’m not sure it was worthy of a guidebook mention.

The Plaza Redonda, also known as El Clot (The Hole) is not an obvious place to get to. Despite being a decent-sized little circle with shops all around the outside, the only ways in are through narrow little spoke-like roads that aren’t immediately apparent when you’re walking down larger, more active streets. It gives the Redonda the feeling of seclusion, which is always fun in a secret sort of way when you’re in a big city. The shops and walkway near them are all covered, with the center fountain open to the sky (hence “the hole”).

The only picture I took of la Plaza Redonda was, inexplicably, at night.

The only picture I took of la Plaza Redonda was, inexplicably, at night.

Several of the shops sell sewing notions, fancy handkerchiefs and Valencian lace. Nowadays, I would probably be paying closer attention to those shops, but back then I wasn’t sewing at all. There was one shop on the corner of one of the little spoke roads that was quite different — a blacksmith’s shop selling all kinds of iron works. I don’t know if it is still there; I’ve read that a lot of the shops have changed in recent years. But at the time, it was a lot of fun to poke through. The set of antique-looking keys caught our eye.


Obviously, they are cast iron reproductions, but I loved them. The style of the keys (each of which are different in shape and size) reminded me of the key I used to open the door to my 500 year old apartment in Grenoble where I did my study abroad. We wanted a souvenir that was not too big, heavy, or awkward to bring home with us and these keys fit the bill. Little did I know that they would be so attractive to my children seven years later.

Today, Konik and I looked at some pictures from Valencia and I showed him a photo of an ancient door on the Torres de Serranos.

“Maman, when we go to Spain, I bring dese keys. I will open that door.”

“Someday, Buddy, someday.”

Saturday in Spain II

So, they tell me yesterday was Friday. I don’t know where all these Fridays keep coming from. Around here, everyday feels pretty much the same, so it’s hard to tell the difference. Anyways, that’s another French Friday no-show, so you get the second installment of Saturday in Spain.

Spanish was the first foreign language I learned. I started in 8th grade and continued on into college, even though by that point, my French had largely eclipsed it. But the Spanish is still in my brain, hiding. And there are a few weird cases where a certain word in Spanish has always been stronger than the equivalent in French. Lápiz versus crayon, for example. When we planned our trip to Valencia, Spain six years ago, I was a little nervous, but hoping that Mr. Gren was right — that it would all come back to me when I needed it. I booked our flights and hotel and came up with a loose itinerary.

One fun thing about Valencia is that it is very Castilian and they speak with that classic lisping accent. I was all prepared to lisp my S’s. I was not prepared, however, to lisp every single consonant. My first experience with it was when we got off the plane and were waiting out on the curb in front of the airport, trying to figure out which bus we needed. I asked a man about the bus schedule and my ears strained hard to decipher words through all that lisping, but it was enough to get me locked in on the Spanish of the area. After that, it was fun. The airport we landed at was quite a ways away from the city center and I remembered from looking online that there was a bus we could take to a more central terminal which would put us within walking distance of our hotel. After figuring out the buses with the man on the sidewalk, Mr. Gren, baby Rana and I boarded the one that would take us into the city. It was a strange bus ride. It wound up and down every block through the outskirts of town, stopping every two minutes it seemed. We saw parts of Valencia that tourists definitely never see. We were on that bus for over an hour, trying to keep our luggage out of people’s way and trying to keep the baby happy.

Finally, we pulled into a big, bustling hub. We got off the bus and walked out to the sidewalk and I started getting a funny feeling. Looking back at the bus station, we saw that it was a hub for long-distance coach buses. This was not where we were supposed to be. But clearly, none of those buses were going to take us any further into town, so we set out walking, hoping to find another bus stop. Around the block we did find one and it happened to have a large map of Valencia posted on the back of the shelter. From where we were standing, we could see the large, dry riverbed that runs right through the city and we could identify it on the map. But we couldn’t find a street sign to narrow down our location. Luckily, right about that time, a police officer happened to be walking by. Using my new Castilian Spanish, I asked, “Perdoneme, señor… donde estamos??” He laughed and was very friendly and helped us find our location on the map. He asked where we needed to go and told us where we could catch a bus that would get us to our hotel. I like that police man. We had to walk a little further dragging our luggage and pushing a baby stroller, but we made it to the right bus and got into the beautiful center of Valencia without any more trouble. And my Spanish was rolling back in, just like Mr. Gren said it would.

French Friday #5: Serendipity

Full disclosure: The majority of these photos were not taken by me (you’ll learn why), but instead, were sourced from free stock photo sites on the Webernet. If you relied solely on my photography skills from twelve years ago, this would be a fairly bland post. I want you to see what I’m going to share.

In 1999, I had the opportunity to study abroad in France for a semester. This was nearing the end of the photographic Dark Ages — true, I didn’t have to use a hood and a magnesium bulb, but fancy schmancy digital photography was still in its very expensive infancy — so I, being the poor college student that I was, had to make 8 rolls of 24-exposure film last from January til June. That required some awfully hardcore rationing and several gut-wrenching decisions and, in the end, a lot of regrets.

There I am with the program leader and two other students, standing at the plaza that overlooks the valley below St Paul de Vence.

My actual studying took place in Grenoble, in the Alps, but the program in which I participated had several “excursions” built into the program, the first of which was a long-weekend trip to the Côte d’Azur. Our hotel was in Nice and from there we visited Menton and Monaco, and, in the other direction, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and St. Paul de Vence. We saw some beautiful sights in each of those places, but my favorite was the little village of St. Paul de Vence. It is located about halfway between Nice and Cannes, back from the coast by several miles, atop a hill standing alone in a vast valley, in turn, hemmed in by rugged mountains. It’s quite an impressive location and no wonder that it was chosen as the site for this medieval town.

St. Paul de Vence

This was my first encounter with a town so old and so inaccessible that there are no cars allowed in the village itself. You can see in this photo there is a parking lot right at the wall and there are a few others like that. Once your car is parked, you start hiking! I saw a tree bearing oranges for the first time in my life and walked along cobbled streets lined by quaint and picturesque buildings. Our group leader let us wander the streets as we wished, so I tried to drink in as much of this Provençal charm as I could.

Typical little street in St Paul de Vence

As I strolled down one narrow street, the right side unexpectedly opened up into a little courtyard. Vines grew up the walls and formed leafy awnings over the doorways. Ancient stone planters filled with colorful flowers lined the base of the walls. Gracefully curved iron grills bowed out from the windows. And there, in the center, was a breathtakingly beautiful little fountain. A spigot mounted on an arched stone trickled water into a basin set into a larger block of stone. Certainly, France is peppered with lovely fountains; the fountains at Versailles are a sight to behold for their opulence. But this, this fountain was perfect in its simplicity. Sheltered by the households that, at one time, probably made daily use of its cool flow. It was removed from the crush of tourists, a welcome breeze wafting through the courtyard, silent except for the sound of the water gurgling in the basin. But, oh! The decisions! I had already taken four photos here in St Paul de Vence, not to mention the several I took in Monaco and Nice, and it was only February! With a pang in my gut, I resolved to commit this perfect little scene to memory, and turned away.

Of course, you know already that not taking that picture was one of my biggest regrets of the whole semester. But what could I do? There was no way to get back. Every time I thought about it, it made me feel a little sick to my stomach. For the sake of one picture! I couldn’t have spared one shot? It sounds so ridiculous now.

Church in St. Paul de Vence. I took a picture similar to this, but this one is better than mine.

I returned to the States in June and, a couple months later, began my senior year of university. After being gone for so long, it was great to reunite with my roommates as we all tried to catch up on each others’ lives. Naturally, most of my stories were about France and all the wonderful and incredible things I had seen and done there. So when Christmas rolled around, one of my roommates gave me a calendar called “365 days in France.” I loved it! It was full of richly colored photographs from all over the country.


I happily flipped through the pages, admiring the variety of photos. When I got to March, I gasped! Could it – is it? I looked more closely and yes! What were the odds? Of all the tiny towns, of all the fountains, of all the fountains in tiny towns, what are the odds that my fountain would be featured in this calendar? (Math is not my friend, so I will never bother to calculate that.) But there it is, in all its tiny glory. Seriously, the picture is about two inches high, but I don’t even care. Now I have a picture of that lovely little fountain and I will never get rid of this calendar. And now, you can see my fountain, too (although, bear in mind, since I had to enlarge this itty bitty picture, the quality is not that great. Use your imagination. 🙂 )

The luck of the Irish brought me a French fountain.