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How I Spent My Summer Vacation (a.k.a The Best Summer Ever)

Summer, 2019. This was the last summer before Charlie, 5 years old, starts real school—kindergarten—where we aren’t in control of our own lives/time as much. It’s the last summer before other, older kids have more influence on him, and perhaps the last summer that he is absolutely obsessed with his parents (although hopefully not). I say this all with glassy eyes. It was such a good summer I could cry.

In March, I proposed to Brian that we try to work up at the mountain house as much as we can over the summer with the kids. Not to “take the summer off”, but be with the kids as much as possible, up there instead of in LA. There was some resistance, the argument being I can work up there (writing and shooting), but he felt he would be bored and relegated to full-time childcare. I would have other outlets, he wouldn’t. My perspective was that our kids are only young once and while there are many stresses of owning and running your own business, and flexibility is one of the biggest and most valuable ‘pros’. This summer could be the best gift we can give our small kids and each other. Turning 40 next week has certainly made me want to prove to myself that my life choices are indeed mine and I really, really wanted us to choose this choice.

And then the best thing happened. Brian booked a video series job UP THERE. BOOM documenting another makeover (for Jenni Kayne’s president). I mother f*ckin’ manifested that (technically you aren’t supposed to be able to manifest things for others, but I mean, what are the chances???). At this point, we were already paying for some summer camps near LA for both kids, so no, we didn’t stay up there all summer, but I’d say a good 5 weeks over the two months. We had back-to-back very close family/friends from out of town, mostly Oregon, so many “cousins”, and it was incredibly special to have one-on-one time with all of them. We have a rule to only host one family at a time even if we can fit more because we find that we don’t connect with them if there are too many kids running around (nor do we connect with our kids so we had space between most of them where it was just us four).

I wrote/answered emails/comments from 7 am -11 am most days with some larger chunks when needed. And Brian was amazing and would take the kids 4-5 hours at a time during other days so I could work or shoot. I actually got a TON of writing done, in a quiet space (all the mountain house posts). But sacrifices were made and my team was so patient with me as I answered their 4 pm emails at 6 am the next day. Maybe it’s not ideal, but life with two jobs and two kids never is and I suppose I’m actively and proudly currently choosing my family over my work/business. Again, I know that is a very privileged thing to say, and while I often don’t feel like I have a choice, I DO—and not everyone does so I really try to not take it for granted.

Listen, whenever I’m trying to make a decision, I ask the only person who knows me better than myself: my 85-year-old version of me. I asked her if I’d ever regret neglecting work to spend time with my kids while they were so small and she said “NO.” Nobody in the history of time, on their death bed, has wished they spent less time with their kids when they were little. She is very wise.

I didn’t post or story too much what we did over the summer, mostly because I didn’t feel like it or I would simply forget. This is a GREAT thing as a huge part of being with the kids is being present. I hate saying things like “being in the moment” but we all know that social media rips you out of the moment so fast, and thank god I’m not actually addicted to my phone as much as you’d think I am (I got my first cell phone at 22 so I think my brain was more fully formed).

But as I was scrolling through all my photos, like a mom, I wanted to share them because this space has always been a journal for me, both design and personal, and it’s been a while…

So family summer 2019…HERE YOU GO (or at least whatever I remembered to capture).


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 44 1

So many bodies in so many bodies of water. Brian bought this pontoon on craigslist, and while it has broken down like five times, this party barge has absolutely been worth the stress. Besides, being rescued by the lake patrollers is actually kinda fun (twice was because the rope was wrapped up in the propeller; we are “still learning”).

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer Side By Side 5

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer Side By Side 1

The kids pretend to not like it ’til they get out there and we cruise, jump in, dock at the island, hike around and listen to “yacht rock.” We might be naming the boat the “Michael MacDonald” because every time we start the speakers, that’s what comes on. Although “I’m hungry, I wanna snack” is a close second because the SECOND we get on, those kids start at it for something packaged.

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 15

We went to the beach a TON. The kids mostly played in the sand and we sat there and read books/magazines and chatted and sipped on a beverage. The water was shallow enough that we didn’t have to worry too much.

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 1

So yes, we swam in lakes, in pools, at the beach. I’m happy to say that through consistency, Charlie is finally able (and comfortable) jumping into the deep end, and swimming to the side without drowning. All of you moms know that this is a moment we’ve been waiting for for 5 and a half years. Can he swim? HELL NO. Can he “not drown”? YES. All it took was consistency. We’ve had them in swim classes twice a week for 15 minutes each (30 total) for months and no progress. But after 2 weeks of swimming most days, we are there. Birdie, not so much. Hopefully this fall or next summer.


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 17

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 37

It became our goal to not get into the car, so we would golf cart it down (in the Ferrari, obviously) to the dock and then take our janky pontoon to the village for lunch or the small amusement park and then back. Brian bought the golf cart on Craigslist an hour away, with the Ferrari bumper sticker already perfectly placed, with a tape deck and fringe on top. It breaks down like once a month but good news! You can pay someone loads of cash each time to fix your 30-year-old piece of garbage!!


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 13

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 30

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer Side By Side 4

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 31

The most amazing family adventure park is 10 minutes from our house and once we became members, we went there 2-3 times a week. Brian and I got STRANGELY into mountain biking, although it’s extreme. As in professionals come from the whole country to bike down it. Biking has always been something we’ve done together, but I didn’t predict that I would become an extreme mountain biker. This was the beginning of #mountainemily.

Skypark also has rock climbing, bouldering, zipline, archery, kids biking, hiking, fishing, roller skating (ice skating in the winter), panning for jewels, and 2-3 restaurants with decent food and good beers. It’s expensive for the day ($40) but if you can go frequently, it’s the best deal in town. It’s rarely busy so our kids can really run safely (but it makes me worried that it’s going to go out of business so please go!). No ad, and they don’t know I exist. It’s just a special place that used to be a year-round Christmas park that went bankrupt and a local family revamped it as a year-round adventure park with a huge Christmas component with Santas, ice skating, snow, reindeers, etc. IT’S AWESOME.


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 22 1

We made forts, climbed trees, biked around, and did a lot of night hikes with headlights. There are no mosquitos up there and our property backs up to 50 acres that are gated with no cars or bodies of water. It’s an absolute dream for people like us who like just collecting bugs, leaves, and the kids played so many games (all with a “buddy”).


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 14

That might be my favorite moment of the summer. We laid in that hammock for an hour, next to the fake river and I got to snuggle both kids in the morning for like 45 minutes while we read. WHAT ELSE COULD YOU WANT?

Sure, we didn’t sleep as much as we should have (you never do on vacation with kids) but these two slept whenever and wherever they could.

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer Side By Side 3

Birdie fell asleep on me most days either on the beach or on the boat. I LOVED it, even if I got held hostage by her sleep and couldn’t go jump in the lake or go on the hikes. My future self will NEVER wish that I had less time with my babies asleep on my chest.


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 36

I don’t have any photos of it, but one night we got a sitter and took our adult friends out for a night cruise. We talked, danced and listened to music for FOUR HOURS. We all said that it was truly one of the most fun nights of our lives. We were alone on the lake, listening to college hits and for real DANCING.

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 19

Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 42

I don’t have pictures of us BBQing, eating or partying but needless to say, we DID IT UP. Everyone who knows me knows that I have two modes: work mode and party mode and I’m pretty great at rallying at both, so I had to really learn to just chill, cook, lay in the hammock and read with my kids. We made delicious food and watched a lot of family movies.

Also, we gave my brother hair extensions. So natural!


Emily Henderson First Mountain House Summer 12

There is also a tiny amusement park with a carousel, bumper cars, go-carts and a few toddler rides that the kids are OBSESSED with. It’s in the village and takes like 15 minutes to do with no lines, and it’s pretty cheap so we took each family there at least once.

This house, this mountain town is truly what our family needs. We are highly social so sometimes in LA, we invite too many people over and since I can’t sit down, I end up hosting to the point of burning out (without knowing it). So being up there, having one family at a time that stayed for an extended period of time meant that everyone was helping, I wasn’t “hosting” just providing the house. Also, the options for what to do are either woods, boat, pool or beach. Not having very many restaurants or museums/activities to go to means that your days are free to just choose what you feel like.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Family Portrait3

Re-entry has been hard, but Labor Day is nearby and while I’m not doing much for my birthday this year, it’s more of an excuse to unplug and feel “on vacation.” But my 85-year-old version of myself was totally right: I don’t think I’ll ever regret how much time I spent with my kids, friends and family this summer. Memories were made, folks, and you BET I’ve already started my summer of 2019 scrapbook (it’s for the kids, duh :)).

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Jeffrey Cufaude
3 years ago

Well this was a cupful of morning joy enjoyed alongside a cupful of steaming morning Joe. As a self-employed facilitator/consultant most of my life, I agree 100% that part of the privilege of being a small business owner is freedom of choice … we need to exercise that freedom.

Beyond that though, I’m a big believer in all of us committing to Say Yes Less (to the extent that individual circumstances allow), so that we can allow renewal and serendipity a proper place in our lives.

If this concept resonates with anyone, here is a link to a free archived webinar I did last year on the topic. You may have to register (again, it is free) in order to access it.

3 years ago

What a fun summer! That’s my next summer goal-I’ve already told my girls we are going to the beach and otherwise laying low. I turn 40 next week too-Friday! Happy birthday!

3 years ago

This was the best thing to read on Saturday morning. Thank you for sharing!

3 years ago

I’m so happy for you! These memories and pictures are so sweet.

3 years ago

What a sweet post! I am currently a non-working mom (I hate the term SAHM b/c it makes me feel like a prisoner) and although sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on a fulfilling career, I know I won’t regret quality time w my kiddos. You are so so lucky to get to have it all ?. My daughter just started K and I’m happy to report that it’s pretty magical. She’s learning to read and she’s still as lovely as ever…maybe even more so since she’s learning more responsibility at school. I’m sure next summer will be just as magical for you with 4 & 6 year olds!

3 years ago

What an absolutely wonderful summer!! The mountain refuge seems like such the perfect place.

Hope the school year goes well!

3 years ago

Yeah, yeah, family, love, summer … but the key question is: Where did you get those gray platform slip-ons you’re wearing in the first picture?

😉 Joking of course. But also serious!

3 years ago

Just read this interesting article about “unplugging”

3 years ago

I smiled so big reading this. We got a nearby vacation home this summer and spent a similar period of time there, often with no childcare while also trying to work for myself. I’ve spent way too much of the last few weeks stressing about how little work I’ve actually got done and this is a good reminder to instead treasure the fact that I got to vacation with my siblings’ families for the first time ever, be present to watch my one-year-old go through so many new experiences, and help my four-year-old embrace the outdoors after being a city kid for so long. We’re spending next week there as a vacation week just the four of us (and celebrating my birthday too!) – I have a big work to-do list to tackle, so I think I need to take a page out of your book and give myself real, consistent hours to do it each morning so that I can truly enjoy the rest of each day. Thank you for sharing the struggle, the joy, and the wisdom!

3 years ago

I am so glad you’ve had this time. All of you.

You reminded me of a summer 25 years ago. I never had a vacation house, but my dad had two on Martha’s Vineyard, one for him and his wife, one for visitors. My young family and I took 3 weeks and stayed there. I remember, towards the end of the stay, it was 4 of July. We went to fireworks at the bandstand, I lay on my back looking up at the sky, with the most profound sense of well-being.

It is a privilege, so many children and so many mother’s are so stressed. I am happy for you, happy for myself, and also sad for all the young families struggling now.

3 years ago

Such a great post!!! I read it with my kiddo in bed asleep next to me and it was the best way to start the weekend. This was the first summer I was able to stay home with him and it was just the best!

Also, I am also always in fear that at any moment he is going to loose his obsession with his parents. I am happy to report that at 8 he would still rather hang out with us at home than do anything else. His transition to school this year was the hardest for him. He has been coming home saying he misses us. It melts my heart!

3 years ago

Sounds like the prefect summer!! #familygoals

Monique Wright
3 years ago

Love love this post! I often think about that with my kids too…will I be happy with this later in my life? Regret not doing it? When our kids climb into our bed in the middle of the night and my husband tells them to go back to bed I always tell him that someday we will miss this when they’re saying they hate us as teenagers! There’s only so many years when they’re young. He doesn’t buy it. ??‍♀️ And you should definitely name your boat Michael McDonald! Ain’t no mountain high enough girl! ?

3 years ago

I have so many heart eyes for this post! As a parent with two out of three (second leaving the nest this week) kids having achieved adulthood I can tell you that those summers impact who they are (and who you are together). Well done!

3 years ago

I almost cried with happiness reading your post. I don’t envy you one minute of the summer you spent with friends and family because you brought back so many happy memories of my summers spent in part at Priest Lake Idaho. Chipmunks on the deck at breakfast sneaking sunflower seeds, walking through the woods to the store for homemade huckleberry ice cream cones, kayaking with my sis, swimming, trying to learn how to water ski, roasting marshmallows, swatting mosquitos like a madwoman before bolting indoors, playing games on rainy days, watching thunder and lightning across the lake. And reading reading reading.
Sigh. Your 85 year old self is pretty darn smart.

3 years ago

Yay for summer fun! Never feel guilty for building the life that is right for you and your family. It’s a privilege that you earned. We had our kids young (on purpose) and dedicated our lives to family. Hubby had a job, because, bills, but we structured our lives to connect as a family, daily, not just on vacations. Now they are both in college, and we get to concentrate on us and build those careers that we kind of put on hiatus until they were older. We don’t regret any of it, despite some unwanted criticism from family/friends/acquaintances. That meant relocated from Tahoe to So Cal a couple of years ago, but we missed the mountains… hence we call this mountain home and commute a day or two a week. Our happiness was worth the hassle!

A note on SkyPark… we are also members and I kind of worried about their longevity too. Seems we need not worry, they are expanding! All must be going well. If last night’s Tunes in the Trees was any indication, they are doing just fine 🙂

3 years ago

SOOOOO awesome!! YES, as a self-employed couple for 20 years, THAT is my biggest reason for having my own company: to be flexible with my time and spend it with my kids. Two are in college now, and I can tell you that I don’t have any regrets about spending time with them when they were little.

And, srsly, isn’t one of your babies asleep on you one of the best feelings in the world?!! Even when it made me hot and sticky and cramped from holding them up, it was still an amazing feeling.

Trpl D
3 years ago

Very sweet – such a pleasant read with it bringing back so many memories of time with our kids. We are now empty nesters with two young grandchildren and we are now looking forward to their visit wth us in November. We are full-timers in Lake Arrowhead and love it for all the reasons you wrote about. You captured life up here perfectly. Thank you!

3 years ago

Lake Arrowhead is the most magical place ??

3 years ago

A wonderful summer that your young children will remember much more of when they are adults than you would ever imagine they would. They’ll remember fun and feelings of your loving family being together and probably mostly, the security of being loved and cared for.
I do wish though, that you would be able to resist inserting vulgar language in some of these posts. It just seems so unnecessary and immature at this point in your life to feel the need to do that -especially in a post about family love. Im assuming I’m a chorus of one here – but for me, this single vulgarity detracted from the content of the post it did not enhance it.

3 years ago

You will never regret spending the summer this way. Make it a tradition. It’s a great way to keep your kids engaged with family as they get older and want to make their fun only with friends. We did this with a lake house and it’s an expense we have never regretted. It’s where the best memories are made. Your 85 year old self is absolutely right!!

3 years ago

Yay! I love to hear about such a happy summer. Really, really smart to have only one family up at the house at a time.

Also, as a public figure and successful businesswoman, you are leading by example – you do NOT have to be performing productivity at every turn, to convince people of your worth. Thank you for being bold enough to share your downtime and discuss the choices you made. It reminds me of this great essay:

Roberta Davis
3 years ago

And your kids will have the best memories of these times forever.

3 years ago

Glad to hear you liked Skypark! A close friend worked there during its relaunch, and a lot of blood sweat and tears were put into it!

Donna Gorman
3 years ago

What a wonderful summer. You’ll never regret it.

3 years ago

THANK YOU for sharing. I loved reading it, and the reminder about our 85-year-old selves!

3 years ago

That picture of you and Birdie is the kind of picture mothers dream of. You’ll be staring at that one when you’re 85. Guaranteed! Summer well done, Emily. Well done. Wishing you many more just like it.

3 years ago

Take it from a 68 year old mother of three with an enormous network of family and friends, these are the memories your children will treasure. These slow summer days with their relatives and the significant others in their lives will leave imprints of more value than you can imagine.

3 years ago

Sounds like an ideal summer. Congratulations!

3 years ago

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Nuff said.

3 years ago

Hmm. I really respected your policy in this post, of not showing your kids’ faces on the blog:

I’m glad you had a great summer, but I think it’s kind of crappy to put all these full-face pics of your kids on a blog that thousands read without their consent, and this post could easily have been written without those.

3 years ago

This is the best post you have ever written. I’m happy for you and your family. In the course of a lifetime, the time you spent with your family will matter.

Tina Schrader
3 years ago

What a wonderful post! You’ve done well, methinks. 🙂 These are memories that your kids will have forever and be able to look back on when they need a pick-me-up. When they’re 85, they’ll tell their grandkids about this. 🙂 About the swim lessons: It sounds to me like your son *has* made progress, even if he may not have the strokes down. A lot of people learn to swim but probably wouldn’t consider themselves “good” at it — but they can do it. Swimming is one of a small group of sports that serves as a competitive sport *and* a life-saving tool. So even though your son may not have the strokes down (that’s what it sounds like to me; hope I didn’t misunderstand), if he’s learned to keep himself from drowning, that is indeed good progress and the simple goal of learning to swim! 🙂 This sounds like a dream of a summer vacation. 🙂 And regarding some other posts I’ve seen…keep doing your blog and your home any way you darn well please. Focus on what *you* want to. If you didn’t focus on your own home as a designer, I’d question your priorities. “Tough love???” Oh,… Read more »

3 years ago

I love this post so much in all its counter-cultural-to-LA-ness. I am with you 100% (we met at #partyatems; I have the cabin in GVL). I hope this post inspires more people to consider buying up there and help to revitalize the economy a bit. I have to say I LOLed so hard when you said you STRANGELY got into mountain biking.

I’m a working mom, too, and if I didn’t love my career so much, I’d be a SAHM. The work-life juggle physically pains me and so slow-paced family times at the cabin are crucial for my sanity. Another amazing perk is that my husband and I get to hang out with our friends after all our kids are asleep!

And for others reading this: please go to SkyPark!! My kids and their friends all say it’s better than Disneyland.

3 years ago

What a great post, and so nice that you had a great summer. Just so you know, BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand… we have one and it seems like we are constantly repairing it! But it’s worth it! We have a lake house and when the kids were younger it was definitely easier to get out there. Now that they are older and have summer jobs and friends, it is definitely harder to get out there, especially for an extended amount of time. But we still love it. It is a great family place and worth the effort. You won’t ever regret it!

3 years ago

What a perfectly magical summer!

3 years ago

Emily…I actually cried when I read this! Happy tears for you and for your family, even for your friends. The benefits of this place you’ve created are monumental and compounding in their effect.
There’s some good ol’ energy in them thar hills, for sure!
Somehow, I have this feeling that THIS is where you should be. Where you should live, full time. I’ve never seen photos of you THIS HAPPY, for real, ever. And I’ve been reading for a long time.
I manifest that you and your precious family live in the mountain house as your main home….your 85 year old self will never regret it. Never.
Sending you love, because I am so moved the the tangible peace and love that abides. ♡ 🙂 x

3 years ago

These are the summers we used to have with our parents and it’s the fondest memories one can have. – as a parent and a (grown) child. I am so glad that your future 84 year old self is so wise. I’ve had spend a lot of time with my kids when she was young, but now that she’s a grown up herself, I always wish I had spent even more time with her. At the end of the day, the only thing that counts is your interaction with your family and friends. As you said already – no one ever misses work!! You made the right choice and seeing these pictures emphasize it all the way. Thank you so much for sharing, it makes me happy too!!

3 years ago

what is the name of the book you’re reading with your children in the hammock?

3 years ago

So glad you could get a chance to enjoy your kids, hubbie and family. And to do it in beautiful surrounds…. the warmth shines through.

The Ferrari is EVERYTHING ???

3 years ago

So fun! So happy you could do this for you and for your family! Rock on! Really digging the mountain house and all of this. My oldest is starting kindergarten and it’s a weird time – I feel a mixture of happiness and where-did-the-time-go-next-thing-I-know-he’ll-be-off-to-college! This summer, I intentionally tried to go all out since summer is my favorite time of year!

3 years ago

Can you source your outfits in the pictures? Specifically you ‘captain’ing’ the boat?!?

Hena Tayeb
3 years ago

Looks like such a fabulous summer.. Oregon is a gorgeous state, we were there last summer and it was amazing.

3 years ago

I don’t turn 40 for another couple years, but your final summer of your thirties is GOALS. Congratulations on being able to focus on what’s important and really enjoy your summer. It can be so difficult to do that when the world is trying to pull you in so many different directions all the time. That was a lovely read on a Monday morning 🙂

3 years ago

What a magical summer! Best wishes to Charlie (and you) as he starts kindergarten!

3 years ago

you must have been running too because you look GREAT!

3 years ago

Thank you for sharing so much with us, Emily. I just found your blog earlier this year, and it’s been kind of my life line as I renovate our 1960s daylight basement ranch in NW Portland. Your kindness and fun comes through with all of your work, and it’s been so wonderful to see where you’ve sourced things. Our kids are 7 & 9 and this whole upside-down-ness of our home during the last 8(eek!) months has been crazy. I’m just getting to the part where we are almost finished with all of the construction (painting should be finished this week!) and heading into the interior part with furniture/rugs/artwork, etc. I’m pooped! So glad you publicly praise your team and all take time away from ‘it’. Your style reflects wanting to be close to nature, appreciates a global aesthetic, and is fun…I love seeing things that include locally sourced artisans, and eco-friendly choices. Although sometimes difficult to do for every single thing, I’ve been making a real effort to “Earth Tithe” (my own term, that I use to describe paying a bit more for things that are good for our earth and the animals, including us, who live on it),… Read more »

Julie S
3 years ago

I’m a little late reading but this was delightful! I’m SO happy for you, getting to enjoy what and who you have for a good spell, away from the craziness of the city. Simple times are not so simple to have anymore.

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