design_mom_balcony_color - 17

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by TargetStyleShop the new Home collection in stores and online.

There is a balcony off of our master bedroom. It’s pretty much level with the rope bridge (which I still haven’t written about — I keep forgetting!), it overlooks the tiny stream that runs through the yard, and it’s completely surrounded by trees. It’s a gem of a spot.

design_mom_balcony_color - 18

But. It has been completely empty since we moved in. I’ve had plans for it. I bought some used outdoor furniture for it years ago — a table and some chairs that coordinate with the chair from our front porch. Those pieces have been sitting in the shed, waiting to be de-rusted and painted. Alas, there have just been too many other projects and tasks that needed my attention.

And then, over Mother’s Day weekend, I finally did it! I recruited the whole family to help. We repaired and restored the furniture, then we filled up a shopping cart at Target, and put together a pretty little seating area on the balcony. For anyone who’s curious, here’s a tour and the thinking behind the design decisions.

design_mom_balcony_color - 8

In my experience, there are 4 things you need to make an outdoor space inviting: soft/comfortable places to sit, surfaces to set your things (like magazines or sunglasses or lemonade), cups and serving pieces that are outdoor friendly, and lighting.

design_mom_balcony_color - 1 (1)

We started with the vintage furniture — the round table and 3 chairs. All are metal and all are from an old line called Homecrest. It was widely produced in the middle of the last century, so if you do a search for “vintage homecrest patio furniture”, you’ll likely to find several pieces. I found these on Craig’s List, for sale by owner, about 45 minutes south of here. De-rusted, primed and painted, they’re good as new and will hopefully last another 50 or 60 years.

I knew I wanted seat cushions and throw pillows to soften up the metal. At first I was thinking all the same, and maybe in a sophisticated grey or black. That could definitely have been another good look for this space, but when I got to the store I couldn’t resist the color! I chose a mix of seat cushions in navyteal, and a fun orangey-red pattern.

design_mom_balcony_color - 10 design_mom_balcony_color - 13 design_mom_balcony_color - 11

Then I added a mix of throw pillows too — a square one with a blue marker pattern, a long one with tiny teal triangles, and a rectangle in teal herringbone. The cushions and throw pillows are all made with outdoor fabrics and should hold up well on the balcony. (And they were total bargains by the way!)

design_mom_balcony_color - 2

I also added this shiny silver side table. I love the look! It adds a fun new texture/element to the space, can be moved around as needed, and keeps a cool drink or a good book right at hand.

design_mom_balcony_color - 9

Those are all the basics and make up the core of the seating area. And once all of that was in place, I could turn my attention to a mix of fun accessories — items that really make the space inviting, and that I can use indoors or out.

design_mom_balcony_color - 1 design_mom_balcony_color - 4

For the tabletop, I added a low bowl (I love the rattan handles on the side!) and some simple vases in hand-painted stripes and polka dots. They’re looking cheerful on the balcony right now, but I’m sure they’ll make their way to the kitchen soon enough.

design_mom_balcony_color - 7 design_mom_balcony_color - 12

I also included a good-looking acrylic pitcher that came with even better-looking ombre cups. All perfectly unbreakable and safe for outdoors.

design_mom_balcony_color - 14 design_mom_balcony_color - 15

Last of all, I picked up this charming-as-can-be lantern in the same orangey-red as one of the cushions. Sometimes night comes on fast, and it’s nice to have a handy light source — one that’s prettier than a flashlight so I don’t mind having it out and on display.

I admit that even empty, the balcony was pretty inviting. These last years I’ve loved opening up the balcony door and listening to the stream rushing by. I’ve walked out early in the morning to listen to the birds, or late at night to watch a rain storm.

designmom_treehouse_balcony - 1 design_mom_balcony_color - 16

But I’m so pleased to have this finished! Already, we’ve used the balcony 10 times as much as we were using it before. (Which is no surprise, because: seating.) My goal was to find fresh, modern accessories and cushions that would complement the mid-century furniture and make sense with the rest of the house. I feel great about how it turned out!

The next thing I want to add? A little cupboard where I can keep our electric tea kettle. Wouldn’t it be fun to start the day here, in my pjs and robe, with something warm to drink? Sounds heavenly to me!

design_mom_balcony_color - 19

Tell me, Friends, are you working on your outdoor spaces? Maybe getting your yard ready for Memorial Day? Working on our yard and porch and balconies is basically all I want to do these days. Also, what’s your top priority outside at the moment? If you could buy one thing for your outdoor space, what would it be? Furniture? A bike? A trampoline? Plants? Lanterns? I’d love to hear!


By Gabrielle.

When I asked Alicia for brighter photos of her dining room, she wrote back two paragraphs! Turns out, it is the darkest room in her home because of its complete lack of windows. Which makes it difficult, many days, since it’s the absolute heart of her home and where they seem to spend the most time. (And before anyone suggests a simple remodel, I should add that this is a 250-year old home with loads of history; knocking down a wall or two might not be in the plans!)

I’m sure we’ve all had a room like that in one home or another, right? One you want to hate for its lackluster features, but can’t help but adore it when you think about all the good times you’ve experienced in it? It’s nice to hear how Alicia has grown to love the space. This is a fabulous read, especially the ending, and I hope it makes your day a little brighter.

Welcome, Alicia!

Hi everyone! I’m Alicia, and I’m so blessed to be able to share my story with you! Thanks for having me.

When I think back to how my husband and I met, I would never have believed where we would be today and how we got here. I met Ryan in college through my roommate and best friend. I was 18 years old and in my first year of college. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or where I was going in life. Our relationship was short lived. We met a few months before summer, and that summer I decided I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of the relationship that Ryan and I had. To what I can only credit God for, we stayed in touch, became the closest of friends, and I slowly fell more and more in love with who Ryan was as a person and how our relationship was unlike any I had ever had.

I had a friend who once told me, “He treats you like a husband treats a wife.” That right there is what changed my life forever.

More goodness, straight ahead!


picture_books_may - 4

I’ve got four terrific book picks for you today. One funny, one sad, all gorgeous.

Let’s start with the sad one. It’s called The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown (yes, the same author as Goodnight Moon). You may already be familiar with the story, because it’s been around for a very long time. But this is a re-issue with new illustrations by award-winning artist, Christian Robinson.

picture_books_may - 5 picture_books_may - 6

Some friends happen upon a dead bird in the park. They carefully bury it, cover it with flowers, and sing songs to send it on it’s way.

This sweet story had our June weeping — weeping for a pretend bird that was already dead when it was introduced in the pages of the book. I mention that as a demonstration that the author really excels at telling the story from a child’s point of view.

I know it seems like an odd subject for a picture book, but I find it to be a really sweet, matter-of-fact introduction to death and the rituals we have around death.

picture_books_may - 7

Next, Bob the Artist, by Marion Deuchars. Bob’s legs aren’t quite like everyone else’s. The teasing really gets to him. So he decides to change himself to fit in.

picture_books_may - 8 picture_books_may - 9

But it turns out trying to be like everyone else isn’t always the best way to thrive. (I’m guessing you already knew that!)

Click here for two more books!


A Few Things

May 20, 2016


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? Anything you’re looking forward to? Our main goal for the weekend is to make some solid plans for our time in France this summer. If we get that done, I will feel both productive and accomplished! How about you? What’s on your plate for the weekend?

My inbox needs my attention at the moment, so I’m going sign off, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- One of the kid-napped Nigerian girls was found!

- Why cursive should be taught first. Interesting.

- On the “cult of motherhood“. I want to reread this. Lot’s of meaty quotes — “I think people are mostly kind and don’t know that, when they ask these questions of women, they are asking us to perform a kind of ceremonial subjection—that we’re not allowed our achievements without first denigrating ourselves or saying, with a sigh, “Yes, that’s correct, I’m a writer and a mother, and it’s so hard, and, no, I don’t do it well.” The truth is, doing these things is hard because being a good parent is always hard, but the difficulty of parenting is separate from the difficulty of work.”

- Art directors around the world design a deck of  ”the woman card“.

- Are social networks boosting conspiracy theories?

- I’m sure this is ruffling lots of feathers — the National Academy of Sciences confirmed genetically engineered crops are safe and possibly good for the environment. Do you have an opinion on the subject?

- I just heard about the TSA shortage. Have you been affected by it? We fly to France 1 month from today. Sounds like we’ll have to get to the airport early.

- I found this infuriating. No one seems to know how much birth costs.

- So inspiring! Meet the man who planted a forest bigger than Central Park. (It’s long, about 20 mins, but worth it.)

- Not just a death, a system failure (NYT blog).

- Poverty is not a crime. It costs much more to punish them than to let them ride for free. (Why do we make life so hard for each other?)

- I keep staring at these photos.

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



Ghirardelli_Bookclub - 3

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Ghirardelli — join the Savor the Dark book Club!

Surely, this is the greatest idea ever conceived: A club that sends you Books + Chocolate! It’s called the Savor the Dark Book Club and it was launched a couple of months ago by Ghirardelli. Essentially it’s a new subscription box that comes with one of the most anticipated books of the summer, paired with three different varieties of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate.

You’ve heard of pairing chocolate with wine or fruit or cheese? Well this club is all about pairing chocolate with books! Brilliant, right?

Ghirardelli_Bookclub - 10 Ghirardelli_Bookclub - 1

In the July box, subscribers will receive a brand new book from Terry McMillan called I Almost Forgot About You, plus three Intense Dark Chocolate flavors — 72% Cacao Twilight Delight BarCherry Tango Bar, and the brand new Cocoa Nibs Bar. Did I mention the book is signed by the author? It’s true! Oh, and the box also comes with surprise bonus materials that you can’t buy anywhere else!

Picture it now: A new ritual. You, eating amazing dark chocolate, while curled up with a great book. How does that sound? Heaven, right!?

I’m super into this idea. In fact, I think it would be fantastic to use this lovely box as the basis for an in-real-life book club! Invite your friends, gather around your coffee table, put out a stack of chocolate to nibble on/devour, and discuss the latest page turner. And speaking of devouring chocolate, check out Ghirardelli’s pairing ideas for suggestions and inspiration on what goes well with each Intense Dark flavor.

ghirardelli_book_club_2 - 5 ghirardelli_book_club_2 - 9

Want to know more? Here’s a little about the book:

“Dr. Georgia Young has great friends, two beautiful daughters, and a successful career as a doctor; yet she finds herself feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes, she embarks on an exciting journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Radiant, free-spirited, and bold are all words that simultaneously describe acclaimed author Terry McMillan’s female protagonists as well as the Intense Dark flavors that we are pairing with her latest page-turner, I Almost Forgot About You.”

ghirardelli_book_club_2 - 1 ghirardelli_book_club_2 - 6

I know it’s only May, but orders for the July subscription box end in a few weeks, so order soon if you want in!

Okay, now I’m curious. Have you ever belonged to a book club? Or, do you belong to one now? If yes, what is it like? Do you meet at a central location (like a public library)? Or do you take turns hosting it in your homes? What kinds of treats do you like to enjoy when you meet? Is it casual — like maybe not everyone reads the book? Or is it more serious — like people come with prepared notes? And how do you choose the book? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — I love book club! The ladies at my church have one, but I’m out of town, or over-scheduled so often, that I’ve only attended once since I’ve moved here. I consider it a good month if I get to go!


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Remember when we were on House Hunter’s International? I just received an email with this video link — it’s a 4 minute summary of the episode — and I’m dying of laughter. It was 2011. Everyone is so young! Little June is just a baby!

I’ve been so careful all these years when I talk about the House Hunter series — I don’t want to give away all the secrets about our episode, and I won’t ruin it for you today, but if you ever meet me in person and want to know the real behind-the-scenes story, I will totally tell you.

Did you ever see the episode? It’s called Historic Country Homes in Normandy. I can’t seem to find the full video anywhere, but you can watch the 4 minute version on, or you can see the full episode in 4 parts on Youtube.

Tell me, Friends. What’s your take on reality TV? Have you ever been on a reality TV show? Or applied to be on one? If you could choose any reality show to be on, which would it be? And do you watch any reality TV? My favorite is still Project Runway. It’s the best! I love how it showcases the creative process from beginning to end.

P.S. — One sort-of spoiler: If you’ve been reading my blog for a long-time, you already know that we didn’t find our French rental through HHI. We found it on a rental website while we were still living in Colorado. I wrote about that here and here. I say “sort-of spoiler” because those posts were public long before HHI ever reached out to us. : )


spring salad with arugula and pea shoots-4

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson.

The weather really warmed up around here this week — it feels like summer! High temperatures always makes me want to mix things up cooking-wise. I either tend to move any cooking to the grill, or skip it altogether and focus on lighter fare like salads.

Arugula Spring Salad ingredients spring salad with arugula and pea shoots-3 spring salad with arugula and pea shoots-7

My salad repertoire is uninspiring at the moment. In fact it’s kind of bumming me out. So I called Lindsey. I know she LOVES salad and I know she comes up with awesome salad combos featuring ingredients I would never think to use on my own. I asked Lindsey for a fresh, green, spring salad — and boy oh boy did she come through!

But before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear: what kind of salads are you making these days? Do you have any go-to combos? Do you change things up with seasonal food, or do you have reliable recipes that you never tire of?

Click here for the recipe and notes!


HonestSuncare - 6

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by The Honest Company. Get 35% off your first bundle — find details below!

In our hallway, we keep a big wicker bag at the ready. I call it our summer bag, as in, “Betty, will you please grab the summer bag when you head to the car?” Since this is California, and outdoor weather can appear during any of the 12 months, the summer bag stays in the hallway year round.

The summer bag is not jam-packed. It has a few essentials only, and is mostly empty space. It’s ready and waiting to be customized depending on the outing. Swimming pool? Add goggles and swimcaps. Beach? Add sand toys and baby powder and a paperback. When I say “a few essentials”, I mean it. This is what’s in the bag:

HonestSuncare - 2

1) A water bottle. We keep this empty and waiting. We’ve found it’s not hard to find a water source as we adventure, so we fill it as go throughout the day. The water bottle means we can push ourselves as needed. Weren’t planning on a hike, but happened on a good one? No worries, because we’ve got water.

2) A wide-tooth comb. This works best for my kids’ hair, which runs on the curly, knotty side, (especially after encounters with water). The comb means we can tidy ourselves — even post beach — if we end up somewhere requiring everyone to look presentable.

HonestSuncare - 5

3) Bandaids. There’s a more complete first aid kit in the car, but in the summer bag, a box of band-aids is all we need. The bandaids are comfort — they fix a range of ills. A scratch. A blister. A bug bite. They offer bravery as needed until we get home.

4) Sunglasses. My kids all have sunglasses, but typically only Olive remembers to bring them (she has a wide selection and likes to pick out a particular pair based on the fashion statement she wants to make). So we keep the rest of the kids’ sunglasses in the summer bag. I’m not sure if it’s the blue eyes or the California sun, but if we’re going to end up outdoors for any length of time, sunglasses really help keep the grouchies away.

HonestSuncare - 4

5) Sunscreen. Having good sunscreen on hand, and plenty of it, is just a non-negotiable fact for my un-able-to-tan offspring. Honest Co. recently introduced new versions of theirs and sent me some to try. Like everything Honest makes (they now have over 100 products and growing!),  the sunscreen is high quality, safe, and available at an in-reach price.

There are 3 options in their suncare line, featuring new packaging and design. Also new? The formulation for their Mineral Sunscreen. It’s mineral-based (non-nano zinc oxide) SPF50+, and it’s been pediatrically and dermatologically tested. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends it too as an effective broad spectrum sunscreen. The reason it’s so effective is that it contains 19% non-nano zinc oxide, which is the only FDA-approved single active ingredient that protects against UVA1, UVA2 and UVB rays. Plus, it was specifically created to be safe and gentle for the whole family.

Not counting the part about how it blocks harmful rays of the sun, my favorite part about their Mineral Sunscreen is that it’s lightweight and non-greasy, which makes it really easy to apply.

HonestSuncare - 8

That’s it. Just five items go in the summer bag. And then, like I said, we can throw in additional items as needed. But even when we add things, I still want it to be mostly empty as we leave the house, because one of the main jobs of the summer bag is collecting things as we go about our adventures.

Half an hour into any outing and our family starts shedding. June’s hoodie goes in the bag because she’s perpetually too warm. Ralph’s hat goes in the bag — it seemed like a good idea when we headed out, but the day turned out to be too windy. Maude’s book ends up in the back when sitting at the park turns into a museum visit.

Having a summer bag at the ready, with only a few essentials, may not sound that helpful. But I’ve found it truly allows us to be spontaneous. If we find ourselves with a free day on the weekend, we can be out the door quickly, building on our excitement and enthusiasm, instead of getting stuck and losing momentum while we figure out what to bring. The essentials in the bag allow for a lot of different adventures, so even if we don’t add anything to the bag, and we’re not sure where we are headed, we’re still prepared for all sorts of fun.

HonestSuncare - 3 (1)

Speaking of fun, how about that discount I mentioned? Design Mom Readers who use the code SUNDMOM35OFF will get 35% off their first Honest Company bundle!*

Now I’m curious and I have two main questions: 1) Do you have a summer bag? Either seasonally or all year round? And 2) If yes, what’s in it? I want to hear!

P.S. — Show me where you’re taking Honest Mineral Sunscreen this summer by posting a photo with #HonestlySunnyDays!


This post has been sponsored by The Honest Company who provided products and payment. All opinions are my own.

*Eligible for new Bundle subscribers only. Limit 1 Promo Code per customer/household. Code must be entered into “Promo Code” section at Checkout. Ends at 11:59 p.m. (PST) on 6/30/2016. Valid for up to 2 Bundles purchased in a single transaction. Cannot be applied to previous purchases, Gift Card purchases or Gift Bundles. Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with any other promotion. Terms subject to change at any time.


By Gabrielle.

Maia started a business with her mom, and once I heard that I couldn’t stop smiling and wondering if maybe one of my kiddos would someday start a company with me. Maia is a Midwestern transplant to my neck of the woods, a minimalist with secret hoarding tendencies — which she is fighting! — and a mom intent on sharing her own unique parenting gifts and methods with her daughter.

I love her perspective and path. I hope you will, too. Welcome, Maia!

Hi, I’m Maia! Our little family is made up of my husband, Travis, and our daughter, Ingrid, who’s two.

Both my husband and I grew up in Wisconsin but we now call Sacramento, California home. I was raised in an idyllic, small, rural farming town that not only has a thriving alternative arts community but also has the most per capita organic farms in the state — and I believe the country at one time, but that might be one of the those local bragging rights that have no basis in fact! Either way, it was great place to grow up.

I went to school for graphic design and worked for years as a designer and art director for brands like, Williams-Sonoma, Cuyana, and Rue Magazine. Last year, I branched out and launched a sustainable and design-minded online children’s boutique with my mom, called Bitte.

Since I work from home and my husband is a stay-at-home dad, we spend a lot of time together as a family. Probably what would seem a crazy amount for most people! Ever since I met Travis, though, we’ve rarely spent more than three or four hours apart at a time. We just really like each other’s company.

More goodness, straight ahead!


Random Thoughts

May 16, 2016

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 3

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Well, Hello! Welcome to May’s installment of my random thoughts. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 4 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 7 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 6 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 8

- As I mentioned, Saturday was party central at our house. June’s was mostly outside in the backyard and on the deck. I adore pretty much any color spectrum anything, so I was delighted she picked rainbows as a theme. We put rainbow ribbons in the trees, and it won’t surprise me if we keep them there all summer long. They look so pretty!

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 5 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 9 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 10 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 14

Two highlights from June’s party: 1) A sticker board. Ralph filled an oversize piece of foamcore with initials in a pattern — R, O, Y, G, B in diagonal stripes. Then the kids, age 5 and 6, would put 2-inch circle stickers in corresponding colors on the initials. Easy, fun, and the kids were excited about what they made. This was the activity we started with while guests arrived, and then kids would go back to it throughout the party to add more stickers. Before the party, we used the stickers to make cupcake toppers too.

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 11 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 12

For lunch, we ate outdoors on our deck. There were hotdogs on the grill, and a big bowl of chips, but the best part was our giant cutting board filled with a rainbow of fruits and veggies. It sat in the center of the table and the kids helped themselves.

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 13 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 2

Even the aftermath was pretty:

rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 15 rainbow_birthday_party_design_mom - 16

- Betty’s party was also delightful. The theme was Series of Unfortunate Events. We started with VFD charades. Phrases with VFD play a big part in the series, (like Very Fancy Doilies and Volunteer Fire Department) so Maude used her typewriter and created 20 or so cards with VFD phrases on them. Some from the book, but most that our kids just made up.

series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 2 series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 1 (1) series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 5 series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 3

The books feature 3 siblings. The oldest likes to invent, the second likes to read, and the third likes to cook. So that informed the rest of our activities. After charades, the kids invented by doing an egg drop. We put out a bunch of materials — rubberbands, straws, popsicle sticks, a stack of newsprint, glue gun, masking tape, etc. — and each guest created a contraption to try and protect their eggs. We gave them about 45 minutes to work on their contraptions, then they took turns dropping their creations — with a raw egg inside — off our balcony onto the front walk. This was a big hit! None the of the eggs survived completely intact, but some only had a crack!

series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 7 series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 6

After that, it was reading time — we had all the Series books out on display in the family room and reading loft, but mostly the kids wanted to watch the movie, so they did that for about 20 minutes. Then it was time to cook! They prepared Pasta Puttanesca for dinner — a meal featured in the first book. Though, we didn’t really follow the recipe. Instead, they made penne with marinara sauce and bolognese sauce.

series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 4 series-unfortunate-events-party-design-mom - 1 series-unfortunate-events-birthday-party - 1

Our cousins joined in at the end of the day which was perfect. After the guests left, we could just hang out with family and relax and enjoy dinner.

- I’m craving a good date with Ben Blair. We do what I’ll call “mini-dates” almost daily. We work out together, do evening grocery shopping together, run to Target together. We’ll hit a late movie once or twice a month. I love any chance I get to hang out with him, so no complaints, but I’m in the mood for a real date. A concert or a museum or a restaurant where we’ve made reservations well in advance. I feel like we were really good at those kinds of dates when we lived in New York, but we’ve been crummy about them ever since. How do you handle dates with your spouse or partner?

- Speaking of museums, I want to see the new SF MOMA! It just reopened after 3 years of renovations. They started the work before we moved here, so none of my kids have seen it. I can’t wait to take the family!

- And speaking of reservations well in advance, I’ve come to realize that part of why we no longer go on planned dates is that we’re in a stage of life where advance planning actually stresses us out instead of relieves us. We seem to be in a phase of life where we can only do things spontaneously. There are exceptions, but mostly I find I’m resistant to put anything “extra” on our calendar. It’s generally pretty packed with school and work commitments, and I’ve found that if I add a dinner-with-friends to the calendar, or buy tickets to Pop-up Magazine event, seeing it on the calendar causes my heart rate to go up.

Instead, “extra” activities seem to be best at the last minute. We love calling friends at 8 or 9 PM and going out for dessert. And we’re great with someone calling at 5:00 and saying they have tickets for a show later that night if we want to go. Beyonce´is in town tonight, and it won’t surprise me if we’re on StubHub this afternoon looking at tickets.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I find I’m much happier about events when they come up last minute. In part, it seems to be so much easier to assess our home and the kids right then and there, and make a smart decision. Is anyone sick? Are there school projects due that someone forgot? Do we have the groceries we need for tomorrow? Are the older kids home and available to babysit? We can get immediate answers and can make a plan.

On the other hand, when we plan in advance, stuff tends to come up and I often find myself wishing we could cancel. It definitely wasn’t always like this, and I’m assuming it won’t be like this forever, but while it lasts, we’re kind of awful to try and make plans with. Does anyone else feel like this? Am I the only one?

- I can’t believe we’re headed to France next month! We get two whole months there!! June 20th to August 20th. Just thinking about it seems so dang dreamy. We’ll be working on our house, doing some traveling, reconnecting with all the people we love in Normandy and mostly just soaking up how much we love being there. The countryside, the food, the pace. All of it.

Right now, we’re trying to figure out how much of our time there we should plan out and how much to keep flexible. Have you already made your summer plans?

- Speaking of summer, the summer fruit has arrived and we are eating piles of it. Apricots and nectarines for miles.

- I’ve had another major run-in with poison oak. Which I’m kind of incredulous about because I try to be so dang careful. But despite my precautions, my shoulders, back and stomach are covered in the awful rash at the moment.

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday to renew my depression meds, and I’ll ask for a giant pack of the poison oak ointment too. I basically have to have a stockpile on hand to get me through the summer. But happily, I’m getting better at managing the pain if I do somehow get the rash.

What works best for me is to take 3 or more showers a day — I start with lukewarm water and soap up, then I turn the water super hot — it’s sort of a hurts-so-good thing and it seems to leach out some of the poison, then I turn the water cool. Then I towel off and put on ointment, and I’m good to go for about 4 or 5 hours.

- We have a fish! June’s big wish for her birthday was a pet. Though I grew up with both cats and dogs at our house, I haven’t felt comfortable getting a pet for my own kids. First because we were in baby stages and I didn’t think I could manage training a pet. And now, even though we’re well past the baby stage, we travel so much that it doesn’t seem like it would be fair to the pet. But we decided we could manage a beta fish. So that was June’s big birthday gift.

When she saw the fish, her eyes lit up. We asked her what his name should be and without hesitation she said, “James. James the Blue Fish.” It was pretty adorable.

Approximately 5 minutes later she was in tears wondering what would become of James when we were in France. I told her I thought one of our cousins would be willing to feed and care for him. That was comforting, but she’s sure she’ll miss him too much. Apparently she’s got that instant mother’s love thing going on. Hah!

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.


A Few Things

May 13, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 10.36.24 AM

By Gabrielle. Photo by @bloesemblogs.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Looking forward to the weekend? At the Blair house, we are in full prep mode for Saturday. We’re hosting 2 birthday parties that day — one for June over lunch, and one for Betty over dinner.

June chose rainbows for a party theme — we’re hosting it outside with an obstacle course, a sticker installation and a water balloon fight. Betty chose A Series of Unfortunate Events as her party theme — we’re decorating with Very Fancy Doilies, inventing egg-drop holders, having a reading time, and making pasta puttanesca for dinner. (If you’ve read the books, that will all make sense to you.)

Remember when I vowed to do super simple parties back in January? Geez. It’s like I can’t help myself. Hah! How about you? How are your weekend plans shaping up? I’m off to run party errands, but before I head out I have a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems.

So fun to watch.

- On unsupervised time for kids.

- For bloggers and social media influencers, have you heard of the Family Forward event? you can get a family vacation worth $8500 for $1999! See what’s included here. My friend Jyl puts on this event and it’s amazing. This is the 4th year and as you can imagine, spots sell out fast!

- She used a male name and sent her novel to agents.

- A parent’s guide to using Snapchat.

Copper mining, oil mining, and lithium mining — don’t believe the memes.

- Actor’s careers summed up in gifs.

- My friend Irene of Bloesem Design creates the most gorgeous things. Take a look a this new magazine all about crafting with yarns. Like that gorgeous photo at top!

Africa uncolonized.

- The top love-language for each Myers-Briggs personality type. Is yours accurate?

- In defense of early bedtimes. (We used to be so good and consistent with early bedtimes, but we’re pretty crummy these days.)

The torture of high heels (and yet I wear them).

- On homecomings.

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



Girls & Sex

May 12, 2016


Photos and text by Gabrielle.

A couple of months ago, while running errands, I heard Peggy Orenstein on NPR talking about her new book, Girls & Sex. The conversation was compelling, and when I got home, I ordered the book immediately. When it was delivered, I put it on the coffee table so I would see it daily and remember to make time to read it.

Olive picked it up first, and read the whole thing (she said it got some looks when she brought it to school and pulled it out for free-reading time). Then Maude started it — but had to pause to prep for her AP tests. When Maude set it down, I picked it up. I finished it on Sunday (all I wanted for Mother’s Day was reading time — and I got it!). Now Ralph and Ben Blair are in line to read it.

It’s made for some excellent discussions.

The thing that struck me the most is the observation that when we discuss reproduction with boys, we focus on erections and climax — both pleasurable things. But for girls, we focus on periods and pregnancy prevention — neither of which are pleasurable at all. Most girls grow up not even knowing the actual names of their genitalia. They either hear a nickname/slur, or the whole area gets called vagina. Females grow up learning or hearing about all the ways they can bring pleasure to males, without an understanding of how they can feel pleasure themselves, or what they’re supposed to get out of a sexual encounter.

Our culture teaches girls to act and look sexy, but they don’t actually know how to be sexual, or what that means.


Those ideas stood out to me, because from what I’ve seen and experienced it’s true. I had been thinking Ben Blair and I had done a decent job with our sex ed, but after reading the book I can see we need to do better. More conversations, more often, with both our sons and daughters, with a focus on removing stigma, and growing into a happy, healthy, loving sex life.

Some of the examples in the book were hard for me to stomach. Lots and lots of instances where girls are pressured to have sex when they’re not interested and take no pleasure from it. And there’s a whole chapter on rape and rape culture. But of course, those experiences need to be told and acknowledged and talked about before we will see improvement. So I found it well-worth reading even when I wanted to throw up.

One tip: I found the best conversations started when I simply sat in the living room and read the book aloud to Ben, while the kids walked in and out of the room, grabbing a snack, or sitting down to listen. It was easier for me to read the words in the book aloud instead of trying to come up with my own. And maybe more important, I think it was easier for the kids to hear the words (some of them no doubt shocking to hear coming from their mother’s mouth), and know I was reading them, not necessarily sharing a personal experience — no one (kids, teens, or adults) wants to think of their parents as sexual beings.

Another tip: in this Slate interview with the author, she mentions the idea of having a designated family friend that can speak frankly with your kids about sex. If you want to make sure your kids have this knowledge, but don’t feel like you can be the one to deliver it, you ask an Aunt or a Dear Friend — someone your kids are really comfortable with.

Anyway, I thought the book was excellent and I’m wondering if you’ve read it. I’d love to discuss it with you! If you don’t have time to read it, you can listen to the NPR interview with the author, or read the highlights, I mentioned the excellent interview about the book on Slate, and there’s an excerpt of the book on Time. Any of those is enough to get a conversation started.

I’m also curious: when did you learn words like labia and clitoris and vulva? And did you understand what they were? What their function was? Do you feel like your kids know? Both your daughters and your sons? I was definitely into adulthood before I had a solid understanding of female anatomy.

P.S. — Also from Time: how to talk to your kids about porn.



By Gabrielle. Empathy cards by Emily McDowell.

Sierra Casillas is a midwife in Washington, DC, and expecting her first baby. But if you’re thinking this is going to be one of those stories where her professional experience has completely and utterly prepared her for her personal challenges, you’re going to be surprised.

I’ll let her tell the story. Welcome, Sierra!

Sierra’s story, straight ahead!


Whole Fruit_500px

By Gabrielle.

It happened yesterday: a Last Day of School photo showed up in my Facebook stream. The first last-day-photo of the year! Our schools here in Oakland don’t get out until early June, but I can definitely feel things winding down. And as they wind down, the temperatures seem to rise. Which means popsicle weather! In fact, for Betty’s birthday on Monday, she requested popsicles (an assortment of creamsicles, fudgesicles and rootbeer-float pops) in lieu of a birthday cake.

Well, just in the nick of time, my internet friend, Christine Chitnis has a mouth-watering new book called Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet. It’s all about making yummy frozen treats — like ice pops, slushies, and floats — without refined sugars. There are 75 recipes, including vegan and dairy-free options too. As you can see, the photos are gorgeous and I can’t wait to try the recipes!

Black Cherry w Chocolate Frozen Yogurt_500px CVR Icy Creamy Healthy Sweet_Roost Books copy

I asked Christine if I could share a recipe from the book here and she sent over one called Firecracker Pops. They are adorable! And I love how simple and wholesome the ingredients are. You can find the recipe and photo when you click through, but before you do, I’d love to hear if you have any memories making popsicles as a kid. I sure do!

I remember filling the ice cube trays with orange juice — the kind of juice made from a tube of frozen concentrate. Remember that stuff? Run the cardboard carton under hot water, squeeze it to get the concentrate into the pitcher, then fill the carton with water 3 times. Hah! It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. After the juice was poured into the tray, I would  cover the it with plastic wrap and insert toothpicks through the plastic. Then I would check the freeze obsessively, waiting for the blocks to freeze. The toothpicks would never stand up straight, so they would freeze at an odd diagonal, making the popsicle challenging to hold.

Creamy Cashew_500px Frozen Yogurt Bark_500px

But still! The idea of making popsicles at home seems to be so universally appealing for kids of all ages. Yesterday, 17-year-old Maude suggested we try making pudding pops at home!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


Postmates - 1

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Postmates — get $10 off your first delivery. Details below!

Let’s talk about time-saving apps for a minute. There are new ones every year. Some of them stick for me (like Uber — it’s on the front page of my apps because I use it so much), and others don’t (like Taskrabbit — I tried it a bunch when we first moved here but haven’t opened it in a couple of years). Recently I tried a new-to-me one, it’s called Postmates, and I think I’m going to love it.

What Postmates does, is turn every single store into a store that delivers. We all know pizza delivery, and if we live in Manhattan, we might know Chinese food delivery too. But what about pharmacy delivery? Or shoe delivery? Or birthday gift delivery? I’m not talking about online shopping, where a delivery happens a few days later. I’m talking about a fleet of local couriers, probably in your town — because Postmates is in 40 different U.S. cities now, and growing — who respond to delivery requests on-demand.

Postmates - 3 Postmates - 4

Postmates can deliver from any store or restaurant, anytime, anywhere – including Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland (which always has a loooong line down the block) in minutes. Order from Chipotle, Starbucks, Apple and thousands of popular local merchants (like my fave, Laurel Hardware) at the touch of a button, on-demand 24/7.

I mentioned it as a time-saver, and it is, but it’s also an I’m-not-in-the-mood-to-go-out-saver. Say it’s raining, and you’re not up for loading the kids in the car. Postmates will deliver! Or maybe you’re under the weather and craving some chicken soup from that out of the way noodle shop. Postmates will deliver! Or maybe you’re throwing a party tonight and just don’t have time to run all of your errands. Postmates will deliver!

Over the weekend, I tried it twice to see what it was like. First I ordered food from my favorite Greek restaurant. It couldn’t have been easier. I opened the app, found the restaurant name, and the whole menu was listed. I just had to choose quantities and place the order. I received a confirmation email instantly and a delivery ETA of 35 minutes — with a link to track the progress.

Postmates - 5

Second, I placed an order from Trader Joe’s. I have some frustration with Trader Joe’s at the moment for two reasons. First, because they close too early for my schedule. These days, most of our grocery shopping happens after 10:00 PM, (Ben Blair and I go together after the little kids are asleep, and treat it like a mini-date), but Trader Joe’s is always closed at that point. And second, though we have several TJ’s in the area, parking at every single one is a beast. Just finding a spot can add an extra 30 minutes to the errand, especially on weekends. So I end up skipping it. It’s just not worth the hassle most of the time.

That said, there are some things I really love from Trader Joe’s, so I thought: Why not try Postmates? Using their app, I pulled up Trader Joe’s, found some of the items I needed in the app database, and described the rest in a custom order. A few minutes later I had a call from a Postmates Courier — she was in Trader Joe’s and wanted to clarify one of the custom items I requested. Then, in less than an hour, the delivery was on my doorstep!

Postmates - 6

It’s hard not to be an instant fan. No having to wait in line, no having to talk to anyone if I’m feeling anti-social, no having to go out in the cold. Instead of taking an hour or more to run an errand, I spent a few minutes on my phone and tada! Errand completed.

Want to give it a try? Click here to download the Postmates app and use the code DesignMom to get $10 off your first delivery! (Applicable to new customers only, for use on delivery fee.)

If you do, I’d love to hear what you use Postmates for first. I’m also curious, do have any time-saver apps you swear by? I know different services work for different people. I’d want to hear what works for you!

P.S. — Have you tried the TJ’s kitchen cloths? They are the best ever. We haven’t needed papertowels since we started using these, way back in New York!


By Gabrielle. Photos by Michelle Drewes.

Lisa and her friend Nan started Ginger, a line of handmade caftans, because they wanted “a kickass dress that was flattering and simple.” So cool. Every time I see a woman strolling confidently in a caftan, I smile. I imagine she has a lot of events to attend, deadlines and dates she never breaks, a well-edited closet and pantry, probably, and a ticket to Corsica for the end of May. Maybe even a thriving garden and a lovely copper watering can. Right?!

I hope you enjoy Lisa’s words and beautiful space she’s sharing with us today. Welcome, Lisa!

Hi everyone! I’m so excited to show you around my life!

My husband and I met in San Francisco in 2001 and were married by the end of the following year. It was a bit of an opposites attract situation! As an economic consultant, he was very organized and methodical and craved routine. Myself, a designer, am more emotional, free spirited, outgoing, and artistic. I’m not so great at paying taxes, saving money, or keeping a clean car, but I love adventure, wild parties, and naughty little children.

However, our 12-year age gap makes us both land in the same Chinese astrological year, the year of the horse. Since horses are meant to race and travel, it wasn’t surprising that we shared the same vision for raising a global-minded family.

We both grew up in the Bay Area — San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Our households were quite different! Doug’s was strict and orderly which resulted in him skipping the third grade, learning to play the piano beautifully and to speak French. I grew up in a free-range creative household that involved lots of motorcycle riding in the Santa Cruz mountains, skateboarding, boogie boarding, and building stuff in my parent’s workshop.

Tons of beautiful views, just ahead!


Lucille Evans Pack

By Gabrielle.

My question for you today: How did you/do you address your grandparents? And how do your kids address their grandparents?

I was thinking of this because of a birthday note that June received over the weekend. Along with a birthday card, my mom likes to include a little info on one of the kids’ ancestors — just a paragraph or two with maybe a photo. Sometimes it’s a long-ago relative that lived in another country many generations ago. But this time it was someone a bit closer, someone I spent lots of time with as a child — my mother’s mother, Lucille Evans Pack, or in other words, June’s great-grandmother.

In the little note, my mom referred to her as GiGi, which is what her great-grandkids called her. I think that’s so cute — G.G., as in Great Grandmother! I’m not sure who thought to call her that. As grandkids, we called her Grandma Pack, so the name GiGi was only part of my life as an adult. Did she request it? Did one of the great-grandkids start it? Did one of my cousins or siblings suggest it? Or maybe it was thought up by one of her kids (my aunts and uncle and mother).

It has me wondering, what will my grandkids call me and Ben Blair? What will their kids call our parents? I want it to be something fun.

How about you? Do you stick with the classic, Grandma & Grandpa [last name]? Or do you use something more unusual? Maybe something you inherited from another country or another language? Gamma? Grammy? Poppa? Gramps? And what do you want your grandkids or great-grandkids to call you? I’d love to hear! If it helps, I just did a search for “alternative names for grandparents” and found this cute list. After reading it, I’m thinking our grandkids should call us Bubba and Ace. (I get to be Bubba.)

P.S. — The photo at top is Grandma Pack, age 82, on a boat headed to Santorini. She and my mom came to visit me and Ben when we lived in Greece. She even rode a donkey on the steep island paths!


A Few Things

May 6, 2016


By Gabrielle. Photo by Levon Biss.

Hello, Friends! How are you doing? Has it been a good week? We are ramping up for one of those mega weekends that happen from time to time at our house. Things that are on my family’s mind: An AP test today for Maude, and a track meet too. Ralph’s final papers of the semester due this afternoon. Betty getting home from 4th grade sleepaway camp. Mormon Prom on Saturday night, followed by a gathering (that will likely turn into a slumber party) at our house. Cousin’s sleepover at the Stanley’s house. Lots of rain. June’s birthday on Saturday. Mother’s Day on Sunday. And Betty’s birthday on Monday.

That’s a lot of things. Wish us luck! And I should note, though most of the items on our schedule didn’t have the option of rescheduling, we did move the birthday parties for June and Betty till next Saturday. More on that next week. : )

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- A video from Elon Musk — what would it take to power the whole U.S. with solar energy?

- The white wall controversy.

- 4 men with 4 very different incomes.

- Stop saying “I feel like”. (NYT)

- I want to study the detail in these photos.

- It’s an ad about flying with babies. Made me cry. I feel like I’ve mentally blocked the memories of our most challenging flights.

- What pain are you willing to have in your life?

- Intersectionality: Boundaries, Bathrooms, and Black Lives.

- This history of the Billboard charts is endlessly fascinating to me. I listened to 3 decades of the music with the kids last night. So much nostalgia!

- Loving the at-home manufacturing trend. FormBox looks cool!

- Loved this interview with Ben Silbermann of Pinterest. Such a good guy!

- Hah! Obituaries my mother wrote for me.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that you have a sweet Mother’s Day, or are able to ignore it altogether. : ) I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Knowing we likely won’t be able to fit in a date this weekend, Ben Blair and I are thinking about playing hooky from work today and hitting a matinee. I don’t know if we’ll make it happen, but just the thought is bringing a big smile to my face.



Post by Betty Blair, age 9. Photos and intro by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Miracle-Gro.

Betty is a Garden Ambassador at her elementary school. She LOVES working in the garden. She’s learning how to weed, how to compost and make soil, how to clean and take care of her tools, how to plant seeds, and how to water the garden. She’s very excited about gardening and can’t wait to plant flowers in our yard. She especially likes to teach other kids what she is learning.

miracle-gro-potting-mix01 miracle-gro-potting-mix02

To help encourage her gardening love, I suggested she write a blog post for fellow kids to teach them a gardening skill. She was delighted by the idea and decided to teach “how to pot a flower to keep on the front porch”. She said, “then the kids can water it themselves, and be responsible for it, and watch it grow.” I thought that sounded wonderful. So here is Betty, with a post created for your kids — or for any brand-new gardener!

Betty says:


Step 1 — You need to choose the right pot. It needs to have a hole in the bottom. This is very important, because if it doesn’t have a hole in the bottom, then the water won’t be able to escape and it will sort-of like drown the roots.

Here’s a pot without a hole (I give it a thumbs down):


There are lots of kinds of pots. The orangish-brown kinds are usual, but they break. I like these metal ones because they don’t break. Plastic ones don’t break either.

Step 2 — Put the potting mix in.

miracle-gro-potting-mix09 miracle-gro-potting-mix10

This is a fun part. It’s very messy! Use a trowel (that’s a small hand shovel), or a paper cup, and scoop the soil up and put it in the pot.


Keep doing that until it’s about three-quarters of the way up.


It’s really good to use gloves for this part, because if you don’t, then your hands can get really dirty, and it’s hard to clean the dirt that gets under your fingernails.

Step 3 — Choose your flower.


Take the plant info out, and then slowly and very carefully take the plastic pot off. I like to hold the main plant with one hand, and then squeeze the pot at the bottom with my other hand, and the plant will slide out.


Step 4 — Look at the shape of the rootball. The rootball is the soil and roots of the plant. Then dig a hole in the potting mix that is about the same size as the rootball.

miracle-gro-potting-mix16 miracle-gro-potting-mix15

Put the plant in the hole.

Step 5 — Add more potting mix around the sides of the plant.

miracle-gro-potting-mix17 miracle-gro-potting-mix18

Pat it down so the soil isn’t loose. Add more soil until the pot is almost full. Leave about 1/2 inch at the top.


Dust off the leaves if they have any soil on them.

Step 6 — Water! This part is the funnest.


You can use a watering can or a cup of water. But don’t use a hose! Because the hose is too powerful and it could spray away all the soil.


Water it gently until you see some water come out of the drainage hole.

Step 7 — Read the plant info.


It will tell you if the plant needs sun or shade. And it will tell you how much water it needs, and how big it will get.


This plant goes up to like 10 inches!

You can memorize what is on the plant info, or you can put it back in the soil so you don’t lose it.

Step 8 — Now it’s planted, but you still need to take care of it if you want it to grow. Check the plant each day. See if it needs water. Move it to a sunny place (if it needs sun). And you also need to feed it. There are different kinds of plant food — there are crystals you mix with water, liquid plant food, and food that you shake on and mix into the soil.


Plant food helps flowers get their biggest. I used potting soil that already has plant food in it. Then I don’t need to worry about feeding the plant for about 6 months. After that, you can buy plant food and use it whenever the flowers need it.


That’s it! I think you’ll love doing this project. My little sister June watched me pot this flower and she couldn’t wait to try it herself. Playing with dirt is just really fun! Another one of my favorite parts about gardening is seeing the plants grow, and I really like watering and feeding the plants and making sure they’re being cared for.


I hope you get to put a pot of flowers on your porch and watch them grow!


Wow, Betty! That was awesome. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned so far. I hope there are lots of kids who get to try it out themselves.

I’m over the moon that Betty is learning and caring for plants at an early age. This is knowledge and these are habits that will serve her for her whole life!

Okay you expert gardeners, your turn. Anything else you would you add to Betty’s info? I’d also love to know if gardening is a part of your life. Do you have a yard that you work in? Or maybe a balcony garden or windowsill garden? And did you garden as a kid? I have lots of gardening memories as a child. Weeding the grapevines and picking fresh mint to garnish Sunday dinner are the first two that come to mind! How about you?


By Gabrielle.

Every so often when I’m browsing Instagram, a painting pops up that makes my heart dance. It is usually one of Kirsten Jackson’s.

Please settle in for a colorful, inspiring, melt-your-insides account of a day-in-the-life of an artist, runner, wife, and mom. I really think you’re going to fall in love with this one. Welcome, Kirsten! We can’t wait to follow along your day!

The minute I woke up today, I put the running clothes on. I’m out the door by 6:00 am for my morning run. I do this at least five times a week. Running is something that keeps me sane.

My husband Ian is also always up early. He wakes me so I’m extremely lucky because I don’t ever need an alarm clock!

My 15-year-old son Alexander came for a run with me this morning. He comes with me at least twice a week. It’s quality time that I really value. We ran the bayside trail in Melbourne and saw the most beautiful pink sunrise as we ran this morning.

My 18-year-old daughter Taylor was still at home fast asleep as she usually is at that time of the morning! She’s just finished high school, so she’s allowed a bit of sleep in time.

My mornings are always rushed. I made it back from my run by 7.10 am to get my children’s breakfast and lunch ready. I sometimes can’t believe I’m still getting their breakfast for them! It’s a Mum thing, but I feel better when I know they have had a healthy start to the day. 

I’m a creature of habit, so after I dropped my son Alexander at the train station to catch the train to school, I had breakfast at the same café I do every morning. I always take our dog Canny, a West Highland Terrier, with me and I have my usual: scrambled eggs on gluten-free toast and a coffee. After breakfast, I took Canny for a half-an-hour walk along the beach.

I live in a bayside suburb of Melbourne called Hampton. It’s a fantastic area to live, with lots of fabulous clothes shops, cafes, and galleries. It’s a short walk for me to get to the beach.

So much color and love, straight ahead!

Related Posts with Thumbnails