By Gabrielle.

I have two favorite things to tell you about Kelly. One is that she’s an oceanography professor, which sounds all sorts of cool and exciting and rather frightening, if you ask me! And the other is that she lives next door to a Christmas tree farm.

Actually, there are three. Because I am really excited to share someone with you who possesses a parenting style I just want to hug. In her words, she measures her success as a parent by this simple idea: if her son skins a knee, he is just as likely to call for his dad as his mom. Brilliant.

Please read on to hear how she balances her careers inside and outside the home, and also manages the daily obstacle course through train sets and Lego creations! Parents of little builders, unite! Welcome, Kelly!

Hi everyone! I’m Kelly, an oceanography professor and a wife and mom. Being a professor at a major research university is an intense career, combining research driven by competitive external grants with teaching and mentoring of graduate students.

In my work, I study how animals in the ocean find food. At home, I am constantly reminded that I do not belong in the kitchen, for everyone’s health and safety!

My husband, Chad, is my research assistant, which means that he takes the crazy ideas I come up with and makes them happen: everything from building equipment, ordering supplies, and processing data, to going to sea and maintaining systems. We met when we started working together and I fell in love with his desire to work towards making everyone around him happy and successful, something that makes him excel at his job and as a dad. Chad is thoughtful, funny, and sensitive, traits I am grateful our four and a half year old (make sure you don’t forget the half!) son, Kaelan has inherited. He has also inherited the passion we both share for making things and loves to spend time in our garage/machine shop working alongside us, playing with Legos, building machines by combining every building material in the house, and designing complex train tracks.

Christmas trees outside every window! I love it!


La Farine Fruitvale

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I present to you another installment of random thoughts that have been on my mind and don’t quite merit individual blog posts. : )

1) Yesterday morning, my wonderful mother-in-law, Julia Blair ended up in the ICU. Reports are that she is stable now, but will be in the hospital for several more days. Apparently she is in very good spirits. My sister-in-law Margaret said that when the nurse came in for the necessary tests and asked Julia the normal questions (“When were you born?” “Do you know where you are?” “Do you remember what happened?”) Mom answered all of them well, and then said, “Now, tell me about you.”

2) The other day, my friend Karey posted a quote on Instagram and it instantly plunged me into all sorts of emotions. I love it so much! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it:

I hope that in the future they invent a small golden light that follows you everywhere and when something is about to end, it shines brightly so you know it’s about to end.

And if you’re never going to see someone again, it’ll shine brightly and both of you can be polite and say, “It was nice to have you in my life while I did, good luck with everything that happens after now.”

And maybe if you’re never going to eat at the same restaurant again, it’ll shine and you can order everything off the menu you’ve never tried. Maybe, if someone’s about to buy your car, the light will shine and you can take it for one last spin. Maybe, if you’re with a group of friends who’ll never be together again, all your lights will shine at the same time and you’ll know, and then you can hold each other and whisper, “This was so good. Oh my God, this was so good.”

— Iain Thomas, I Wrote This For You

3) On Thursday last week, a small dog showed up at our house in the late afternoon. She had a collar and tags. She was hungry and scared, so we fed her, but she was shaking hard and wouldn’t let us get close to her (close enough to check her tags) for a couple of hours. Eventually we were able to get her name — it’s Chiqui! — and her owner’s number from the tags. We called and left a message, but didn’t get an answer back. So we made a little bed for her and she stayed over. According to her tags, her home is about 4 miles from our house. The kids were over the moon to have such a cute little sleepover guest!

The next morning, we sent the kids to school, we left another message for Chiqui’s owner, and Chiqui wanted to snuggle with me on the sofa while I worked. But the poor girl was filthy dirty. We could smell her from a mile away and when I petted her, my hand would turn black from a layer of city grime all over her. I wanted to get her clean, but had never given a dog a bath before! So I asked my Facebook friends for advice and happily, the bath was a success. Chiqui was a total champ. Afterwards, she settled right down on my lap.

Shortly after the bath, we heard from the owner! She is traveling in Italy, and her friends, who live just a few minutes from us, are taking care of Chiqui. They came right over to pick her up, and they brought another dog who lives with Chiqui as well. Chiqui was DELIGHTED to see them. And I was glad we were sending her off in good hands.

When the kids got home from school that day, and Chiqui was gone, little June was absolutely broken hearted. I didn’t realize how attached she had gotten in such a short time. In June’s head I think she figured Chiqui had been fully adopted by our family.

It ended up being a happy little adventure in our week, and it has me wondering if it’s time to get a dog. But that’s a topic for another time. Hah!

4) Today marks the 28th day I’ve gone to the gym since August 29th. Which means this is the most consistent I’ve been about working out since high school! So I’m feeling the need to give myself some high fives. Woo hoo!

5) As I mentioned on Friday, one of my weekend goals was about mums. But I did some shopping and can’t seem to find good-looking ones anywhere. Is it just my neighborhood? Do mums not do well in the Bay Area? Or maybe I just need to find a better nursery.

6) I added Halloween links to my sidebar if you need some inspiration. And costumes have mostly been decided. It sounds like June is going with mermaid, Betty with Pippi Longstocking, and Oscar wants to be a pillow monster. I don’t know he’s picturing when he says pillow monster, but I’m sure it will be fantastic. How about your kids?

That’s all for now. As usual, feel free to respond to any topic above, or introduce an entirely different topic. I like it when these posts become an open thread!

P.S. — Find other random thoughts posts here.


A Few Things

October 9, 2015


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you doing? Was it a good week? Ours felt totally regular in that really good way. This weekend we’re down by two — Ralph is in Yosemite helping my brother’s company, Vacation Races, put on a half-marathon. And Maude is in Fresno for a cross country meet. But we’re also up by one — our niece Lindsey Madsen is coming to visit!

One of my little goals for the weekend is to get the porch looking fresh for fall. I didn’t use mums last year and missed them. So I’ve decided to go for mums and orange pumpkins. How about you? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to?

I’m off to make up the guest bed, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Super cheap flights to Europe? Yes, please!

- Ten words every girl should learn.

- Mixed feelings watching these deaf children praying in sign language — it seems so private I feel like I shouldn’t be watching, but it’s so beautiful I don’t want to look away.

- The pros and cons of IVF.

- The science of kindness.

- Do you ask questions when your kids get a playdate invite? Do you have a pool? Do you have guns in the house?

- Loving the bomb and sucking out the poison.

- Conversations between a father and child.

- Halloween at its most gorgeous.

- Why do we work?

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



Volcano Adventure! Day Two

October 9, 2015


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.

It’s time for the Day Two report on our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. (You can find the Day One report here .) Oscar (he’s number four of six) is here as a Guest Blogger to help me out:


Hi! I’m Oscar Blair. I’m ten years old. I’m excited to be a Guest Blogger! I get to tell you about Day Two of our road trip. Day Two was mostly about hiking. And about throwing snowballs! (Oh. And I fell in a lake too! More about that later.)


The hike we went on was to a place called Bumpass Hell. It’s called that because there was a guy with the last name Bumpass, and he was showing people around and telling them to be very careful, because the ground was unstable. Then, the ground gave way and his leg fell into one of the boiling mud pits. He got a serious burn! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!


It was weird because there was lots of snow, but it was right next to boiling mud pits — in the summer! And it felt warm outside. I don’t know if it was old snow from last winter, or if there was an early storm.


But June kept saying, “Hey Dad, are you hot?” And then Dad would say, “Yes!” And then June would throw a snowball at him! That happened like a hundred times.

Keep reading for the rest of Oscar’s report!


Volcano Adventure! Day One

October 8, 2015


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.

As promised, I wanted to report on our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Holy moly it was a great little trip! Two things before I jump into the report: First, I asked my kids to be my Guest Bloggers and help me report about the trip. So Olive is helping me with this report about Day 1, and Oscar is helping me with a report about Day 2.

The second fun thing is Ford lent us a new 2016 Explorer for our adventure. It’s a six seater, and we’re a family of 8, so at first I was like aw shucks, I don’t think we can make it work. But then we found out Maude had a cross-country commitment that weekend, and Ralph had a video job that weekend, and they both needed to stay home. At which point we said, “Well then heck yes! Let’s try the Explorer!”

So off we went on a little weekend adventure. And now I’ll hand the report to Olive Blair:


Olive Blair here. I’m 14 years old and I’ve never been a guest blogger before. But I am happy to tell you all about the first day of our trip!

We got to Lassen National Park after about a 4-hour drive from Oakland. We put all our suitcases in our hotel room and headed straight for the park.


Once we got there, we stopped at the visitor center but it was closed, so we decided to do some exploring on our own. First we found this hot spot called Sulphur Works. It was really cool. It had bubbling mud and it smelled like eggs. We just sat and stared at it for like 10 minutes because it was so cool. My mom shared a video of the bubbling here.

We later found out the mud bubbles because of magma six miles below the surface.


We also did a little hiking in that area. You’ll note from Oscar’s stance that hiking on volcanos makes you feel pretty unstoppable!!

More of Olive’s report straight ahead!



October 8, 2015

June with Braids

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Since the time little June first began to talk, she’s said the word ‘smarshmellows’ instead of ‘marshmallows’. It’s a pretty darn adorable mispronunciation. Knowing she is my youngest, and wanting to cherish every little bit of her childhood, I’ve never had the heart to correct her. : )

But a couple days ago, she asked for “a cup of hot cocoa with 4 smarshmellows, I mean marshmallows.” And I had to stop myself from going into the other room to weep because I could hardly bear how fast she’s growing up.

How about you? Any sweet mispronunciations that your little ones are holding on to? Or any that are gone now, but that you remember with a little flutter in your heart? I posted this on Facebook and Instagram and I LOVE reading everybody’s reports. I’d love to hear yours too!

P.S. — The kids went to gymnastics yesterday, and I realized June still has a mispronunciation! She calls it joo-nastics. 



Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I am wondering if you would post regarding how you manage rules around electronic devices and your children. Recently, several moms and I were together for dinner and this topic kept us occupied for several hours.  I have kids ranging form 17 to 9 and it is getting harder and harder to manage what one can do and the others cannot do.  I think a topic on this would be of great interest to so many of us out here looking to hear what other families have found works for them. Many thanks! — Rosanna S.


Terrific question, Rosanna! I agree — hearing how other families are managing things is so helpful! And you’re not the only one with this on your mind. I get questions about kids and screen time weekly. So much so, that Ben Blair and I even covered this topic in one of our first Periscope broadcasts. If you missed it, I posted the video online here.

But I know some of you aren’t into video, so here’s a little recap of what we covered. As we were writing up our notes for the broadcast, we realized they our approach can be summed up in three Es:

1) Embrace
We embrace screens at our house. Both Ben Blair and I work on laptops. We have an iPad in the kitchen. We have iPhones. A Kindle. And an iMac. There are lots of screens around and we don’t pretend otherwise. (And let me take a moment to acknowledge how much privilege we have that “screen time” is even an issue.)

Instead, we try to focus on the positive aspects screens bring to our home. For example, our iPad in the kitchen has enabled us to try tons of new recipes easily and on the spur of the moment. Services like Skype and Facetime keep us connected to family and friends from all over the world. Our kids use screens for coding tutorials, for foreign language learning, and creating art. And when we’re having a family discussion about a current event, being able to look up facts or figures about it as we talk — having endless libraries of information at our fingertips — is one of the biggest miracles of modern times.

We don’t make enemies of the screens. We start by focusing on what awesome tools they are.

2) Environment
We put a lot of responsibility on the environment in our home. If screens are the most tempting thing in any room of our house, then we have a pretty crummy house. Instead, we think about what activities we want them to do, and then make sure it’s really easy and appealing to do those activities.

For example, art supplies are easy to access. We have a cozy reading crammed with books for all ages. We make it easy to use the kitchen — even for the little kids. We keep the board games at their fingertips. The dress ups are on display. And we make the outside of our house — our yard, the swings, the hammock, the trees, the jump ropes, the pull-up bar — as inviting to the kids as possible.

The idea is that we make sure our home, and how we’ve set it up, facilitates the activities and conversations we want to promote.

3) Enforce
I think this is the hardest one. Because it requires a consistency that we can’t always provide. But basically, it’s this: Decide on your family’s screen rules and then stick to them. (Obviously being willing to adapt as needed.)

For example, at our house, we made a rule that we would collect all portable screens every evening and charge them in our bedroom (so that the kids aren’t tempted to sneak them into bed). This rule works great when we are enforcing it! But if we’re too tired/lazy to collect the screens, then (surprise!) it doesn’t work so well.

Though I said this is the hardest, the good news is, it gets easier. Good habits eventually form!


These notes cover our current strategies, but I want to be clear: just like everyone else, we are figuring this out as we go along. Parents everywhere with screens in the home are having to tackle this. There is no historical precedent, and we don’t have a thousand case studies of families that have already handled this successfully to look to. It’s just so new!

So with that in mind, please share what you’ve tried at your house, or if you’ve heard of a family that has a screen policy you admire. We want to hear!

P.S. — If you’re wanting more on this topic, our video goes into greater detail.


yellow tote, red sandals

By Gabrielle. Photos by Katrina Davis. // Sponsored by Le Tote. Get 20% off! Find the code below.

Okay you guys, I’m super excited to tell you about Le Tote. They reached out and told me about their service, and I love the concept. I think you will too! If you’ve been reading for awhile, you may already know that I’m totally fascinated by new services that allow people access to products without having to own them — services like ZipCars mean you don’t have to own a car, but you can drive one any time you need. Or, home rental services like AirBnb mean that you don’t have to own a vacation home, but you can still enjoy one. And now there’s Le Tote. It’s a fashion rental service that gives women access to an infinite closet of clothes and accessories.

grey wrap, black denimjacket, sweats, heels, button-down

It’s $49 per month and this is how it works: First, you fill out your size profile and like all of your favorite pieces by clicking the heart. This adds the pieces to your closet. Next, a professional stylist will curate your tote with items in your closet and items that fit your style and ship them to you in a cute little box.

army-green jacket

Then, you can wear the items they send (3 pieces of clothing, 2 accessories) for as long or as little as you want — 2 days, 3 weeks, a whole month — whatever you like! When you’re ready, you send everything back in a prepaid envelope and Le Tote will send you a new box immediately.

Isn’t that lovely? For one flat fee, you could have a new tote several times a month — meaning you’ll always have something new to wear!

Le Tote clothes rental service. $49 per month and you can get a new box of clothes as often as you like!mural, grey wrap, black denim

I received my first tote last week and it really was fun to open — I had placed over 50 items in my Le Tote closet, so I had no idea what was going to be in the box! Inside, there was a blue sweatshirt with zipper details, an army green jacket, a heathered grey wrap, a beaded necklace, and a reversible leather tote (yellow & royal blue). You can see all the items in these photos.

I immediately fell in love with the army green jacket (Maude and Olive loved it too!), and I wondered if I could hold on to it. Turns out: yes. If you fall in love with a particular piece, you can keep it, and send everything else back. This lets Le Tote know that you’d like to purchase the item (at a big discount!). They’ll charge the card on file and send a new tote.

Le Tote clothes rental service. $49 per month and you can get a new box of clothes and accessories as often as you like!yellow tote bag

Other things I asked about: 1) How much is shipping? Shipping is FREE both ways. 2) What about laundry? You don’t have to launder anything before you return it! They do all the laundry. 3) What if I want particular pieces sent? This is new, but members can now customize their boxes and get exactly what they want! The stylist chooses items for you, but 24 hours before your box is shipped, you can go in and switch out items you don’t want or need that week.

The other cool thing is that Le Tote carries several upscale brands that you’d find at places like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie. Brands like French Connection, and Kensie, and BCBGeneration, and a whole bunch more.

Le Tote clothes rental service. $49 per month and you can get a new box of clothes as often as you like!army green short jacket

Anyway. I know there are lots of clothes shopping services out there — I’m curious about them, and I’ve covered a few here on the blog. But nothing is quite like Le Tote! If you’re someone who likes to change up your closet frequently, I think Le Tote would be a great fit for you.

Want to give Le Tote a try? Get 20% off your first month when you sign up using this link with the discount code DESIGNMOM. (The code will automatically be applied to your order when you go through the sign-up process through that link, so no need to re-enter the code. Just make sure to click that link in order to access the 20% off!)

Le Tote clothes rental service. $49 per month and you can get a new box of clothes as often as you like!

Okay. Now I’m curious. What are your thoughts on a service like this? Do you think you’d switch up your tote often? How do you feel about the idea of having lots of new clothes to wear, but not really owning any of it, or having to care for any of the pieces? Is that as appealing to you as it is to me?

P.S. — I had so much fun shooting these photos with Katrina Davis. She grew up here in Oakland but has been in New York for awhile and just moved back. I love her work! She does family photos and weddings too.


By Gabrielle.

Ann is so great. I read her words, and they fill me with such warmth. I love when people have dreams and add them to their daily to-do lists.

If you’re a young parent or just dreaming about kids, I hope you find Ann’s words to be a sort of manual. (I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s all going to work out as it should. And you’re going to be great at this.) If you’ve been parenting a while or even grand-parenting, you’re going to love this, too. Ann’s words are like a giant hug and a pinch of inspiration.

Please jump right in to hear about this big family and how their well-worn house helped grow them all. Welcome, Ann!

Hello, everyone! My name is Ann, and I am probably older than most of you! We have a large family, and our youngest just turned 11 this year. We have ten children, and yes, we wanted every one of them! I was 23 when I had the first and 44 when our last baby was born. I love my own siblings and wanted my children to experience the magic that happens in a noisy, messy, creative, huge family. My husband could be considered a saint for agreeing to marry me; he is such a great father, which made this whole thing possible. I don’t know if the children love what we have as much as I do, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our oldest son, Dale, died when he was two. He was beautiful. He taught me to be a mother and we miss him every day.

Jody, our oldest daughter, was only eight months old when he died, and she learned to walk that week looking for him. Jody became the perfect oldest child (which worried me) although she probably would have been happier in the second child role. She is talented, a prolific reader, and a magnificent friend.

Our daughter Michelle was born at the hospital only a few blocks from our home, She was a twin and her brother didn’t live; his name is Tommy and she feels him close to her at times. She is artistic and empathetic and all girl. She is married and has a daughter of her own; Eleanor is doing a great job of teaching her parents what family is all about.

Tracy was born two years later. She is spunky and is effortlessly cool and we all notice a distinctive energy around us when she is near. She is married and lives far away. Our world just expands with each child that leaves to chase their dreams.

Stan was next and we were all excited to have another boy. He was quickly commandeered to be the prince in the girl’s imaginary play. As a child, we noticed that he loved to work and, although he has some learning disabilities, he has only grown more diligent and capable since then. In our family lore, he is the one that decided to run around upstairs with a bucket on his head and took a tumble all the way down a long flight of stairs. The bucket actually protected him from harm.

Scott followed 17 months later. He never went through the terrible two stage, was always agreeable and easy going. I used to worry that he would rebel in some crazy way but he never has. He has a special light in his eyes and understands how to get along with everyone.

John was born three years later. He was 10.5 pounds and never has figured out how to go slowly or how to be careful. He does everything full out and we love what he brings to our family. I wish you could read his letters to us: he is an expressive and a talented writer. We are all anxious to see what he does with his gifts.

A few more kids and a LOT more wisdom, just ahead!



Photos and text by Gabrielle.

It’s been about 5 weeks since our anniversary trip to Lake Louise, but I wanted to tell you all about it before I forget my best tips — and also because it’s fun to write it up and remember our little getaway. Gosh it was a good trip! When we planned it, we were hoping for a romantic destination — gorgeous hotel room, room service (it was our 20th anniversary after all). But we were also interested in using this getaway to do a lot of planning and goal-making for our next 20 years — so we wanted a place where we didn’t have a mile long wishlist of things we wanted to see.

Turns out Lake Louise was perfect! We didn’t really know anything about the area at all before we booked our room. I’ve mentioned it before, but the only reason I even knew about it, is because I had seen photos in an issue of Victoria magazine when I was 19 years old. Hah!


We flew into Calgary, then rented a car and drove to Lake Louise — about two hours away. Lake Louise is both the name of the little village near the lake, and also the name of the actual lake.

The photos in my memory were so magical that I was more than content with the idea of getting to see the lake, and then sitting in the hotel room working on goals for the rest of the trip. That’s not what happened, but since I didn’t know anything about the area, there was nothing but “see the lake” as far as my destination expectations were concerned.


And that lake! I was sure it couldn’t be as beautiful as it was in pictures, so I actually tried to have low expectations as we approached. But there was no need. Lake Louise is so beautiful it almost looks pretend. It’s stunning!

It’s an adventurous sort of place. If there are theaters or museums or fancy shopping around, I didn’t notice them — they were definitely not the focus. Here it’s all about taking in the magnificent scenery and hiking and getting out on the water. And we did all of that — plus, also worked on our goals. It was pretty much heaven!

If you go, here are 5 things to put on your itinerary…



Photos and text by Gabrielle.

We have a pile of Halloween books we like to pull out in October. Some really are specifically Halloween themed, others are just sort-of Halloween-ish — like The Spider and the Fly. It’s really not Halloween focused at all, but it fits in well with the stack of other books. This year, I added two more titles to our stack.


First up, Leo, A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Christian Robinson. This is one of those books that really isn’t Halloween, but it has a ghost, so it totally counts. Hah! It’s a terrific little story about an unwanted ghost that finds a new friend.

Not everyone can see Leo — he seems to appear for those who have especially good imaginations. Will your kids see him?


Next up, Only a Witch Can Fly, by Alison McGhee, with illustrations by Taeeun Yoo  This is a book that’s more poem than story. Beautiful illustrations, and the soft words carry you along like a song.

One brave little girl wants to fly more than anything. This book tells her tiny tale of trying and triumph.


If you’d like more Halloween book recommendation, here’s an earlier post with 10 titles, plus more of my recommendations here and here. You’re sure to find something your kids will love!

How about you? Do you have any Halloween books your kids especially love? Please do share favorites in the comments! We’re always looking for good ones.


A Few Things

October 2, 2015


By Gabrielle. Photo from my cousin’s wedding last weekend. It was perfect! You can see more photos on Instagram.

Waving hello from Dallas, Texas! I’m here with Jordan and Liz to film a cooking video. So fun to work on a project with my sisters! This is my first visit to Dallas, but the city sure gave a warm welcome. We landed yesterday afternoon, dropped our bags at the hotel, and went straight to dinner. When we got there, who did we find seated at a table just inside the front door? President George Bush and Laura Bush! Such a fun sighting! And it got even better — after dinner, as we were leaving the restaurant, we assumed they would be gone already, but instead, they were still seated, and Condoleezza Rice had joined them!!! #TexasForever

I’m off to the video shoot, but before I go, here are a few things I wanted to share with you. I know some of these links are really heavy. I know. But others are full of joy. Read what you can handle, skip the rest:

So good! Happy tears.

- On failing and not-failing.

- Rape culture is real. Man uses Facebook to brag about sexually assaulting his “friend”.

- Cozy chair cover DIY. Looks so easy!

- Where the children sleep. Heartbreaking. I need to do more.

- Yelp for people? Yikes!

- For those of you on hurricane watch, here’s a light-hearted moment to cheer you.

- The most important thing.

How People Treat Mental Illness Vs. How They Treat Physical Illness

- I was on my flight to Dallas when the news broke about the massacre in Oregon. I’m sick about it. I’m sure most of you are sick about it.

I’m not a hunter, I’ve never been a hunter, and I don’t expect to become a hunter. But I grew up in town of hunters, and I feel like I can comfortably say I’m pro-hunting (if you’re hunting sustainably and humanely and lock up your guns). Outside of that very limited scope, consider me deeply anti-gun. This tweet gutted me.

I do not accept mass shootings as a fact of life in America. I do not accept the excuses and the arguments of gun supporters. I’m done acknowledging and responding to them. If you’re feeling the same and want to throw some energy behind gun reform, here’s a group I support.

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I fly back to San Francisco this afternoon. It always feels good to go home! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — I went on a little walk in some nearby redwoods this week and learned some fascinating stuff!


By Gabrielle. Cute baby turtle print by Sarah Otts.

The way Caitlin describes the logistical labyrinth and painfully slow progress following her Hong Kong birth leaves me feeling grateful for all the simple drives to the hospital with everyone speaking my language. And no passports or visas! I think you’ll feel the same.

And yet, it wasn’t all a nightmare. Her doctor was named Grace, and her midwife was Joy. Fitting, in the end. And there’s a lovely story of such kindness in the midst of the madness, it’ll make you want to be a better you. So welcome, Caitlin! Take us away to Hong Kong!

Slow and steady wins the race!


Recipe: White Chicken Chili

September 30, 2015

White Chicken Chili for the Slow Cooker | Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

The temperature dropped a bit today. And we even had a little rain! And I saw a few red leaves!! That’s pretty much as “fall” as it gets in Oakland, but I’ll take it! In fact, I felt so autumnal today, that I started going through my slow-cooker recipes and thinking about making something cozy for dinner. I was thinking chili.

We happen to have a really good (award-winning!) chili recipe, but I’ve been craving something new, so I asked Liz B to share the details of her white chicken chili. It looks so good!

Also, I’m curious: Do you have a strong opinion on chili? Do you prefer red or white? Beanless? Meatless? I’d love to hear!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


By Gabrielle.

You’re about to meet Lindsey’s house, and I know you’re going to be better for it. This is a structure that helped Lindsey and her family through some out-of-the-ordinary life events, provided hope when things seemed a little hopeless, and even taught her to rely on her neighbors when she found herself alone and in need of help.

It’s a very good house. You’ll see. Oh! And if you’re curious about how much it costs to buy a house like this one in Virginia, Lindsey discusses pricing. (I love when people share numbers, don’t you?!) Welcome, Lindsey!

When you meet someone in the D.C. area, you will be asked what you do for a living. When you meet someone in Malawi, Africa, where there’s a non-profit that my husband helped found, you will be asked how your family is. I think both are important to understanding who people are.

I had a vision in college of being a freelance magazine writer while I raised my kids. I hadn’t yet met my husband, but when we did meet, it all crystallized. I was working at my first job as an editor of a design magazine, and he was finishing seminary. He had a dream of finding a strong wife to raise his kids alongside, while he would be a missionary, pastor, and military chaplain — in no particular order! He loved that I had a career I was passionate about. Within three months, we were ring shopping. Two months later, we were engaged. It was a whirlwind romance and I guess it was only a foretaste of all the whirlwinds to come!

I moved to Washington, D.C., to live with a friend from college while we were engaged. I was looking for a job in journalism about the home industry, but since it was the very beginning of the recession, there was nothing out there. After we got married, all we had was an apartment, a job at a bookstore, and a job at Starbucks. We would sit on our floor (no furniture!) and watch TV while we ate fruit snacks from Costco. It was such a sweet time.

We had planned to go house shopping with a realtor on what ended up being the day that I needed surgery. I was 16 weeks pregnant and during a standard ultrasound, a tumor had been discovered — a tumor that an oncologist wanted to remove for testing as soon as possible. I potentially had cancer and the baby was potentially at risk of miscarriage during the surgery.

Needless to say, my husband and I were apprehensive of the surgery scheduled that night, but decided to go house shopping anyway to take our minds off of things. We looked at four houses in various states of disrepair – nope, nope, nope, nope – and this was the fifth one. I knew it was the house meant for us right away.

More loveliness, just ahead.


Vintage Vespa

September 28, 2015


By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken.

Remember in April when I shared photos of the the vintage Vespa we were shopping for? Well, I just realized I never told you it arrived! But it did! It arrived! And it is oh my goodness every bit as fabulous as I hoped it would be. Our friend Kristen was over for a photoshoot the other day and I had her snap a few pics so I could show you. Isn’t it adorable?!


It’s a two-seater, with a pretty little spare tire and a locker on the side. It’s so cute I practically want to eat it! It makes me want to schedule brunch dates with Ben Blair just for an excuse to drive it together. Because isn’t this exactly what you would want to drive to a brunch date? Hah!


Getting this scooter was a new adventure for us — because we bought it from a shop in Vietnam and had it imported! The shop has so many gorgeous scooters it’s hard to narrow it down to one favorite. When I browse their wares, I have to fight the feeling that we probably “need” a whole fleet of Vespas. : )

Though we’ve owned an antique vehicle before (remember this happy Renault?), we had never imported one before and it was quite the process. First of all, we were nervous — what if we were buying a lemon? Would we have any recourse? But the site has consistently good reviews, so that gave us confidence. Then came making the purchase, which was fairly straightforward. But after the purchase, came the import paperwork and red tape — which included Ben Blair spending two different afternoons at the U.S. Customs office in San Francisco.


The paperwork was a bit of a beast, but eventually, when it was all settled, we picked it up at the Oakland docks. It came packaged in a giant wooden crate!

I have to tell you, it’s been so fun to have it parked in our driveway. It makes me smile every time I see it! Tell me, Friends, have you ever had something imported? Did you find it as challenging/adventurous as we did? Also, if you were buying an antique car or scooter, what would be at the top of your wishlist?

Someday, I’d like to own a convertible vintage VW bug in red — they’re such a happy car! Oh. And maybe an old Landcruiser. We used to drive a red 1983 edition when we lived in New York, and we were so sad when we had to sell it. I look them up from time to time just for fun. They are such good-looking cars! One last one: I love the look of older Saab 900 4-door hatchbacks. They’re just so sleek! I really love how they look.

How about you? Do you have any attraction to older cars?

P.S. — A related fun thing has been shopping for helmets. We have a few, but we need them for everybody — because who doesn’t want to take a turn on this sweet ride? I like this one with a star on the side, or these glitter options, or there is always classic white.


A Few Things

September 25, 2015

Lassen National Park

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Did you have a good week? And is there anything you’re excited about this weekend? We’re headed to my cousin’s wedding tomorrow. Should be so much fun! It’s happening in Placerville — a pretty, little forested town between here and Lake Tahoe. Last time we were in the area, we collected a basket full of gigantic pinecones. There will be lots of cousins and aunts and uncles and we can’t wait!

You know what else I want to do this weekend? Watch TV! Hah! I feel like all the fall shows launched this week and I haven’t had a second to watch any of them. Did you watch anything good this week?

I really need to go make sure everyone has something to wear to the wedding, but before I head out, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- I loved this essay on our toxic work world — especially at the end when she talks about big social changes that have happened in her lifetime. Hopeful stuff!

What’s really in your food? This new book looks interesting. (On Amazon here.) Thanks, Sally.

- Til it happens to you.

- So good. Read it twice. What my uterus can teach you about being a tech leader.

- Hah! Do you basically live in activewear? This video is for you.

- Growing older with Madonna. I found this fascinating. I also wondered if there are ever articles about Bono (or other aging male rock stars) like this. Aren’t Madonna and Bono about the same age?

- A passionate review of Spirit Airlines.

- Thoughts on UberCommute? Would you try it as a driver, or a passenger?

- Remember that advice about marrying down? New research related to the subject.

- Lastly, I’m so inspired by this! Just launched today. World Leaders have committed to 17 Global Goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years: End extreme poverty. Fight inequality & injustice. Fix climate change. So cool!!!

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


P.S. — Ben Blair and I went to a late showing of The Intern last night. It has me thinking about the discussion we had about The Big Flip, and it also has me thinking hard about what my future retirement might look like. Have you seen it?


Make an easy & delicious Apple Cobbler. Sweet cinnamon-sugar apples topped with a tastes-like-sugar-cookies pie crust! | Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

The weather around here has been jumping up and down by 30 degrees every other day — today I sent the kids off to school in shorts and lightweight tees. But during one of the cooler days, we were all craving some fall, so we made pumpkin cookies and talked about apple recipes. At one point in our conversation, I realized I was having a hard time describing the differences between cobblers, crisps, and crumbles.

So I thought it would be fun to turn to a baker I admire — Liz Berget of Carpé Season — and see if she would tell us a little about the differences between the three, plus share her favorite apple recipe. Happily, she said, “Yes!”

I know you’ll LOVE Liz’s recipe, and in case you’re like me and need some clarification, I think you’ll enjoy the refresher on your favorite fruit-baked desserts just as much. : )

Crisps, cobbles, and crumbles, straight ahead!


Call It A Day: Mary Heffernan

September 24, 2015

By Gabrielle.

If you don’t follow Mary Heffernan on Instagram, you are missing out! Her life, from the time she wakes up until the time she calls it a day, is jam-packed with ranch life. That means fresh eggs and dirty kids and four-wheeler excursions and happy births and sad little animal deaths, and a multitude of ranch happenings that are totally and completely different from neighborhood happenings! (So completely different, even, than her previous life we peeked in on here.)

Oh. And there is a Dead Pile. Gulp. Come see what I mean when I tell you I’m kind of obsessed with this family’s days! Welcome, Mary!

I wake up this morning to the roosters crowing at 6:00 am ready to start the day and check on the animals before I rouse the girls for school. I linger in my cozy bed as many extra minutes as I can, but it’s definitely time to get up! My husband Brian is at least an hour ahead of me getting out the door to feed and check the cows.

It’s calving season now so we have to be particularly vigilant, and most mornings we discover a few new calves have joined our Black Angus herd. We always get excited about new babies on the ranch and like to spend a little extra time with them in their first few days to make sure they have the best start to life possible.

Brian lets our herd of heritage sheep out of their night pen near the house. We do our best to keep them safe from the local predators that roam our ranch including bears, mountain lions, and coyotes, and he starts our daily list of chores. It is always a long list! I grab my jacket on the way out the door for the first time since fall is fast approaching and it’s chilly today. It reminds me we’re behind on stock-piling wood for winter to heat our little cabin. Remind me to add that to the list.

I make the rounds feeding the chickens and turkeys and collecting some eggs. Most won’t lay until a little later in the day, but we like nice clean eggs to sell to our customers so I collect them often. My husband has fed the large animals and is loading up the tractor to fix something or other, so I head back to the house by 7:00 am to start waking up the girls.

We have four daughters, all named Mary, which is why our farm is Five Marys Farm. Our girls were all named after grandmothers and aunts on both sides carrying on a long standing family tradition of strong women named Mary. I am Mary Regan after my maternal grandmother. Our girls are MaryFrances, who is eight and goes by Francie; MaryMarjorie or Maisie is six; MaryJane or Janie/JJ is four; and MaryTeresa is Tessa, two years old, and more affectionately known as Tiny.

I try to wake the oldest two quietly, but the little girls wake up as well since all four of them not only share a room, they also share a bed!

Tiny feeding a lot of cattle. You’ve got to see this cuteness!


DIY: Wired Word for Your Wall

September 23, 2015


By Gabrielle.

My friend, Anne Weil of Flax & Twine, just came out with a new book that I can’t wait to tell you about! It’s called Knitting Without Needles. If you’ve ever wanted to try knitting but feel a bit intimidated, then this book is for you. Because it’s made for Non-Knitters and Knitters alike! The projects are totally doable, and because so many of them use big yarns, they make a big impact.

When you’re thinking about making gifts for the holidays, this book is a fantastic resource for easy and quick projects. And Knitting Without Needles is a great way to bring chunky knits (which are all the rage!) into your home without the big price tag.


The book is filled with tons of cool projects, including this happy throw rug and these chunky pillows:


I’m feeling like a lucky duck today, because I get to share instructions for one of the projects from the book with you! You can make the fantastic Wired Word shown at the top of this post! I think it would be so cute in a nursery or a reading nook. Bisous means kisses in French, but you can write anything you like. Any word, any color, any script. The possibilities are endless!

Click here for the tutorial, and to see the floor pouf project from the book in my living room!

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