A Few Things

August 28, 2015

Lake Agnes

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! I feel like giving high fives to everyone, because we made it through the first week of school!! I’m not sure what it is, but this year, that feels like a big accomplishment. Hah! To celebrate, we’re hosting a cousins sleepover tonight. Which means this should be a great weekend! How about you? Any fun plans?

Before I say see ya later alligator, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

Alt Summit registration for the flagship January conference is now open! Will I see you there? (Oh. And the Call for Speakers ends on the last day of August. That’s soon!)

- So how much water do we actually need?

- A donkey pinata transformed into a Unicorn pinata (so cute!).

- Why a marriage ought to be painful. Thoughts?

- I could watch these all day.

- Sarcarm alert: I don’t have white fragility.

- Toddler texts.

- It’s not worth it. This is some heavy stuff. I connect to it because I worked in advertising, but I think it applies to pretty much every career.

- 3D-Printed prosthetic beak for a toucan!

- I keep thinking about this essay on Donald Trump.

- Thanks for filling out the survey! I’ve never done a survey like this before and I really appreciate your feedback.

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


P.S. — I filled up my right sidebar with lots of fun back-to-school posts. Take a look!


Monopoly Money

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As you may already know, I’m working with ScholarShare, California’s 529 savings plan, on a series of 4 posts about family finances. In the first post, we talked about teaching kids about finances (and I shared the money game I made up for my teens!). Then we covered Bookkeeping 101. And today, it’s all about Creating a Family Budget.

I mentioned this in the last posts, but it’s worth repeating: I know talking about finances can trigger worry or shame for lots of us, so I promise to keep things shame-free and totally approachable. ScholarShare feels the same way — they want to make saving for college as easy and effective as possible, and have lots of tips to help you get started. (And if you’re a California resident, you can even win $500 toward a college savings plan!)

Now, let’s put together a budget! No matter how many experts I talk to, or books I read about finances, they all seem to agree that having a budget is THE KEY to achieving financial health.

Ben Blair and I have used budgets off and on throughout our marriage, but I can’t say we’ve ever been super consistent. We tend to create a budget whenever we’re going through a big transition (like a move), and then we end up sort of ignoring it after awhile. (Oh dear!)

Since I am admittedly not a budgeting pro, once again, I turned to experts to get some solid advice on this topic. I talked to two accountants. One is Dan Brown. He’s been the accountant for me and Ben Blair (for our businesses and for our personal finances) for the last 6 or 7 years, and he’s one of our most trusted sources. I also called Alex Fishler who works for Square in San Francisco. I go to church with Alex and he’s awesome!

Keep reading for amazing budget advice!


Four Picture Books24

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Today, I have four excellent books to tell you about. One is a Caldecott winner, another is a Caldecott Honor book, another is an older reprint from Italy, and another was published just this month — and is one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in ages.

Four Picture Books25

Let’s start with Swan, by Laurel Snyder, with illustrations by Julie Morstad. If you’ve got a young dancer in the house, this book is a must have. It’s the life story of Anna Pavlova, legendary prima ballerina, and her most famous role.

Four Picture Books26

The words feel like a poem, and the artwork is outstanding. It is a seriously beautiful book, and I keep finding myself studying the illustrations.

Four Picture Books21

Up next is Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This book won a read-aloud award, and it’s well-deserved. I have no doubt this is a much requested bedtime story at houses everywhere. It’s very funny, and very fun to look at.

Four Picture Books22Four Picture Books23

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen are the same team that created Extra Yarn, which was my first introduction to both talents. And ever since I’ve been a big fan — they both keep knocking it out of the ballpark with their books.

Two more books when you click through!


The Big Flip

August 26, 2015

Big Flip Posters

By Gabrielle.

Yesterday, Theresa, a Design Mom reader, sent me a link about a new documentary being made, called The Big Flip (there’s actually a gofundme campaign for it going on right now). The Big Flip is a film and photo-book about the rise of breadwinner wives, and the unexpected challenges it creates in families. Here are some of the stats they cite:

- Mothers are primary breadwinners in 40% of U.S. families.
- The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989.
- This reversal in traditional gender roles is what the filmmakers are calling The Big Flip.
- Women are expected to not just close the income gap, but reverse it by 2028. In other words, The Big Flip will be the new normal in 13 years.

But it turns out Big Flip families don’t have it easy. Not everyone is happy in their reversed roles, and divorce rates can go up. The documentary wants to explore all of this.

The film looks like it will be beautifully made and I look forward to seeing it. But my initial thought was that I was surprised by the prediction that The Big Flip will be the new normal in 13 years. I don’t see this societal transition as a big flip at all. At least, I don’t want it to be a big flip. The word “flip” seems to imply that most men will take on the full-time parenting duties, while most women take on the bread-winning duties. But I predict (or at least I hope for) a more equal sharing versus a flip. I predict both parents working, and both parents parenting.

Of course, my prediction is not based on any statistics at all. Mostly, I’m just thinking of my own experience raising kids and earning a living with Ben Blair. Over the last 20 years we’ve both had instances of being the primary breadwinner, and we’ve both had instances of being the stay-at-home-parent. But what seems to work best at our house, is when we’re both working, with jobs that have flexible schedules (this is KEY!), and we’re both taking on the parenting and household duties in pretty equal measures.

I realize our situation wouldn’t work for everybody, but it really does work for us. And it makes me want to advocate for jobs and careers that offer more flexibility. As I mentioned above, flexibility is key!

Anyway, all that to say, what’s your take on the idea of The Big Flip? Has it ever happened at your house? Or with your parents? Do you know many husbands that are stay-at-home-dads? Do you know many women who are the primary breadwinner? For those of you who are same-sex couples with kids, do you split up the responsibilities in traditional ways — one person is the primary breadwinner, one person stays home? What about those of you who are in a couple where both spouses already work outside the home? Do you feel The Big Flip still applies to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. Sponsored by Blue Diamond. Win a $100 Visa gift card! See details below.

Oh my goodness. I think you’re going to LOVE this idea. It’s as EASY as can be, and it’s absolutely no fail. Whatever food you’ve got in the house — raisins, fresh veggies, nuts, cheese, frozen peas, olives, and on, and on — can be used.

This is why it’s such a hit at our house:

1) It works with anything we have on hand. You can go savory with olives and pickles and cheese and broccoli and smokehouse almonds and cherry tomatoes. Or think rainbow, and pick red raspberries, orange carrots, green peas, and blueberries. You can use dried, fresh or frozen foods. Raid your pantry. No special ingredients required!

Rainbow snacks foods.The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack.

2) It’s creative. Our kids love making patterns and designing their letters. Will they go upper case or lower case? How about script? (As a bonus: it gets them thinking about typography — something I hope all of my kids have at least passable knowledge about. Is the O they are making rounder, or more elongated — and what sort of personality does each letter have?) If your kids aren’t spellers yet, you can create their name-in-food for them as a surprise. Or, you could even write their letters on the parchment with pencil, and have your child trace the letters with food.

The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack. Even big kids and grownups will enjoy this.After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun.

3) You can customize the snack with your child’s favorite foods, or, you can use it as a great way to introduce kids to new flavors. Ask them to make each letter out of a different food! And you can manage the portions by having the kids make the letters bigger or smaller. If your child has a long name, you could go with initials and make them big. Or use the full name and make them small. Or maybe use a nickname.

After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun. (Raid your pantry! Use up leftovers!)After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun. (And YUMMY!)After-school snack idea. Easy, fun and yummy! Use whatever ingredients you have on hand.

4) It’s easy! The how to is pretty darn simple. We use strips of baking parchment for our “trays” because we can make them as long as we need. Then, I set out the building materials. Things like raisins and cherry tomatoes and peas can be set out as is. For foods like carrots or cheese, some simple chopping will be required. Try 5 or 6 food options today, and next week, you can try a whole different assortment of ingredients. You can arrange the options on one big plate. Or place them each in a little bowl.

5) We’ve noticed our kids are more relaxed and tell us more about their day if their hands are busy and the chatting is casual. This activity works wonderfully for encouraging conversation.

Play with your food! Write your name using different ingredients. EASY & FUN after-school snack.Play with your food! Write your name using different ingredients. EASY & FUN after-school snack.

6) Though it’s simple as can be and requires nothing special to pull it off, this snack activity feels special, it feels out of the ordinary. And kids of all ages (meaning YOU too!) will love working on these. There are no rules or lines to stay within — it’s the best sort of playing-with-your-food.

We all know school days can be long and hard for kids. When they get home from school, my kids are sometimes completely wiped out. Maybe they’re mastering a new math concept and their brain is exhausted. Or maybe they had an emotional exchange with a friend and are feeling tender-hearted. Whatever they might be feeling, we’re all about an after-school snack as soon as they get home. It’s one part recharging with some sustenance, and it’s another part connecting with the kids as they report about their day. Anytime we can make after-school snacks feel a little special is aces in my book!

How about you? Would your kids enjoy something like this? I’ll bet you’ve got everything you need for this snack in your kitchen right this minute. Try it with your kids today!

P.S. — I’ve got a survey about Design Mom that I’m sharing today. If you have a few minutes (it’s short, I promise!), I’d really appreciate it if you’d fill it out. As an incentive, everyone who completes the survey is eligible to win a $100 Visa gift card! I’m keeping the surveys anonymous, so if you want to win the gift card, just complete the survey then comment on this post that you did so, and you’re officially entered!


By Gabrielle. Photos by Lisa Leckie.

I love the design of Etienne’s home. To me, it seems like a complicated, layered, and yet still somewhat of a blank canvas that’s able to hold bold and colorful and fresh family memories, day after day. I tour through her home and I spy spots to cozy up whenever the urge to cozy up strikes, books well within reach, and toys that add to the decor, and I find myself breathing a contented sigh. But then I see her views, and sigh again. I highly doubt I’d ever need a piece of art or a television with those stunning scenes peeking in every window.

And speaking of sighing, there’s also this inspired, break-your-heart-a-little advice from Etienne’s dad to his young artist: “Even if something has been made before, it hasn’t been made by you.” I’m borrowing that one, won’t you?

Welcome, Etienne!

I am the daughter of a poet and an accountant. This means that I am a dreamer and overly practical all the the same time. I am deeply passionate just about everything I do, and live for inspiration. If I am not thinking about the next big thing, I get bored.

I am a design strategist, and formerly an interior designer and educator. My husband is a design manager of the growth team at Uber, was recently at Apple, and has a background in branding and advertising. We have two hilarious sons, Lucian is six and Julian is three. We all love kung fu, ice cream cones (cones more than the ice cream part), and family dance-offs to 80’s hip-hop.

Stunning views, coming right up!



By Gabrielle. Image by Dallas Clayton.

Oh my. What an exciting and hectic and emotional day for our family. First day of school for all six kids!!! And three of them at new-to-them schools. Our oldest taking his first college classes, our youngest starting Kindergarten. How’s that for a contrast?

I don’t really know if I can articulate all the things I’m feeling today — it’s some strange mix of worry and pride-in-my-kids and joy and fear and relief and homesickness and enthusiasm and calm. I would say I’ve handled most of our first days of school pretty well over the years, but this one, not so much. I’m a bit of a wreck.

It is amazing to me to think that in a few weeks all of this — this new schedule, these new schools — will seem like a forever habit. Like it’s always been this way.

With all these bits and pieces swirling in my head, I thought today would be a great day to introduce something new here on Design Mom. For the next few months, I’ll be sharing poetry by illustrator and author Dallas Clayton!

Do you know his work? I first became familiar with him in 2009 when he wrote to me about An Awesome Book. And since then I’ve become a big fan. In fact, he was one of my first Author Interviews, and I even asked him to Keynote Alt Summit last January, and he received a resounding standing ovation. (If you ever get to hear him present, don’t miss it!)

I hope you’ll love his poetry as much as I do! It always make me smile.


A Few Things

August 21, 2015


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? We are still grinning ear to ear about our lovely trip to Lake Louise! We got home late last night and the kids had all stayed up to greet us in a big way — an anniversary celebration for our whole family. With the help of Grandma, they went all out!! There were handmade banners and decorations, plus homemade desserts displayed on pedestals — schaum torte (my favorite!), chocolate mini cupcakes, and lemon bars (my second favorite!).

But that’s not all. The kids were wearing their matching pajamas from Christmas, and they had prepared a song to perform for us. The song was written by Ben’s brother for our wedding all those years ago. My mom told the kids about the song, which led Ralph to message his Uncle Dell to get the words. Then they practiced all day and surprised us! It was fantastic. Straight up Von Trapp family!! We were dying.

Gosh, it’s always good to be back home.

And now that we’re home, we’re looking ahead and jumping right back into school prep — our first day is on Monday! We’re hoping to shoot this year’s what-to-wear-to-school photos this weekend, and June will meet her teacher this afternoon at the Kindergarten Picnic. (Kindergarten?!! My heart.) But before I pull out the camera, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Did you see my sister Jordan’s house tour on Cup of Jo? It’s so good! Jordan’s style is always spot on.

- A book created by a Swedish scientist is said to help any kid fall asleep in minutes. I wonder if it really works? Find it on Amazon here.

Solidarity Fridge? Yes please!

- A moving StoryCorps video featuring a white mother and black son.

- How to project power.

- Humans of New York is fighting slave labor in Pakistan.

- What is art? Apparently crowd-funders and experts both agree.

- This comic explains the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino.

- When it comes to diseases, your astrology chart matters. (I read this on the plane last night. Hah!)

- Project Sunroof can tell you if getting solar is worth it for your address.

- First Film Festival submissions DUE tomorrow!

- We left on our trip on Sunday night, and early on Monday morning, I woke up to a text from Maude that said: “EARTHQUAKE!!” Turns out the 4.0 earthquake was centered just a few miles away! Happily, our kids were all safe and sound.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.


P.S. — I’m working on a post about our trip to Canada! In the meantime, you can see a few photos on Instagram.


By Gabrielle. Micro Lemon Elephant via Made With Clay And Love.

Babies who arrive earlier than scheduled or with complications carry with them a bassinet full of feelings. There’s disbelief, sheer terror, a never-ending case of the what-ifs packed in with the daily now-whats, and then there is the guilt.

For Monica, the biggest surprise about becoming a parent is the ever-present feeling of guilt. There’s a quote I read once that guilt feels like carrying an elephant. It’s a weight that will crush you no matter if you deserve it or not. Oh, guilt, you are not the greatest parenting partner, are you?

Please join me in welcoming Monica, her heartening experience, and her guilt…which I hope is long gone, or at least the size of the tiny elephant above!

Monica’s story, straight ahead!


Twenty Years!

August 19, 2015


By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from Lake Louise in Canada! Today is our 20th wedding anniversary!!

I don’t have a single photo from our wedding day on my phone, but I happen to have a few photos from our college graduation day — which was 4 days before our second wedding anniversary (that’s pretty close, right?).


To mark our graduation day, we drove around the city wearing our robes, with a roll of black and white film, taking photos at some of our favorite spots (this was before digital cameras!). Fun fact: I was very pregnant, as you can see in the third photo, and our first baby, Ralph, was born 12 days after we graduated (another fun fact: he was born on his due date!). Luckily the graduation robes were very roomy and accommodating.


I am feeling really lucky today. We’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing on this trip. We’ve gone through each year of our marriage and talked about some of our favorite parts, and we’ve been making notes about possibilities and goals for the next twenty years.

We love looking ahead! Though we’re kind of freaking out, because in twenty years, little June will be 25 years old, and Ralph (our oldest), will be almost forty!!!!! So hard to imagine.

Here’s a little exercise for anyone who is in the mood (and it will help us out as we make our goals!). How would you fill in these blanks:

The first twenty years of marriage are about ________.
And the second twenty years of marriage are about ________.

Happy Anniversary!!

P.S. — Did you see the photo of the Brimhall Building? It’s a building on the BYU campus. It was important to me, because the design department, and almost all my classes, were based there, and it was meaningful to Ben because George H. Brimhall is one of his ancestors.



Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by The Bouqs. Find the giveaway, and a discount code, below!

I have a new service to introduce to you today called The Bouqs, a fresh flower company that I think you’ll fall in love with. The prize? It’s a 6-Month Supply of Gorgeous Flowers!!

Fiery orange roses.Fiery orange roses.

I swear, the giveaway is perfectly timed, because this month, it was especially important to me to have fresh flowers in the house. We’ve had loads of houseguests and I feel like flowers always make the house feel happy and cared for. Fresh flowers feel celebratory too — and since our family has two birthdays plus our wedding anniversary in August, it makes having flowers around doubly appropriate. So when I heard about The Bouqs, I was definitely game to give them a try. I ordered two deliveries and both turned out wonderfully!

Fiery orange roses in a neutral living room.

This is what I liked: The Bouqs sources their flowers from a farm on a volcano in Equador! Why does that matter? Well, the volcanic soil is so mineral rich that the flowers grow especially well. Then, the blooms are cut the day you order(!) and shipped the next day (free shipping always), so you get them sooner and they last longer. I also loved that with The Bouqs, what you see is what you get — the flowers that are delivered are exactly like the picture. No teddy bears, cheap candy, or depressing vases. No up-sells or hidden costs. Just fresh, beautiful flowers.

As I mentioned above, I ordered two deliveries this month. The first bouquet was the fiery orange roses pictured at the top. They were simply stunning. And they became more stunning with every passing day as they blooms became bigger and fuller.

White Ranunculusthree vase bouquet of ranunculus

For the second delivery I chose to go with a lighter palette that would coordinate with the light colors I already have in the living room. I chose delicate ranunculus — they are one of my very favorites, and they are often so hard to find! I split the flowers in the second order among three jars. This made the arrangement really flexible and I had fun moving them from the kitchen to the coffee table to the entry, whenever inspiration struck. I even split up the trio and used them as stand-alone arrangements too.

three vase bouquet of ranunculuswhite ranunculus

The Bouqs really is perfect for someone like me who loves having flowers around but doesn’t always have time to seek out the best ones. With their service, I can choose exactly what I want and have it dependably delivered on the exact day I want it. Would you like to give The Bouqs a try? Use code SUNSHINE to receive 15% off your order! You have until 8/26 to use the code.

Now for the Giveaway! To enter, do this:
1. Click here to visit The Bouqs
2. Register for an account
3. Browse the selection of flowers
4. Comment back on post with the name of your favorite pick

Good luck! I hope you win.


By Gabrielle. Photos by Luke and Alexa.

Lisa Scott and I weren’t sure if she was the best fit for a Living With Kids tour, a Call It A Day recap, or a Growing A Family essay. She lives in a gorgeous home in Nova Scotia, leads an incredibly interesting life and built a shop as an Ethiopian advocate, and added kids to her life in an inspiring manner. Or two. So I thought about it and then suggested — which really means I asked with my fingers crossed — if she could show us around her home, tell us about her children and how they came to be hers, and also introduce us to her life’s work if she had a spare minute. Basically, I begged for a three-in-one feature! And, lucky for us, she agreed.

Her words are wonderful. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that her career has always landed in the helping professions, and this interview of hers is no exception. I’ve read it many times, and each time I think to myself, “This woman is a brave one.” And then I reach her ending and find myself in a tiny puddle. I sure hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

Welcome, Lisa!

I met my husband Toby the first month at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was not looking for love and either was he, but on such a small campus we kept bumping into each other, and he finally asked for my number. I was a bit standoffish in the beginning. The first time he called me, I told him I could not talk long as I was watching Oprah. He still asked me out, and the movie we went to see was The Commitments; fitting, as we have now been together 24 years. He really is my rock. From the outside I’m sure we could be seen as an opposites attract situation, but his loyalty and stability has been our life-line during challenging times we have faced as a family.

My husband and I remained students for a very long time as I completed my B.A. and he competed his PhD in Marine Ecology with a few intermittent surf trips to some great locations. This delayed our starting a family, but in 2002 the world changed with the arrival of my chubby baby Oskar with an enviable head of hair. What fun we have had with this guy. It’s such a cliché, but time does fly by. This July he turned thirteen, which was emotional for us as parents, but just another cake for him!

So much goodness, just ahead!


Tool Lending Library

August 17, 2015


Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Does your town have a tool lending library? Ben Blair discovered the one in Oakland ages ago, but I first visited earlier this month, during our big backyard building projects, and now I’m kind of obsessed! I tell everyone I see about it. : )


I had never heard of a tool lending library, and if you haven’t either, I can tell you that it’s exactly what it sounds like: It’s a library with tools instead of books. So many tools! Drills (both cordless and corded), power saws, shovels, leaf blowers, wrenches, hammers, axes, and on and on. They have every yard tool you could ever need — even tools as simple as a trowel. And they also have those accessory tools, like extension cords, that I sometimes forget about when I start a project. It’s so awesome!


Just like at your local book library, the tools are FREE to check out! All you need is your regular library card. Isn’t that the coolest? I can think of so many times over the last 20 years when we’ve purchased a tool that we only needed to use once or twice. Or bought a tool we intended to use a whole bunch but then never did. A tool lending library is such a brilliant alternative! Those odd tools you only need once in awhile? No need to buy and store them! Have a big project coming up? Save your money for materials, and borrow any needed tools from the library instead!

I was thinking it’s especially genius for apartment dwellers who don’t have storage space for tools, but love to keep a little balcony garden. Really, it’s awesome for anyone!

Apparently tool libraries are not a new thing, but they are becoming more common. I was chatting with the tool library staff and asking more about the history of the tool library, and they said they thought the first tool library was created in Columbus in 1970, and then the second one in Berkeley in 1979, and that Oakland’s tool library was established in 2005.


If you’re wondering if your town has one, there’s a handy wiki page with a list. (There are 8 in California — mostly here in the Bay Area.) But, the more I talk about the tool library with people, the more I hear about other interesting libraries across the country — like a kitchen library and a toy library. Do you have any unusual libraries in your neck of the woods? I’d love to hear!


A Few Things

August 14, 2015

Kayaking Lake Merritt

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello Friends! How’s it going? Have you had a good week? Ours has been totally task oriented — knowing we’re gone next week means doubling the work load this week. But being productive is one of the sure fire ways to make me feel accomplished, so I can’t pretend that I mind the extra work. Hah!

The big event for the weekend is that Olive is going to a Taylor Swift concert tonight! She has been talking of little else for months now. She saved up her babysitting earnings, bought her own ticket, planned out a costume (a costume that lights up!), and talked her aunts Liz and Jordan into joining her for the evening. And she’s bringing lights for their costumes too! I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, but they’re being good sports about it. : )

After I hit publish on this post, the next task is helping Ralph finish up his Eagle Scout application. Woot! Woot! But before I start on that, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- My crazy talented friend Lisa Valentine Clark is starring in a new movie called Once I Was a Beehive. Good reviews are coming in! Have you seen it? I’m dying to! Trailer here.

- If the Black Lives Matter Movement Would Just Be Convenient. Kelly Wickham is so dang good.

- This Yamaha article made me laugh way too hard.

- So did this very short video. I’ve totally been the lady with the green scarf! You too?

- The fabulous Christine Koh & Asha Dornfest started a podcast called Edit My Life. The second episode is all about simplifying back-to-school. Good title and good stuff.

- I’m always delighted when A Blog About Love is posting. This one about walking a crisis tightrope is excellent.

- Sesame Street moving to HBO? Is this a real thing?

- Old Navy’s toddler pajama game is winning. June wears these. So cute!

- Beautiful math. Thanks, Rachel.

- Mapping paid maternity leave.

- My favorite feel good story of the week: Barber gives haircuts to children in exchange for them reading stories to him.

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


P.S. — Ben Blair and I head off to Lake Louise on Sunday afternoon. So excited! Thank you for all the tips and ideas. And no worries, I’ve scheduled lots of good stuff for next week.


First Film Festival News!

August 14, 2015

First Film Festival logo

By Gabrielle. Logo by Audrey Moore.

Oh my goodness. I haven’t shared an update on First Film Festival in ages. And there’s good stuff going on — including a snazzy new logo! In case you missed my original post, First Film Festival is a project we launched to encourage kids to get out there and make videos. Entries have been coming in all summer, and it’s so exciting!

There will be three big winners, with three big prize packages — but EVERYONE who enters will receive a $25 movie pass, plus a First Film Festival t-shirt. Awesome! And it’s open to anyone under 18.

There is still one week left to enter — so if your kids are interested, there’s still time! The final day for entries is August 22nd. Then, the entries will be handed over to our illustrious judges (have you checked out the fantastic judges page yet?). The festival will happen online in October. It will be both live-streamed and recorded. So wherever you are, you can watch it in real time, or watch the recording after the fact.

We have LOVED the response to the festival so far, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the entries! Tell your kids. Tell your friends. Such a fun opportunity for all those budding filmmakers out there!


Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As I mentioned last month, I’m working with ScholarShare, California’s 529 savings plan, on a series of 4 posts about family finances. In August, we talked about teaching kids how to budget and save (and I shared the budgeting game I made up for my teens!). For the second post in the series, I’m covering the topic of Bookkeeping 101.

I mentioned this in the last post, but it’s worth repeating: I know talking about finances can trigger worry or shame for lots of us, so I promise to keep things shame-free and totally approachable. ScholarShare feels the same way — they want to make saving for college as easy and effective as possible, and have lots of tips to help you get started. (And if you’re a California resident, you can even win $500 toward a college savings plan!)

So. Why Bookkeeping 101? Well, from what I’ve seen, the road to good financial health starts by simply having an accurate current picture of our finances. Because if we don’t, we often end up making decisions blindly and then putting out financial fires later (and paying for it with interest, late fees and overdraft charges). Plus, without an accurate picture of what’s happening with our funds, it can be practically impossible to achieve savings goals.

How do we get an accurate picture? Bookkeeping! We record our income, we record each expense, big and small. We do things like make a record of any debt, what our recurring expenses are, and a projection of incoming funds. Maybe we save or scan receipts.

Sounds simple enough. But it can be really hard to get started. And then, even if we have started, it can be even harder to be consistent. Do we need to do bookkeeping daily? weekly? monthly? (Or for some of us, maybe hourly? Hah!)

I’m no expert on bookkeeping, so I turned to Ben Sutton of Mazuma. Ben offers accounting and bookkeeping services, and I met him at Alt Summit, where he manned the Ask An Accountant help desk. I called Ben up, and he was kind enough to share awesome information, like key reasons bookkeeping is so beneficial, and some his very favorite financial tools.

Overwhelmed? Ben has wise words for you!


Call It A Day: Misty Brough

August 13, 2015

By Gabrielle.

I started my Call It A Day column for one reason and one reason only: I am fascinated by how each of us travels through an average ordinary day. We all seem to carry along a little something heavy, don’t we? I’ve found that when we share our load, well, it feels lighter, somehow.

At first glance, Misty’s account looks like an average ordinary day. But if you read between the lines, you’ll notice how much she’s doing behind-the-scenes to prevent any drama or unnecessary commotion for her family. It reminds me of watching ducks float on top of the water, gracefully and seemingly without a care in the world. A peek below the surface, though, tells a totally different story!

Please help me welcome Misty! It’s so good to have her here.

Don’t miss the family’s sweet evening ritual, straight ahead!


Eating Disorders

August 12, 2015


By Gabrielle

The topic for today’s post is eating disorders. I know. It’s pretty heavy. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I haven’t experienced an eating disorder myself, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t touched my life. In fact, something that makes my head spin: 5 of my nieces have battled (or are battling) anorexia. Five! Five girls from five different sets of parents (and in case you’re tempted to feel judge-y, please don’t. I assure you, these are all loving, kind, involved, attentive, wonderful parents.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, no one knows the exact cause of anorexia, but as you can guess just based on my first sentence, there appears to be a genetic predisposition to it. So you can imagine, as parents of four daughters and two sons, in the same extended family of 5 people who have experienced anorexia, we try to keep our eyes open for possible eating disorder warning signs, while at the same time attempting not to get buried under unnecessary worry. (Ah, parenthood.)

For those of us who know someone struggling with an eating disorder, and who are feeling helpless as far as how to improve the situation, I have a solid new resource to share. My sister-in-law Lisa has a child who has battled anorexia off and on for years. And Lisa found that navigating the illness and recovery was insanely confusing, often ineffective, and completely discouraging. But after lots and lots of frustration, then lots and lots of research, she finally found proven therapies — evidence-based therapies — that really work. Since then, she’s dedicated much of her time helping other parents avoid all that confusion and frustration

Lisa launched a website called Parents-to-Parents, to share what she knows. There, you’ll find specific resources, and advice on finding a therapist. You’ll also find a new video Lisa created — she made it for parents who have just discovered their child has an eating disorder and don’t know how to start responding. Her mission is to help parents take action as quickly as possible, because the quicker parents take action, the more likely a full recovery will be made.

The video is super impactful. It helps parents get into the mind of their child, to get a picture of how their child is suffering. It’s 40 mins long — so you may want to watch it in smaller segments, or set aside time to watch the whole thing.

As I touched on above, eating disorders are not uncommon, and they end up touching the lives of almost everyone. If someone you know is suffering and you don’t know how to help, I highly encourage you to watch the video — it’s like a quick crash course on the disease.

A couple of big takeaways from the video:

1) As parents, don’t feel guilty. You did not cause this. Really. You didn’t. And the guilt won’t help. The disease is not your fault.

2) As much as you’re suffering, your child is suffering far more. This is a mental disease. Their brain has essentially been hi-jacked, and they are in a very, very dark place. So do what you can to get an idea of how much pain they are in (the video will help), and use that understanding of your child’s suffering to gain an extra dose of patience and compassion. You may need that extra dose, because eating disorders have a way of wreaking havoc on relationships.

Lisa’s goal is to reach as many parents as possible. She knows friends will spread the word, and she hopes pediatricians will share the video link with parents, if their child is diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can be hard to discuss, but I know there are so many people struggling with these diseases, and so many parents worried sick about their kids, and so many friends and relatives that want to help but don’t know how. I’m sharing this here, hoping that the video and website will offer encouragement, plus practical steps that families can take on the road to recovery.

If you’re up for sharing, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you had any experience with the confusion and frustration of eating disorders — as a parent, a victim, a sibling, or a friend? (And feel free to remain anonymous if this is not something you want to share publicly. Obviously, everyone has their own comfort level as far as sharing about this sort of thing goes.) Do you have any good resources that you’ve found that you would add to Lisa’s list? If you’re on the other side of it now, do you remember what happened to finally turn things around?

Lastly, know that I am sending huge love to any families going through this right now.


By Gabrielle. Photos by Maribeth Romslo and Nicole Feest.

I get so many notes from readers wishing they could find the courage to send photos of their homes, but then months pass without even a peek! When I check back in with them, they sometimes tell me it’s not yet camera ready or they just need one more perfect piece to make their living room livable or “WE ALL HAD THE FLU AND NOW I WANT TO MOVE!” The goal of perfection really does get in the way of life, don’t you think?

I get it. And so does Kimberly Senn. But somewhere along the way, after missing out on opening up her home to old and new friends because of a fear that it wasn’t stylish enough or clean enough, she consciously stopped pausing her life and holding her breath and waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead of sitting alone pondering the layer of grimy fingerprints on the lower three feet of her walls, she and her family now open up their home as often as possible — today, to us! (As she put it so eloquently, “Our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer.” Ha!)

And guess what? No one notices the grit. All I can see is the joy. Come see it, too! Welcome, Kimberly!

We’re a family of four, the adults born in the Midwest and the kids in California. My handsome husband Marty is a writer and nonstop creative force. We met working together at an ad agency in NYC and became instant friends. He’d tell you he knew from the moment I started working there we would be together. We couldn’t get enough time with each other and eventually admitted we were both smitten. He’s now a creative director at an agency here in Minneapolis and works so hard to spend all of his free time with me and the boys.

More loveliness ahead!


Half Moon Bay Miramar Beach

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

In July, you may remember I wrote a post with an identical title, and I’m toying with making it a regular once-a-month feature. In the old blogging days, before Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest, random thoughts like these might have become short blog posts. Those were the days where I would post on the blog 3 or more times a day! Things have changed and now my blogging is much more long-form — with lots of words, or lots of photos, or both. And those shorter posts have migrated to my social media accounts.

But sometimes I miss having those shorter posts here on the blog — because I know there are Design Mom readers who don’t follow along on social media. So a compilation post like this could be a good way to share all those little thoughts without overwhelming people with too many posts. And it’s also a way to let people share their thoughts on all sorts of topics. We’ll see. As you know, it’s always a big experiment for me. : )

On to the randomness!

1) The first thing I’m dying to tell you is that the backyard bridge is done! And the zip line is up! I’m super excited to share all the details with you. If I’ve hesitated, it’s because I’m finding it’s hard to capture a full photo that gives a sense of the scale — though I keep trying. I suppose I just need to share what I have so far. The whole thing is pretty dang fantastic, and the additions have added a major does of magic to the yard. If you’re feeling impatient for the post, definitely take a look at Instagram — I’ve shared (and continue to share) lots of photos there.

2) Summer is coming to an end. It’s been a good summer. Very laid back. And I’m not ready to face the daily school grind again. I’m holding on to these last two weeks of summer vacation with everything I’ve got! We signed up the youngest four for one more session of swimming lessons, and I’ve put a moratorium on screen time so that the kids get outside as much as possible. (Honestly, with the new bridge and zipline, it’s not that hard to tempt them to get out doors.)

3) Next week is our wedding anniversary! It’s a big one and we wanted to make sure we marked it properly, so Ben Blair and I (just the two of us!) are heading out on a little getaway. We’re going to Lake Louise in Canada! It is hard to express how excited I am about this little trip.

I’ve never been to Lake Louise, but I read about it when I was 19 year old — it was featured in a fashion article in the now defunct Victoria magazine. (Do any of you remember that magazine? I LOVED it!) I was so taken with the images of the mountain lake that I immediately got on the phone with the resort there to see if they were hiring. I was picturing a summer job in the mountains! But alas, it was quickly established that unless I had a work visa, I couldn’t get a job in Canada.

It was the first time I had ever heard of a work visa. I had no idea up until then. Hah! And though I couldn’t go there for work, I’ve had Lake Louise on my travel wish list ever since.

Have you ever been? Please tell me it’s as awesome in real life as it is in my head!

4) But: I seemed to have lost my passport!!! And I’ve never lost my passport. I’m actually pretty decent at keeping track of my stuff and I don’t typically lose things at all. I’m mystified. I remember having it at Alt Summer in June, but I haven’t seen it since. And it’s not in the usual spot where I keep it. So now I need to make a last minute appointment in San Francisco at the passport office.

I’m nervous this won’t work out and so I’m trying not to think about it and I keep searching new places in the house hoping my passport isn’t lost after all. It’s so last minute. We leave on Sunday! But I had no idea the passport was missing.

UPDATE: Passport found!! Huge sigh of relief.

5) We started back to school dates. I go shopping with each kid one-on-one. We pick out something for the first day of school and get a cupcake or go out to lunch. It’s a great way to connect with each child individually and hear their thoughts, hopes and fears about the upcoming school year.

Since I’m traveling next week, this is the key week for making it happen. Do you do something similar? It’s a pretty new tradition for us. We only started these back to school dates when we moved here. But the kids already seem to think of this as a long-standing tradition.

6) Maude is very close to getting her license. She has a permit and asks to drive at every opportunity — and of course, we want her to get as much time behind the wheel as possible. I feel like driving well is so much about logging hours. Right?

Not much to report on this. Just something that’s on my mind.

7) On Friday, we took a break from backyard construction and went to the beach. We tried a new-to-us beach on Half Moon Bay called Miramar. You can see it in the photo at top. The pros: beautiful, plenty of space, great waves, clean sand. The cons: no ice cream shack or surfboard rentals right on the beach.

Apparently it’s known as a surfing beach — and there was a surf camp going on while we were there. We loved it and will definitely be back.

8) Erin Conner, the architect I mentioned last month, is coming to take measurements on Wednesday morning. So awesome! I grin every time I think about the upcoming transformation in the master bedroom and bath. I know it’s going to be a ton of work, and totally disruptive. But worth it!

9) Remember I mentioned the kids have been taking sailing lessons? Well, Ben Blair has too. And suddenly, we now sail!!

We’re totally beginners of course, but we’ve spent two afternoons with rented sail boats on Lake Merritt here in Oakland so we can practice. (I say we, but I mean the family, and not me — I haven’t taken any lessons at all yet.) The thing that has surprised me the most: how much vocabulary there is that is related to sailing only. I feel like I’m learning a new language. Hah!

The other thing that has been a wonderful surprise: how much we love sailing. We love it so much that we’re killing ourselves that we didn’t start lessons the moment we moved here — it feels like wasted time. Because being able to sail is an amazing way to take advantage of one of the best parts of living here: the water!

Do you have any experience sailing? We’re laughing, because we’re so new to it but find ourselves already scheming about sailing off to exotic locales.

Anyway. As I said, lots of randomness. Feel free to comment on any topic above — or consider this an open thread and bring up a completely different topic. I can’t wait to hear what’s on your mind!

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