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By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom. This post is brought to you by Outshine® — Outshine wants to help you snack brighter

This post is for all the parents out there who long for the end of the school year and look forward to the summer break, and then two days later remember how challenging it is to balance work and home life over summer vacation. Can we talk about the realities of parenting + working over summer vacation?

As you know, I work at home, and in my case, the hard stuff essentially comes down to 3 things:

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1) Our family schedule is inconsistent (to put it mildly) over the summer break, especially compared to the school year. So trying to schedule calls, and make meeting appointments becomes much trickier. The calendar looks open when I say yes to that Skype call, and then someone gets invited to the pool and we’re having to juggle the dropoff or pickup. The Skype call ends up getting pushed back 30 minutes, or maybe rescheduled altogether.

Even when the kids have a camp or class to attend, it’s not the same as school. It doesn’t last all summer. It’s usually not full day. And it doesn’t involve all the kids.

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2) When my kids are on summer break, naturally they want me to be on summer break too. They can see me at home, and I look so accessible. So it’s no surprise when they see 90 degree weather forecasted and suggest a beach day.

Of course, I’m craving family time too, and I know I won’t be able to get much of it once they’re back in school. Which makes it tempting to delay work tasks, thinking: let’s go enjoy the day as a family and I’ll take care of work after the kids are in bed. It seems so sensible when I think it, but rarely works out in reality. Hah!

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3) When the weather warms up, I lose much of my interest in the kitchen. Everyone is home, and everyone needs to eat, but it seems like no one wants to spend their time preparing food. It’s like my work time is extra-precious during the summer vacation. If the kids are occupied, I need to take advantage of the quiet house to concentrate on work tasks, because I can’t predict when the next disruption is going to happen.

That’s where Outshine comes in. Outshine Fruit Bars are the official work from home snack. Whether I’m need something refreshing while working on the next Alt Summit newsletter, or I need a fruity burst in-between conference calls with the site designer (did I tell you I’m working on a site redesign for Design Mom?), Outshine Fruit Bars are a fast, easy, delicious option to satisfy my cravings on busy summer days.

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The very first ingredient in most Outshine Fruit Bars is either fruit or fruit juice, and if you worry about GMO ingredients, you should know they use zero in their Fruit Bars. Plus, continuing its mission to help everyone shine brighter from the inside out, Outshine has made improvements to eight of its most popular flavors — Grape, Strawberry, Pineapple, Mango, Peach, Pomegranate, Raspberry, and Tangerine. By improvements, I mean Outshine has added an average of 77% more real fruit or fruit juice and has reduced sugar by an average of 11%.

If your day brings meetings, and deadlines or you’re simply trying to balance work and family activities, Outshine wants you to live your life bright, and to snack brighter.

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What about you, Friends? Am I the only one, or do you also find summer a particularly challenging time to try and balance work and family? Do any of you take advantage of sleepaway camps to help manage the summer schedule? They aren’t widely done in the West, but I can imagine their appeal. And how are you feeling at this point in the summer? Do you wish the summer break could last forever? Or have you had your fill of “I’m bored” complaints, now you’re counting down the days until school starts?

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By Gabrielle. Family photo by Darcy Troutman.

You might remember Rebecca from her Living With Kids post. Navy couches? Gorgeous sunshine art in the kitchen? Colorburst kids’ bedrooms? Navy couches? (I admit, those navy couches still make me swoon.)

Rebecca’s written a book called Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids That You’ll Actually Enjoy, which might come in handy during these last few weeks of summer break. She’s fabulous at filling her kids’ days with cool things to do – you’ll see! Come revisit Rebecca, will you please?

Busy day with lots of inspiration, straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Ben Blair.

As I mentioned, last week, Ben Blair and the 4 oldest kids — Ralph (18), Maude (17), Olive (15) & Oscar (11) — took a pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel. Those of us left behind — Betty (10), June (6) and me — missed them like crazy and distracted ourselves with Paris.

Happily for anyone who is curious, as we drove to the South of France yesterday, I interviewed Ben Blair and the 4 oldest kids about their pilgrimage experience, and I’ve typed it all up, ready to share.

First, let’s talk about some basics. Once you know the path, anyone can make a pilgrimage, but it’s common to go with a group. We heard about this particular group from Charles. He’s Ralph’s dear friend and he lived with us in Oakland a couple of years ago. Charles did this pilgrimage with his scout group, and this time around, Charles’ father Eric, came on the hike and helped us make arrangements ahead of time.

This pilgrimage was led by Bertrand, owner of a bar called The Secret Knight, and author of a book called The Mystery of Mont St Michel. Bertrand has gone on the pilgrimage over 50 times! In addition to Bertrand, there were other experienced pilgrims in attendance — about ten of them.

The pilgrimage is free, though it’s customary to offer a donation (approximately 20 euros per day). You bring a rack backpack with clothes, a towel, sleeping bag, tent, hat, etc. But y0u don’t need to pack food. You can bring snacks (of course), but you purchase meals at stops along the way. Which is great because the pilgrimage is long, and you want to pack light.

The total distance is about 75 miles. That’s a lot of walking!

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In this group, there were about 50 people. Ages ranged from 9 to 75 with a fairly even distribution along that age range. Pretty much everyone had heard about it from word of mouth. Some people were hiking with a group or a friend, but many came as individuals and didn’t know anyone else at all. Here are some basic profiles of people in the group:

- A woman who earns her living by singing folk songs to kids.

- A group of Scouts from Lyon (scout is pronounced “scoot” in French, which is surely the most charming thing ever). A mix of girls and boys, age 14 to 17. There are lots of different types of scouts in France. Different form the American version, this organization of scouts doesn’t do merit badges, just adventures. None of these scouts had ever seen Mont St Michel before.

- An older group of couples who had self organized and already done a pilgrimage circle in the middle of France. Now were trying this one.

- A French woman who had lived and worked all over the world, including 4 years in Hells Kitchen (Manhattan), plus South America and Antartica.

- A man who had lived in the same town for 30 years, but had lost his job and found his family in these pilgrimages.

- A Belgian man who feels like he’s done with Belgium and wants to join the Swiss army next. His wife lives in Istanbul with his daughter.

- A man who had a Tarot progression on his staff. (I know almost nothing about Tarot and had to look this up.) Speaking of which, most people brought a staff or walking poles. Some staffs had been found on previous pilgrimages.

- My kids learned that sometimes pilgrims won’t eat during the whole pilgrimage, but only drink water. And sometimes pilgrims do the whole trail in silence. In this group, no one was doing either completely. But there was one woman who didn’t talk during the hikes, only during the breaks.

- Most people in the group were spiritual but not religious. (I note that because this particular pilgrimage is tied to Catholicism.)

- Ben Blair and the kids were the first Americans that Bertrand had ever led.

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Day 1 – Wednesday

The group met at Bertrand’s cafe/bar near Domfront early in the morning. Everyone was pretty much strangers. The leaders went over the schedule and introduced the experienced pilgrims so people would know who to ask for help.

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Over the course of the day, they hiked 19 kilometers. They went through Domfront and stopped at the Roman church there — one of the oldest churches in Normandy.

When they needed water, they would stop at a home along the way and the owner would refill everyone’s canteens. They walked on dirt roads and paved roads, passing crosses and churches, and lots of stone country houses.

The path that day featured beautiful vistas of hedged fields, Norman cows, and the dreamy countryside.

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While in Domfront, hikers bought lunch supplies at a small grocery store, then hiked about 20 minutes up a hill. In a clearing in a forested area, people stopped for an hour and a half for lunch and naps. Ben and the kids laughed to see that every single group had Camembert cheese and baguette as part of their meal.

After the lunch break, there was more hiking with breaks as needed. People were chatting and getting to know each other. Chatting was almost entirely in French, though sometimes people would speak to our kids in English if they wanted to practice. Something funny: At every break, a good portion of the hikers would smoke — which was an incongruous scene to American eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an American backpacker smoking. Hah!

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At the end of the day, the pilgrims ended at Lonlay Abbey. Once at the Abbey, people sought out dinner — there was a cafe nearby. Ben says the group was feeling really connected and accomplished. They had finished their first day! People were sharing food, playing frisbee behind the abbey, playing songs on the guitar, and chatting. That evening, a woman who was among the group of older couples, tried weed for the first time at the urging of her travel companions. Something for the group to laugh about. : ) Late that night, the hikers played Scout games.

The Abbey was totally open, no locked doors anywhere, making it easy to explore. Some people slept in tents outside, others slept in the Abbey on sleeping pads, with sleeping bags. Ralph and Maude slept in the Abbey attic underneath a Joan of Arc statue. There were closets full of old books.

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Day 2 – Thursday

They left the Abbey in the morning and ended up walking 30 kilometers that day. They said it was by far the most scenic day and had the steepest climbs.

They hiked through Fosse d’Arthur — where it’s believed the legend of King Arthur came to be, and that Merlin the Enchanter (enchanter = friendly wizard in French) is trapped in the rocks nearby. Arthur and Guinevere are rumored to be buried along the trail.

There was a stream/pool at Fosse d’Arthur where people swam.

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From the top of a hill near Fosse d’Arthur there was an amazing view, and a cross that looks like it was cut out of a granite mountain.

Again, there was an hour and a half stop for lunch. The hour and a half would start when the last person in the group arrived. So the first hikers would end up getting a longer break. Our kids figured this out, and stayed near the front of the group as they hiked so they could take advantage of the longest breaks.

The group finished the day in Mortain (a town that was captured and recaptured 5 times during WWII). The hike that day ended at the top of a high lookout hill with stunning views of the whole countryside. A loooong way off you could just see the tiny Mont St. Michel.

People slept in tents or under the stars that night. It ended up raining a bit, so in the middle of the night those under the stars had to pitch tents. Some people slept near a waterfall.

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Day 3 – Friday

The 3rd day was the hardest in Ralph’s opinion. He said it was unforgiving because it was like one straight line on a dirt road. No ups and downs. The lack of variation made it seem like no progress was being made. Plus they were tired from the day before.

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They did another 30 kilometers that day. Sometimes, they would see bikers going by, but no motorized vehicles on the road were allowed.

Sometimes the group would be mostly hiking together, other times people would be spread out far along the trail.

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Again, there was an hour and a half break for lunch.

By now members of the group, who had been strangers before, were becoming good friends — though there were so many people that Ben says he was still having first conversations with some of them on the 3rd day. He said, the conversations were long — you would talk for 2 hours or so as you hiked, and you’d really get to know people. What other environments do you just talk with a stranger for several hours?

He also said there was no sense of being in a hurry, no sense of pick up the pace or let’s get going. It was just a simple, steady hike.

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They stopped in towns along the way to buy food. A sample meal: always baguette, always camembert, then porc rillette with cornichons. Breakfast was pain au lait or a croissant or pain au chocolat. Good bread is very important to the French, and it was not unusual to see hikers with baguettes attached to their backpacks.

That night, the group slept in a field next to country house — someone in the group had a connection to the homeowner. Someone in the group had brought house made beer which was passed around, and one woman was celebrating a birthday, so everyone sang Happy Birthday.

There was a big campfire that night. People told jokes around the fire, and as some went off to bed, the remaining people talked philosophy as the embers died down. People were pretty tired by now, but there was still one big challenging day ahead.

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Day 4 – Saturday

This was the day they would reach Mont. St. Michel. They left earlier than usual at 6:00 in the morning (the usual start time was 9:00 AM). They had to go early to beat the tide — remember, Mont. St. Michel is an island, and they were going to approach it by water.

This day was more hilly, but not as dynamic as the 2nd day.

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They hiked through fields with sheep and cows. There was one moment when they were walking along and this horse ran out and stared hard at them. They said it was like a guard horse, there to ensure hikers were worthy to reach Mont St Michel. : )

You couldn’t see the island the whole time (it’s that tiny little bump on the horizon in the photo above), but you’d turn around a bend and it would appear and give you courage to keep going.

Eventually you could see Mont St Michel the whole time, but they said it was so small, it felt like you weren’t getting any closer.

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Just as they were getting discouraged, they reached the water around Mont St Michel. It was about 2:00 PM.

At that point, everyone took off their shoes. They were told shoes are forbidden in those waters. They swam and cooled off, and then the group met a guide who would take them all the way in. The waters around the island are known for quicksand, so the guide would test a path first, then the hikers would follow.

It took about 2 hours once they met the guide, with a couple of breaks built in so that everyone in the group would arrive at the same time.

They arrived at the backside of the island, then made their way around to the front, where they put on their shoes and the celebrating started! Everyone was hugging and cheering. 75 miles done! They said it felt like these former strangers were now bonded for life.

Tradition is that pilgrims sleep over at the Abbey on Mont St. Michel the night they arrive, but since the attack in Nice, that wasn’t an option. So instead of heading home Sunday morning, Ben and the kids explored the island a bit (they’ve been there many times and didn’t need to explore much) and then Eric’s wife picked everyone up. They stopped for dinner at a small country brasserie in Domfront, then, they were dropped off at their car and drove home — about an hour from where we are staying.

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A few other notes:

Ben and the kids said it was the most French thing they’ve ever done, that they LOVED the food, and that now they want to do other pilgrimages. In fact, Ben and Eric are talking about doing the St Jaques du Compostable. A 3 month pilgrimage from France to Spain. The kids also mentioned it didn’t feel competitive at all. The whole group was in this together.

Ben Blair said he thinks it’s the best way to experience Normandy. If you’d like to try it, Bertrand’s tours go twice per month.

Okay. That was a long report. Now I’m curious: Does a trek like this sound appealing to you at all? Walking a path that others have walked for thousands of years? And if you went, would you want to bring a buddy, or would you be fine joining the group on your own? Any thoughts on doing a pilgrimage in silence?

 P.S. — Now that they’ve done the complete pilgrimage there are a few shots of our Olive Us video — Pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel, that they wish they could add, but mostly they feel like they got it right.

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By Gabrielle.

This is the tour that almost never happened because TWINS! Janet’s boys have hit the terrible twos, and so her Living With Kids tour nearly turned into a Barely Surviving These Busy Busy Little Boys situation! You’ll giggle at the characters to whom she likens them, and I hope you’ll also love how she describes mommy-dating. Hilarious and true.

Oh! And did I mention she’s an expat in Tokyo? There’s a lot of interesting information in this one, and I really think you’re going to love Janet. And so, here she is!

Konnichiwa! Hajimemashite, yoroshiku onegaishimasu! I’m Janet, a mother of two beautiful twin boys. Together with my husband, we’ve been living in Tokyo for the past two years.

I am a former architect turned full-time stay-at-home mom. Last summer, I turned 40 but was too busy chasing after my kids to give it much thought or emotion. I am Korean by ethnicity, but born and raised in New York. My husband is British and grew up in London. He moved with his company to NYC, where we met, and now we are based in Tokyo.

My sons, C and M, are two-and-a-half years old and are bundles of energy. I speak American English to them while my husband speaks The Queen’s English to them; and although they spend much more time with me than my husband, they speak American English with a British accent.

Cute Tokyo apartment, coming right up!

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Happy Monday! I have adventures to tell you about! Our pilgrims arrived home late on Saturday night, and Betty, June and I arrived home from Paris just 30 minutes before they did. I thought I’d tell you a little bit about our Paris trip today, and then give you a report on the Mont St. Michel pilgrimage later this week. But first, oh my goodness, I was feeling so down last week that I didn’t think I could manage a trip — even a little trip — for me and the youngest two. Deciding on a train, deciding on a hotel room, deciding what to pack. All those sorts of things feel impossible when I’m depressed.

But by Wednesday evening I felt a spark of motivation and used that spark to get us packed up and ready to go. And I’m so glad I did! Because I think this trip was really good for Betty and June. I mean, it was good for me too, but I think it turned out to be a life-long-memory trip for the girls. For sure it was for Betty. In fact, I think if I had understood what she was going to get out of it before we left, I would have been even more motivated to make it happen.

We woke up on Thursday morning, made a few last preparations (like taking out the trash and emptying the dishwasher), then headed to the train station at 9:00. We were in Paris by noon and took a taxi to the hotel which was in the Latin Quarter. I had never stayed there before and it was fun to get to know a new neighborhood. We were right next to the Sorbonne, which I had never seen before! But the reason I picked the hotel was because the description said it was a 5 minute walk to the Luxembourg Gardens, and I figured that even if I wasn’t feeling up for going out much, we could enjoy the Gardens all day long if needed. (Luckily, me going out didn’t end up being an issue.)

Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we dropped off our bags, picked up a picnic lunch and headed straight to the park. It was a gorgeous day and not the weekend yet, so not too busy. We ate lunch, sailed a boat on the pond, and spent a good while on the playground. Then we picked up an ice cream cone, and went back to the hotel because I had two phone appointments I needed to keep. The hotel break was good. June ended up napping and was refreshed for our night out.

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After the calls, we took an uber straight to the Eiffel Tower. After oohing and aahing, we decided to start with the carousel across the street. Then we ate dinner at a nearby café. Then we strolled along the Champ de Mars — the park that sits next to the Tower. Some kind of construction or replanting is happening on the Champ de Mars and huge sections were blocked off, so it was tricky (but not impossible) to find a good spot.

Then we walked over to the Trocadero to watch the Tower light up and sparkle. We ate a nutella-banana crepe while we waited. At 10:00 PM, the sparkling started and it was worth the wait. It really is magical! We lingered until the sparkling stopped, then picked up a taxi and headed to the hotel.

It was a good first day and everyone went to bed happy. But the next day was even better. It turned out to be a pretty much perfect Paris day with kids. I didn’t understand this until we were actually there, but Betty had a solid wishlist of everything she wanted to do in Paris. It was all pretty touristy stuff, but that was fine with me. Betty told me everything she wanted to do, and that’s how we planned the second day. She gets full credit. I did a good job of documenting the day so you get a photo tour along with my words.

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First we ate breakfast at Angelina — famed hot cocoa, croissants to dip in the cocoa, gorgeous fruit salad, fresh squeezed orange juice. Turns out there was an Angelina at the Luxembourg Gardens, walkable from our hotel. So that was awesome.

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Then we took an uber to the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t have pre-tickets for anything so we had to stay in line, but it went really fast. We climbed to the top and took in the views. We spotted landmarks and took lots of photos. I love the Arc de Triomphe and could stare at it for hours, but I hadn’t climbed it since I was pregnant with Ralph. As you can imagine, I was experiencing all sorts of nostalgia on this visit.

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We climbed down — stopping to look at the military uniform exhibit — and walked through the underground tunnel that delivers you right on to the Champs Élysées. We took our time strolling down the famous street, looking at window displays, and stopping at Ladurée (which June had zero interest in). It was a hot day, and we picked up popsicles as we walked.

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Eventually we made our way to the Egyptian Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde. Which is also where the giant Ferris Wheel is. We took a ride — there were no lines. Totally unexpected and such a nice surprise!

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After the ferris wheel ride we continued our walk in the same direction, straight into the Tuileries Gardens. We picked up ice cream cones to cool ourselves down and spent some time on the green grass enjoying the gardens.

The Tuileries take you directly to the Louvre which was our next destination. Again, I was worried about the line, because I hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time, but I didn’t need to worry. It went really fast. We were inside the pyramid in about 10 minutes and I bought my ticket (kids are free) at a machine which only took another minute or two.

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Betty wanted to see the Venus de Milo first, and then the Mona Lisa. So we visited both of those and then explored more of the Denon Gallery which is where the Mona Lisa lives. By then we were well overdue for lunch, so we stopped at the Louvre cafeteria. It’s nothing fancy, but was just what we needed. Jambon beurre sandwiches and pasta. The meal reenergized us and we decided to do some more exploring. We sought out the French painters in at the top of the Sully wing.

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After the Louvre, we were feeling pretty beat. We had done a lot of walking already, so we took an hour-long boat tour on the Seine. The river breeze was cool and we could rest our feet.

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The boat tour ended at the Eiffel Tower. Betty wanted to be sure to see it sparkle again, and we basically repeated our previous evening. We started with another ride on the carousel, then picked up crepes for dinner and ate them on the Champ de Mars.

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With cheers when the Tower sparkled at 10:00!

Then it was a taxi ride back to the hotel and a quick rinse off before tucking the girls into bed. It really was such a lovely day. If you have one day in Paris with your kids, I can wholeheartedly recommend copying the exact same itinerary. If you’re unfamiliar with Paris, you may not know this, but it’s essentially a straight line from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, and that’s basically what we did. : )

As I said, the day couldn’t have gone more smoothly. And by the end of it, the only thing we hadn’t done on Betty’s list is go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. So when we woke the next day (our last day) that was the number one thing on our list. We checked out of the hotel and left our bags, then picked up breakfast from a nearby bakery and ate it in a courtyard at the Sorbonne.

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Then we took an uber to the Eiffel Tower. There was lots of standing in lines, but it was doable. First there was a security line to enter the Eiffel Tower main area (this is new — I’ve never see this security gate before), it went quickly. Then there was a line to buy tickets. We were buying the climb the stairs tickets (versus the elevator tickets). Assuming you’re in the good health, I recommend the stairs option. It’s much more interactive.

We climbed the stairs, stopped for lots of photos, explored level one, then continued on the stairs to level two. We explored level two, then stood in line for tickets that take you to the top. After the ticket line, we stood in line for the actual elevators to the top (taking the stairs beyond level two is not allowed). Those were the longest lines of the entire trip. Everything else went really quickly. We made it to the top, enjoyed the views, took a peek at Mr. Eiffel’s apartment, felt accomplished that we’d done everything Betty had hoped, then headed down. We took an elevator to level two, and then stairs the rest of the way. The whole thing — even with all the lines — took about 3 hours total.

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We were planning to take an evening train back to Argentan, and after we finished at the Eiffel Tower, we had a few hours left. Betty wanted to go back to Angelina, this time for lunch, and they both wanted to see more of Luxembourg Gardens. I thought that sounded perfect, because our bags were nearby at the hotel. So we went to Angelina for a late lunch and explored more of the park. Then I made one request. Could we walk around the Latin Quarter with our last hour? The girls were up for it, so we picked up ice cream cones and took a walk. We ended up walking through the tiny streets, peeking in at all the bookstores, then crossing the Seine and saying hello to the Notre Dame Cathedral. A lovely end to our visit.

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After that, it was a walk back to the hotel for our bags and an uber to Montparnasse Station. As I mentioned at the beginning, we got back to our house just 30 minutes before the rest of the family arrived from their pilgrimmage, so it ended up being a very festive night, with everyone sharing stories and feeling happy to be reunited.

Betty is number five, and that means she rarely gets to function as the oldest kid. But on this trip, she was practically in charge and she loved it. She was good at it, too. She used her French. She was brave. She had great ideas. She made her opinions known. All things that are sometimes hard to do when you have so many older siblings. Also, she is absolutely in LOVE with the Eiffel Tower. She couldn’t get enough of it. Part of her would have been fine to just hang out nearby it the whole time. Hah! It was only a short trip, but it couldn’t have been better. I’m so glad we made it happen.

P.S. — I meant to post as usual during our trip, but just couldn’t seem to manage it. In order to make the trip happen, something had to give. Except for posting to Instagram late a night, when we had wifi at the hotel, I completely stayed off line. It was a good little break.

P.P.S. — This was the first time I’d been to Paris since uber came to be and it was a game changer. Taxis in Paris have consistently been a hassle to me — always hard to find, sometimes rude or unwilling to stop, and sometimes they won’t take payment by card. But uber was amazing. There was always an uber driver close to us, so we never had long waits. And even though my French is weak, we didn’t have to communicate much at all, because the whole thing is done via the app. It ended up taking away a big stress for me, and I felt far more adventurous knowing transportation wouldn’t be a problem. Just a little tip for anyone traveling to Paris soon.

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve got some gorgeous books for you and your kids to check out this summer. First up? What Can I Be, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by Ingrid Fiksdahl King.

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This book was originally published almost 40 years ago, but was reissued this past spring. It’s a classic. Vibrant and fun to look at, and it gets the brain going. It starts with a shape — a square or a triangle — and asks the reader to imagine what this shape might be. Is it a sail on a boat? A kite? A tree? All of the above?

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My next recommendation is The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer, by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud. (You may recognize the names from an earlier post.)

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I feel like these two (Davide and Benjamin) make a good pair. They know how to make kids laugh, and they understand how to hit that perfectly silly and fantastical note with both words and images.

In a few short weeks the what-did-you-do-this-summer questions will begin — here’s hoping this book inspires some super creative essays in the fall.

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And now we have Roy’s House, by Susan Goldman Rubin with art by Roy Lichtenstein. This one is for pre-schoolers. It’s simple — covering colors and numbers and other basics. But the whole book is illustrated with Lichtenstein’s work. So it’s also an introduction to the famed artist.

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I always love a chance to introduce kids to an artist they might not have heard of before, and this is an especially fun introduction because the art feels so kid-like and accessible, as if it’s straight out of a comic book. : )

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My fourth pick today just came out. It’s called Babies Ruin Everything, written by Matthew Swanson and illustrated by Robbi Behr. I happen to know this husband-wife team in real life. A few years ago, they applied to be speakers at Alt Summit, and they were fantastic — attendees couldn’t get enough of them. They’re both super smart and super funny, and they play off each other in the best sort of way.

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And this book is a great example of their work. It was created for big brothers and sisters who suddenly find their life disrupted by a new baby. The book is smart and witty, the illustrations are eye-catching and fun to study. Both children and adults will be nodding along and totally relating.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading lately? Any titles you want to recommend?

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Lori Baskin Photography.

I always love to hear stories of how families chose their homes. Sometimes it’s walk-through-the-front-door-perfect, and sometimes it requires a little imagination. Plus also a general contractor with access to heavy machinery!

Jan and her family needed a little help, but they also put in a lot of their own sweat equity — I love her advice about that! — and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Come meet her. Happy to have you here, Jan!

Hello! I’m Jan and I share my home with my husband Bill, oldest son Mason, and two younger daughters Sloan and Reese. Billy and I met in college when we were neighbors and the convenience made it easy for our relationship to last. We both graduated from The Ohio State University and have chosen to raise our family in central Ohio. Billy is a dedicated provider but also enjoys his down time on the weekends. Our family keeps busy with friends in the area that also have children our age. We also spend a lot of time with both sides of our family and appreciate that we live close to them. Our home has an open door policy and you will often find someone stopping by unannounced or a get together taking place. The more the merrier!

We are a family with the females dominating! Our son is old enough to remember what it was like being the only child in the family. He dominated our time and was lucky enough to have both parents present at sporting events, school performances, and parties. He went through a bit of shock when his first little sister came; the realization that parents shared time among children was a new concept and one that took time for our son to adjust to.

But quickly, we all adjusted and enjoyed our family of four. We adjusted so well that in two-and-a-half years we had baby number three. We face the normal sibling arguments but know deep down they would not have it any other way. The second baby girl meant we females outnumbered the males and the little girls have personalities to show.

Our middle daughter is four going on fifteen. She is athletic, intelligent, and confident. She keeps us all on our toes. Our youngest is already showing signs of following in her big sister’s footsteps which will be needed to keep up with her big brother and sister.

The blue living space is divine! Come see.

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Random Thoughts

July 18, 2016

Normandy Home

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Well, Hello. Welcome to July’s installment of my random thoughts. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments. Note: a lot of my thoughts at the moment happen to be about our time here in France this summer. : )

- We’ve almost reached the halfway point of this trip. Time is flying by. And somehow it’s also the slowest, laziest (in a good way) summer we’ve ever had. We stay up late, we take long walks, we play night games, we watch movies, we go exploring. There is nothing on the schedule — no lessons, no camps. I don’t think we’ve ever had a summer like this in our lives.

I should also note: the time change is a game changer. We are 9 hours ahead of California, 6 hours ahead of New York. So we can fit in lots of work before America is even awake. I had forgotten how much I love that.

- It’s such a treat to be able to jump right back in. To return to someplace familiar. We know what we like at the grocery store. We know our favorite bakeries. We know our favorite picnic spots. We see old friends as we walk down the street. The shopkeepers recognize us. The kids have friends here. We’re invited over for dinner, for dessert, for gouter (afternoon snack). And we can invite people in return.

We have so often set off to a new place that this feels unusual to experience. It’s such a wonderful thing to feel at home here instantly.

- An update on the cottage. We had a really good meeting with the architect just a few days after we arrived here. When we first approached him about the project, we told him we wanted to tackle things piece by piece, section by section — and as I’ve mentioned we started with the roof. But I have discovered that I’m an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of person. If you read this blog regularly, you already know this, but I go months without even thinking about the cottage.

So I decided we need to figure out a new plan. Instead of talking with the architect about phase 2, and phase 3, and what happens after that, we talked about the total project. The whole building. I think we need to tackle the whole thing at once, or I’m afraid it’s never going to get done.

Our discussion were great. Lots of brainstorming on how to best use the space — where to add windows, which doors we should keep, which wall should come down. He’s currently drawing up new plans which we can settle on before we leave. He thinks that once we begin, the remodeling and construction will take one full year.

In the mean time, we simply like being there on the property, and we are doing what we can. We are moving stones so the gardener can easily access the grounds for mowing. We are pulling down ivy. Stuff like that. I know it sounds strange, but it feels like such a treat to work on it!

- We’ve been to as many of our favorite spots as possible so far, and a few new-t0-us spots as well. We visited the D-Day beaches, a couple of favorite chateaus, Mont St. Michel, the town of Bayeaux. We’ve shopped in Caen, been to the beach, discovered a new-to-us lake, kayaked through Suisse-Normande, wandered through quaint towns like Bagnole de L’orne, and eaten lots of really good food.

- We tried something new and rented two smaller cars instead of one big van for the summer. This decision has been both good and bad. We like driving the smaller cars through the tiny streets, and parking is a breeze. It’s also nice to be able to take a small car for a quick errand, instead of driving the big van. To stay connected when we’re using both cars and heading out on an adventure, we use walkie-talkies (they’re called talkie-walkies in France). They’re practical and have also turned out to be highly entertaining.

The downside of two cars is that we feel way less spontaneous about longer trips. Caravanning in two cars for 8 or 10 hours, making for 2 exhausted drivers, feels like a bad idea. So next week, we’re renting a big van for our rescheduled trip to the South of France. We’re definitely excited and ready to go explore another region of this beautiful country. We haven’t decided yet, but think we may stick with the van for the rest of the summer, and maybe fit in one other big road trip. We’ll see.

- A mental health update: last week, a dark depression settled in — like my meds are only working halfway or not-at-all, or something. Very discouraging for lots of reasons — what a waste to be dealing with this when I’m in such a beautiful place. I’m fighting through it the best I can. Maybe the hardest part at the moment is the realization that I seem to be stuck with this mental illness forevermore; that even if I try hard to take care of myself, I’ll never be rid of it. I hate it so much.

- In happier news: Ben Blair and the older four kids are doing a pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel this week. They head out on Wednesday. I’m super bummed we couldn’t figure out childcare, because I really wanted to go. (I’ve written about pilgrimages before, and we made a video about it too). But I can’t feel too bad, because there are plenty of other good things to do. I’m thinking it would be fun to take Betty and June to Paris for a few days while our campers our gone.

Have you ever gone on, or considered going on a pilgrimage? If you could pick, which one would you do?

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

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

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A Few Things

July 15, 2016

Caen Castle France

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Very late last night I posted the photo above on Instagram. I wanted to wish France a Happy Bastille Day before I went to bed. I love seeing the proud flags flying over William the Conquerer’s fortress in Caen. (You probably recognize the French flag. The other one is red with two yellow lions. It was William the Conquerer’s flag, and now I believe it’s considered the Normandy region’s flag.)

A few minutes after posting the image, Ralph told me about the breaking news in Nice. A big white truck ran over people as it rushed into a celebratory crowd, then the driver started shooting. 84 people killed. Bastille Day fireworks had just wrapped up.

Is this how it’s going to be? On Fridays, we’ll wake up in mourning, then distract ourselves with links? I’m feeling despondent today and I need to stop writing before I bring us all down. I think I’m going to stay away from the news as much as possible this weekend. Maybe we’ll go to the beach. I don’t know. I’m really sad. I’m sure you are too. The sadness keeps adding up, the cumulation of some hard emotional weeks.

Before I go, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share.

- I’ve had 6 babies, 2 with epidurals. What’s your take on this? (NYT)

- Pardoning all marijuana convictions — I feel like we need to do something similar in the U.S.

- “Sociopathy is more prevalent than schizophrenia or anorexia.”

- The difference between competence and confidence, and why so many incompetent men become leaders.

- Slow runners live longer.

- Bro-talk on Wall Street. Ugh.

- 10 insights from remarkable parents.

- No one is unreasonable.

- Everything we eat is a scam. Sometimes food is so hard.

- This is cool. Meet the first artificial animal.

- Don’t hit on girls who are paid to be nice to you.

- Still thinking about this one. What an hour of emotion makes clear.

Please take care of yourselves this weekend. Let’s try to put some kindness and goodness out in the world. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — We had a trip planned to the South of France this week. 3 nights in Marseille and 4 nights in Nice. We’ve never been to the south of France and we were looking forward to exploring. We ended up having to reschedule the trip at the last minute because of transportation issues. Would we have been there watching the fireworks?

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robert_julia_blair_groberg_wedding

By Gabrielle.

Every once in awhile, family dinner conversation turns to the future. For example, Oscar might ask something like, “How old will June be when I’m 25?” And then you can see everyone start calculating their ages based on Oscar being 25 and trying to imagine what life will be like then. Or Maude might say something like, “Weren’t you 25 when you had me, Mom?” And then you can see everyone start imagining how old they will be if and when they become a parent. Perhaps Betty might ask something like, “How old were you when you became an uncle, Dad?” This is followed by the kids making guesses about which sibling will become a parent first and when that might happen. Or Olive might ask, “Were you really married at 21, Mom? That seems so young.” And I nod my head in agreement.

It seems so dang young to me, too! I’m sort of shocked when I think about it. I really and truly can’t imagine my kids marrying at that age. The whole idea seems mind-blowing to me. As a teen and young adult, I didn’t think much about what age I would marry at, but when when I pictured it, it was always late twenties — after I’d set up a successful career in New York. Maybe 28 or 29. (Gosh, I had a lot of confidence.)

That said, I have zero regrets about marrying at 21. I’ve felt lucky to have a partner all these years. It was like we got to learn to be adults together.

Then again, neither of us ever learned to live solo. We went from living at home to roommates to marriage. Some people would say we missed out on something essential; that we don’t know true independence (that’s probably true). Others would tell us we’re lucky we found each other early, when we weren’t set in our ways (that’s probably true, too).

Which makes me curious. What do you think is the ideal marriage age? Or, since everyone is different, what do you think is your ideal marriage age? Did you marry at just the right time? Do you wish you had been a little older? Maybe quite a bit older? Would you have liked to explore the world in your twenties? Or did marriage take a long time to find you and you wish it had come earlier? Maybe for you there’s no such thing as an ideal marriage age, because it turns out marriage is not for you.

And if you have kids, do you picture them marrying at a similar age as you did? Would you freak out if they told you they found the ONE and they’re ready to get married at 21? Do any of you have kids who are pretty sure they have no interest in ever marrying? Do your kids ever bring up this sort of topic? I would love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — The wedding photo at top pictures my inlaws, Julia and Robert Blair. Which reminds me, do you know how old your parents were when they married? Or when they had you?

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olive us tulip fields09

By Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Alamo Rent a Car. Have you signed up for the Alamo Insiders program? Details below!

I’m working with Alamo on a family travel series (the first post is about different types of family vacations, the second post has 18 tips for traveling with big families). And today, I want to talk about how traveling abroad, especially with kids, intimidates the heck out of me, but why I think it’s definitely worth it (related Pin board here).

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: International travel can feel overwhelming before you even get out the door. Are your passports up to date (don’t forget the baby needs one too!)? If not, it means a trip to the photo store, and then long lines (at least in California) at the post office. And if kids are involved, both parents need to be present, so you’ll probably have to take some hours off work to make it happen. Do you need a travel visa to enter the country? Different than a credit card, a travel visa is a sticker in your passport that gives you permission to enter another country. Depending on where you are going and how long you are staying you might need one. We needed one when we moved to France because we were staying longer than three months. I also needed one to visit Ethiopia.

eiffel tower picnic

There’s also the language barrier. The closest thing I’ve got to a superpower is my ability to talk with other people. But when I go to a non-English speaking country, that power completely disappears. I am reduced to a pantomiming imbecile; I feel totally powerless in an instant. And then, there’s actually getting there. What will your toddler be like on an overseas flight? What should you pack and how will you manage getting through security with all that kid stuff? And what about the food when you arrive — will your picky-eating 6-year-old starve?

See what I mean? Why would anyone ever choose to travel to another country with kids? : )

I ask that kiddingly because in my opinion, and based on my experience, it’s SO worth it. I promise. Here’s a list of 7 reasons why:

kayaking in the fjords08

1) One thing that always strikes me when traveling abroad is the visual evidence that there are lots of good ways to live life and raise happy, healthy kids. Of course, you can see that in your own neighborhood — one family bans screens, another doesn’t eat gluten. But being in a new country brings it to a whole other level. How trash pickup is handled, what taxis and public transportation look like and how often it runs, realizing the school schedule is vastly different, finding out that restaurants are only open at certain times during the day, seeing lots of small children out for dinner very late at night and discovering bedtimes for kiddos aren’t the same as where you live. The list goes on and on. Just to comprehend it requires an open mind. If your kids can get a handle on this early on? What a huge advantage!

2) Related to number one, experiencing firsthand that there are vastly different ways for communities and cities to function really helps you appreciate what’s best about your own country and community, and to see clearly how it might be better. If kids grow up with a clear vision of the strengths and weaknesses of their community, they are in a much better position to actually improve the weaknesses.

mont st michel

3) Traveling as a family to a foreign country means tons of together time, because the usual obligations and distractions are simply gone. The TV shows are unfamiliar and uninteresting, or perhaps the time change means no phone calls interrupting dinner. You are stuck together, and maybe in small living quarters, so everyone has to up their patience and best-behavior game. If there’s a foreign language involved, you can expect even more family time — because there’s no one else to talk to! You’ll suddenly feel how dependent you are on one another, and that can be a very good thing. It’s much easier to put family first when you are traveling abroad.

4) We all learn this before we ever travel, but seeing firsthand that all humans everywhere have the same basic needs is a life-changer. And it’s comforting to know. When you arrive at any airport — even the small ones — you’ll see signs for restrooms, food, accommodations, and transportation. Because every single person, no matter where they are coming from, or where they are going, needs those things.

The same thing is true throughout your trip. Have a stuffy nose? Turns out the people in the country you’re visiting get stuffy noses too. They probably use tissues and can show you where to get some, but maybe they use handkerchiefs. Who knows? Something to discover. Need sunscreen? You’re not the only one. All humans are susceptible to sunburn or sunstroke which means every population has figured out how to prevent it one way or another — whether it’s napping through the hottest part of the day, wearing a wide brim hat, or slathering on the SPF. Go find out!

We’re all more alike than we are different. It’s something I want my kids to understand at their core.

5) When you’re traveling, especially abroad, it’s like everyday things become new. It’s as if you are walking around with a heightened awareness of each small thing that’s happening. You notice more details. You hear more sounds. There’s an excitement and freshness to each day. Such a wonderful thing to experience!

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

6) Traveling requires bravery  — you have to try new things, figure out directions, learn to communicate, taste new flavors, solve problems, be patient when the itinerary goes amuck. It’s a real chance for both you and your kids to be brave. And you’ll be proud of each other for being brave. Also, those experiences that require bravery are incredibly bonding. Your kids will share these memories with you and with their siblings forever.

7) The whole family will get to see another view. Not a point-of-view, I’m talking an actual view. The houses look different. The stores look different. The product packaging looks different. The plants look different. The street signs look different. The cars look different. The food looks different. It’s all commonplace and everyday to the people who live there, but to your eyes it’s a whole new world. Kids find this as inspiring as adults do. It informs the way they think, and will help their brains make new connections about life and stuff and art and all those good things.

Venice | Design Mom_04

Yes, a trip for just the grownups to a faraway place is dreamy and romantic — and sometimes ideal. But for lots of reasons, it’s often not doable. Finding a 24-hour babysitter for a long period is hard, sometimes impossible. Or maybe you’re breastfeeding and aren’t ready to stop. But even if your kids are too little to remember, I’d still say yes to an international trip. It’s true you’ll go at a slower pace with little ones in tow, but the views will still be inspiring, and your soul will be refreshed. For sure there will be hard spots, and when you’re at airport security and the TSA guy with the beeping metal-detector wand just woke up the baby, you’ll wonder if you should cancel the trip and head home. But if you have that travel itch, even with the hard stuff, it will be so much better than doing the same old, same old at home.

Now I’d love your take. Are you ever intimidated by traveling abroad? Anyone else feel like me about foreign languages? Do you agree that it’s worth the hassle of taking kids abroad, or do you feel like big trips to foreign countries should be saved until the kids are grown? Maybe when you’re retired? Anything else you would add to my list? I’d love to hear!

Also, are you planning your next vacation? Check out the Alamo Insiders program. It’s a loyalty club with free membership that offers 5% off retail rental rates! You can sign up here.

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By Gabrielle. Photos a sweet combination by Stasia and Melissa Reid Photography.

Stasia is a bright ball of enthusiasm and infectious energy. She tells a story with all-caps words highlighted to make sure you’re getting it, to make sure you’re feeling it. I did and do. You will, too.

Come meet her, please. Welcome, Stasia!

Hello there! I’m Stasia (41) and I live in Brattleboro, Vermont with my husband, Knowles (46) and our two little biscuits, Raisa (nine) and Zealand (three). I am wildly extroverted, with extreme doses of sass, hyperbole, drama and wit. I’m brave. I like to do hard things, but I’ll likely belly-ache through the whole darn thing (see hyperbole and drama). Knowles, on the other hand, is more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He goes with the flow, doesn’t get rattled, and thrives on deep meaningful conversation. He does hard things too…just with no belly aching. Knowles and I met while rock climbing in Alaska 20 years ago, which is pretty cool since we were both Mainers living the mountain-life in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Our daughter, Raisa, is nothing short of a wonder. When I was pregnant with her, the docs were not sure she would survive childbirth. She was born with multiple physical anomalies, not all of which were discovered when she was born. Over the past nine years, Raisa has seen at least a dozen specialists at Children’s Hospital Boston, has been under anesthesia over 15 times, and has had literally hundreds of doctor’s appointments. She is wildly curious, asks way too many questions, and has the gumption to show up and speak up no matter what. She’s smart, sassy, opinionated, and filled with a love so deep, she can hardly find ways to express it all.

Zealand (aka ZZ) is quick witted, LOUD, and incredibly mischievous. He has the most dramatic and varied facial expressions I’ve ever seen on one tiny human. His personality is larger than life, which makes complete sense, since he was born a ten pound 11 ounce whopper!

I’m pretty sure both my kids would trade me in for a steady supply of gatorade and candy bars — neither of which I allow in my house.

Raisa was born a Mainer in March 2007, and six months later, we moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, so that Knowles could earn his Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation from SIT Graduate Institute (The School for International Training). We were two years post Peace Corps (Moldova 03-05), still holding on to a dream of living/working abroad once Knowles graduated. But by the time we arrived here in Bratt, Raisa’s medical needs were so complex, we realized we needed a new dream.

Fortunately for us, Brattleboro was that dream. Within days of arriving, an incredible support system was created for us, BY THE COMMUNITY, that was unwavering in its willingness to support us through some really hard years. Brattleboro is synonymous with community, and that’s exactly what we love most about living here.

More loveliness, just ahead.

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No-Churn Berry Cheesecake Ice Cream with Graham Cracker Crumble

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Something we miss when we’re in France is American ice cream. There’s no question France is very good at desserts, in fact, France is very possibly the reigning dessert country in the world. But I confess, I much prefer American ice cream to French ice cream. This is mysterious to me, especially since I live in Normandy, the famed dairy region of the country. The dairy products here are insanely good. The cheese is legendary. The yogurt aisle is epic. But oddly, I find the cartons of ice cream in the grocery store freezer ho-hum (and even more oddly, they don’t really do chocolate milk — but that’s a topic for another day).

No-Churn Berry Cheesecake Ice Cream with Graham Cracker Crumble-10

All this to say, we’ve had amazing summer weather this last week and I found myself craving ice cream. I’m happy to make it myself, but we don’t have an ice cream maker here. So I asked Lindsey for a no-churn option — a freezer recipe that doesn’t require a machine. And boy, did she offer up a stunner. Don’t you just want to lick the screen? I can not wait to make this!

No-Churn Berry Cheesecake Ice Cream with Graham Cracker Crumble-3

A related fun fact: Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month? (At our house, we celebrate this every month.) So now is the perfect time to try your hand at homemade ice cream. Lindsey promises this is “hands-down one of the easiest and tastiest recipes you can make”. Let’s do this!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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A Few Things

July 8, 2016

pebble_beach_normandy

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Another day, another waking to incomprehensible tragedy. Eleven police officers shot by snipers in Dallas, five of them killed, during what had been a peaceful protest. More families forced into dark days of grief and pain. More unnecessary death and violence. I mourn the loss of those officers. It’s all so horrifying. I’ve run out of words to say.

As usual, throughout the week, I gathered a list of links. Should I share them? Is it inappropriate? I don’t know anymore. Maybe they will serve as a good distraction. Here they are — a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Still processing this one — Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid. It brought up lots of emotions. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed today, maybe save this one for later. But don’t skip it. It’s really, really good.

- A reminder to myself as I start arguing with people on Facebook — the other side is not dumb.

- In praise of “scruffy hospitality“.

- Was a fear of slave revolts behind the Declaration of Independence? This is an opinion I’ve never heard before. (NYT)

- How to raise brilliant kids according to science.

- Fascinating. A world map of when cities came to be.

- What high-functioning anxiety looks like.

- This could be a better model for homeless shelters.

- ISIS terrorists target and kill Muslim and attack Muslim holy sites.

- The real reason you can’t parent like a French mom.

- Ego may be ruining your life — 25 ways to kill it.

Anti-semitism is back and it’s making me sick to my stomach. Related, see the tweets Dana Schwartz received.

- And here’s a lighter one to end on. Carpool Karaoke with Stevie Wonder.

I hope you take care of yourselves this weekend. Hug the people you love. Be gentle to yourself, be gentle with everyone you encounter. Maybe take an internet break and go on a hike instead. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — If you’re interested, you have a few more days to take the quick survey from Blue Diamond for a chance to win a $50 VISA gift card. Details here.

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Say Something

July 7, 2016

Nina_Simone_Quote

By Gabrielle. 

Late last night, I logged onto Facebook and my feed was filled — completely overflowing — with posts about Alton Sterling. I hadn’t heard the news and sat in shock as I read post after post after post. And then, I woke up this morning to gut-wrenching news about Philando Castile. It’s all I can think about. I can’t stay silent. So I’m writing.

The first part of this post is for any white readers who might think the #blacklivesmatter movement is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. It’s for white readers whose first instinct is to defend the police officers. It’s for white readers who can list all the reasons why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were in the wrong, and what they should have done differently to prevent being killed.

First, understand that your thinking is wrong.

Your list about how they could have prevented their own murders? Lose it. It’s a racist, dishonest list. There is nothing they could have done. They were killed because they were living life with black skin. They were killed because they were born black. Under the exact same circumstances as Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, white men would still be alive. It’s that simple. Both of these men are dead because of the color of their skin. Period.

As far as defending the police officers in these instances, don’t. There are wonderful police officers who do a great job in a hard line of work every single day. I know this. You know this. Everybody knows this. And there are corrupt and racist and cruel police officers too. The corrupt ones need to be called out and held accountable. If you are a fan of police officers, you are not doing them any favors if you accept corruption among them. Call it out and encourage them to call it out too. It’s better for them, it’s better for all of us. (For a passionate argument along these lines, see this video of a DJ calling out a police officer to speak up.)

Remember, police officers are not supposed to be the judge and jury and executioner. That is not their job. And yet, here are the stats on people killed by police in 2016.

neutral_supports_oppressors

The second part of this post is for white readers who feel compelled to do or say something about this unnecessary and systematic violence.

What should you do? I confess, I’m not sure. I don’t know what’s effective and what’s a waste of time. I haven’t found anything that tells me how to make real change. So perhaps we can start by listening. Black women everywhere made videos yesterday sharing their thoughts — I think I had at least 15 in my Facebook feed. Here are three that happen to be mothers (and women I know personally and care deeply about): Amber Dorsey, Brandi RileyA’Driane Nieves. Watch them. Listen. Try to imagine the terror of being pulled over for a routine traffic violation when you are black. Try to imagine the terror of knowing your children could be killed for going about their daily lives, just because they dare to have black skin.

After you listen, take a minute to realize that if it hasn’t hit home for you already, that it will at some point. Think of the black kids at your school. Think of your black neighbors. Think of your cousin who just adopted two black boys from Haiti. I know it’s tempting to believe nothing will happen to them. Your neighborhood is safe. You’re pretty sure your community isn’t racist. Your kids don’t even seem to notice race.

But that’s not how this works. Having black skin and living in a safe neighborhood won’t prevent this. Having black skin and white friends won’t prevent this. Having black skin and white parents won’t prevent this. Having black skin and respect for authority won’t prevent this. Having black skin and wearing certain clothes won’t prevent this. Since white people are the oppressors here, only white people can prevent this.

Which brings us to this: The senseless killing needs to end. It’s time to say something. If you use social media, I encourage (ask, beg, implore) you to share a tweet or a Facebook post, or share a quote and a hashtag on Instagram. Put a Black Lives Matter poster in your yard or your window. Take the time to help your kids understand that life is different for black kids and that not having to think or talk about race is a privilege, and only something white people get to do. Call out the injustice and racism when you see it — even when it’s your uncle or friend from church. And check out the Black Lives Matter Get Involved page to find more ideas. Join me as I continue to learn how to be an ally.

Have other ideas on what you can say or do? Or thoughts on this subject? I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Feeling heartbroken and helpless? Oh man. I hear you. You can share that too.

P.S. — Kelly Wickham Hurst taught me that every time I write something about race I will likely get called out as a racist and told I’m doing it wrong, and that’s okay, it’s worth saying something anyway. You may experience the same thing, but you will survive.

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By Gabrielle.

Allison is a long-time pal of mine, and probably a friend to you, too. If you follow her anywhere on social media, you’ve probably felt her support. I always seem to think of her as the one who gets it all done. With a smile on her face, even.

So I asked her if we could walk beside her on just an average day in her life, and of course she said yes. And then finished the interview and photography within a day or two. See what I mean? She gets it all done.

Welcome, Allison!

Hello! I’m Allison Czarnecki, a 30-something mother of two kids, a 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. I’m the founder and CEO of a lifestyle blog called Petit Elefant, which means my day is all over the place, so let’s jump in.

Let’s spend the day with Allison! Buckle up!

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Best of French Posts

July 6, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Since we arrived here for the summer, my inbox has seen a surge of questions about my earlier content on France. Where’s that post on your French pharmacy picks? Didn’t you do a write-up on affordable French souvenirs? What was that book on French parenting we discussed? So I thought it might be helpful to include a brief guide to some of the most popular posts from our years living in France.

On French Schools:

- This was our first report.

- Our second report.

- This post talks about the legendary and formidable French school supply lists.

- Another school update plus an update on how the language immersion was coming along.

- If you’d like more, I wrote 10 posts on French schooling total.

On French households:

- This post includes my observations about laundry and ironing and got a big response.

- This is about shutters in France, which I had no idea were a big deal until I got here.

- This is about how trash is collected in the countryside.

On French Parenting:

- Is Maman Mean or Magnificent?

- More on French parenting.

- French kids eat everything.

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

On Exploring France:

- Our first visit to Mont St. Michel. Happily, we ended up visiting many, many times because it was a popular request from our house guests. We even made a video about a pilgrimmage to Mont St. Michel.

- Our first visit to the Eiffel Tower. This is another spot we visited frequently. Here’s a related post I wrote about climbing to the top with the kids.

- Canoeing in the Dordogne.

- Attending the French Open.

- How to Visit the Loire Valley in a Day.

- Other spots we frequented were Honfleur & Deauville — a fishing village and famous umbrellaed beach.

- If you’d like there are lots more French Tourism posts.

Five Affordable Souvenirs to Bring Home from your Trip to France.

On French Souvenirs:

- Five Fabulous French Souvenirs under $5. This one was a mega-hit.

- And here are five more awesome souvenirs..

- I did a series of 3 posts on French pharmacy picks. I started with Gwyneth Paltrow’s recommendations and then tried some of my own picks too.

On French Food:

- Our first post about how we shop and eat in France — written shortly after we moved here.

- All about French dairy products, particularly the lovely containers. This summer, the first thing we put in our fridge was these same yogurts!

- A little bit about the French tradition of Gouter, or afternoon snack.

- What it was like buying eggs from our neighbor. We made a video about this too.

- Our love letter to the French Bakery.

- And this is the last post I wrote about French food — a follow up to our first food post, shared as we were headed home.

I hope you find this list of links helpful. My question for you: Is there anything in particular you’d like to me cover while I’m here this summer? Let me know!

P.S. — Here’s one more sweet post on homesickness.

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. Additional photos by Ben Blair. This post is brought to you by Mealtime Movement.

In the spring, my family took the Mealtime Movement Challenge for two weeks, and it is so good! I think you would love it too! The Mealtime Movement is focused on getting more people to share more connected meals, more often. They believe (and I agree) we’re all better when we eat together. And the challenge comes out of aiming for that goal. I love this movement and I’m totally on board, so I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”

The idea is to use food as a time to connect with your family. Think of “mealtimes” as anytime you enjoy food together — in the car, at sporting events, take out, eat out, wherever you’re eating, whatever you’re eating. Everyone has to eat, and even if it’s not a “wholesome meal at home” you can still make it meaningful. The hope is that this challenge can evolve into a ritual for our families.

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But what is the “challenge” exactly? Well, it’s simply this: using the Expert Tips below as your guide, for two weeks, prioritize making mealtimes a time to connect (and please, define mealtimes as loosely as you’d like).

Expert Tip #1:
Stop the “Why”
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE

“‘Why’ questions often put a person in a defensive mode. In response to a why question, individuals often must justify their belief or provide a rationale for a belief. Switch the why to a WHAT.”

Instead of “Why didn’t you tell me about the situation on the school bus?” ask “What are some reasons you didn’t tell me about the situation on the school bus? “

Family members often need the opportunity to discuss the factors and reasons and have the faith that they are not judged, and can be open and real with each other.

I love the way Dr. Meyer offers us an opportunity to spin language and allow it to give us new ways to open up our communication.

Challenge: For two weeks, make an effort to STOP ASKING WHY and ASK WHAT when sharing food.

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Expert Tip #2:
Try a talking circle
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE

“This Navajo tradition, in which one person shares their rose, bud and thorn for the day is a simple way to connect around a meal.” Rose = something that makes you happy. Bud = something you are looking forward. Thorn = something that is bothering you.

Challenge: Knowing that family rituals create bonds, try this new family exercise for two weeks. And keep trying! It is often the small things that become large emotional connections for families.

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Expert Tip #3:
Open it all up
From Norman Shub,Clinical Director, Gestalt Associates

Want your kids to share with you? Share with them. Vulnerability is taught through osmosis. Kids are fascinated by hearing parents talk about their struggles and mistakes, so share yours to start a conversation about a difficult topic.

Challenge: Air your dirty laundry during these two weeks. Be more open with your family. Tell stories of the past. Pick a day that you tell a family love story. Something shocking about your past. A strange tale. Anything.

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That’s the challenge! And we, the Blair Family, tried it. For two weeks. Yes, we tried this at the dinner table, with the whole family gathered around a lovingly prepared meal. But come on, that doesn’t happen every night. Not even close!

So we also tried this while getting ice cream. And we tried it over a casual meal of rotisserie chicken and pickles and olives and fruit and cheese — eaten around the kitchen island. We tried this getting fast-food at Betty Burger, and at a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Alameda. We tried it during our family Easter dinner, and while getting late night Frosty’s at the drive-thru. Lots of times it was the whole family, but we also tried it when only some of us were around.

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Here are my thoughts. First, I LOVE that the mealtimes could be anytime we were sharing food, no matter how casual. If the challenge had required the whole family to share a sit-down meal every night, that wouldn’t have worked for us. The loose definition of meal made this very doable, but it also got me thinking about how to bring better conversation into our lives on a more regular basis.

I think that was the number one benefit for us. Instead of reserving our conversation rituals for traditional family dinners, this helped me see that if I expand my definition of mealtime, we’ll have many more opportunities to connect. Which is awesome! Speaking of conversation rituals, Expert Tip #2 was a hit. We all like the chance to share our rose, bud, and thorn of the day. If the kids were feeling silly, they would add other flower parts too — they’d share a root, a stem, and a leaf in addition to the rose, bud and thorn. : )

Another thing I loved was that this helped me focus on each child individually and consider what their day had been like, and what was on their mind. Sometimes, it seems like mealtime conversation is dominated by one or two voices — the people who are feeling the most energetic at that moment. But this challenge made sure everyone gets a voice.

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Lastly, I loved Expert Tip #1 and the focus on asking what instead of why. I found that it kept the conversation really open and it prevents a lot of unproductive criticism from creeping in. When no one feels attacked or feels like they’re getting grilled about mistakes, they are excited to join in and take part, confident that they won’t be shot down. So important.

If you want to give it a try, Mealtime Movement had one more bit of advice that I found helpful: “Remember the goal is to have a conversation, not turn it into a lesson. Talk to each other. As the adult, be the leader in asking questions and answering first. Show your loved ones that you are sharing, so they will be brave too.”

What do you think? Would your family be up for a challenge like this? Does your mealtime conversation ever tend to feel stressful? Do you already have conversation traditions in place (like rose, bud, thorn) that make meals more meaningful? What do you think about the other Expert Tips? Do you ever share “shocking” things with your kids from your past? How do you think your kids would respond to trying a challenge like this?

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By Gabrielle.

I found Nathan in his own corner of Instagram, and was instantly intrigued. His bio reads “A family of five galavanting about Mexico in a 1978 VW Bus. Full-time travelin’ types since 2008.” His squares are dusty captures of a life lived on the run — not away from anything, to be sure, but more toward everything. Toward crisp blue bodies of water and hammocks for everyone and space to run and time to explore. Does that make sense? It will after you read Nathan’s compelling interview.

He founded an online magazine dedicated to advising others who want to travel full-time — A Complete Guide to Perpetual Travel, as he calls it — and it’s wonderfully empowering and community-building. Go see. (But first, this tour around his family’s life!)

I’m so excited to share him with you. Welcome, Nathan!

Hi there. My name’s Nathan, and I was the kind of kid who did the math and realized that 18 years of being young and free, then 45 years of working every day all day long, only to get a few more free years at the end when you’re all old and shriveled up — remember, this is ten-year old me talking — didn’t seem like a great plan. I asked around and it turned out that most people agreed that it wasn’t exactly an ideal setup, but that’s just the way it was…

So, I gave in, got a job, quit, got another job, quit, and so on. Then one day while I was eating ramen noodles for the umpteenth time, probably on my sixth job that I hated before I was even 19 years old, I saw an ad for an art school in Pittsburgh. I figured if I had to trade my time for money to make it in this world, I might as well be drawing pictures.

It was while I was sitting around on the campus of this art school that I noticed a young lady looking at me through a window. I was shy, she was even more so. But I wrote a lot of poetry back then and she liked to read, so we sort of hit it off through all of that. It was a lovely autumn spent together as friends.

We went separate ways. Somehow I ended up with a house and a 40-hour a week job at a PBS station and a beautiful young son named Tristan who has gone through a ton of heartache in his life, and despite having a dreamer/hot-tempered dad, remains to this day the most grounded, even-tempered, likable person I’ve ever met.

Meanwhile, Renée, the girl I met in college, went off to backpack around Europe.

What happens next? You’ll see!

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It’s July 4th! To my friends in the States, I hope you’re having a wonderful day filled with parades and picnics and patriotic festivities — and I hope you get to see a jaw-dropping fireworks display tonight. I LOVE watching a good fireworks display.

We enjoyed a gorgeous visit to the American Military Cemetery — it’s built overlooking Omaha Beach and the grounds are simply stunning. Today it was filled with people wanting be here for the 4th of July. We heard lots of different languages and met many fellow Americans. There were choirs performing throughout the day. They would gather and sing at the base of the memorial, which stands at the entrance to the cemetery.

We’ve visited this place many, many times, and it moves me every time. I know the numbers, but seeing all those headstones — more than the eye can take in all at once — is incomprehensible. Today, the kids particularly noticed the graves with the date of July 4th. There are many. Young men who died on this day so many years ago.

While we walked among the graves, an older American man approached Oscar and asked, “Son, what do you think about all this?”. Oscar said, “I think it’s very sad.” The man asked, “Why do you think we still have wars?” Oscar answered, “Because there is still injustice in the world.”

Sigh.

This evening we will have a celebratory feast at home and sing some patriotic songs. Maybe we’ll read the Declaration of Independence too. Sounds perfect!

Happy 4th of July!

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