A Few Things

April 4, 2014


Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? I’m really looking forward to the weekend! We’ve had a ton of rain here and the whole yard is green and fresh. I’m hoping it’s dry enough tomorrow to work outside. I confess, I’m quite intimidated by our yard. It’s unlike any yard we’ve ever had — wild in a good way, but still in need of some major grooming. I’ve never worked with a landscape architect before, but I’d like to find one and hire her/him to help us come up with a plan. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start!

One funny idea: We have 20 years worth of fallen leaves and broken branches under all those trees. We’ve been clearing it out one leaf bag at a time, but it’s slow going. Then, the other day, we heard you can rent goats to eat all the leaves and twigs! Have you ever done something like that? I’m dying for more info.

While I research goat options, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

Change your typeface and save $400 million.

- Gandalf checking his email.

- You can touch my hair. Thanks, Jess.

- A cool nursery with lots of fun surprises.

- A letter to frustrated parents about New Math.

- A baby sleeper that doesn’t involve snaps. (When Ralph was a baby, we had a similar version that zipped in the diaper area. 16 years later and zippers still haven’t replaced snaps in any big way. I wonder why that is?)

- Sesame Street has a new toolkit for families navigating divorce, deployment, and other grown-up challenges.

- Easter treats! 16 yummy ideas you can make and add to your Easter basket — even homemade versions of Cadbury Eggs, Peeps and Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs!

- Affordable DSLR sliders for budding filmmakers — I bet this would get tons of use at our house. Thanks, Lindsey.

- Reminders of 2 fun contests: You can still win $250 at Chairish! Super easy to enter, just submit your email address. Ends Monday, April 7th.

- And you can win $500 in awesome new light switches and outlets from the Adorne line. Go here to find simple giveaway instructions.

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I have LOVED the conversations we had this week. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Remember the pretty succulents I showed in the hallway makeover? Well, all but 3 have died. : ( So the plants pictured at top are my replacements. I hope I can get the hang of watering them correctly!

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fiona April 4, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Due to a few issues with my 2nd grader I have spent considerable time getting to grips with math this year – and our principal has done a fantastic job of running parent workshops to explain the teaching methods. Appreciate the article you link to and also this one I read this week http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/confusing-math-homework-don-t-blame-the-common-core/360064/

It’s little mind shift from how I learned but it is sound methodology and it is giving them tools to use through the years.


2 Amy April 4, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I love the Touch My Hair video, thank you for sharing and continuing to enlighten you readers and keep important conversations alive.

I am by no means a succulents expert, but this is what I do in Santa Cruz: I leave my outdoor succulents alone. They may get a residual bath now and then when the hose is on, but it hasn’t been on much in the last year due to the drought. My daughter has succulents in her windowless bathroom and I water them lightly once a month or so when I check to make sure it’s not gross in there.


3 Kate April 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Similar yard sitiation. We live in a woodsy area in Marin. Moved to our house about a year ago and inhereted a giant over-grown mess of a yard. We have filled up 2 huge yard waste bins every week for the past year and are finally making a dent. Lately I have been taking about an hour or so a day and work in one area and am trying to not get too overwhelmed. Baby steps! On a postive note, it saves me a gym membership!


4 Katie April 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I’m sure you probably have plenty of succulent watering advice coming at you, but my one suggestion is to leave them starving for water! I have a few in my house that have been alive for well over four years now, and I water them about once a month at most (sometimes I even go two months between waterings, no joke!). The soil gets so completely dry, and then I give them a good bath, making sure that excess water can drain away, and that’s it! Good luck, they look beautiful!


5 Christine E-E April 4, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Wow! The link to the new math & common core really struck a nerve. Being an educator, I know how difficult it is to change the way we look at learning… I’m wondering, Gabrielle, when your kids attended school in France, were there times when parents felt the education system was too hard? Too easy? do parents support education? Do they look at the education system favorably? And, what do your kids think about school now?


6 Valerie April 5, 2014 at 7:58 am

Being a product of French education( primary, high school, prep school), who came in the US for grad school, what I experienced is as follows:
- my parents, professors in high school did complain about the levels being lowered in high schools( not sure if it was just a generational rant, it does seem that the level of ‘culture generale’ has decreased, my personal opinion);
- the adjustment to prep school was dependent of your high school of origin as some high school had gone beyond the required material and followed an older curriculum. Some had more to catch up than others. The teachers in prep schools complained too about the levels going down but we had to just catch up, they were not lowering the bars.
Maybe we French people just like to complain, ha!
In general, I think my education was more classical: emphasis on rote memorization at an early age( in maths but also poetry), lots of writing practice in elementary school, list of books to read over the summer, during school year. We were not asked to fully understands some concepts until high school, when we also started philosophy.
I am idealizing this system, it was just more acceptable to be a nerd in France than for my husband growing up in the US.


7 Valerie April 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

Typo: I am NOT idealizing this system. Or maybe I am a bit( lapsus?). :)


8 Jan April 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I attended la 2nde (sophomore year) in France and I don’t even know who was a nerd. My best friend was cause she never repeated a year and got her medical degree at 23. There was one thing I valued and it was the lack of social groups. It was fairly rural France so the inner city schools may have more problems due to race and social class etc.


9 Jocelyn April 4, 2014 at 9:44 pm

When we first got serious about doing something with our yard we called our local university to see if there were any graduate students that would be able to do a landscape plan for us. We found one and she came and checked out our yard, listened to our requests and answered all our questions, and then made a detailed plan of the yard. She then explained it all to us and the cost was a lot cheaper than paying for a professional. Over the years we’ve been making her plan a reality as we’ve had the money and time. It’s definitely one way to save money but get a knowledgable opinion if that is what you are after.


10 Jocelyn April 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm

oh, and your succulents reminded me of this post from Prudent Baby from years ago and their pretty succulents. They mention just spraying them every so often.


11 Sally from Little Hiccups April 4, 2014 at 11:12 pm

I love the idea of getting goats to come and eat all of the leaf litter in your yard! I remember reading about goats being used to eat the leaf litter and undergrowth in the Berkeley Hills to reduce the risk of wildfires. They’re perfect for hilly areas and they even eat things like poison oak.
Maybe you can get a pet goat! A little while back I walked past a couple sitting outside a cafe in Berkeley and couldn’t work out what kind of dogs they had with them. As I got closer I realised they were dogs at all, they were baby goats! They had them sitting up on their laps at the table while they drank their lattes. A new spin on taking your “kids” out for brunch ;)


12 Tina April 4, 2014 at 11:28 pm

As a landscape architect myself, I highly recommend working with a professional. Even if you can’t implement a plan all at once, at least you have a designed plan to work from.

If it is in your budget, Andrea Cochran is located in San Francisco. Her work is amazing. Or, you can find a landscape architect at Asla.org (click the Firm Finder link on the right hand side of the page)


13 Lauren April 5, 2014 at 1:12 am

The short film was interesting. I grew up in South Carolina with bright red, curly hair. My hair was touched daily by my black classmates, who said it was good luck in their culture to touch red hair. Kind of invasive but I was a kid. I haven’t experienced it as an adult, and think it would feel violating now.


14 Amy3 April 5, 2014 at 6:48 am

Renting goats?! I would totally do that and I don’t even have a yard! (I posted on your recent egg post about my dream of life as an innkeeper with chickens and bees. Goats have always been part of that scenario in my mind.)


15 Valerie April 5, 2014 at 7:39 am

Hmmm…I have been reluctant to look into what is the big deal about Common core and just let things follow their course, with a ‘it will all works out in the end’ attitude but having school- aged children who have been learning addition strategies for the past 7 months and being a scientist( maths/ physics majors, engineering grad school), I felt the need to look into it further.
I have only been reading about it( reading the standards,reading the criticisms about the standards, listening to proponents and opponents) for a few weeks, so it does not make me an expert.
First, I realized that the major opponents are not tin- foil hatters as they had been presented to me: Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram were both part of the validation committee for the Common Core standards and both have refused to sign it( 3 others refused as well).
Dr. Stotsky was the a Senior Associate commissioner in the Massachussets department of Education, who a lead for the former Massachussets standards of education.
Dr. Milgram is a Mathematics professor at Standford( 40 + years).
From what I gather:
-in parts, the standards do not seem developmentally appropriate at elementary
School level,
- they do not prepare children for STEM( were not designed for it per Dr. Zimba’ s own testimony in Indiana),
- some people say the standards are fine, the implementation is wrong others standards are too fuzzy and not real standards,
- several magnets schools do not apply these standards, not good enough for them.
I am just in the learning process here about this entire thing, my son has been scolded for just doing the addition ‘automatically’. I know he understands the ‘concept’, so it does not bother me that after 7 months of this he now has memorized(on his own) addition tables. When he does homework, I make sure he does the ‘drawing’ corresponding to the ‘strategy’ he was supposed to have used but in reality did not.
Sorry for being so long about this. As I said, I wondering what to do here: let go( is it really that bad, monitor quietly, do something( what? Where?), just put my kids in other schools ( how about the people who just can’t do that?).


16 Fiona April 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

My son (2nd grade) refuses to do the,drawings – he gets answers wrong some of the time – and that is when I am stepping in and telling him he has to understands the tools to make corrections.


17 Christy@SweetandSavoring April 5, 2014 at 8:19 am

I love the look of those succulents! And renting out goats (!!) sounds like such a hassle-free solution for cleaning up the yard (providing it’s cost effective).
Oh, speaking of typeface, have you seen the documentary ‘Helvetica’? It’s about typeface and graphic design. I picked it up excitedly last night when my friend and I were picking out DVDs for our movie night, then put it back when I realized that I’m a font nerd and my friend certainly is not. It will be perfect to watch with my husband, though!
Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!


18 leslie April 5, 2014 at 8:24 am

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we have goats for many uses. Cheese is popular, but the vogue treatment for the past 10 years is renting goats to eat the blackberry bushes. Blackberry bushes are so invasive. Goats love to eat them, and they do it quickly and naturally- no heavy equipment needing gas or electricity. Rent a goat!


19 Jessica April 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

Those leaves and branches are wonderful mulch for holding water and nutrients in place within the soil. I totally get clearing them out to make room for other things but maybe move them to a different part of your yard for later use?

You should look into finding a permaculture landscape designer. I’m sure there are tons in California! You could have a beautiful, water-holding, good-for-the-Earth, edible landscape on your property.

Have a great weekend!


20 April O. April 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

Succulents are the best because they thrive on neglect. Don’t give them too much attention, other than to admire their beauty. ;)


21 Lana Cole April 5, 2014 at 11:55 am

Enjoy Conference Weekend!


22 Meg April 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I live in Tucson, AZ and only water my outside succulents once every two weeks even in the driest (3% humidity) winter months. You could probably go 6 weeks or more without watering yours . . .


23 Heather April 5, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Hi Gabrielle! I live in Durham, NC. Using goats to clear overgrowth and kill weeds is starting to get popular here, too. My next-door neighbor rented goats this past fall to eat the English ivy off the tree trunks on her very large, non-landscaped yard. It took them about a week to clear the ivy, and during that time, they lived in penned areas on her property. The owners came out every day to move the fences, feed and water the goats, etc. My kids LOVED hearing and watching the goats, and I think it was fairly affordable. Good luck with your yard!


24 heather April 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Just a note – I live in Idaho and we have had goats and sheep before. They will indeed eat leaves and twigs but they much prefer to eat the leaves right off the trees or live bushes and even the bark. So if you use them find a way to protect your pretty trees. Good luck!


25 Jennifer April 5, 2014 at 10:07 pm


We live in the Midwest, and we have a wooded yard similar to yours. We use a company here that does a controlled burn on our property to clean up leaf litter and dead branches and brush. It also has the added benefit of killing back the poison ivy and other non-native invasives on our property, and bringing back the native wildflowers. I don’t know if Oakland permits controlled burns, but if the city does, I would tell you it is totally the way to go. Hire a professional company and be done in a single day. Save your energy for more productive outdoor projects, because those leaves just keep falling, and falling, and falling.

Good luck!


26 Elizabeth April 6, 2014 at 6:58 am

Re. the goat situation, the first time I heard about it was to clear up kudzu in a local park. Everybody loved it. I haven’t heard of individuals doing it but seems like a plan!
Here is an article about the goats here:


27 Ashley April 6, 2014 at 8:33 am

I appreciated the “You Can Touch My Hair” video. When my daughter was born (she is African-American), I had a dream that her older self came home from Kindergarten in tears from our predominately caucasian school because her classmates would not stop touching her hair.
She is in preschool right now, and receives a lot of attention for her hair, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. I often see adults at the school, at church, and in our extended family absently reaching out to touch her curls, accompanied with an onslaught of good-natured questions. (She has grade 4a hair…more about natural hair grades here: http://blackgirllonghair.com/2012/03/natural-hair-type-guide-which-type-are-you/).
It has been a fascinating learning curve for me (white, with thin, straight hair) and caring for it (along with the thoughts and feelings that accompany it), is actually a major part of our lives. It sounds strange, but I have learned so much as a mom from learning to love her hair. I imagine she will have to take a similar journey to associate it with a beautiful part of herself rather than a vehicle for pain on detangling day!


28 Traci April 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I love the replacement plants. Good luck!


29 Katie April 6, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I showed the slider to my videographer hubbie, thanks for sharing! He also recommended checking out http://moveyourcamera.ambitiousme.com/ for an inexpensive option that your kids might like messing around with.


30 mary April 7, 2014 at 7:41 am

As a landscape architect in the Midwest, please don’t be intimidated by them. Spend some time making phone calls or checking out websites and you’ll find one that is a perfect fit for you and your family. Just like interiors, materials, textures, colors, etc., are endless and there are always plenty of DIY opportunities, too.


31 Liv April 7, 2014 at 9:27 am

My husband is obsessed with having pack goats so when we moved down by Capitol Reef in Utah two years ago we finally had enough space and adopted two baby goats- Bob and Bill Monroe- I hated trying to keep them out of our neighbors gardens and I’m sure there’s still a little resentment after Bob ate the Coleman’s tree but man, those goats sure take care of the weeds and we’ll tie them up in a particular part of the yard to keep the lawn from getting out of control. Our cute little old neighbor lady borrows them to eat up her dandelions-


32 Christine April 7, 2014 at 10:46 am

I love seeing goats on hillsides eating weeds and overgrown plants. I see them often on the 580 hill side of the oakland zoo and also by the Joaquin miller park.


33 Christine April 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Rompers… Bonds, iconic Australian brand, make an awesome romper:


Double zipped with inbuilt mittens and the feet are a similar mechanism so once they start walking you can turn the feet over and no more slipping over :D


34 Yolanda April 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Hi Gabrielle,

A few years ago our property was very overgrown, and not the kind of yard you could just knock out in a weekend. So we rented goats. Here is the goat rental company we used (we live in Oakland, near Oak Knoll)


And here is the my friend’s account of what happened….not for the faint of heart. Make sure you have a way to protect the plantings you don’t want them to eat. Also, ask about leaf litter. They may only like live forage. Good luck!



35 suzanne April 7, 2014 at 10:25 pm

hi gabrielle!
we live right over the hills from you in orinda! we, too, have a large yard. when we moved in 5 years ago it was an overgrown jungle. quite intimidating! we did end up hiring a landscape architect because we really needed a master plan for such a large space. we knew we would have to tackle the yard in stages and we needed someone to help us figure that out, with a big picture in mind.
i love seeing the progress on your beautiful home. looking forward to seeing the yard someday, too! best of luck to you!


36 Yolanda April 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm

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