Design Mom » France The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 14 Mar 2014 17:33:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Olive Us: Visiting a French Market Thu, 06 Mar 2014 19:05:18 +0000 Design Mom

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my! This episode of Olive Us, called How to Visit a French Market, makes me homesick for France like crazy. The market in our town took place at the base of the local cathedral, which made for a magnificent backdrop while we picked out our vegetables. But the coolest thing, is that the market had been taking place in that same spot, by that same cathedrals for centuries. Literally centuries!

Catherdral + Market in Argentan France

In fact, early on in our stay we stopped at a vide grenier (a town yard sale) and found this very old lithograph showing our very same cathedral with a market scene happening. Isn’t that the coolest? It’s one of my favorite souvenirs from our time in France. You can see more closeups of the print here and here. (Bonus: is was 2 euros.)

Related to shopping at the market, for months I’ve been working on a separate post about French food — what we missed, what habits we’ve continued since we got back — that sort of thing. I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to finish it up. I suppose it’s partly because I keep getting emotional when I work on it. : ) Anyway, shopping at the market featured in this video is definitely one of the things I miss. We went dozens and dozens of times and it never lost its charm.

I hope you enjoy the video! And I’d love to know: Do you have access to a good local market where you live? There are great ones here in Oakland and we love when we make time to go. And if you’ve been to France, did you get the chance to visit an outdoor market?

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Olive Us has a really charming Instagram stream. You should totally subscribe!
- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.

- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us — including every episode — here.
- We’ve made 44 episodes so far and collaborated with ulive on 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

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Olive Us: Pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel Wed, 22 Jan 2014 17:18:05 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images by Ben Blair.

Oh man. This episode is an epic one. Here’s a little back story. When people visit the region of Normandy (which is where we lived in France, and where our little cottage is), the number one thing they want to see is Mont St. Michel. And while we were there, we visited this legendary island at least a dozen times.

Every time we approached, there was this moment where we all of a sudden notice the castle-looking structure off in the distance — across fields of sheep — and our breath catches. And then, as we get closer and closer, there is this feeling of wonder.

We loved visiting Mont St. Michel, wandering it’s tiny street and stairways, walking along the beach and exploring the boulders that surround the whole island, sitting quietly in the Abbey garden at the very top, taking in the views on the approach, and the views from high up on the mount. It’s a special place.


So we weren’t too surprised when we learned it was one of the key pilgrimage sites for Christians. Makes sense! When we found out our local friend (and knowledgeable historian), Mark, had made the week long pilgrimage several times — going by foot from our town of Argentan to Mont St. Michel, and staying in gites (which are homes in the countryside that rent out a room for the night) along the way, we were intrigued! The idea of making a pilgrimage, a walking one, with a slow approach, was so appealing to both me and Ben Blair, and we talked about it a lot, and I wrote a post about it here.

Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us

So getting to film this episode was simply a treasure. Mark acted as our guide, finding the prettiest routes and giving history lessons as we went. As you’ll notice in the episode, we learned that King Arthur legends have a place in Normandy as well as England, and that some people believe Arthur is buried along the pilgrimage trail — visiting his possible burial site was such an experience!

I feel like there’s so much I could share about this video, but for now, I just hope you watch it and enjoy it.

And if you’ve ever visited Mont St. Michel, I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to know if anyone out there has made a religious pilgrimage before. Pilgrimages aren’t really a part of my religious upbringing, but they hold such an appeal for me. I hope to make one some day!

Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us — including every episode — here.
- We’ve made 44 episodes so far and collaborated with ulive on 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

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Olive Us: Painting in Honfleur Wed, 18 Dec 2013 19:39:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Oh. This episode is one of my favorites! About an hour north of our little town in France, you’ll find the village of Honfleur. It’s a small fishing town that is such a delight to visit! (I wrote about it here .)

We spent many lovely afternoons in Honfleur. It’s near the beaches of Deauville, and we loved taking our visitors who had already seen all the “big” sights in France and were looking for something less known.

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

One thing we learned about Honfleur is that it’s considered the birthplace of Impressionism. Monet and Boudin painted here and it became a meeting place for their contemporaries. Fantastic, right? And if you visit, it’s easy to see why — the light in the little town is extraordinary. (Laurie White helped us with the research — her Great Artist program is terrific!)

So we thought it would be fun to make an episode about painting “en plein air“, and share what it’s like to visit Honfleur for the day. I hope you enjoy it!

Tell me friends, do you bring paints or a sketchbook with you when you travel? Have you ever tried painting en plein air? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us here.
- We’ve made 44 episodes so far and collaborated with ulive on 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

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Peace Day Installation Fri, 27 Sep 2013 14:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

Peace Day Normandy Installation

By Gabrielle. Images from MSN.

Several readers sent me the link to reports of this impactful Peace Day installation on the Normandy D-Day Beaches. You may have seen it already, as I know it’s making the rounds on Facebook. But I wanted to post it here too, because it’s so good, and because I feel so connected to those beaches. And mostly, I love that someone thought of this and made it happen.

The installation featured 9,000 silhouettes of fallen soldiers, made with simple stencils and rakes. And the overall effect is devastating. Maybe even more so, knowing that at the end of the day, the silhouettes washed away with the tide.

I would have loved to see it in person, but I’m grateful for the excellent photos.

Have you ever had the chance to visit the D-Day beaches? Such a beautiful and solemn place.

Peace Day D-Day Installation

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The 5th (and Last) Six Months in France Thu, 15 Aug 2013 14:30:37 +0000 Design Mom

Le Menil Scelleur

By Gabrielle.

Here it is! This is the final post in the 5-part mini-series about our time in France. I’ve been meaning to share it for two weeks now. (These last two weeks! They’ve been full and good, and overwhelming too.) But even though this post has been delayed, today is actually a fitting day to share this finale report about our time in France. Because one month ago today, we said our teary goodbyes and flew from Paris to San Francisco. One month ago!

When I am able to sit still for a moment here and there, I get terribly homesick.

(But don’t feel too bad for me. Tomorrow, I’ll share photos of the house here in Oakland. It’s awesome!)

During our last six months in France, I tried to share lots of posts about small details of French life, and we took two big trips — both North. Here’s the full report:

We marked two years in France. And a gardener power-cleaned the cobblestones at La Cressonnière.

We talked about working with a time difference. And we discussed homeopathie in France.

We shared Stacking Wood, which was filmed right at the farmhouse. It’s another one of our most popular Olive Us episodes. We also took you on a visit to a French cider farm. And talked about the famed local French lace.

A section of the stone wall at the farmhouse crumbled and was repaired by a stonemason. And we put an offer on The Cottage in France!

We took a last-minute roadtrip to Ireland! Small update here. Full report here.

winter walk08

We lived through the extended winter. We snapped photos on a late winter walk in our neighborhood. And then got snowed in. And then got drenched! Also, Ralph made a little movie of the kids picking blackberries. And Ben Blair turned 40!

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

We shared 5 Fabulous French Souvenirs under $5. And talked about Easter Candy in France.

Embroidery and France

We discussed embroidery in France. What kind of music the local kids were listening to. And postcards in France.

Oscar Blair

We took my parents touring around the D-Day sites and William the Conquerer spots, and Oscar was baptized in the stream near our house!

Amsterdam | Design Mom07

We went to Amsterdam for a video shoot. In fact, from April to June, we filmed 17 more episodes of Olive Us (these haven’t been shared yet, but they’re coming soon!). Another little report from Amsterdam here. And the full report, titled 5 Things to Remember for Your Trip to Amsterdam.

Little Red Riding Hood |

We celebrated May Day with our neighbors. And shared Little Red Riding Hood (in French!).

kayaking in the fjords08

We went to Norway to celebrate Ben Blair’s Fjordieth! Little hellos from Norway here and here and here. And a write-up about kayaking in the fjords here. (Oh my goodness, I just realized I haven’t even written up a full report about our trip yet. Hah!)

paris - spring 2013

We did a little filming in Paris. The wisteria made it’s appearance. And we visited Chateau Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conquerer.

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

We gave another report (our last one) about schools in France. And visited our town’s vide grenier (town yard sale). We also shared 5 Financial Tips When Moving Abroad.

converted french mill

We closed on The Cottage! And we found an amazing architect to work on the renovation.

apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

We spent a Saturday zip-lining in the Suisse-Normande. And we listed La Cressonnière for rent.

gabrielle blair alt summit

I went to New York for Alt Summit NYC. And we announced we were moving to Oakland.


We talked about how we shop and eat in France. And we harvested the peonies for the third and last time.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

We shared 5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. And we spent the 4th of July at the D-Day Beaches.

French Grandmother

We started packing up. And ended up with 32 pieces of luggage/bags. We said some goodbyes. And the day we flew out? We shared the first post in this 5-part series.


And that wraps it up! What a time we had!!

Thank you so much for indulging me while I’ve re-lived our time in France. I already treasure these re-cap posts! And I’ve referred to them when I want to remember the timeline or when I’m feeling nostalgic. They are my proof that we lived life fully while we were there and took advantage of everything we had access to. No regrets.

And here’s to the next adventure!

P.S. — If you’re curious, you can read all 5 reports here.


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The 4th Six Months in France Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is number 4 out of five posts in this mini-series about our time in France (here are posts one, two and three). It covers the months of August 2012 through January 2013, and includes trips to London, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Paris and Venice.

These months were not so long ago and the memories are still really fresh! It was wonderful to relive our adventures as I wandered through my archives.

I think I’ll get right to it.

Before we were done with jet lag from our month in the U.S., we jumped in the car for a road trip to the London Olympics. An amazing trip!

Shortly after our trip, my Grandma Rudi passed away. : (

We started looking at French cottages. And then we got more serious about the search.

We spent some of our August afternoons at the beach. And we expanded the Design Mom team.

I went to New York for the first Alt Summit NYC. Full report here.

A few hours after I arrived home from New York, we once again jumped in the car for a spontaneous road trip — this time to Switzerland! Mini report here. Full report here (plus 6 tips for last minute road trips). And don’t forget Swiss stacked wood!

We reported on our visit to Haras du Pin. And we made an Olive Us episode about buying eggs from our neighbor.

What to Wear to 1st Grade

We featured our second set of Euro Edition What to Wear to School posts: Olive, Oscar, Maude, Ralph, Betty. We discussed how to Layer Like the French. And we finished our school supply shopping.

euro s'mores

We cleaned the kitchen. Discovered a local hike. And continued our French cottage search. We made Euro S’mores.

announced my trip to Ethiopia with #OneMoms. And wrote lots of dispatches and reports from that life changing trip: arrivalonetwothreefour, what happens next, about the medical system, the brand of Ethiopia, plus Ethiopian souvenirs.

My Grandma Lucille died. : (

I went to New York to speak at Martha Stewart’s American Made event. (Martha tweeted out our panel!) We made spooky scarecrows.

We mourned with the rest of the world about Hurricane Sandy. We spent another week filming Olive Us episodes. We ate dinner at an Abbey that’s a thousand years old. Spent a Saturday in Paris — including a visit to the Centre Pompidou and a ride on the Ferris Wheel. And prepped for our second Thanksgiving in France.

french pharmacy picks

I shared a third round up of French Pharmacy Picks.

We went on a Christmas Tree Hunt. Used our front window to make an Advent Calendar. And discussed stylish last-minute grocery store gifts. Visited the outdoor Christmas Market in Rouen.

Venice | Design Mom13

Then, we went to Venice for the Christmas break! We arrived on New Year’s Eve and celebrated with the whole city. We took a gondola ride. We visited the island of Murano. You can read a full report here.

We bought French linens as a souvenir. (The night we found those linens, we attended an art show in Saint Pierre Sur Dives, and happened upon a Christmas market and parade that took our breath away. I never wrote it up. It was one of those experiences that was so special, I wanted to keep it to myself. Sort of hold it in my heart.) We attended our second Kings Cake celebration.

We shared Betty in Paris — it’s the most viewed episode of Olive Us.

I went to Salt Lake City for Alt Summit 2013, which included hanging out with Jessica Alba! What I wore to the conference. Another mini report here. A post about Chris Anderson’s keynote. A post about Stefan Sagmeister’s keynote. A post about the FashionABLE scarf contest at Alt Summit.

And then, I made my way home.

I have to say, that particular set of 6 months really stands out to me as special. The Olympics and Switzerland and Venice were huge highlights among our travels! I imagine I’ll be re-reading this post whenever I’m homesick for our time abroad.

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The 3rd Six Months in France Wed, 24 Jul 2013 16:00:24 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Here is the 3rd report (of five) in my Adventures in France mini-series (here’s number one and two). This covers February through July of 2012. The thing that stands out to me about this report is the Olive Us series. We started that project fairly casually during this time period, and had no idea what a life-changer it would become for us.

I hope you enjoy the report!

We celebrated Chandeleur (the French crepe-eating holiday that was replaced by Groundhog Day in the U.S.). Experienced a rare Normandy snow day. Survived a frozen-pipes-record-breaking-cold-spell.

We talked more about French parenting. We learned about La Petite Souris (a little mouse that comes to French children instead of the toothfairy). And we talked about how French kids eat everything.

I introduced Love the Place You Live and shared images of a chapel turned art space and gathering space.

We visited a lesser known WWII site called Mount Ormel. This is very close to where we lived and was the location of the last battle before the Allies marched down the Champs Élysées, freeing Paris.

We attended Nuit Blanche in Paris (the all-night art exhibit that ranges across the city).

We shared tips on prepping for a family photo shoot.

We shared more French Pharmacy Picks. Got advice from our favorite French pharmacist on how to care for Ben Blair’s beard. And talked about the oldest pharmacy in Florence.

Visit to Chartres03

We visited Chartres Cathedral.

We featured our favorite local antique shop (called a brocante). Attended the Mardi Gras parade at school. And attended a community philosophy lecture + dinner.

We grew nostalgic over some of our travels and remembered handmade shoes in Barcelona and charming bikes in Italy.

We made an Easter Tree. Marked Babar’s (the famous French elephant) 80th Anniversary. Gave a language learning report. And talked about the family car we drove in France.

We went to Stonehenge in England — just a short over-the-weekend trip.

Easter Egg Hunt at Eiffel Tower01

We had an Easter Egg Hunt at the Eiffel Tower. Full report + photos here. And we finally climbed to the top of the tower, too! Here are our 4 tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower with kids.

We went to Rome — arriving on Easter Sunday! We ate lots of gelato. Visited the Sistene Chapel. And saw all the sites. Here’s our post on Rome With Kids: 7 Don’t Miss Activities, where we report about our trip.

We dreamed up Ben Blair’s Fjordieth. Started shooting Olive Us. (This is epic!) Explored a local cider farm. Said goodbye to my sister when she moved home from Paris. Sad face.

We decided to stay in France one more year, or 2 1/2 years total. We gave lilies of the valley on May Day. I went to Miami for Mom 2.0.

We launched Olive Us! Here’s the post about the very first episode. As I mentioned above, this turned out to be a game changer for us. We ended up filming 41 episodes over our remaining time in France (we’ve shared 24 so far).

I went to Berlin, Germany where I was the Keynote Speaker at The Hive conference.

Deauville, France | Design Mom

My niece, Roxcy, stayed with us during March, April and May. To end her 3-months on a high note, we had an epic last weekend — we made a trip to the Loire Valley, took a special visit to the American Military Cemetery in Normandy for Memorial Day, and spent a day in Deauville and Honfleur.

We reported on a local Vide Grenier. And wrapped up our school year with another school report. We went nuts for the fields of poppies — and shared a tutorial on how to preserve them.

New lavender shrubs were planted at La Cressonnière. We shared our graham cracker substitute. Talked about stamped cookies. And what a visit to a French Bakery is like.

Then, we flew to America to spend the month of July! During our month in the U.S., we spent the 4th of July at a Blair Reunion. Took the kids to a Maynard Dixon exhibit.

The Story of Kish - A video by OliveUs.TV

We filmed 8 episodes of Olive Us all over Utah. A red rock car wash, an ancient desert epic, a ghost town tour by Zion National Park. Rock climbing in Rock Canyon, a pottery lesson in Central Utah. And a mountain picnic in Cache Valley — the very northernmost part of the State.

Then we went to Colorado, where we helped our cousins clean up a toilet-papering prank. And mourned with fellow-citizens in Aurora.

On July 30th, we flew back to France.

And that completes the 3rd six months we spent in France. These posts continue to be therapeutic for me. It’s so good to take time and remember what we did. And it reassures me we took full advantage of our time there.

Does anything from this report stand out to you?

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The 2nd Six Months in France Sat, 20 Jul 2013 16:00:00 +0000 Design Mom


Images and text by Gabrielle (except the last one).

Here’s the second post in my mini-series about our adventures in France. (You can find the first one here.) The second half of our first year in France included a lot more local exploration, and visits to Spain, Belgium and Germany as well. I should note, at the time, we thought we would only be spending one year total in France, so there was definitely a now-or-never feeling to our plans. Take a peek:


We visited the Army Ranger WWII Memorial at Pointe du Hoc. It’s the most impactful war site I’ve ever visited.


We adopted French-made espadrilles into our wardrobe. Took a summer hike in the Swiss-Normande region of France. Ooohed and aahed over the fields of sunflowers. And shared our take on topless beaches in France.

(June took her first steps! And I talked about work-life balance.)


We shared Oscar & Betty’s bedroom. And some photos of the gardens at La Cressonnière in summer.

We made more visits to Mont St. Michel — this time we walked around the beaches surrounding the mont.

We discovered the public drinking fountains in Paris. Gathered wild blackberries near our home. And made hollyhock dolls.

We took a cooking class taught by Susan Loomis in Louviers, France. We went to a local amusement park (called Festyland) for Olive’s birthday.


And we took the kids to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.


We featured our annual What to Wear to School posts — Euro Edition. See Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, and Betty. Plus, school supplies in France. And a few months into the new school year, we made another school report.


We visited Monet’s Gardens at Giverny.

Ben and I went to Florence, Italy (sans kids!) — here’s the trip report. And we also stopped by Pisa where we were wowed by the Leaning Tower.


As soon as we arrived home from Italy, we loaded up the kids for an epic road trip to Barcelona. This trip included a visit to 15,000 year old Cave Paintings, a night in the medieval city of Carcassonne (which I never even wrote about). And a visit to Sagrada Familia, easily my favorite cathedral ever. Here’s a full post about our Barcelona road trip.

We gathered walnuts from our backyard. And the kids watched a calf being born in our neighbor’s field. We harvested pears from our yard. Enjoyed the orchard across the street. Examined other local berries. (And Ben Blair grew a beard!)

We had our first Thanksgiving in France, including an adventure with a turkey. And we bought a painting from a favorite local artist.

We visited Paris to see the Christmas Shops on the Champs Élysées. Decorated with fresh holly from our yard, and French Industrial ornaments found in the barn. (More ornaments here.) Oh, and we had our best Nativity program yet.

We had a memorable Vintage Car photo shoot — more pictures from that shoot here. And we eventually ended up buying the car!

During the holiday break, we took a Waffle Tour through Belgium.

After the waffle tour, we spent time in Cologne, Germany.

This was big: We decided to extend our stay in France by six months! (The original plan was one year.) And we enjoyed a King Cake celebration with neighbors.

I shared French pharmacy picks. and talked a little about French Parenting.

And the last big event during our first full year in France? I went to Alt Summit in Salt Lake City. Here’s a full report.

And there it is. Post number two of five in this mini-series. It’s been so fun for me to go through my archives and relive these adventures! I hope you’re enjoying it too.

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The First Six Months Mon, 15 Jul 2013 16:00:43 +0000 Design Mom


Images and text by Gabrielle.

I know. I know. I need to stop talking about moving. But I can’t help it! It’s taking up every square inch of my brain at the moment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve occasionally felt a pang of regret at some small thing we haven’t done during our time in France. And finally, I had to stop and remind myself that we absolutely jumped in with both feet and have taken advantage of every possible opportunity. No regrets!

I thought it would be fun to write up a mini-series of posts covering some of the adventures we’ve had since we moved here. It’s been a nice round 2 1/2 years, I’m going to break it into 5 posts covering 6 months each. I hope you enjoy the mini-series. And thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane!

la cressonniere hallway

We flew to France on February 1st, 2011. And started to get to know the house, La Cressonnière — we introduced the tree house, we shared the halfbath (I still find it so charming!), we shared Olive’s bedroom, too. But it actually turned out to be Ralph’s room, when he suddenly outgrew the bed in his first room! We talked about the floors, and showed off the gorgeous kitchen. We also learned more about the artists that worked in the studio here at La Cressonnière.

french ceramic yogurt container

We started to explore our community — we learned to shop for food in France, and discovered our first French licorice. We gave our initial French school report, we met our neighbors, and started discovering French clothing stores for kids. Oh. And we discovered the yogurt aisle!

chateau carrouges

We found a castle very near our home. We started exploring brocantes. We were amazed at the countryside covered in wild daffodils.

Winged Victory eiffel tower picnic

And we started exploring further from home as well. We spent our first touristy weekend in Paris as a family — day number one & day number two.


Then, Maude & I went to London on a ferry across The English Channel for her 12th birthday.

mont st michel mont st michel

We made our first visit (of many) to the legendary Mont St. Michel. Which included a visit to a small military cemetery nearby.

House Hunters International  |  Design Mom

Oh. And we shot an episode of House Hunters International. (It aired a few months later. So fun!)

ornate mirror la cressonnière

We shared more of La Cressonnière — we gave a photo tour of the stairwell, posted about the amazing exterior, and shared photos of the living room. We toured the studio, watched the wisteria come in, shared Maude’s bedroom —which since turned into Betty & June’s bedroom. We shared Ralph’s room, too (which later became Oscar’s room).

ribbons on trellis laduree macarons

We hosted an big Easter Egg Hunt. (Posts herehere and here and here. Including 100 Laduree Macarons!)

buying eggs

We explored more of the French countryside. We bought eggs from our neighbor. We discussed laundry and ironing in France. We were amazed at the wild poppies. (Fun fact: The spring is so delayed this year, that the poppies are in bloom right now!) And we made our second report about school.

New Orleans Shop Sign

I went to New Orleans (my first visit!) for the Mom 2.0 conference.

rafting on the dordogne

We drove to the Dordogne region of France and canoed. While we were there, we also went to the famed Marquessac Gardens.

June Blair 1st Birthday

(Baby June turned one!)

tulip fields

We went to Amsterdam — posts about Vondelpark, the city and the tulips!

I went to Sweden on a business trip.

(Baby June weaned.)

le 104 carousel
French Open Final

We had 3 weekends in a row in Paris. First, I met my friend Megan and wandered the Luxembourg Gardens. Then we took the kids to visit The 104 in Paris. And finally, Ben and I had a weekend — just us — including tickets to the French Open Final!

chateau medavy

We had French Greys family photos. Maude spent several days in the hospital with pneumonia. We were invited to a French Country Wedding. We harvested cherries from the back yard. (They’re still not ripe yet this year!) We discovered another local chateau, called Medavy.

We started thinking about real estate in France.

Design Mom turned five!


In July, we made two trips to the D-Day beaches.

london tower HP7P2

Then, we took a family roadtrip to London, and saw the Harry Potter finale on opening night — here are photos of the city, and the Tower of London. Yes, Ben Blair drove on the opposite side of the road. (Would you dare? I don’t think I would!)

tour de france

And the finale of our first six months in France? We went to Paris for the Tour de France finish on the Champs Elysees. Fabulous!!

What do you think? London twice, Paris at least 4 times, Sweden, New Orleans, the Dordogne Region, the French Open… Could we have fit in anything else? : ) Does anything in particular stand out to you about the first 6 months?

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A Few Things Sun, 14 Jul 2013 18:02:09 +0000 Design Mom

French Grandmother

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. I’m typing this on Sunday evening. I intended to publish it on Friday as usual, but the week slipped by so fast! I’m not even sure what to say today. I feel like my mind is in a sort of suspended animation, because I’m not quite ready to process what this move means. What our time in France has been. What our time in Oakland will become. So I’m just concentrating on things like luggage weight restrictions and last loads of laundry instead. Have you ever been in that kind of head space?

While I practice my best mental avoidance techniques, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

Ramadan - When and What to Eat.

Wheatgrass ice cubes for blemishes.

How to Learn to Dance in a Year. So cool!

Turn a summer day into a celebration with homemade popsicles.

Human-powered helicopter.

Three year old photographer. For reals.

bedroom for an 8-year-old with modern touches of yellow.

The perils of giving kids IQ tests.

Readers sent in footage of the quietest spots in NYC.

Great ideas for a camping themed party!

I hope you’ve been having a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow (that’s Monday). I miss you already.


P.S. — As soon as I hit publish, we’re off to say goodbye to The Cottage and to take some photos — I still haven’t shared a proper tour yet. So many goodbyes! School friends, favorite views, the treehouse, neighbors, familiar drives, ancient architecture, the cows in field next door… The photo at top pictures Marie. She has been the French language and culture tutor for our kids, and she had us over for cake and a proper goodbye. So sweet I can hardly stand it.

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]]> 15
Packing Up Tue, 09 Jul 2013 09:32:13 +0000 Design Mom

cat in the entry

Image and text by Gabrielle

Last week I was confidently telling Ben Blair that packing up would be a snap, and that we’d be able to spend this last week in France relaxing in this gorgeous home. Hah! Today my confidence is less confident. I forget so easily how quickly “stuff” accumulates. Let’s take schoolwork for example. Think of all the schoolwork your child brought home this year. Now times that by 6 kids. Now times that by 2 1/2 school years. That’s a lot of stuff!

So we’re going through the stacks of notebooks and binders, and trying to make wise decisions on what to keep and what we won’t miss. And we’re helping the kids sort through their emotions about saying goodbye to things that might feel precious at the moment, but will be forgotten shortly. Then, figuring out if it’s better to ship the keepers to California, or if we can make room in our allotted luggage without going over airline weight limits. And that’s just the school stuff. : )

Oh man, I can not wait till the packing is done. I am plowing through it as quickly as possible because it’s my least favorite thing.

But it’s not just the packing, I’m quite the basket case this week. Trying to pack. Trying to get my blog work done and my Alt Summit work done (Alt Summit SF is next week!). Desperately trying to be present during these last days before our move.

Honestly, I don’t remember feeling this emotional about a move before. There’s so much in my head, and I want to write about it, but feel like I won’t have time for weeks. I’m craving more hours in the day in the worst way.

Tell me, Friends. Have you had a particularly challenging move? Share your horror stories, and your most beautiful/hopeful moments mid-move. I’m sure I’m not alone!

P.S. — Please forgive me if posts are late this week, or if I can’t respond to comments as quickly as I’d like to. I’m doing my best, I promise. : )

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]]> 48
5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5 Wed, 03 Jul 2013 14:26:05 +0000 Design Mom


Text and images by Gabrielle.

We are moving back to the U.S. so soon! We’re down to less than two weeks, and I can hardly believe it. Today, I started organizing our belongings into “Donate,” “Keep at The Cottage,” and “Bring Back The States” And it made me realize it’s time to stock up on gifts for friends and family, plus French staples that we’ll want to have in the U.S..

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5

A few months ago, I shared 5 ideas for fun, inexpensive souvenirs you can find at French grocery stores. And today, I’ve got five more ideas! As I pack up for our move, I’ll be filling one of our suitcases with items like these.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

First up, simple ceramic bowls and dishes. Every grocery store has a kitchen aisle with all sorts of various ceramics. My favorites are the footed bowls in every shade of the rainbow. We call them hot cocoa bowls at our house, because we were taught that French children drink their morning chocolat chaude from these lovely little bowls. They are very French! And can be found in different sizes and colors for about 1 euro ($1.25) each.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

But it’s not just bowls! You can find all sorts of small bakeable ceramic dishes in varying shapes and sizes. I like the ones pictured for their delicate shade of blue/grey. You can use them to bake individual portions, or for creme brulée, or just as small dishes for ingredient prep. Again, they run about 1 euro each.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

Stack them up, add a bow, and they make a fabulous souvenir! You could even fill them with French salt as an added bonus.

french 5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

The second idea is candy. That’s a no brainer, right? But the candy that’s boxed and promoted as a gift can be quite expensive. So I recommend buying some favorites that come in not-that-pretty packaging, and transferring them to a cellophane bag instead.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

My three picks: 1) Salted Caramels. Since salt and dairy are French specialities, you can bet they take pride in their salted caramels. Even the inexpensive ones are delicious! The ones pictured are made in France and don’t have any branding on their wrappers. So they look great in a cellophane bag. These caramels run about $2.50.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom 5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

2) Vichy mints. These are classic. Again, they’re very French with a distinctive shape and branding.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

I always keep these in my handbag for quick breath freshening. They’re not too strong and have that perfect texture somewhere between crispy and chalky. A bag runs about $2.00.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom 5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

3) Licorice gums. Reglisse, which means licorice, is a very popular flavor in France. In fact, you can even find reglisse ice cream! So this is another candy that feels super French.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

The texture of these is nice and chewy — more chewy than an American gum drop. And the flavor is perfection, at least, if you’re a licorice fan. : ) Luckily, my kids don’t favor black licorice, so when we buy these, Ben Blair and I get to eat the whole bag ourselves. A bag runs about $2.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

The third idea can be found in the grocery store near the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. French stores offer lots of little paper containers for serving individual portions. I love these! And think they make a great gift for anyone in your life who has a thing for party supplies. They can be used for all sorts of things — like party favor holders, dessert dishes, or to organize your jewelry drawer.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

Repackage them in cellophane, add a bow and you’re all set. Little cartons like these are around 2 euros (or $2.50) for the whole package.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

The fourth souvenir idea is a good one for school age kids, teens, or even adults. Head to the school supply aisle and pick up a fountain pen, and a famed Rhodia notebook. Every French student uses both of these. They are an absolute fixture in French schools.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

The pens comes in many designs and colors and they include 2 ink cartridges. (I recommend picking up a bag of ink refills while you’re there.) The pens are about $2 each.

Rhodia notebooks are a French staple. They come in various shapes and sizes, but they’re always the signature golden yellow/orange, and the pages are always small graph lines. A pen and a notebook together make a fun and very French gift.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

I think you might laugh at idea number five, but it’s a really good one for foodies! There are tons of amazing and famous French foods but they can be tricky as gifts. For example, foie gras would make an excellent French souvenir for a foodie, but even tiny containers are usually priced starting at $10 and up. And the Normandy butter is out of this world, but how do you transport butter? French mustard is amazing too, but packing up a glass bottle can cause stress. So when I’m looking for foodie souvenirs, I favor items in tin cans. And my favorite pick… is Sardines!

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

Confession: I don’t actually like to eat sardines. But the packaging is so fabulous, that I end up buying them anyway. Hah! Some come in oil, some in tomato sauce, some with herbs. But they’re all very inexpensive at around $2.50 each. And the cans are so handsome, they are pretty much irresistible.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

Stack two or three, add a bow, and you’ve got yourself a souvenir any foodie would love!

There you have it. Five more French souvenirs under $5. Hopefully, between this post and the last one, you’ll be covered on your next trip to France. You’ll buy gifts for everyone you know without eating up your entire travel budget!

And now I’d love to hear. What did I miss? What would you add? And when are you headed to France?

P.S. — When you’re in the school supply aisle picking up a fountain pen, don’t miss the elastic closure and belt closure folders. I adore these! I’m bringing home a stack of them. If you have a friend who crushes on office supplies, these would make a great gift!

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

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How We Shop & Eat in France – Follow Up Wed, 26 Jun 2013 15:30:47 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Way back in February of 2011, the very same month we moved here, I wrote a post about how we shop and eat in France. That post is still very accurate — especially my list of notes at the end — but I thought it would be fun to give an update now that we’re heading into our last 3 weeks of living here (we move on July 15th). Once again I’ll make a list because lists are my favorite for organizing my thoughts.

rainbow veggies

- We no longer buy fresh milk from the farmer’s market — because we buy it from our neighbor instead! : ) We leave a traditional milk can at the barn door, and then swing by later to pick it up, all full. This is raw milk, unpasteurized, and really, really creamy. Some of our French friends recommend that you heat it till just before boiling to kill off any germs. Others say it’s fine to drink it raw. We’ve risked it and consumed it without heating with no ill effects, though we’re just as likely to use it for baking, cooking or hot cocoa, which means it’s getting heated anyway.

We also buy milk in plastic bottles from the grocery store. One thing that’s funny for Americans to get used to: the bottled milk isn’t refrigerated! And it will sit happily on your pantry shelves for months. Note: you can get refrigerated milk, but there is a very small selection compared to the options with a longer shelf life. We like to keep a stock of the store-bought milk so that we always have a ready supply on hand even if we didn’t have time to run to the neighbor’s house. Or for those times when we realize we’re out of fresh milk on a Sunday — which is considered a family day, when it’s bad form to visit your neighbors.

- We also buy eggs from a different neighbor. I’ve written about that here, and there’s an Olive Us episode about it as well. The eggs are really, really fresh! And the yolks aren’t even a little bit yellow — they’re bright orange instead. Eggs are not refrigerated in France, they’re kept on the counter. But I confess, we tried counter storage for several months after we moved here, and then put the eggs to the fridge when we were heading on a vacation, and somehow never moved them back to the counter. Hah! I guess some habits are hard to change.

Just like with milk, we sometimes buy eggs from the grocery store too — because our schedule and our neighbor’s schedule don’t always align just right. One other note on eggs: for boiled eggs, we actually prefer the grocery store eggs. From what we can tell, older eggs peel more easily when boiled.

French grocery store

- During our time in Colorado, we spent some time focusing on eating “healthy”. I put the word “healthy” in quotes because it’s become to clear to me that healthy means vastly different things to different people (remember this discussion?). In Colorado, for our family, part of eating “healthy” meant limiting the meat we consumed to 2 or 3 meals a week, and cutting down on animal products in general. We ate heavy on the grains instead.

But in France, as you can probably guess from the mentions of milk and eggs, we eat an animal based diet. We eat dairy, eggs and meat at virtually every meal. Don’t worry, we eat lots of fruits and vegetables too! But we are far from vegan or vegetarian. Honestly, I can only think of one vegetarian I’ve met in my entire time here — the daughter of my friend, Caroline — and apparently she’s not that strict about it. And I’ve truly never heard of a vegan here! Frankly, Normandy butter is so good that it might be impossible/illegal to be a vegan in this region. (Joking, of course!) We eat far less grains, though we do enjoy an almost daily baguette.

No doubt, things are different in Paris (I feel like Paris stands apart from the rest of France, in the same way that New York isn’t really representative of the U.S. as a whole), but in the countryside, eating “healthy” includes consuming lots of animal products. And we have intentionally tried to adopt local eating habits as part of our experience of living in France.

- Speaking of meat, it’s very fresh. For example, when we need ground beef for bolognaise sauce, we head to the butcher — either a dedicated shop or the butcher within our grocery store — and place an order. We then see the butcher go to a carcass hanging in the back (think: Rocky), slice off a section of meat, and grind it right then and there. Another example is our Thanksgiving turkey, which was killed and prepared especially for us the day before Thanksgiving. You can read the full story here.

French raspberry tarte

- We’re less likely to eat food from other cultures. In America, it’s so common to eat Italian one night, Vietnamese another, and Mexican on Taco Tuesdays. But in France, that’s far less common. The French mostly eat French food. (Again, Paris can be different.). The typical mid-day meal consists of a main course meat with a sauce and 2 different vegetables. Of course, you can get things like stir fry ingredients, but eating something like that as part of regular menu would be unusual.

- We still enjoy shopping at the Farmers Market, but we buy lots of produce from the big grocery store as well. Sometimes it’s just more convenient — because we can pick up our laundry detergent and school supplies at the same time. And the grocery store carries an excellent selection so we don’t feel like we’re getting the shaft.

- Big grocery stores don’t offer bags, either plastic or paper. You bring your own bags, and you bag your own groceries. If you forget a bag, you can simply load items directly from your grocery car into your trunk (where they may or may not roll around), or you can purchase reusable grocery sacks at the store.

- There is no such thing as stray grocery carts in the big grocery store parking lots. To get a grocery cart, you put a coin into the cart itself (either a 1 euro coin or a 50 centimes coin — a British pound fits as well) and the cart will unlock from the other carts. When you’re done with your cart, you lock it back up and the coin will pop out and return to you. Everyone puts away their cart. Period. And carts are kept outside, so you grab one before you head into the store. When we first moved here, it actually took us several visits to figure out the cart system. Hah!

peanut butter in France

- In the 2 1/2 years we’ve lived here, we’ve seen an increase in American food products that are available — like small packages and boxes of Oreos and Ritz and Philadelphia cream cheese — they’ve started carrying Method products too! For peanut butter, we’ve been able to find an option (pictured here) in the Middle Eastern food aisle. But mostly, we stick with French brands and French foods. We’ll have lots of chances for American food when we move back.

This post is getting looong, so I’ll wrap it up now, but I’d love to hear: If you moved to France, do you think you would adopt the local eating habits? And what are your thoughts on the animal-based diet of the Normandy region? (Normandy is famed for it’s dairy products — butter, cheese, yogurt, cream — it’s all excellent!) Could you replicate your current eating habits in another country?

P.S. — There are lots of books and articles about how French kids aren’t picky eaters, and how French women don’t gain weight despite eating whatever they want. The French food culture is truly unique and endlessly fascinating! But I feel like that topic is a whole other post. I’ll try to write up my thoughts soon…

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]]> 64
For Rent: La Cressonnière Wed, 19 Jun 2013 14:30:12 +0000 Design Mom

apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Earlier this month, I wrote a post called Rent The Life, all about unusual and picturesque places you can lease and live in. And I received a bunch a funny + sweet emails in response telling me they’d rent my life in the French countryside if they could. : )

Well. Someone’s dream may be coming true. Because the fairytale farmhouse that we’ve lived in for the past 2 1/2 years is available!

Yes, we’re moving home in July, but the homeowners of the farmhouse have decided they’re not quite ready to move back in — they’re going to extend their stay in Australia. Which means La Cressonnière is available starting August 1st! We first found this home when we searched on a site called Sabbatical Homes, and the house is listed there again if you’re interested.

Living here has been such a gift. The house really is extraordinary. And not just the house, the whole experience of living here — buying fresh eggs from a neighbor, fresh milk from another. Goodness, Oscar was baptized in the stream just down the road!

We get really emotional thinking about moving away, but we like imagining another family getting to enjoy this remarkable space. What do you think? Did you get butterflies reading this? (Maybe it’s a sign that you should move in!) Are you up for an adventure in the French countryside?

P.S. — Here are all my posts with photos of La Cressonnière — the older ones share room by room photo tours. Or you can browse my Instagram stream. It’s full of photos of this beautiful place!

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The Easiest Day-trip from Paris Tue, 11 Jun 2013 14:30:09 +0000 Design Mom

Visit to Chartres03

Images and text by Gabrielle (and some images by Ben Blair, too).

We’re in our last 5 weeks of living here, and though we have no big trips on our schedule (until the big trip home), we’ve been considering a couple of Saturday day-trips to local destinations. No matter how much we’ve seen, it seems like there is always another intriguing place to explore! For example, we haven’t been to the white elephant rock of Etratat yet, and we’ve heard Bagnoles de l’Orne is definitely worth a visit.

Visit to Chartres16

Anyway, we started talking about our favorite spots that are within a couple of hours of our town, and it reminded me that I never shared our photos from our field trip to Chartres — the world-famous cathedral that’s about an hour away from Paris.

Visit to Chartres12 Visit to Chartres13

Visit to Chartres14

So I thought today would be a perfect day for a little report.

Visit to Chartres06

We drove to Chartres on the last Saturday of February of last year (2012). We really didn’t know what to expect, but we brought our trusty Rick Steve’s Guide to France and read what he had to say as we drove. What we gathered is that Chartres is a huge draw for two reasons especially: 1) The birthing veil said to be worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus is on display there, and 2) The current cathedral was built relatively quickly — in less than a century — so it’s said to be Europe’s “best example of pure gothic architecture.”

Visit to Chartres05 Visit to Chartres04 Visit to Chartres09

By the time we visited, we had lived in France for over a year, and our kids were a little bit cathedral-ed out. So we spent more time walking around the charming town, and the grounds of the cathedral, than we did exploring the interior. We were there at the peak of off-season, so both the grounds and the town were virtually empty. We had a lovely time roaming around snapping photos, and stopping for a bite to eat at a bakery.

Man oh man is the cathedral enormous. I remembering thinking I’d never seen anything quite like it. It feels simply massive. And it’s just shocking to such a structure sitting there in the middle of the not-very-big town.

Visit to Chartres01 Visit to Chartres02 Visit to Chartres07 Visit to Chartres10 Visit to Chartres08

Speaking of the town, it’s a little jewel! You can walk along the river. Peak into the tiny shops. Stop for crepes or gelato. And see the variety of architecture that France has to offer. We loved our day there! It’s the sort of destination that’s not overwhelming. You see the cathedral, and then you wander. There’s nothing else specific you need to see or visit. And there’s no wrong way to do it. My kind of place!


Visit to Chartres15 Visit to Chartres17

Living in the countryside, we’ve had many chances to visit smallish French towns, but before we moved here, the only place in France I’d seen was Paris. Believe me, I know it’s hard (practically impossible!) to leave that magical city if you only have a few days in France. But if you do want to get out the city, and get a feel for life outside of Paris, Chartres makes such a great destination!

Using the train, you can easily come and go from Paris in one day. You get to visit one of the wonders of Europe, and you can also wander around the town in a way that you simply can’t in a big city.

For those of you who have visited France, I’m curious: Did you make any visits outside of Paris? Maybe to Chartres or Giverny or the Loire Valley? I’d love to hear about your favorite spots!

Visit to Chartres11

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Our Little Piece of France Mon, 10 Jun 2013 17:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

Le Menil Scelleur

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Friends! I have some big news: We bought a house today. A little French cottage! We can hardly believe it!!

It might not feel like big news if you’ve been following along. Because we first saw this house last August (so long ago!), and we’ve been under contract since February. The house has been uninhabited for decades and has mostly been used as a barn, so there were some questions about whether or not the house could be legally inhabited again.

But — hooray! — the questions have been resolved. And we became the official property owners today.

Now the hard work begins. We start with a phone call to the electric company to visit the property and install a meter. And then we go from there! When we hatched this plan, we assumed we could quickly buy a house and spend our last year here renovating. Hah! Reality check: We leave in a month, and if we manage to get electricity installed and roof repaired before we move, we’ll consider that a triumph. : ) We keep thinking we’re crazy to take on a project like this, but we LOVE that it will keep us connected to the area in such a real way.

Today, during the closing, as we signed the official papers, the previous owners gave us the photo at top. It’s our house circa 1900 (compare it to this photo). And it’s actually a postcard, with an address label on the back. When I saw the little family, I started to cry. What a treasure to be able to picture the people who lived in this place oh so long ago. (And the collar and cut on the son’s jacket — it’s so French! It just does me in.)

Tell me: Does this project make you gasp with terror at the amount of work (and frustration) ahead for us? Or gasp with inspiration at what it might become? Maybe some of both? I’d love to hear your renovation stories!

P.S. — I detailed more about what it will take to redo this property here. And you can see more images here, here and here, if you’re curious.

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]]> 107
A Few Things Fri, 07 Jun 2013 15:30:15 +0000 Design Mom

French Country Road  |  Design Mom

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How’s it going? Are you ready for the weekend? For us, I think this is the first weekend in months and months with absolutely nothing on the schedule. That feels good every once in awhile! Perhaps we’ll visit the beach tomorrow. Or maybe work in the yard. Or maybe just do nothing at all. How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to?

While I keep grinning at our empty weekend calendar, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- They’ve dressed alike for 33 years. Thanks, Caroline.

Why wooden toys?

- They sell organic baby clothing and take it back when outgrown! Thanks, Diana.

- Swim season is here, we all need to review this.

- Hello Summer!

- Maps that show how Americans speak English differently.

- It’s about bugs. But I unexpectedly teared up!

- Is the internet like a child’s brainThanks, Lori.

- Nomadic teenagers. I’m not even sure what to think.

- On my Babble column this week: Throw a Water Party! — 16 Ideas.

- And 18 Gifts you can DIY for Father’s Day.

- Last month, the Deseret News asked me to write up something I learned from my mother. I just got the link yesterday, if you’d like to take a look. (The last 2 photos in the slideshow go with my segment.)

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


P.S. — The image at top was snapped last weekend, walking from from our community Vide Grenier (tag sale).

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]]> 25
Jacadi Summer Sale Thu, 06 Jun 2013 13:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

Jacadi - French Clothing for Kids

This post is sponsored by French clothing line, Jacadi. Get up to 50% off in their Big Summer Sale!

Jacadi Paris

By Gabrielle.

Here in France, Jacadi is THE quality brand for children. If you’re trying to get a sense of how a little French boy or little French girl dresses — for school, for the holidays, even for summer vacation — taking a peek at the Jacadi windows will tell you everything you need to know. The style and styling of their clothing is quintessentially French. Very traditional lines with modern touches. Details that make each piece feel special. And so well made that you’ll be handing them down to your future grandchildren.

Happily, Jacadi is sold in the U.S. as well, and even more happily, the Jacadi big summer sale just started today. So we can all get a little piece of French style at a deep discount — up to 50% off!

Design Mom's Favorites from Jacadi's Summer Sale

Here are some of my favorites from the summer sale. For baby girls, I love the scalloped booties (so French!) and the gingham dress.  For toddler boys, I’d pick this peacoat (and save it for the fall) and these Euro swim trunks. (Fun fact: In France, board shorts aren’t allowed at public pools, so the boys run around in swim trunks like these.)  For school age girls, how about this pleated skirt — or this gorgeous drop waist dress would be perfect if you have a wedding to attend. For older boys I like the color block hoodie and the tab sleeve tee. And for tween girls, I’d would pick this double-breasted cardigan and retro-striped dress from the Mademoiselle Jacadi line.

Tell me, Friends, is Jacadi a brand you’re familiar with? I was introduced to their clothes when I lived in New York, and my friend Kathryn gave me a Jacadi hand-me-down — a sweet little dress. I still have it! Both Betty and June wore it. And maybe their kids will wear it too. : )

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]]> 17
French Schools: One More Report Wed, 05 Jun 2013 16:00:02 +0000 Design Mom

vintage French school book

By Gabrielle. Vintage French school book here.

Today is one of the first really warm days of the year (really warm in Normandy means low 70s : ) and we’re starting to think about summer. But alas! It’s not time yet. The school year here goes all the way through June!

So I thought it would be fun to share one more update about our educational experience in France, before the school year ends and we move back to the U.S.. And if you’re curious, here’s a link to earlier posts about French school. I’m going to try and cover topics I haven’t mentioned in earlier posts, and this time, most of the updates relate to middle school — because 3 of the kids, Ralph, Maude & Olive, are all in middle school.

- One thing that it took us awhile to realize: at our middle school and high school, called college and lycée, there are no substitute teachers. If the teacher can’t make it that day, they just don’t show up. The students will be in class, and if the teacher hasn’t shown up  a few minutes in, the Class Delegate will go to the office to find out what’s up. If the office informs them the teacher is out for the day, the students will go to “perm” which is study time. (Fun fact: Oscar is his class delegate. He had to prepare a speech — in French, of course — on the voting day. So cute!)

- Sometimes the grade-level curriculum in the U.S. and France align pretty well, but other times, they don’t. After 2.5 years of school here, we’re predicting our kids will be ahead of their American peers in topics like history and geography, but behind in other topics — for example, our school doesn’t seem to have any sort of advanced math program.

- Related, both Oscar and Betty have learned to read since we moved here. They learned simultaneously alongside their French peers. This means that at the moment, they are both stronger readers in French than in English. We will of course, have to be mindful of this as they transition back to American schools.

- Ralph is currently in 9th Grade, which is the last year of middle school here in France. Like all of his class peers, he is gearing up to take a big test, called the Brevet des Collèges, in order to see if he can qualify for high school. From what we understand, if students fail the Brevet de College, they repeat a grade. If a student fails the Brevet de College 3 times over 3 years, they go to a career-finding class instead of high school.

- Related to what I just mentioned about the tests, we’ve noticed there doesn’t seem to be much shame attached to repeating a grade. In our experience, ages and grade levels are far more fluid here than they are in the U.S. For example, in Maude’s class, there are kids from 13 to 16, and no one bats an eye.

- Our school is strict about screens. Personal iPods and cell phones get confiscated for 2 weeks if students are caught using them.

- Something that took my kids awhile to get used to: Schools here don’t have drinking fountains. And really, that seems to be true for France in general (though these are an exception). On the first day of school, when we first moved here, Ralph asked about a drinking fountain and the kids directed him to the bathrooms where they leaned over the sink and got a drink from the faucet. But our kids eventually realized that none of the kids drank anything outside of regularly scheduled meals. No carrying water bottles around, and no water breaks between classes. It’s not like it’s forbidden, it’s just not something that’s done.

- I may have mentioned this before, but smoking is common among students in college and lycée (middle and high school). It’s not allowed ON campus, but if you’re on the sidewalk just outside the campus gate, it seems to be fine. The students don’t pretend to hide it from adults, or even their teachers. There doesn’t seem to be much fuss about it at all.

- In our school, the junior high and high school students move from class to class, but they move as a group. They are with the same group of about 30 kids throughout the year.

- Instead of counting up to 12th grade from kindergarten, grade levels in France count down to the Bac (the big deal test you take as you finish lycée). For example, 8th grade is called quatrieme (4th), 9th grade is called troisieme (3rd), etc.

- Our children have become used to the looong lunch breaks and the multi-course meals served in La Cantine, the school cafeteria. I think transitioning back to 30 minute U.S. school lunch may be a shock to their systems. : )

- Olive mentioned that there’s not really a “popular” group, in the same way that there are “popular” kids in American schools. Partly, this is because students switch schools often — though usually not mid-year. It’s not uncommon for students to try a different school every couple of years.

- Related, there is really zero focus on a “school identity”. There are no mascots, no school teams, no school colors, school songs, or any sort of school rivalries. All sports are done at the community level or on private teams. The strongest identity demonstration happens when there’s a town parade and the kids walk behind a school banner.

- But that doesn’t mean no sports happen at school. All the students take gym and are exposed to lots of different sports. Badminton, ping pong, and football (meaning soccer) are super competitive. And recently, our school installed new sports equipment: rugby goal posts and basketball hoops.

I hope you enjoy these school updates. Hopefully, if you read them all, you’ll have a good sense of our educational experience here.

P.S. — For those of you who are curious, all 5 of the older kids are fluent in French now, with varying levels of accent. And this week, little June’s babysitter mentioned she has started speaking French with the other toddlers. So cute!

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Happy Memorial Day Mon, 27 May 2013 14:30:40 +0000 Design Mom

American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France

Image and text by Gabrielle.

This is the 3rd Memorial Day we’ve spent in France. Last year, it aligned with a French holiday, so we had Monday off. But this year, the kids are in school, the stores are open, and it’s business as usual today. How about you, are you enjoying a 3-day weekend? Were you able to do anything meaningful to commemorate the holiday?

I’m reposting this image from last year because it’s one of my favorites. I snapped it during Memorial Day weekend at the American Military Cemetery here in Normandy. For the holiday, the caretakers placed an American and French flag at every single one of the 10,000+ graves.

The cemetery is always a humbling place to visit, but seeing those carefully placed flags waving in the ocean breeze just about did me in.

Happy Memorial Day to you and yours. Wishing you happy gatherings with friends and family! And a perfectly grilled burger. : )

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