From the category archives:

La Cressonniere

A Few Things

August 30, 2013

commission by Paul Ferney

By Gabrielle. Painting by Paul Ferney.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Can you believe it’s Labor Day Weekend? Are you ready to greet September? We have absolutely zero plans for Labor Day at the moment — and it feels so good! I’m still trying hard to lay low and take it easy. But I wouldn’t say no to cooking up something like this. (That post has my mouth watering!)

Even more than Labor Day, homesickness is on my mind. On Sunday, my brother-in-law Paul Ferney gifted us a painting of La Cressonnière — complete with our vintage Renault out front. I cried like a baby when I saw it. Sometimes the homesickness catches me off guard and washes over me like a wave. I’m working on a post about some of the specific things we’re missing (spoiler: lots of food is on that list), and some of the happy surprises about our new community, too. Oh. And the schools! I can’t wait to tell you about the schools.

While I finish up my work before the long weekend, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

-  Now’s your chance to get your own Paul Ferney original! He’s currently offering really affordable custom paintings through The Commission Project. They make an amazing heirloom gift. If you order now, you’ll get the painting in time for holiday giving.

- I’m dying! The funniest reviews on Amazon.

- How to kiss a girl.

- Laura Mayes of The Queso is one of the first blogs I ever read. And she’s still a favorite. The blog has been especially great lately. I spent an hour last Saturday catching up on her posts, and it was a really good hour.

NYC Field Guides: What to do in NYC, pulled together by people you might think are cool.

- 6 beautiful ways to use wallpaper in your nursery.

- One of my dear friends, Lisa Clark, produces and stars in really funny parody videos. Live out your Footloose fantasies with this one.

- The world of Lisa Frank. She is for real.

The Compliment Fairy.

- I updated my right hand sidebar with lots of back to school posts. Yay!

- Stock up for next summer — J.Crew is offering an extra 30% off final sale items with code HELLO30. (I’ll take the polkadots please!)

- If you really love calligraphy.

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


P.S. — For those of you who have emailed asking how I’m doing, thank you! It really is nice to be thought of. Finding a doctor has proved more difficult than I hoped. I’ll try to write about it next week.


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!


A Few Things

May 24, 2013

French Farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How’s it going? As you can tell by the photo above, the plants at La Cressonnière have really come to life this week. This is our 3rd time seeing the wisteria make its appearance and I can’t imagine ever tiring of watching Spring unfold with this stunning backdrop.

That said, it is actually quite chilly and wet today in Normandy. Our heaters our turned up, and I wore a full coat and scarf on my errands this morning. I had to keep reminding myself this is late May! Hah! I’m craving a long walk in the countryside this weekend, accompanied by my camera. (I hope the weather cooperates!) How about you? Any fun plans? Is this the first weekend of summer for you? Will you be warming up the grill?

While I pull on a sweater (and shake my head in wonder), here are a few things I thought you might like:

- Pet pillows for people.

- Is cranky contagious at your house? Thanks, Heather.

- Another sister + brother bedroom — Scandinavian style.

- Some people might say “This is the most important app ever made. Ever.”

- Ben Blair and Ralph are in London this weekend. We’ve been watching Ralph’s videos when we miss them (here’s the latest episode of Zombie Smash, and his most recent mini-movie — less than a minute long).

- I’ve been thinking about this essay on celebrities and inequality. Have you read it?

- How to create a focal wall.

- Let’s have a tea party!

- Morgan is getting rid of 5 items in her home every day for 90 days. That is some epic Spring Cleaning.

- Party mini buttons.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a Happy Memorial Day! We don’t have a 3-day weekend here in France, so I plan to share a post or two. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



A Few Things

March 22, 2013

Rainy French Countryside

Text and image by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! Has it been a good week? We are doing well here. Mostly, we are trying to stay dry, because Normandy is absolutely drenched. The rain has been non-stop this week and the gravel driveway is full of puddles. I hope that means Spring will be spectacular!

We’re actually watching the weather like a hawk, because Tiger in a Jar arrives today, and we’ll begin filming more Olive Us episodes this weekend. We’re so excited about it! We can’t wait to get started.How about you? Any fun plans for the weekend?

While we keep our galoshes close at hand, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- First up, I have a little bit of Design Mom housekeeping that I’d love you to know about: the About page and FAQs page have each had a long overdue update. Check them out and get to know the contributors! Second, you may have noticed, when you hover over blog post images, a “let’s pin” button appears. I hope that makes your pinning easier!

- Remember The Brand of Ethiopia? Well this may change your view of the Brand of Rwanda.

- I’ve never tried bitters, but now I want to.

- 71 dresses in 71 days.

- This kickstarter has me pumped! I want to buy a pair of these rad shoes for Ben Blair. And Ralph. And me.

- Don’t get mad, get the camera.

- I’ve been collecting lots of spring dresses for girls on Pinterest in case you need some Easter inspiration.

- This place is less than 2 hours from our town. I want to go! Thanks, Kacy.

- A nursery in pastels for a baby boy.

- The Scared is Scared. Thanks Marysol.

- Biscoto is a very cool French monthly magazine (printed on newsprint) for kids. Sixteen pages of stories, comics, games, jokes, and fun, with a touch of philosophy. You can see a few pages online here.

- On my Babble column: 16 Easter baskets (and alternatives!). Lots of great choices.

- How Motherhood Changes Us. A collection of tightly edited parenting stories covering what happens when life doesn’t go as expected.

I hope you have a marvelous first weekend of Spring. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



A Few Things

March 15, 2013

French Farmhouse in the Snow

Text and image by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! Was it a good week for you? As I mentioned yesterday, we were snowed in from Monday thru Thursday, and it felt good to have an extra big dose of family time. We did a lot of baking, kept a fire going, and read aloud as a family in the evenings. I was a little worried the kids would get antsy, because we had just finished a two-week school break, but it turned out to be quite lovely.

That said, I will not shed a tear when the snow is gone. : ) Bring on the daffodills! Bring on the forsythia! While we make our weekend plans, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- A poster designed by a husband for his wife. (Audrey and Nick are two of our closest friends. Audrey is also the Alt Summit graphic designer. We’re so, so, glad she’s out of the hospital and getting stronger.)

Prep school photos from the LIFE archive.

- A new series of DIY videos especially for kids — like homemade snowshoes, stomp rockets, and a book with a secret compartment!

- What’s your take on terrariums?

- Interested in learning videography? This workshop by Ryan Marshall and Tiger in a Jar looks outstanding. And you get to stay at Rudyard Kipling’s estate!

- A brief history of baby gear.

- Ever wondered what Mickey & Minnie sound like in French?

- Rainbow yarn trail.

- Ben Blair sent me this link. It’s the happiest thing on the internet.

- Blown away by these numbers. Especially the computers, food, and education numbers.

- Related, I love, love, love Bono’s Ted Talk. Eradicate Extreme Poverty by 2030!

- The first issue of Vogue.

- On Babble this week: 20 ways to decorate Easter Eggs.

- Also, it’s not too late to plant wheatgrass!

- Will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this weekend? We’ll be thinking of Ireland and maybe we’ll dye our milk green. : )

- Last but not least, a lucky pillow.

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I hope you make lots of good things happen! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



A Late Winter Walk

March 14, 2013

winter walk11

Text and photos by Gabrielle.

On Sunday, a few of us decided to take a late winter walk as the sun was setting. We walked down the road to see how high the water was in the little creek, and say hello to the sheep that live across the way. We also wanted to scout out signs of spring.

And I remembered to bring the camera! (Instagram has me out of the habit of carrying my DSLR.) So I thought I’d share a few photos from our walk with you.

winter walk08 winter walk09 winter walk10

I can’t believe how much I enjoy seeing the little lambs…

Lots more photos ahead.


Text and image by Gabrielle.

Exciting news: Olive Us is hosting a video contest! Make a video of your family, inspired by an Olive Us episode, and you could win fame and fortune! Well. Maybe not fame and fortune. But the top videos will be featured on the Olive Us newsletter and website. And the grand prize is a Kindle Fire HD!

The contest was announced last week and there have already been some excellent entries. The panel of judges is definitely going to have their work cut out for them. Entries are due April 30th, and you can find all the contest details here.

If you’re intimidated by making your own video, don’t be. The judges aren’t expecting a professional production. But they hope you’ll capture some footage that will be a great treasure for your family for decades to come. To get you inspired, here’s a video that 15-year-old Ralph shot and edited about a family outing — it’s called Blackberries.

Isn’t that great? I hope it inspires you to make a video and enter the contest. For movie-making tips, be sure to subscribe to the Olive Us newsletter — for the next several weeks, it will be filled with helpful steps that will get you in the movie-making mood.

P.S. — Craving more blackberries?


By Gabrielle.

Hooray! A new Olive Us episode has arrived. The concept of this episode might be the simplest one we’ve ever conceived: Follow 2-year-old Flora June Blair around for a day and capture it on video.

Two year olds have a reputation for being terrible, and as a mother of six, I’m no stranger to flat-on-the-floor-of-the-grocery store meltdowns, or frankly, playground/grandma’s house/preschool/playdate/library/car/sidewalk meltdowns either. Here is a shot of June taken this last weekend during a 20-minute stand off at the hotel pool — she refused to get out:

At the same time, I know that 2 years old is also one of the sweetest ages. There is so much discovery. So much growth. Huge jumps in vocabulary and communication. Huge jumps in independence. Lots and lots of opinions. Lots and lots of giggles. Here’s another photo of June on the day we filmed Cider Farm:

And here’s another from last August (complete with drool bubbles):

And just one more where she’s wearing the same darling dress from the video. You may remember the dress from this post, too — it was made by the talented Katy of No Big Dill:

First time parents will see their 2 year old as all grown up. Second-time-around parents will see that their 2 year old is really still a baby. I think both are right.

I hope you enjoy the video! It’s a sweet one. (And there’s a happy little bit after the credits, too.)

P.S. — Subscribe to Olive Us to be the first to know about new videos. Find more episodes and behind the scenes sneak peeks at OliveUs.TV, and hey, if this episode doesn’t show up for you here, try viewing it on Vimeo.


The Stonemason

February 21, 2013

Text and images by Gabrielle.

The big event at our house this week was watching the grand old stone wall get repaired. Back in December, on the day the Mayan calendar ended, we didn’t wake up to the end of the world, but we did wake to find a section of the wall had crumbled. Apparently, it’s been so wet this winter, that this is happening all over the region. The wall is massive — tall, thick, and sturdy as can be. It was hard to imagine anything being able to crumble it.

Well, the stone mason arrived earlier this week and each day he steadily repaired the wall. I instagrammed a picture of him working, and the comments mentioned the timelessness of seeing him work. I felt the same way. It was easy to imagine the wall being repaired in the very same manner for hundreds of years. Pretty neat.

Here’s a photo of the repaired wall snapped this morning:

One thing that’s been interesting to observe since we moved here is how well the French seem to be able to maintain traditional skills while modernizing at the same time. A quick example, on the same day the stonemason finished up, a faster internet line was also installed. But more than that, I’m so impressed with their instincts to preserve instead of tear down.

There’s a cathedral in our town (shown here) that was almost entirely destroyed in World War II. We’ve seen pictures of the rubble and that’s not an exaggeration. It was about 80% destroyed! Instead of tearing it down, the community spent 40 years and rebuilt it. And it’s stunning! It’s the jewel of the town now. I’m so glad they didn’t tear it down.

And I’m so glad the old stone wall at La Cressonnière has been repaired, and then repaired again, over hundreds of years. You can’t help but think about the history of this place while you’re here.

P.S. — Ben Blair found these images of the destroyed cathedral.


A Few Things

February 15, 2013

Text and image by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How has your week been? Now that Valentine’s Day has come and gone, I really start to yearn for Spring in earnest. You too? We’ve had buckets and buckets of rain this winter and the ground is absolutely soaked — puddles everywhere that don’t disappear, even when the rain stops. What I want to do most this weekend, is pull on my wellies and take a long walk through the countryside. How about you? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to?

While I muddy up my boots, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- A new minimalist mentality. Thanks, Katherine.

- This tote turns into a picnic blanket.

- Wow! What a fabulous family photo shoot.

- Instead of buying your next car, 3D print one instead!

- Or, have your head made in 3D chocolate. Thanks, Alexandra.

- Illustrated zip-lock bags.

- If you like recycled, you’ll love bicycled.

- Like the balloon door idea? Here are 13 more great ways to use balloons!

- At your request, here’s a bit about how Ben Blair and I fell in love — it’s an interview from 2010.

The Light That Shines. It’s 15 minutes long, so you might want to bookmark it for later. But it’s worth it.

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


P.S. — I’ve noticed that about 10-15 comments per week are going straight to the spam folder on my blog. I’ve been checking the folder and restoring the comments, but if I’ve missed yours, please drop me a line. I’d hate to lose any of your words!


Two Years in France

February 11, 2013

la cressonniere hallway

By Gabrielle.

February 1st marked 2 years that we’ve lived in France. Two years! It’s flown by so incredibly fast. And I feel emotional every time I think about it. We hoped and suspected it would be a happy and growing experience for our family, but it has been so much more positive and life-changing than we could have imagined.

Our plan is to move back to the U.S. in July, after the French schools let out for the summer. Which means we’ve got 6 months left here at La Cressionère. And we want soak up every last minute of it! So don’t be surprised if you see a heavier dose of French-themed posts in the next while.

I want to give you the latest report on our children’s experience in French schools. A language learning update, too. I want to share my favorite inexpensive souvenirs. I want to recap what we’ve done, and the places we’ve visited since we arrived. And generally just reflect on what we’ve learned, and what comes next.

Speaking of what comes next, I’ve mentioned it before, but we are trying really, really hard to buy a rustic cottage here in Normandy before we move. (Rustic = needs much TLC.) Lots of paperwork involved, but if we are able to make it happen, I’ll definitely report. Please wish us luck!

And if there’s anything specific about our experience here in France that you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comments.

P.S. — Man oh man I love this house. The image is the hallway at the top of the stairs.


By Gabrielle.

A new Olive Us episode! And it’s a charmer. Do you have a wood-burning fireplace at your house? This little episode shows how our firewood is delivered and stacked — an event we have found delightful since this is the first house we’ve lived in with a working fireplace. And hey, if you consider yourself part of the Oscar Fan Club, this episode is especially for you! (Be sure to watch till the end of the credits for a little treat.)

Have you seen Moonrise Kingdom? We really loved it and thought the matter-of-fact narrator was an especially cool aspect of the story. So we thought it would be fun to make an Olive Us episode with a narrator, too. And Oscar was picked for the job!

A bit of trivia: You wouldn’t know it by watching the episode, but it was actually really challenging for Oscar to deliver his lines while looking directly into the camera. So hard! It took lots of practice and many, many (many!) takes. And ultimately, he had to concentrate so hard while doing it, that he is very, very serious throughout the episode. Which happily, turned out to be pretty darn charming (at least, in my opinion).

As usual, you can find more Olive Us episodes, and fun behind-the-scenes info at the Olive Us website. Be sure to subscribe to stay in the loop on Olive Us contests and video releases.

Find more photos from the video shoot when you click through.


5 Tips For Family Photos!

November 19, 2012

By Gabrielle. Images by Blue Lily Photography for Design Mom.

In March, I put together a list of 5 tips to help you with Family Photos. Thanksgiving week is the most popular week for family photos, so I thought I’d repost the tips to get you psyched up for your upcoming family gatherings. Happy Snapping!

Tip #1: You don’t HAVE to do an elaborate photo shoot. It definitely takes time and effort. If it’s not your thing, don’t worry about it! (One of my favorite photos in the world is this one, and it was taken with no planning whatsoever.) At our house, a big photo shoot is the sort of event everyone gets into. We work together to figure out wardrobe options, make lists of items we’d like to shop for (like a red bowtie!), and scout out locations.

Click here to read 4 more tips!


Olive Us: Kitchen Cleanup

September 19, 2012

Who has dinner clean up duties at your house? When I was growing up, each sister or brother was assigned a night of dish duties. Mine was Thursday nights and I remember frantically trying to finish up so I could watch The Cosby Show with my family. (Someone was always sure to help me so I didn’t get left out.)

Since we moved here, our dinner time has been pushed back and we’ve found we’re all pretty worn out by the time we finish up with our meal. To get through that final leg of the day, and tidy up the kitchen, we turn on something loud (the older kids will pick a playlist from one of their iPods) and we’ll have a clean up dance party.

It usually only takes a few songs and keeps everyone in a happy mood as we head in to our bedtime routines. And as an extra bonus, it keeps me and Ben Blair up on what our kids are listening to these days.

When Tiger in a Jar was here last April, they filmed one of the cleanup parties. It was a one-shot deal! And we loved how they edited it together. We don’t count this as a full Olive Us episode, but we thought you might enjoy a little behind-the-scenes peek at our family life.

P.S. — You may notice a 7th child. That’s my wonderful niece Roxcy who was staying with us at the time.


Here’s the latest from Olive Us! Join Betty, Olive & Maude as they visit our French neighbor to buy eggs.

Bonjour hens and roosters!


A Few Things

August 3, 2012

Hello, Friends! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week. We keep laughing at how long it’s taking us to adjust to French time. I was sure we’d be settled by this morning, but 5 of our 6 kids (everyone but Betty) woke up last night between 2:00am and 5:00am and hung out in our bedroom. Hah! So we ended up cancelling our morning appointments and sleeping in as long as possible. Do you have any crazy jet lag stories? Feel free to commiserate with me. : )

In happier news, we have Olympic roadtrip plans this weekend and we’re excited! We drive to Calais, France in the morning and take a ferry to Dover, England. We’ll spend Sunday in London and head back the next day. A very short trip! But it should be lots of fun. Readers in London have been sending in tips to get the most out of our time there. Feel free to add your own if you have any advice. We need all the help we can get. We can’t wait to soak up the Olympics atmosphere!

It seems crazy to be taking a roadtrip when we’re not even over our jetlag yet. But it seems even more crazy to have the Olympics so close and not join the fun. So we’re going for it! Will you be watching the Olympics this weekend? Any other fun plans?

While we get packed up, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:
- Albert Einstein gets some new knits!
- A much safer succulent.
- A site overflowing with lovely advice.
- Airstream makeover.
- Lots of fantastic pins this week.

Plus, 3 of my posts on Cafémom:
- Creative + Functional Home Offices.
- The Coolest Backyard Chicken Coops.
- A beautiful Nursery in a Master Bedroom Nook.

And 3 fun slideshows on Babble (have you noticed how speedy they are now?):
- 21 Etsy Shops You Don’t Want to Miss.
- Love comfy sneakers? Here are 23 Stylish Outfits You Can Wear With Sneakers.
- 21 Clever Toy Storage Solutions. <– Yes to this.

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


P.S. — You can follow along on our Olympic Weekend on Instagram or Twitter.


It’s been several weeks since we shared an Olive Us episode, and we’re so happy to have a new one today! In this episode, titled Spring Cleaning, Ralph, Maude and Olive work together to prep their bikes for a ride on a sunny day. Isn’t it lovely to work hard, then enjoy the benefits of your hard work? We love it!

Friends. They are not wearing helmets. Yikes! (If you saw the original trailer, you may remember this.) I wish I had a good excuse, but honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind. In the barn at La Cressonnière, where we filmed this, there are a dozen bikes and not a single helmet. Wearing helmets for casual bike riding doesn’t seem to be a big thing in France. If I’d been thinking, I would have stopped at the sporting goods store to pick some up. But clearly, I wasn’t thinking. My apologies in advance! That said, I hope you enjoy the show anyway. : )

For those of you who’ve emailed, asking how many episodes to expect, here’s the plan: we have one more Season 1 episode to share, and a possible bonus episode (or two!) as well. We share those over the next couple of weeks. For Season 2, earlier this month, we filmed 8 awesome episodes! They’ll start airing in late August or early September. We’re excited!

P.S. — Want to stay up to date on all things Olive Us? Go ahead and subscribe to the newsletter.



June 26, 2012

When we arrived home from a trip in April, we discovered the giant lavender shrubs at La Cressonnière had been removed. Surprise! The lavender bushes were BIG, so their absence made an impact. A few days later, Colette Sineux, the mother of the artist who owns this house, came to plant new ones.

Colette and her husband Roger (pronounced Ro-zhay), are two of the most wonderful people we’ve met here. We think of them as a model of a life well lived and we pay attention when they’re around.

One thing I took note of: she filled a bin with a few inches of water, and she would place the root ball in the water before she put it in the ground. Smart!

Another thing I took note of: her red shoes. : )

The lavender is already thriving and full of blooms. Colette has a green thumb! Any planting going on at your house this year?

P.S. — Last year we harvested lots and lots of lavender. I’m so glad we didn’t miss our chance!


Are you ready? Are you set? Here’s episode 4 of Olive Us! It’s called Helping Dad. Perfect timing for Father’s Day, don’t you think?

Once again, this is a different sort of episode than the ones we’ve shared so far. It’s our first attempt at a parody!

We know that modeling positive behavior can sometimes suggest the Blair kids are unrealistically well-behaved. So we thought it would be funny to make a video showing something truly over-the-top.

We hope you enjoy it! And for those of you with little ones, this episode might be over their heads. But hopefully they’ll still enjoy the music. : )


Want more Olive Us? Here are the most recent behind-the-scenes videos:
- Fun facts about Helping Dad
- How to Make Prop Lemonade
- Lemonade Stand Trivia
- How to play Zing Zing Zing

Find more at OliveUs.TV. Be sure to subscribe to the weekly email so you’re the first to know about new videos!


Would you like to see the next episode of Olive Us? In this one, Olive is having trouble getting customers at her lemonade stand. Find out what happens when she brainstorms with her brothers and sisters!

Once again, it’s something completely different from the previous episodes. This is our most scripted video yet — where the kids get their first chance at reciting written lines.

I hope you enjoy the show! If you’d like to stay in touch about all things Olive Us, be sure to subscribe here. You’ll receive a weekly email with updates, new videos and behind the scenes footage. For example, here are Maude & Olive demonstrating Zing, Zing, Zing — the hand game they played in episode 1.

Once again, a big thank you to Pottery Barn Kids for sponsoring our first 3 episodes!

Click here to see the source list for this video.

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