Design Mom » moving abroad The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 02 May 2016 17:24:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Seventy Five Percent Mon, 05 Aug 2013 17:12:00 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We are home!

It doesn’t quite feel like home yet, but it’s getting there. And we love this house!

I feel like I’m still recovering from last week. We knew clearing out the storage unit wouldn’t be the most fun thing we’ve ever done, but I didn’t understand exactly how challenging it would be. I think I’m still processing the whole thing.

Would you indulge me if I vent for a bit?

silver bed

As a recap for those who are just now following along: When we moved to France, since the house we were renting was completely furnished, all we brought with us was clothes (plus some books and a few holiday items). So the rest of our belongings — the furniture, the plates, the bikes, the bedding, etc. — went into storage.

And because we had a young baby at the time, we decided it would be simplest and easiest to hire out the storage unit packing. So a moving team came for a day and packed up the whole house and put everything in a storage unit. And we didn’t have to deal with it at all. Which was so nice! There was no purging. No figuring out what we should store, and what we should donate. No clearing out armoire shelves and dresser drawers. Everything was simply wrapped up and put into storage as is. We essentially paid for our problem to go away. It felt like a luxury at the time. And it still does when I remember it!

We were only planning on being gone for one year, then we would find a house in Denver and transfer our storage to the new home, and settle in. Easy peasy.

But it didn’t work that way. : )

Instead, one year grew to 2 1/2 years. We moved from France to Oakland, to a semi-furnished house. And when we faced our storage unit last week, we knew that many of our belongings no longer made sense. For example, ski gear and sleds that were perfect for Colorado don’t make as much sense in the bay area. Matching toddler beds? No longer necessary.

So, we rented a smallish truck, and we reduced our belongings by 75%.

Seventy five percent. That is a lot!

green table

And it was shockingly emotional. Like going through the history of our life and marriage in a really condensed amount of time. We said goodbye to the little red cabinet I designed for our first nursery. We said goodbye to the armoire I found in New York — it housed our toys then, and my fabric stash in Colorado. We painted it twice. We said goodbye to treasures I’d found at tag sales. We said goodbye to every piece of furniture in the Napoleon Dynamite room. We said goodbye to furniture we’d saved up for as newlyweds. And not just furniture. We purged files from college. We donated books and books and books we no longer need (yet somehow we still have so many books!). We got rid of my old graphic design portfolio samples. Outdated business cards. So much stuff!

And because we didn’t pack the boxes, we didn’t know what was in the boxes, so we had to open each one and figure out if there was anything in there we needed to save. It was one of those situations where a box from the office might have our tax files (essential!), and also a half used cube of Kleenex (sigh!). Essentials had to be repacked and put on the truck. Everything else had to be donated or sent to the dump. Load after load after load went to Good Will.

A thousand decisions (donate, repack, sell, trash, decide later) every hour. One minute, I would be showing the kids the sequined glove I wore when I did a Michael Jackson lip sync in high school and we would all be laughing, and the next I would be snapping at everybody to keep-working-or-we’ll-never-get-all-this-done! And then I would have to hide behind some boxes so I could cry for a minute and pull myself together. There’s no question, I was a total wreck.

pelmet box

Of course, it ultimately feels good to get rid of so much stuff. We could feel the weight lift from our shoulders as the storage unit emptied out. But I think the amount of reduction, plus the time limits because of the truck rental (we had 3 days to get it done), combined with the actual physical work of moving boxes and furniture, left me feeling traumatized. Like I said, I think I’m still recovering. I know that technically, we didn’t have to purge, we could have rented a bigger truck and brought more stuff to California. But really, if I had done that, I would have just been putting off the work for a future date.

We finished packing up late Wednesday night, and the very next morning, we jumped in the car and started on the long drive back to Oakland. 18 hours total. Ben Blair and I could barely manage to talk about the storage unit. I think we were still processing. Though the packing and purging had to be done ourselves, we did hire out a driver for the truck. What a blessing! It was so nice to be together during that long drive home.

Our truck driver will arrive either today or tomorrow. We’ll drop him off at the airport, and then we’ll start the big task of unloading and unpacking.

Doesn’t it feel like this is the move that never ends? Hah!

When I get overwhelmed (which is often at the moment), I keep imagining our life a month in the future, when the boxes will mostly be gone, the kids will be in school, and we’ll have some sort of schedule going on. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Tell me, Friends, have you ever had to do a major purge like this? Could you get rid of 75% of your belongings? Would you find it freeing? I remember talking with Wendy of Blue Lily before they left on their first world tour — they got rid of everything but one box!

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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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Homesick Foods Wed, 17 Jul 2013 14:30:44 +0000 Design Mom

marshmallow oaties

By Gabrielle. Image by Katharina.

Well, hello. Here I am waving to you from Oakland, California!!

We made it. We arrived Monday night. My siblings and nephews (Jordan and Jared and Liz and Sara and Henry and Moses) met us at the airport (SFO) with cheers and a welcome sign. So fun!! My kids could not have been happier.

The Aunts hung out with all the kids (and the luggage + bags — 32 pieces total!), while my brother Jared took me and Ben Blair to rent a van. It’s a huge extended cab van that fits all our luggage. It’s kind of hilarious and awesome at the same time. We have felt like our very own tour group driving it around this week.

We got to the house at about 9:00 PM on Monday night. The sun set as we drove from the airport and we listened to a California mix Ralph had burned to a CD. The lights of the city and the bridges were spectacular. We were feeling a particular mix of satisfaction and expectation, of relief and excitement, and of exhaustion but general awe at this move. Everyone was happy.

The best thing we did to make these first couple of days in California smooth? We hired a wonderful assistant here in Oakland, named Jessica, to prep the house for us. We asked her to set up utilities in our name, and make an internet installation appointment. And we knew we’d be exhausted after our 20 hour traveling day and want to collapse immediately, so we asked Jessica to prep the beds, and fill the fridge with food. (Note: the house is currently furnished, but not with our belongings from Colorado. More on that when I introduce the house in a later post.)

When we arrived, the house was ready and welcoming. We spent some time exploring our new digs, brought in the luggage, oohed and aahed over the contents of the refrigerator, climbed into pjs, and fell asleep within minutes.

Long satisfied sigh.

For the grocery list we sent to Jessica, we asked the kids to name the foods they were craving most from America, and added a few basic staples. Friends, it was mostly junk food! But man oh man it was fun to chow down on so many old familiar favorites when we woke up the next day. Which, by the way, happened at about 3:00 AM California time. (Hah! Hello, Jet lag.)

There’s something so powerful and beautiful about familiar food. It felt like a celebration. Want to see what made the list?

- Marshmellow Oaties (These are the fake Lucky Charms you can find at places like Whole Foods, but my kids like them more than the real thing.)
- Cheerios
- Izze sodas in grapefruit, peach, pear, and clementine — bottles, not cans.
- Carrot Juice
- Root beer
- Vanilla Ice Cream
- Chocolate Milk
- Graham Crackers
- Tings
- Smart Puffs
- Creamsicles
- Fudgesicles
- Ice Cream Sandwiches
- Tortilla Chips
- Salsa
- Frozen Corndogs
- Baby Carrots
- Tillamook Cheddar Cheese
- Flour Tortillas
- Hotdogs
- Hot Dog Buns
- Mustard
- Ketchup
- Eggs
- 2% Milk
- Butter
- Nectarines
- Green Seedless Grapes

What do you think? Would any of this make your list (or your child’s list) if you were homesick?

P.S. — The Marshmellow Oaties, corndogs, and creamsicles were gone first!

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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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How Many Pieces of Luggage Sun, 14 Jul 2013 17:08:21 +0000 Design Mom


[ UPDATE: Voting is now closed. ]

By Gabrielle.

On Monday I felt like a basket-case. And that feeling continued off and on all week. One minute I was focused and practical and packing up like a boss. The next minute, neighbors would come to say farewell, or we’d visit our favorite bakery for the last time, and I was weeping elephant tears! It’s been quite a week. But miracle of miracles, we are now packed and ready to go. We finished up last night, and we’ve been able to enjoy the local Bastille Day celebrations (Happy Bastille Day, Everyone!) with only a few small items on our to do list.

To commemorate this epic packing job, how about a little trivia? When we came here, we brought 7 large duffle bags, 7 carryon-size roller bags, 7 backpacks, an iMac in the original box, a trombone in its case, a guitar in its case, a stroller, and a car seat for Baby June (she was 9 months old at the time). That’s a total of 26 pieces.

Anyone want to guess how many pieces we’re bringing back to the U.S.? You can make your best guess above by clicking a check mark.

P.S. — Our flight has strict luggage weight restrictions. 20 kg (44 lbs) for checkons, and 5 kg (11 lbs) for carryons. (Oddly, from what we can tell, personal items like purses and backpacks have no weight restriction.) As you can imagine, we’ve been weighing and double weighing every piece of luggage like mad men! Discovery: Our books simply add too much weight. So we’re shipping a few boxes home. When we moved here, we also shipped a few boxes of books and miscellaneous items, so I figure it’s pretty much a wash.

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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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5 Tips: Finances When Moving Abroad Thu, 13 Jun 2013 14:18:53 +0000 Design Mom

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

Image and text by Gabrielle.

The other day, we were wiring some money from one of our U.S. bank accounts to our French bank (funds for the cottage!), and I realized I’ve learned a few things about how to move money from place to place that might be helpful for anyone embarking on an international adventure. Here are 5 tips I wish I’d known before we moved.

1) is our favorite for international transfers.
It’s free to sign up. You can add multiple accounts to draw funds from (we have a personal account and a business account), and you can also add multiple accounts to send funds to. We use it to pay rent on La Cressonnière. And since we get paid in dollars, but run errands in euros, we also use it to transfer our monthly budget from our U.S. to our French account. XE seems to offer the best exchange rates we’ve seen and there are no added fees, so the exchange quote you see is what you pay. I love that.

There are two downsides. First, it takes time. The transfers don’t happen overnight. It usually takes about a week for the funds to make it from one account to another. This means you have to work ahead and think ahead. When we don’t think ahead, we end up using our U.S. debit card for groceries or gas, and there are added fees for international purchases. Which is a bummer. Second, the max transfer is $10,000. Normally that’s way more than fine, but when we were buying our car, the max limit didn’t work for us, so we had to figure out a different way to go. 

2) Make friends with your banker.
We sort-of did this with our personal account. And didn’t do it at all with our business account — which we opened a couple of days before we moved here. And it’s maybe the one thing we would do over if we were starting this move from scratch.

We’ve found it’s so important to be able to call a specific person at your bank, someone that knows your voice and face, and can help you find workarounds for standard bank rules. For example, the bank that holds our business account doesn’t allow for wiring money over the phone. They require the account holder to come into a branch. No exceptions. Obviously, we can’t come into a the branch. But we know from talking to fellow expats, that if you know someone personally at the bank, they can make an exception to that rule.

So we would recommend making a good friend at the bank. Bring in cookies or flowers. Take your banker to lunch. Tell them you’re moving abroad and make sure you have their direct line in case you run into any banking emergencies while you’re out of the country.

3) Small banks are easier to work with.
Similar to item #2, we’ve found our smaller credit union has been much more flexible and helpful than our larger bank. There have been several instances when we needed to get someone on the phone quickly — like when we’ve got a road trip with stops in multiple countries. We try to be good about calling our bank’s card security team and letting them know where we’ll be, but we’ve had many times where a security hold was put on our card anyway. We’re grateful that our banks take a tight approach to security, but it’s also nice if you have a direct number of an actual person you can call and quickly get the hold lifted when you’re waiting at a register.

At our bigger bank, we get stuck with a phone tree, and sometimes it can take a long time to get help. At the credit union, it’s been speedy. In this case, smaller is better.

4) You can still shop from U.S. stores.
The fourth tip is indirectly related to banking, but I still think of it as a financial thing. When living abroad, sometimes you want to buy things from American stores — maybe a Christmas present your son has been wishing for — but either the store doesn’t ship internationally, or the fees are so expensive it’s prohibitive. When this happens, you could have it shipped to your Mom’s house or a friend’s house in the U.S., and they can ship it on to you. But I always feel bad about asking that kind of favor. So instead, I recommend this service. They give you a U.S. address where you can send all your purchases, then they re-box things as efficiently as possible and send everything to you at a much lower rate.

And you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to use this service! So if you are French, but want to buy stuff from Target, this would work perfectly.

5) Sign up for a VPN.
The last tip: Sometimes there are websites that redirect to a foreign url, even if you type in a U.S. address. For example, if I type in right now, it will automatically redirect to This can happen with stores or banks as well. It can be frustrating! If you need to access the U.S. site, you can use a VPN which stands for Virtual Private Network. We use a service called Strong VPN. We pay $50 a year and they issue clear instructions on how to use their service. Basically, when we need to access U.S. sites, we turn on VPN and then type in the URL we need, and the VPN makes it look like we are logging in from a U.S. city. It’s like magic!

And we don’t just use this for practical stuff. It’s also how we stream shows on Amazon or watch things on Hulu. Did you know you can’t access Hulu’s content outside of the U.S.? Or stream videos? But if you log-in with a VPN, the sites work seamlessly. We use our VPN service daily. But we didn’t know about it until we’d been here several months. I can still remember how frustrated we were without it!

So there they are. Five tips that will hopefully give you a smoother financial transition if you’re moving abroad — or even taking a long trip. And I’d love to hear your tips as well! Have you ever had to figure this sort of thing out? What tips would you add?

P.S. — The play euros pictured at top were originally featured in my post about 5 French Souvenirs under $5.

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Two Years in France Mon, 11 Feb 2013 16:30:42 +0000 Design Mom

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.

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Another Year or So Tue, 01 May 2012 11:49:17 +0000 Design Mom

Hello, Friends! Remember Plan A? It looked like this:
Move to France for one year. February 1st 2011 to February 1st 2012.

Then, last January I announced an adjusted plan. Let’s call it Plan B:
Stay a few more months — through the end of the school year. February 1st 2011 to July 1st 2012.

And today, here’s another update, another adjustment. Plan C:
Stay another school year. Or 2 1/2 years total! February 1st 2011 to July 1st 2013.

Then we’re really, truly moving back. For reals. How do I know? The lovely family we’re renting La Cressonnière from will be moving back in.

We feel good about Plan C. In fact, we’re super excited to get another year here! It gives our kids a chance to get even more comfortable with French. And gives us more time to find our next home.

The kids are excited too! But it’s been over a year since they’ve been to America and they’re craving a visit with friends and family. So we’re planning a long trip to the U.S. this summer. We’ll be spending the month of July with the Blairs and the Stanleys in Utah and Colorado. Then we’ll come back here for another year.

Tell me: Are you surprised? Or did you suspect an extension all along? : ) Would you stay if you were us?

P.S. — The countryside is covered with yellow fields right now — I snapped the photo above yesterday evening. I was told the plant is moutarde (mustard), but not the sort of mustard we eat. It’s grown for farm animals, and because it improves the soil. So pretty!

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Maybe Just a Few More Months… Fri, 06 Jan 2012 11:54:15 +0000 Design Mom

Have I told you our plans? For the last several months, we have been thinking about what’s next for our family. After approximately 1 million discussions, we decided that if possible, we’d really like to extend our time here through the school year. The kids’ French is rapidly improving, and we’d love to give them another 6 months to work on it. Plus, we’re toying with the idea of buying and restoring a tiny cottage here in the countryside. So instead of returning to the U.S. on February 1st, which was our original plan, we’re making plans to return on July 1st.

In fact, this morning, Ben Blair is at the local government office where they handle visas. We currently have visitor visas that allow us to remain in France for 1-year. They expire at the end of this month. So we are in the process of trying to extend them. Extending them basically mean reapplying — a process very similar to the original application, minus the trip to Los Angeles.

We’re really excited about the revised plan. At some point, we realized just how much prep was required to get our stuff into storage, pack our bags, find a place to stay, register the kids for school and move here. I suppose it makes sense to extend our stay, and make the most of all that prep work. I remember many readers guessing we would feel that way — that 1 year wasn’t enough. And they were right! (Design Mom Readers always know best. : )

Wish us luck on the reapplication! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how it all goes.

P.S. — I’m in love with this adorable new site called Lately Lily. It will make you want to discover new places with your kids!

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What to Pack When Moving Abroad Thu, 24 Feb 2011 14:59:30 +0000 Design Mom

So what in the world should you pack if you are moving to another country and what should you leave behind? Great question. And the answer is a vague “it all depends”.

European to USA plug adaptor European to USA plug adaptor European to USA plug adaptor

Are you moving to a furnished apartment? How furnished? Will you need sheets and blankets? Will you be there for four seasons? What is the weather like? How much are shipping costs to your new city? How much baggage is allowed per plane ticket? How many kids do you have? How old are they? Will you be working while you’re there? Do you need work materials? And on and on and on…

Clearly, if you’re contemplating a move abroad, your packing list will be very specifically tailored to your family and situation. In this post, I’ll tell you what we brought.

As I mentioned previously, on the plane we checked 7 large duffel bags (each weighing between 45 and 50 lbs when full). We also checked a trombone, a guitar and a desktop computer. That’s 10 items. From what we understood, each plane ticket (we had seven, June was a lap child) allowed 1 checked bag of no more than 50 lbs. Additional checked baggage would be $50 per piece. So, we assumed that the 7 duffels would be checked at no cost, and that we’d have to pay $150 total to check the instruments and computer. But, when we arrived at the AirCanada counter, they checked all 10 pieces at no cost. Did we have the policy wrong? Or were they just being nice? I have no idea. But it was a pleasant surprise.

For carryons, we each had a standard roller bag plus a backpack. Seven of each. We also had a carseat (there were open seats on both of our flights, so our lap child didn’t have to sit on our lap), and we had a stroller which we gate checked.

Did we ship anything? Yes. We shipped two boxes of Ben Blair’s books for work. And we shipped a box of towels and a box with school backpacks because we’d run out of room in the duffel bags. I have mixed feelings about the shipping we did. Which I’ll discuss below.

So what was in all those bags? Let’s see. I’ll describe by type of bag.

Standard Roller Bags:
The 7 roller bags had clothes and travel-friendly toiletries. We packed them the same way we would pack if we were heading on a 3-5 day trip. We used the clothes inside while we stayed at the cousins for a few days between packing up the house and flying to France. We also used them for our overnighter in Paris when we first arrived. The idea was to use only the roller bags and not have to disturb the duffel bags or haul them to our hotel room. This mostly worked out as planned. Each person used their own roller bag except Betty & June — they shared one.

These were not heavily loaded. They were filled specifically for the plane ride and were stowed under seats on the airplane. They had snacks, coloring books, ipods and earphones. That sort of thing. Oscar and Betty’s also had comfort objects — a blankie and stuffed bunny — and they shared a backpack. June’s baby gear was in the backpack they freed up by sharing. My backpack had our accordion folder with essential documents. Ben Blair’s had backup documents and his laptop.

We hope to use the roller bag/backpack combo as we do some traveling while we’re here.

Duffel Bags:
It seems like these would each be assigned to one person to fill with their stuff, but that’s not how it went down. Clothes didn’t take up as much space as you might guess, so siblings could double up and share a duffle bag. Before we left, I went through each of the kid’s wardrobes and they had to put everything in one of three piles — France, giveaway, or storage. Very, very little ended up in storage, because the kids are still growing. So when we get back, items they’ve stored may not fit any longer. Each child ended up packing most of their wardrobe. I’ll use Maude for an example. She packed 5 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, 2 dresses, 15 tops/tees/hoodies, 2 swimsuits, 5 pairs pjs, underwear, socks/tights, one jacket, rainboots and 5 other pairs of shoes. She also packed a few things for summer, but she’s growing, so we expect to shop while we’re here and didn’t bring too much.

Spare duffel bag space was filled with things like ski clothes (bibs, parkas, gloves, goggles, hats), crafting supplies, a few holiday books and the Christmas stockings, full-size toiletries (that couldn’t go into carryons, like my favorite hair products) and other random items — like a couple of our favorite canvas tote bags for family outings.

Each of the kids were allowed to bring a couple of items they felt were precious. A favorite doll or a favorite book. But in general, we didn’t bring toys or games. We also didn’t bring any sheets or blankets or much of anything for the house. We didn’t need to because our house is fully furnished. Our landlord left toys, boardgames and books. In fact, their book collection is a great mix or English and French, for kids and adults, so we have plenty of reading material.

So far, I would only change a few things:

-We did bring teaspoons and measuring cups (so we would have non-metric options), but it turns out our landlord already had some, so we didn’t need to.

-We’d also heard that towels weren’t as big and fluffy in France as we’re used to in America, so we shipped a box of towels. I regret this. Our towels here in the house are fine, and the shipping on the box we sent wasn’t cheap — in fact, if I had been thinking clearly, it would have been cheaper to put them in an 8th duffel bag and check them on the plane (even with a $50 checked bag fee) instead of shipping them.

-We brought 5 plug adaptors (pictured at top), but I would have brought 10. In fact, I’ve already ordered another 5. Plug adaptors allow US plugs to work in French outlets. They are relatively inexpensive (you can find them for about $3 each on Amazon) and they work wonderfully for the phone chargers, the desktop computer, the backup hardrive, the laptop, and the ipod chargers. They do not work for things like the baby monitor and my beloved Clarisonic face cleaner. I’m actually not sure what sort of plug adaptor gadget I need to make these work — something that changes the voltage. If you know, feel free to advise me.

Other miscellaneous notes:
We were glad we shipped Ben Blair’s work books, because they’re just so heavy. Who wants to lug them through the airport? The school backpacks still haven’t arrived, but I hope they get here soon. It’s very mysterious. They were shipped the same day as the towels, and they towels arrived ages ago. In the meantime, the kids have been using the luggage backpacks for school — but I’d really like to reserve those for travel only.

Mostly, it’s good to remember that anything we really need we can get here, and if we can’t get it here, we can live without it for awhile.

What about you? What are your packing essentials? Do you have any special packing strategies?

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How We Shop & Eat in France Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:58:00 +0000 Design Mom

There have been sweet comments and emails asking more about food in France, so we took the camera to the market this morning and snapped some pictures so I could write a proper post.

We love the food here. We’re so lucky to have easy access to fresh, local produce, and we think it’s wonderful that there’s a focus on what’s in season. When you buy something at the market, it will be placed in a little paper bag and the corners will be twisted up like this:

The bag is filled with 4 small avocados because I’ve been craving guacamole. Question: should I feel guilty if I still crave non-French foods from time to time? : )

dried apricots

We also bought some gorgeous dried apricots. They were placed in a little bag too. We only wanted a handful or so, but couldn’t remember how to say quarter kilo, so we asked for a half kilo instead. Hah!

At the dairy booth, we bought a nice big wedge of Carrouges cheese. We’ve heard it’s pretty mild and really, really good. I can’t wait to try it.

We also bought a pint of fresh milk at the dairy booth. The milk was in big buckets and it was fun to watch them ladle it into this bottle:

I’ve already had a glass full and it is wonderful.

food market Argentan France market in Argentan France

The Tuesday market takes place right in the center of Argentan next to an ancient Cathedral. What a backdrop!

cathedral in Argentan France market in Argentan France

Seeing the variety of citrus makes me smile. And so does the beautiful handwriting on the signs.

food market Argentan France food market Argentan France food market Argentan France

At one of the booths, there were live chickens and duckings (I think?):

food market Argentan France

A woman was buying a live chicken, and the farmer boxed it up in a roomy cardboard box and cut holes for air. Will she keep it for eggs? Or cook it up for dinner? I’m so curious.

After the market, we stopped at the butcher and baker which are right next door.

One thing I never realized before we moved here, is that France (and all of Europe, I think) uses military time. The bakery closes at 19h30 — which means 7:30 pm. I’m still getting used to it.

My observations on food so far, in no particular order:
- There are charming independent shops — like butchers, cheesemakers and bakeries. There are farmers markets almost every day. And there are huge supermarkets as well. Which means you can choose to eat as old school, or packaged and convenient, as you prefer.
- There are bakeries everywhere. No really, they are everywhere — sometimes 2 or 3 on the same block. And they are excellent! We have diligently been trying every possible bakery item so that we can confidently choose our favorites. It’s a difficult job, but we are sticking to the task. : )
- We stop at a bakery daily. We haven’t narrowed it down to one specific favorite shop yet, but like the idea of becoming regulars somewhere. Most days, we pick up baguettes for that night’s dinner, and pain au chocolat (like a croissant with chocolate inside) for the next day’s breakfast.
- Breakfast here is a minor meal. No bacon, eggs, sausage, hashbrowns. Nothing too heavy. A croissant and bowl of hot cocoa seem to be typical. I’ve always preferred a light breakfast, so this works wonderfully for me, and my kids are generally on board as well. I make a pot of hot cocoa each morning and if we don’t have pain au chocolat, then we make toast with honey or nutella instead. (Oscar still prefers oatmeal.)
- Lunchtime is sacred here. Many stores and banks close down from 12:00 to 2:00 so that employees can eat lunch. It is 3 courses, at least. Our kids eat at school, and come home with all sorts of yummy details about their food (which I promise to write up in another post). I confess, I have not eaten a proper French lunch yet. In fact, if I can find an open shop, it’s when I prefer to do my errands, because I have the store to myself.
- For dinner, we have been trying to experiment. We try French meals — like beef stew and crepes with savory fillings. Or sometimes we adapt familiar meals to French ingredients. Last night, we made pizza, but instead of pepperoni and mozzarella, we used a white sauce made from a local cream, and topped it with gruyere cheese, lardons and onions.

food market Argentan France

- As I mentioned, today, we shopped at the local farmer’s market where there are produce booths, seafood booths, dairy booths and meat booths. Then we visited the butcher and the baker.
- But we also shop at the big supermarket too. That’s where we buy flour, sugar, oatmeal — and even staples from our American diet like cold cereal, pizza dough and tortilla chips.
- One last thing. The yogurt section at the big grocery store is an event. The yogurt takes up as much space as the entire dairy section in an American supermarket. I love yogurt. I’m looking forward to trying a bunch and finding a few favorites.

What about you? What would be your ideal grocery shopping experience?

P.S. — Here’s a post Jordan wrote about grocery shopping in Paris.

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School in France Wed, 16 Feb 2011 11:50:25 +0000 Design Mom

Are you curious about how we’re handling school while we’re in France? Today, I thought I’d write up a little report for you all about it. But first, let’s admire these pretty French school notebooks from Laughing Elephant. Aren’t they handsome? I love school supplies at any time of year and from any country. They make me want to write a book report. : )

french school notebook red elephant

Now to business. We have gone back and forth, back and forth on how to handle school for the kids while we’re here. But in the end found it was something that needed to be decided once we were actually here and could check out the schools and see how our kids were adjusting to the move.

First, we gathered advice from everyone we could. Blog readers, family members that had lived abroad, friends with experience in French schools. And boy oh boy, did we get a mix of pointers and precautions. Everyone seemed to have a different experience. No surprise really, the same thing can be said for school discussions in America.

But based on the advice we received and research we did, we came up with several scenarios.

1) We could use (the company that employs Ben Blair). They offer online courses that would continue the curriculum our kids had been learning in Colorado and keep them up to speed with their American counterparts. Ben Blair and I would work together to help them through their coursework and we would supplement their learning with a French tutor who would come to the house and specifically work on French immersion.

2) The younger kids could go right into the local schools, while the older kids used and worked on their French. (Middle school can be rough anyway — without being the new kids who don’t speak the language.) Then, next fall, when their French is better, the older kids could join the younger kids in the schools.

3) Everyone could go right into the local schools. (FYI: we live in a rural area and the nearest International School is about an hour and a half away — too far for us.)

France doesn’t do much in the way of FSL (French as a second language), but our landlords had recommended the local school that could best accommodate foreigners. They had contacted the school on our behalf and made email introductions. So when we arrived we immediately set up appointments to visit the school and learn more about it. The recommended school is a private Catholic school, but is very different from the typical Catholic schools in the States. There are no uniforms, no nuns, and it’s heavily subsidized by the government, so it’s not expensive. They do offer religious education for about an hour per week. Other than that, it functions very much like a public school. The campus has a building for each age group. Preschool is called Maternelle. Grade school is called Primaire. Middle school is called College. And high school is called Lycée.

Our kids have been gung ho to meet friends and learn French since we arrived, so they were very excited to check out the school and immediately wanted to enroll. We had a long, frank discussion with them about it. Our kids are excellent students and have always done very well in their American schools, but here, they weren’t going to know what hit them. The school days are longer. From what we hear, the curriculum is more intense. And most of all, they don’t speak French (yikes!).

We told them our priorities for schooling are different this year than they were in Denver or New York. When we consider what we hope the kids will get out of our time in France, the goals are: make friends and learn French. Beyond that, we told them we really don’t care how much they’re learning the rest of the curriculum — at least until their French is in order, which will be months and months. Homework won’t be a priority. Getting good grades won’t matter. If they’re making friends and learning French, that’s plenty for this year.

Yesterday, Ralph and Maude had their first day of College. They loved it! They came home beaming. They went on and on about the food (a great topic for another post) and how friendly the students were. Tomorrow, Betty, Oscar and Olive have their first day. I’m very nervous for them, but excited too. Each of their teachers speaks a little bit of English and in Olive’s class, we know one classmate is from Ireland so they’ll have English in common as well.

Today, we’re feeling great about our schooling decision. We know we may feel differently as the year progresses, but I like the comfort of having as an option if this doesn’t work out.

I’ll follow up with another schooling post next week to share some of the details and stories the kids bring home. Things that are the same and things that are different than American schools — for example, they don’t have school on Wednesdays. Yay!

Thanks for following along.

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Financing a Move Abroad Wed, 09 Feb 2011 15:32:35 +0000 Design Mom

Here’s another practical post. Many readers have written in asking what the real costs of moving abroad are. It’s a great question. So let’s do it. Let’s talk about the nitty gritty of how much money it took the Blairs to move to another country. Spoiler: it wasn’t free, but it likely wasn’t as much as you’d guess.

Also, I’m going to write this using a tone that assumes you’re interested in moving abroad. If you’re not, no stress. Feel free to skip this post.

Our rent for La Cressonnierre is almost exactly the same as the rent we paid on our modest home in Denver (around $1500/mo). It’s actually slightly less or slightly more depending on the Euro exchange rate. If the house was closer to Paris, I’m sure it would be much more expensive, but because it’s almost 2 hours away, the price is very reasonable. After some research, we can see that our daily expenses and utilities in France will be quite similar to what they were in Denver. Which means that really, our monthly family budget won’t change much at all. So the good news is: if you can afford to live wherever you’re living right now, you can probably also afford to live abroad — assuming you’re flexible about location. In fact, if you move to a country with a lower cost of living, your monthly budget costs could even go down.

But, there are real costs leading up to the move.

1) Passports. If you or your kids need one, they are about $100 each to apply for.
2) Visas. Some countries require them. Some don’t. It depends on where you’re headed and for how long. Our visa applications were about $125 each. If there are less of you, costs would obviously go down. : )
3) Travel for visa application. My sister had no travel costs for her visa application, because her assigned consulate is in San Francisco, where she lived. But we had to fly everyone over 6 years old to Los Angeles. The flights were about $115 each. We went back and forth the same day, so there were no hotel costs.
4) Luggage. You may already have what you need, but if not you’ll have to go shopping. We found our luggage for $90 per person.
5) Plane tickets. This was by far our biggest expense. We found our plane tickets for less than $600 each, which was a good price, but they added up fast.
6) Rental security deposit on your Home in Another Country. Of course, any time you rent a home, a security deposit (usually at least 1 month’s rent) is required up front. In our case, assuming we receive a refund of the security deposit on our rental in Denver, this should be close to net zero expense.
7) Moving service. If you need to move your stuff out of the house you’re leaving behind, you’ll need to recruit friends and neighbors to help, or hire a moving company. This cost might be eliminated if you decide to rent out or sub-lease your current home as a furnished property.
8) Storage unit. Our storage unit is about $140 per month. If you have fewer people in your house, I’m guessing you might own fewer beds and less furniture and might need less space — which means a better deal per month. Or, you might have a parent’s garage you could move things into. Or, you might not need a storage unit at all if you’re renting out your house as a furnished space while you’re away.
9) Storing your car. We actually don’t have a cost here, because we were able to turn in our lease with only a small additional fee. (We drive a Honda Pilot and it’s held it’s value so well, Honda was delighted to buy it back. Nice!) Happily, we only drive one car, so that was easy. Instead of storing your car, you could also sell it. (Here in France, we’ll arrange for another car to lease for the year — but again, that really won’t change our monthly car budget at all.)

Conclusion. Are there extra expenses associated with a move abroad? For sure. The truth is, there are extra expenses associated with any move, any where. But it’s definitely less than we expected when we started our planning. Could we have done it a few years ago, back when I started Design Mom? Hmmm. Probably not. Ben Blair was a graduate student and we lived in New York with 5 kids — a very expensive proposition — it was hard to set aside money. But we’ve both been fully employed for the past couple of years so we’re in a different situation now. I’d guess, if you’re a family of 4, your moving expenses could probably be less than $5000. That’s not chump change, but it’s also not a down payment on the average American house.

Really it’s all about whether you want to do something like this or not. And I totally get that it doesn’t appeal to everyone. It wouldn’t always have appealed to me. We’ve only been here a week, and maybe I’ll feel different in the future, but at this point, the hours of research, preparation and stress leading up to the move were far more of a challenge than the funding.

What do you think? Are you a pay-for-an-adventure sort of person, or do you prefer your money securely in the bank?

P.S. — I’m really, truly no sort of financial person. So I will feel just awful if you make any plans based on what I’ve written here without doing your own research or seeking expert advise. : )

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Luggage & Travel Day Mon, 07 Feb 2011 15:01:50 +0000 Design Mom

Another practical post to start off the week. Today, I’ll be sharing the luggage we chose and reporting on our travel day.

blair family at airport

Our luggage search was fairly extensive. First we window-shopped, just to get a sense of what was out there and what might work for our family. We started at TJ Maxx, which is my favorite spot to find great individual pieces at bargain prices. Next, we checked out the Army Navy Surplus store to see their enormous, sturdy duffel bags. I even approached Lands’ End about a possible luggage sponsorship because I love their totes and figured their luggage would be excellent as well — but during discussions, we figured out they didn’t have quite the sizes we needed for this particular voyage. So we kept searching.

suitcases lined up blair family

What I found out in my research: luggage can be really expensive, but there are true bargains to be found. We eventually happened upon the brand fūl (pronounced ‘fuel’) during a Costco trip. It gets great reviews and is very reasonably priced. We ended up buying 7 duffel bags (they were $40 in store), and then bought 7 carryon/backpacks online. That’s 3 pieces for $90. Not bad! Especially considering most of the carryons we looked at were around $200 each.

laminated luggage tags laminated luggage tag laminated luggage tags

For luggage tags, I bought a set of 25 blank ones at Staples. You just slip inside a business card size piece of paper and run them through a laminator. Since I bought them at Staples, Staples did the laminating for free. For each backpack and carryon, I made tags with initials. GSB for me. BB for Betty. OSGB for Oscar. For each duffel bag and additional checked piece, I made tags that were numbered, B-01 through B – 10. We ended up checking 7 duffel bags, 1 guitar, 1 trombone, and 1 desktop computer (in original packaging).

Through the airport, we kept June in her stroller and hung the carseat from the stroller handle. The carseat came onto the airplane and the stroller was checked at the gate.

trombone case with luggage tag Oscar looking at luggage tag

For carryons, everyone but Baby June used a roller bag plus backpack. We love these! The detachable backpack was really convenient. Even 4-year-old Betty could roll her bag through the airport with the backpack attached. Then, on the airplane, the roller suitcases went above the seats and the backpacks went below.

We think these backpack/rollerbags will be great if we manage to do any traveling around Europe while we’re here — we won’t have to check any luggage

ful carryon with backpack duffel bags at airport

I have no connections at fūl and this is not a sponsored post, but I am way impressed with our luggage. The duffels are really amazing. Tons of helpful compartments — even a wet/dry section. At $40, I felt like they were a great deal. The only disadvantage: these pieces are heavy. If you’re looking for feather-weight luggage, keep searching.

maude with roller suitcase Blair kids at airport

Here we are trooping through the airport on the way to security.

blair kids at airport security blairs at airport security

Security was pretty straightforward. Only one bag needed to be searched. Olive had her scriptures in her roller bag and the book is so thick and dense they couldn’t tell what it was. : )

Ben and Gabby at airport

Security went so quickly we had plenty of time before the plane arrived. We ate breakfast and took pictures.

baby with cracker on airplane kids with earphones on airplane Blair Family

The first leg of the trip was from Denver to Montreal. The weather was crazy cold that day, but the plane left on time. The flight was about 3 and 1/2 hours. June was well-rested and easy to entertain. Everyone else enjoyed the individual screen time.

kids at montreal airport kids at Montreal airport baby in stroller at Montreal airport Ralph filming at airport

At the Montreal airport we had a longish layover — about 2 or 3 hours. We ate dinner, practiced a little French and Ralph worked on the short movie he was making about our trip. You can see his movie, Denver to Normandy, here.

girl sleeping on airplane Maude Blair kids sleeping on airplane Olive Betty Blair baby sleeping on airplane June Blair Boys sleeping on airplane Ralph, Oscar Blair

During the 7 hour flight from Montreal to Paris, the kids mostly slept. Poor Baby June had the hardest time during takeoff. She didn’t want to nurse or use her pacifier and her ears started hurting. The worst part, we couldn’t get up to walk and soothe her — which is the main way she calms down. She basically screamed for 15 or 20 minutes until we could walk her around the cabin. Then she slept and stayed asleep the rest of the way. Hooray!

In Paris, we took our time gathering all our belongings. We made a point of being the last people off of the airplane so we weren’t rushed and weren’t a bother to the other passengers. We collected our checked pieces and took two separate mini-van taxis to our hotel. Our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we left our luggage with the bellhops and went to check out Jordan and Paul’s new apartment. (In case I didn’t mention it, my sister Jordan moved to Paris the day before we moved.)

When our hotel was ready, we crashed there for the day (Wednesday) and rented a minivan to use for our first couple of weeks. We left all of our checked baggage items with the hotel storage — all we needed in our rooms was our carryons. We slept-in the next morning (Thursday) and then drove to Argentan around noon, making sure to take a touristy drive around Paris on our way out of town.

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Taking Off Tue, 01 Feb 2011 14:00:15 +0000 Design Mom

Phew, I can hardly believe we made it. Today we’re boarding the plane (all 8 of us!) and embarking on our adventure to France. Send happy thoughts our way for our kids to survive the entire flight. Hopefully the iPad doesn’t get old. : )

The pretty photo is from Cori Kindred, the plane just needs to be directed slightly south.

And don’t worry, I have a lot more great guest posts lined up so there won’t be any radio silence.

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Accordion Folder, Movers & Storage Fri, 28 Jan 2011 16:00:02 +0000 Design Mom

accordion folder open

Here’s another one of those practical posts about France. It’s features the accordion folder above (which has lately become a beloved object of mine) and how we are moving and storing our belongings while out of the country.

file folder sticky notes

But before I tell you about all of that, I must show you these post-it notes I’ve been using with the accordion folder. They’re part of the organization system designed by Peter Walsh. They come with tapered corners(!) and I think they are much prettier than the typical post-it colors.

accordion folder closed

The accordion folder was originally purchased to carry all our paperwork to Los Angeles for our visa appointments. I found it at Target for under $10 and I think it’s perfection. Since the L.A. trip, I have been using it to gather originals and copies of all the forms we’ll need while in France — things like birth certificates, immunization records, insurance information, copies of our passports and drivers licenses (did I tell you I got a ticket today? bummer!) and all the other essential paperwork we’ve been advised to pack up.

The book The Expert Expat has a really helpful list to work from, if you’re curious.

accordion folder

We are storing our information in several different locations. We have scans of everything and are keeping the digital files in 4 places (our computer, our backup harddrive, a thumb drive which Ben will carry, and a thumb drive we’re leaving in Denver). We also have hard copies in two places — originals and photocopies are in the accordion folder, and a second set of photocopies is in a smaller, one-pocket folder that will be carried in a different suitcase than the accordion folder.

That’s probably over-preparation, but I tell you, all these books have me a bit paranoid and I’m trying to be prepared. : )

For moving and storage, we’ve decided to go with some small local Denver companies since it’s such a local move. Galt Brothers Movers will be packing our things on Saturday. Then, they’ll bring the moving truck around on Sunday, load everything up and move it into storage. On Monday, our carpets are being cleaned (part of our rental agreement), we’ll check the kids out of school, and hand in our car lease.

On Tuesday, we’ll fly away!

P.S. — For my next practical post, I’ll show you the luggage we’re using (less than $100 for 3 pieces!) and share some of the practical costs of this adventure.

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