From the category archives:


Cousins Week Begins

Image and text by Gabrielle.

On Sunday afternoon, we dropped the kids off at Cousins Week, and we picked them up yesterday afternoon (Thursday, if you’re keeping track).

What is Cousins Week? It’s an annual tradition, hosted by my sister, Sara and her husband, Steve. All cousins age 8 or older are invited. They go to Sara & Steve’s house in St. George, and have this sort of kid-paradise vacation. There’s a ton of swimming in the backyard pool (which is essential because St. George is crazy hot), the kids can stay up as late as they want, they can eat dessert for breakfast if they want, and they get a break from their typical schedules.

Lots more about Cousins Week. Keep reading!


Las Vegas Boulevard

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Waving hello from Las Vegas! We’re staying at the Golden Nugget — it’s in the old school downtown part of the city. And we’re having a fabulous time!

I have such nostalgic feelings for Las Vegas. Growing up in St. George, Utah, meant Vegas was our nearest big city. St. George has grown like crazy in the years since I left for college, but while I was a kid, it was a small town. So when we needed Costco, or a mall for school shopping, we drove to Las Vegas. My first concert was in Las Vegas. And the Las Vegas airport is the one I would fly in and out of.

We didn’t spend a ton of time in the casinos, but we’d drive by all the neon with wide eyes. And I remember a family vacation where we stayed at a hotel/casino called The Imperial Palace.

The Fashion Show Mall would also draw us to Las Vegas Boulevard, fondly known as The Strip. That mall had expensive stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. We couldn’t afford those stores, but my mom would make a point of having me window shop there so I could see the current styles — those window shopping trips were part of my early design education.

I also came to understand that gambling was infused into life in Las Vegas — that even in the suburbs, there were slot machines everywhere — in the grocery stores and the pharmacies and every possible spot.

I remember the Vegas skyline changing when I was in my teens. I remember the Luxor pyramid being built, and the Mirage and the MGM Grand. But the next big growth spurt — the Bellagio and the Venitian — happened after I’d moved away from St. George. The whole strip has continued to develop like crazy and when I’m in Las Vegas I no longer feel oriented. The suburbs have also grown like crazy and it’s easy to imagine that most residents of the Las Vegas area probably rarely interact with the touristy, casino part of the city.

My kids haven’t ever really been to Las Vegas. Since my hometown is so close, we usually just drive through on our way to see cousins. But we thought on this roadtrip is would be a good destination. Vegas feels very American. Lots of neon and shopping and commercialism. A contrast to the very natural National Parks, and something fun for our exchange students to see. This is also the main spot on our trip where they’ll be able to shop.

Vegas is contrasts. The shopping is as good as the biggest cities in the world — I think I counted 6 Louis Vuitton shops over about a mile of the Las Vegas Strip. Hah! The newest growth spurt brought in fine dining, and luxe spas. Of course, the city has always been known for great concerts and performers. There are even world class art exhibits now. And all of that shares real estate with endless, dark, smoke-filled casinos and the trashiest shows you can find anywhere. In the same brochure where you can get info on Seigfried and Roy, you can also find tours to the Grand Canyon. Much of the city is for adults only, but at the same time, there are a surprising number of attractions designed to attract families with young kids.

Our hotel is on Fremont Street. Sassy Sally and Vegas Vic of my childhood are now part of a walking district. There is a roof over the whole street making it a semi-indoor space, and the entire ceiling functions as a giant screen. The whole outdoor walking area is air conditioned! I mentioned Vegas not being eco-friendly on Instagram and there were comments that Vegas has actually done a ton with water recycling — which I was comforted to know! But when you’re in this desert oasis, surrounded by a million light bulbs and outdoor air conditioning, it’s hard not to wonder how much energy it takes to power this crazy place. (No judgment from me, I promise. I can’t pretend I’m awesome at being earth-minded. I’m a tourist here just like everybody else.)

Our hotel, The Golden Nugget, has a real live gold nugget on display. The biggest ever found. From Australia. But it’s not much of a draw. Instead the pool is the thing. First, because it’s super hot out and cool water feels amazing. And second, because the pool surrounds a salt water aquarium full of sharks. But that’s not all. There’s a water slide at the pool and it goes through the shark tank!

We were laughing with the kids and wondering what it would be like to be part of a Vegas hotel/casino planning team, trying to come up with more and more jaw-dropping attractions. We imagined a conversation like this: This pool is pretty nice, but it needs something more. Hmmm. How about a giant aquarium that you can see when you swim? Wait. How about a giant aquarium full of sharks?! And what if there’s a water slide that goes by the shark tank? No. Even better: What if the water slide goes through the shark tank?! Bingo!

Las Vegas is a city where creativity and talent abound. And at the same time, everything gross about our country is present there and in full view. But one thing that I observed on this trip: Everyone in Las Vegas seems like they’re in a good mood! There are no desks in the Golden Nugget hotel rooms. No one comes here to work. Vegas is all about play.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever been there with kids? What are your favorite spots in the city, or favorite attractions? And whether you’ve been there or not, I’d love to hear about your impressions of the city. I think it’s so much fun! But I can only handle a couple of days and then I’m ready for something a little less neon. : )

P.S. — When we lived in New York, our neighbors would be wowed when they heard we were flying into Vegas (on our way to a family reunion). To them, Vegas was the coolest possible destination. Is that how you think of it, too?


Yosemite Summer Sunset

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Yosemite. This place! This place is heavenly.

It’s our first visit here and we’re already thinking about future trips and imagining what it will be like to visit in the winter (ice skating!), or spring (legendary waterfalls!), or fall (fall color? I have no idea what happens here in the fall. Hah.).

We drove here this morning in a giant rented van. Eleven people. Me and Ben. Our six kids. Our two exchange students (one from France, one from England). And my niece Roxcy, who happily joined us at the last minute. That’s a lot of people! And a lot of teenagers. : )

The weather is hot, but we have a cooler full of icy water, we jump into the river whenever we get the chance, and we have lots of audiobooks.

Actually, I need to mention the audiobook tip before I forget. Janssen told me about an app called Overdrive and it’s genius. You use it to look up your local library — for example, we looked up the Oakland Public Library system — then you log in with your library card, and you can instantly read any e-books or listen to any audiobooks that your library has in their collection. Best part: totally free! Amazing right?

Anyway. The trip started this morning and it feels good to get going. This is the first stop of many. We’ll be here two nights, then it’s on to the next destination. Have you ever been to Yosemite? What are your favorite spots?

P.S. — In case you’re curious, we’ve been listening to Speaker For the Dead today — it’s the second book in the Ender’s Game series. Are you an Ender’s Game fan?


Travel Advice

June 5, 2014

suitcases lined up blair family

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Something a little lighter today. I was reading this list of travel advice from Anthony Bourdain (I like him a ton), and loved so much of what he had to say. One of the standout tips he offers is to read fiction on the flight set in the location you are headed to. He says, “Fiction is in many ways more useful than a guidebook, because it gives you those little details, a sense of the way a place smells, an emotional sense of the place.” Isn’t that great?

Another thing he mentioned is that he prefers to check his baggage on flights. I was a little surprised when I read it, because I feel like for years all travel advice has pointed to carryons, carryons, carryons. I have some friends who are passionate about having a carryon-only policy. They make no exceptions. Even on long-haul trips, they prefer to travel as light as possible. And they also carry some concern about lost luggage — it’s too big a risk in their eyes and they’re not willing to hand off their suitcase to anyone else.

But I admit, I also cheered when I read Anthony Bourdain’s luggage advice, because I feel the same way! I arrive at the airport, and I can’t wait to get rid my luggage and see it transported away on that magical moving belt. Especially if I’m traveling with the kids! For me, going through security with the least possible amount of stuff is ideal. And then, if we happen to be there early, we’re free to roam around and see what the airport has to offer — maybe even take in a sit-down meal, or get a pedicure — without having to watch our baggage. Heading down the gateway, finding our seats, settling the kids — all of it is easier with no luggage dragging behind us.

I realize that sometimes, we simply don’t have a choice — when we moved to France and when we moved back to the U.S., we used every checked baggage and carryon option available to us. And when I’m traveling for a big conference — like Alt Summit which is coming up in June — I often have so many supplies that a larger suitcase is essential, which means checking it is essential too. But on most of my flights, I only bring a roller bag, so I really do have a choice between carrying it on and checking it.

I should note, that even if I’m boarding a plane without a carryon, I still carry a tote with my laptop/book/magazine and other essentials. But if possible, I prefer to hand off my actual luggage to someone else.

A silly topic, I know — I guess I wanted an excuse to share the article on travel advice. : ) But now I’m curious. Where do you fall on the checked baggage versus carryon baggage debate? Any strong opinions? And if you read the Anthony Bourdain article, I’d love to hear if any tips stick out to you.

P.S. — The tricky thing these days is the luggage fees. They’re the worst! I’m always looking for a workaround to avoid them, though I fly so many different airlines that I don’t have a good system.



May 27, 2014

Blairs at Sequoia National Park

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Getting back to business on the Tuesday after a holiday weekend always feels like a challenge to me. You too? But the long weekend was wonderful and even though the house is a mess and I feel behind on work, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Totally worth the effort and the aftermath! Things I want to remember from our trip:

- We spent the first few days at Sequoia National Park. We hadn’t been to a National Park since we moved back to the U.S., and I was so happy to be there! I love getting the park brochure — designed with the standard black band. Love everything about it! And I grinned when we bought a year-long parks pass. We have plans to hit the Grand Canyon, Zion, Yosemite and more this year, so I know we’ll put it to good use.

- For the next few months there are 9 of us, while Charles from France is visiting. Our car only has 8 seat belts, so we rented an extended-cab van for the trip. It was nice for the kids to be able to spread out.

- Sequoia National Park makes for fun photos. The trees really are magnificent! We took some of the less-traveled hikes through the ancient trees, and it felt like sacred ground. (You can see more of our photos here.)

- We enjoyed learning the difference between a redwood tree and a sequoia, and we also learned a ton about black bears, which are common in the park. Oscar especially loved learning about the park animals. After a kid-friendly lecture on American Lions by a park ranger, Oscar asked, “Can a cougar jump farther than a Kangaroo?”

- One of the major highlights was finding a picturesque swimming hole, and getting it all to ourselves for at least an hour — which felt remarkable on such a busy holiday weekend.

- I brought my laptop on the trip and didn’t open it once. And we didn’t get phone coverage in the park either. So I was basically off-line for 4 days. Delicious!

- We got home from Sequoia quite late on Sunday night, then repacked the van and headed up to Stinson Beach the same night. We had planned to go in the morning, but wanted to avoid the legendary traffic, so we put the kids in their pajamas and made the 1 hour and 15 minutes drive at 11:30 that night. Everyone got to sleep in the next morning. : ) We stayed in a beach house with Jordan’s family and Liz’s family.

- The weather on Monday was ideal! We spent the whole day on the beach. At one point, Ben Blair and I had a race — it was the first time I had full-out sprinted in years (yes, I realize I don’t exercise much). It felt so good!

- This was the first Memorial Day in quite awhile where we didn’t visit a military cemetery. It was definitely a different sort of Memorial Day for us.

- Though we went went through several bottles of sunscreen, the kids still ended up with sunburns. Me too. Boo! So several of us are spending quality time with our bottle of aloe vera gel.

Overall, such a happy trip! Traveling is a hassle. There’s no doubt about it. Packing up. Figuring out how to feed everybody. Navigating to a new place. Messed up sleep schedules. But  in my experience, it’s worth it every time.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend as well!

P.S. — Have you ever had a run in with poison ivy or poison oak? I am highly allergic to both and have awful reactions. Apparently, I contacted some poison oak in our yard a few days before our trip, and all weekend my leg was an itchy, ugly mess. So gross! I’m guessing I have a few more days of this and then I should be on the mend. 



May 5, 2014

Hugging Olive

By Gabrielle. Image snapped by Ben Blair.

How sensitive are you to criticism? I suppose no one loves to receive criticism, but it does seem like some people can handle it better than others. I know I feel my body brace when I’m about to hear or read something about myself that’s critical. And I think the weaker my relationship is with someone, the easier it is for me to hear criticism from them — meaning, a comment from an anonymous stranger on the internet is easier for me to handle than if Ben Blair decided to criticize me.

I was thinking about this as I flew home from Atlanta yesterday. While I was there, Laurie Smithwick was my roommate, and we stayed up late talking, talking, talking (the best part of these types of get togethers!). She told me about a couple, friends of her parents, who are both writers. The wife knew she was super sensitive to criticism of her writing, even construction criticism from her husband — a fellow writer who very much wanted her to succeed.

But she discovered a trick. She found that if her husband prefaced any suggestions or edits or critiques with, “I’m no expert, but…”, that she could receive the words more easily. Of course, as a writer himself, he is an expert, but using the phrase “I’m no expert” really seemed to help.

I thought it was a genius tactic! Simple and worth a try. When I’m feeling especially sensitive, or can see that one of my kids is, I hope I’ll remember to use it (or request it of the person critiquing me).

I’ve also heard sensitivity issues can align with personality test profiles (like Meyers-Briggs). I’ve been tested before, but I never seem to remember the results. Hah!

How about you? Do you know your personality classification? Do you consider yourself sensitive? Do have particularly sensitive children? Would this trick work for anyone in your life? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Yesterday, Olive embarked on a 2-week trip to France with a group from her school. Very exciting! It happened last minute. Another student dropped out on Thursday, and since Olive’s passport was ready to go, they offered the spot to her. Amazing! I was in Atlanta when this happened, so Ben Blair took care of all the errands and getting her prepped. He’s a champ.

I arrived at the SFO airport on Sunday morning from Atlanta, then Ben and Olive met me there and we got to hang out for a couple of hours before her school group checked in. We had a leisurely breakfast, and I trimmed Olive’s bangs in the airport bathroom. : ) The photo at top is me hugging her goodbye. We miss her like crazy already.



April 30, 2014

Ben Silbermann and Gabrielle Blair. Alt Summit Keynote, January 2014.

By Gabrielle. Images of me interviewing Ben Silbermann of Pinterest, taken by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit. 

More travel ahead for me! Plus two speaking engagements that I’m very, very excited about. Tomorrow, I’m flying to Atlanta to speak at the Mom 2.0 Conference. It’s one of my favorite conferences! I’m really looking forward to the trip. I’ve only been to Atlanta once before, and it was basically a drive through, so I’m excited to get to know the city a little better and see what it’s all about.

For sure, I’m most excited about the wonderful friends I’ll get to see! The funny thing about working online is that you don’t really have co-workers. So getting to be with my internet friends and peers in real life — and getting to talk shop the whole time! — is dreamy as can be.

Ben Silbermann and Gabrielle Blair. Alt Summit Keynote, January 2014.

The second speaking engagement I’m still a little stunned about. Next week, I’m headed to New York. I was invited to the Moms + Social Good Conference. And I’ll be on stage with Ambassador Samantha Power, the American Ambassador to the U.N., interviewing her about the work she does and her life as a mother, and how they overlap. I could not be more honored to have been asked! Also, I’m very intimidated. So I’ve been working hard on the list of questions I want to ask and trying to get feedback from everyone I can.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed this peek into a-day-in-the-life of Ambassador Power in New York Magazine.

You can find more about the Moms + Social Good conference, or add your name to the waitlist, here — scroll down to see the list of speakers, and find out why I’m feeling so intimidated. : )

Tell me, Friends. Do you get nervous when you have to speak, or make a presentation, in public? For work, for the PTA, for church, for book club? And if you had to give a big speech, would you prefer to do it TED-style with slides, or would you like an interview format where you respond to questions? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — It’s a remarkably busy day at our house and I feel like I want to distinguish it with a mention because it’s so unusual. I’m packing for tomorrow’s early flight and trying to get my work done for both today and tomorrow. This evening, we’re hosting the high school track team dinner — Maude says to expect 50 people! The girls from Olive’s church group are also coming over to climb the trees. And Ben Blair is helping out at Oscar’s Cub Scout meeting tonight. I’m already imagining how good it will feel to get in bed tonight. : ) Happily, things calm way down next week.


Twin Cities

April 22, 2014

Gabrielle Stanley Blair at HOBY

By Gabrielle.

I’ve got an adventure today: I’m headed to Minneapolis this afternoon! Remember the Mrs. Meyers Clean Day #GetMessyContest I wrote about? Well. The winner was chosen! I’m headed to her house, near the Twin Cities, to host a big craft party tomorrow night. I can’t wait. It’s going to be awesome! And no doubt I’ll be instagramming up a storm if you’d like to follow along.

I’m feeling quite nostalgic because I haven’t been to Minneapolis since the summer I turned 16 years old. That’s teenage me above — with big earrings and even bigger hair — pictured with actor, Hugh O’Brian. The photo was taken on that Minnesota trip of long ago.

Sixteen-year-old me was there for a HOBY Leadership Conference (HOBY stands for Hugh OBrian Youth Foundation). I’m not sure if it still works the same way, but at the time, each state hosted a leadership conference for 15 year olds — I think it’s typically one kid per high school in attendance. Then two delegates from each of those state conferences go to a Worldwide Conference where those state delegates, plus kids from all over the world, spend a week together taking classes and hearing speakers and getting inspired to make the world a better place.

Oh, I wanted to be one of the delegates so bad! I went through interview after interview about politics and current events and pretended I knew what I was talking about. I would reference Orwell’s Animal Farm — it always seemed to impress the adults. Hah!

And it worked! I got to go!

Click to read some of my favorite memories from that teenage trip — including the briefest of romances with a boy from Ireland!


Cottage New Roof 1

By Gabrielle. Images by Caroline.

I’ve been working like crazy on The Treehouse, and I have a few spaces that I’m almost ready to share. The reading loft is close to done. The boys’ room is like 75% finsihed. The living room is really shaping up as well! So you may be getting a house-sharing overload in the next few weeks. But today, I thought it would be fun to cross the ocean and tell you about some progress we’ve made on The Cottage in France.

Cottage New Roof 3

If you remember, when we bought it, the building was basically a shell. Good bones on a pretty piece of land. But no electricity. And no plumbing. And guess what? There is still no electricity or plumbing! We closed on the cottage about a month before we moved back to the U.S., and I was sure we’d have electricity installed that month. Hah! Instead, it’s 8 months later and if we tried to stay at the house right now, we would basically be camping. : )

That said, we have actually made major improvements. The roof has been repaired and replaced. The chimney is now in working order. The cracks in the stone walls and the stone fence have been repaired as well. And a new dormer was added!

Cottage New Dormer

Essentially, what we’ve done is make that “shell” weatherproof and ready for interior work. I admit, none of that is very sexy work — it’s much for glamorous to choose a bathtub, or share photos of a new kitchen; images of a functioning roof are not that dramatic. But honestly, I get goosebumps! chills! butterflies! when I see photos of the progress. Sometimes in our day to day routines I forget we have a little piece of French paradise waiting for us, and when I remember I catch my breath.

Our friend Caroline went to the house to check out the work and sent us these images and it was like Christmas morning!

Now that we have The Cottage in a stable place, we can start thinking about the interior — where we’ll put bedrooms and bathrooms and gathering rooms. And now that the exterior is secure, we can go at a slow pace if need be. Which is nice. It gives us time to make decisions, and also gives us time to save up budget for improvements.

Cottage Repaired Fence

Two things I’m curious about: 1) Have you ever taken on a similar project? Maybe created a cabin off in the mountains? Or a little vacation spot on a lake? I’d love to hear. And 2) If you could have a little cottage/cabin/bungalow anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

P.S. — As I looked back through The Cottage posts, I realized I’ve never shared photos with you of the whole property. Would you like to see it? I took about a million pics before we moved! I’m thinking I should do a “Introducing The Cottage” post.


Resident of California

February 26, 2014

Washington DC in the Snow

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I like to listen to NPR when I’m in the car, and during the local news updates when a story about California is being shared, I’ll be listening in a removed way and then all of sudden think: Oh. I live in California! This story is relevant to my life! I’m a Californian!

And then I think something along the lines of: That is so strange.

A related thing happens when Ben Blair is driving and I look up from the passenger seat and see a landscape or cityscape that is completely unfamiliar and think: We’ve only been in the car for two minutes, but I wasn’t watching where we are going and I have no idea where we are and would have to use GPS to even point myself in the right direction if I wanted to head home.

Basically, I’m in a funny situation where my home city and home state aren’t quite home yet. It’s not that I have regrets or complaints about moving here, it’s just that everything still feels so new and 7 months in I’m still playing catchup.

This really hit home during my trip to Washington D.C. (I’m still here in D.C., writing this from my hotel room and will head back home today.) On Tuesday, I had the chance to lobby the senators and representatives from my state on behalf of ONE is bipartisan so we were lobbying both republicans and democrats. As we were being briefed the day before, I experienced a moment of identity crisis. My thoughts were something like: I’m lobbying for California? I haven’t even registered to vote there yet. I’m still using my Colorado driver’s license. I have only a slight handle on Bay Area geography — on which cities are where. And I have no idea who my congresswomen/congressmen are!!

Luckily, California happens to have some famous names among our representatives (think Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer), so I actually do know many of my representatives, and my identity crisis was short lived. I reminded myself I was born in California and lived there till I was 5. I learned to speak my native language in California. Growing up, I spent time in California every year of my life and both of my parents were born and raised in California. So I have deep roots in my new-again state.

This trip has been a good reminder to me that it’s time to dive deep and really get to know my state and my city; to learn the problems and passions of California and of Oakland specifically, and to care (or care more) about the outcomes of propositions and proposals that affect my slice of the country.

It also made me curious: Have you ever been in the same state-of-mind that I am in now? Have you ever been surprised that you are a resident of the state/country/city you reside in? Have you ever felt like a resident of no place at all — sort of detached from where you live? I imagine not everyone experiences this sort of thing. Where do you consider yourself a resident of? What are your thoughts?

P.S. — I’ll give a full report of my trip to Washington later this week (or possibly next week.) But have to tell you how lovely it was when it snowed yesterday. The flakes were giant and fluffy and since Oakland doesn’t experience the sort of winter I’m accustomed to, it was a treat to have snowflakes on my nose and eyelashes.


By Gabrielle. Images by Ben Blair.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more images from the shoot!


Olive Us: Ralph in London

January 9, 2014

By Gabrielle. Image by Ben Blair.

Do you remember Betty in Paris? Fun fact: it’s the most viewed episode of Olive Us! And I can’t say I’m surprised. Paris is a magical place, and Betty in Paris is a magical video.

We enjoyed making it so much, that we thought it would be fun to make episodes showing each of our kids exploring a famous city somewhere in the world — a mini-video-series within the larger Olive Us series. We like the idea of pairing up each child with a city that fits their personality. For example, (pretending we could somehow film anywhere) if we were making an episode for Maude, we picture Tokyo. For Olive, it would be New York.

And today, I’m sharing video #2 in this mini-series: Ralph in London!

Ralph in London

This video definitely feels more teenager-y than our other Olive Us episodes — including the music! So your youngest viewers may not be drawn to it as much as our other videos. (I’m actually really curious about this, so please feel free to let me know what your kids think of it if you decide to have them watch it.)

For this episode, Ben Blair and Ralph took a weekend trip to London last May (we were still living in France then, so it was easy as can be). Then they spent the weekend running all over town from morning till night, while Tiger in a Jar filmed. We had been to London a couple of times as a family at that point and Ralph had really fallen in love with it. He feels a connection with that city. So it’s a treat for me to see the city through his eyes in this video.

In Betty in Paris, we show a 6 year old’s simple and sweet view of the city, but in Ralph in London, we show a grittier version of a day spent exploring. It’s interesting to me, because cities really do tend to have multiple personalities — so if we had filmed Betty in London, instead of Ralph in London, it would have been an entirely different video, while still staying true to a London experience. I love that! I love that the same city can mean something entirely different to different people.

Have you ever been to London? If yes, did we capture any of your favorite spots in the city? And if we were filming a “You in Any City” episode, is there a particular city in the world you are most drawn to? (I can’t decide which city I would choose! Amsterdam? New York?)

P.S. — Speaking of Betty in Paris, it just turned One! Join in the celebration here!! Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

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


Olive Us: Painting in Honfleur

December 18, 2013

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

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

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

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

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

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


Olive Us: How to Travel

December 2, 2013

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By Gabrielle.

It’s going to be a bit of a crazy week at our house. Ben Blair flew to France yesterday and won’t be back till Sunday, and starting Wednesday, the wood floors are being refinished. Which means we need to live upstairs until they’re done. Which means we won’t have access to the kitchen. Which will be tricky. But I’ve got a plan! And take out menus! And we’ll make it work.

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In honor of Ben’s trip, I thought today would be a fun day to share one of the newest Olive Us episodes, called How to Travel. I’m sure many of you have travel plans for the holidays (or are just returning from Thanksgiving trips), so hopefully this cute little video will resonate. And if you have your own travel tricks and tips you’d like to add, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

The aim of Ben’s trip is to have the roof and chimney of The Cottage repaired. I tell you, I get a case of the butterflies when I think about progress being made on our pretty little bit of France!

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

- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us here.
- We’ve collaborated with ulive for 20 episodes, you can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.


anse chastanet resort

This post is brought to you by Carnival Cruise Lines. Click here to learn more.

By Gabrielle. Image of the Anse Chastanet Resort.

We’ve done so much travel over the last few years, but never really a beach trip — the kind where you simply sit on the sand day after day with a good book and an umbrellaed drink. And when you’re not doing that, you’re snorkeling. And when you’re in the mood to get off the sand, there’s a tropical jungle offering adventure. Oh man. That sounds so lovely right now! The idea of a laid-back beach vacation (or maybe even a cruise) is one of those things I daydream about when my head is getting overwhelmed, and specifically a beach vacation in the Caribbean, because a reader sent me a link to this article a few months ago, and the pictures are so stunning I sort of seared them into my brain.

Here are the 4 Caribbean spots on my list at the moment, and when I would most want to visit each one:

Isla Mujeres
I’ve heard this is one of those life-list kind of places, and I can see why. I would not say no to snorkeling through an underwater sculpture garden! Oh. That didn’t wow you? Then how about these sleeping shark caves? Could there be a cooler island than this? It’s too bad the beaches there look like this. (Kidding!) One review on Trip Advisor mentioned that from mid-June to mid-September is whale shark season off Isla Mujeres — and you can snorkel next to 35′ whale sharks! So I’m thinking that’s when we’d aim for a visit.

Click here for 3 more places on my travel wishlist!


Tree Cocoon

October 24, 2013


By Koseli.

The Tree Cocoon tent is a 132 lb. floating sphere made of aluminum tubes and canvas, anchored to surrounding trees with ropes. It looks pretty amazing if your focus is an incredible view and sleeping room-only.

But the biggest question of all: No matter how beautiful the accommodations, would you sleep in a tree?

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Tourists in San Francisco

October 15, 2013

Transamerica Building by Paul Ferney

By Gabrielle. Painting: Transamerica Building and The Bay by Paul Ferney.

My dearest friend from France, Caroline, came to town yesterday. What a treat to have her here! It’s Caroline’s second time in the U.S., and her first time on the West Coast. For dinner last night, she ate her very first taco!

I’ll be splitting my time between work and hosting this week and I’m really looking forward to seeing the area through Caroline’s eyes. This afternoon, she’s going to take a hop on/hop off bus tour to get an overview of San Francisco, and this morning, we’re going to catch the boat to Sausalito from the Ferry Building and have lunch across the Bay.

The Bay by Paul Ferney

In addition to touristy things, Caroline also really wants to see things like Target, and big American grocery stores, and popular chains they don’t have in France — like Old Navy. All the stores in France close by 6:0o or 7:00 PM, so I think it will be fun to blow her mind with a shopping trip to Target at 9:00 at night. : )

P.S. — Caroline is here till next Monday. We’ve started putting together an itinerary, but we’re still new enough here that we’d love your suggestions!


Olive Us: Let’s Visit Holland

September 13, 2013

holland title

Images and text by Gabrielle.

I’m delighted to share this week’s Olive Us episode! We filmed it on a spring trip to Amsterdam earlier this year. And I love how it turned out.

Some fun behind the scenes info: We had to plan this trip well in advance, and we did everything we could think of — consulted the experts, the locals, the calendars (old and new) — to schedule the trip during the very peak of tulip season. But all that research and careful planning were a bust! Turns out, Spring arrived unusually late in Europe this year. And we missed the main blooming season by 2 or 3 weeks!

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The downside to our timing was that instead of the hundreds and hundreds of tulip fields, that you might see on a postcard from the Netherlands, there were only a few tulip fields in bloom. Like maybe 10 or 15 in the whole area. It was simply too early! This was of course frustrating, but also funny, as we commiserated with busload after busload of tourists from all over the world who, like us, had scheduled their trips to The Netherlands at “peak” season. Hah!

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The upside to our timing was that the earlier blooming bulb flowers — like daffodils and hyacinths — were still in bloom. And really spectacular! And we weren’t expecting to see those at all, because by the time peak tulip season rolls around, they’re long gone. So we did some last-minute scrambling and re-writing and came up with a fresh new concept for the video. And like I said, I love how it turned out. I hope you like it too!

Note: For those of you who don’t live in the U.S.A. and can’t currently view the new episodes: We are working on it! I promise. I was told it should be solved in 2 weeks or less. So I’m crossing my fingers the wait won’t be too much longer. And oh man, I feel awful that you can’t view the episodes! I’m so sorry. It’s driving me nuts (and I know it’s driving some of you nuts, too). Thank you, thank you for being patient while we sort it out.

And another big thank you, to Lotte! She’s our talented Dutch friend who assisted us with the shoot while we were in The Netherlands. We couldn’t have done it without her.

See some of my favorite photos from that day when you click through!



By Koseli. Image found here.

Did you spend this summer on a grand adventure? Or lay low and summer in your own locale? I loved following others’ vacation photos on Instagram and Facebook but sometimes I can’t help but sting with wanderlust — I love going to new places!

This time-lapse video of Europe’s most famous landmarks only pricked my wanderlust more — but it’s also holding me over until our next international trip.

If you could travel anywhere (no constraints!), where would you go?


Le Menil Scelleur

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep reading for our final French adventures!

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