Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 28 Jul 2015 19:13:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Healthy Snack Ideas: Flavor Pairings Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:10:51 +0000 Design Mom

Healthy Snack: Raw Almonds + Peaches. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. Sponsored by Blue Diamond.

I can’t pretend we’re healthy eaters every single day, but I do try hard to keep healthy snacks around the house, so that when the kids reach for something, the options are weighted heavily toward real food and away from junk food. The tricky thing is, we tend to find ourselves in snack-time ruts — the food that was once a perfect mid-day treat becomes boring because we’ve eaten it too many times.

So I thought it would be fun to work with the kids and use a “pairings” theme to come up with some snack ideas. I’m working with Blue Diamond on this post, so we used four of our favorite almond varieties as the base for the snacks.

One of our goals was to use items that are easy to keep stocked in the pantry — most of the options I’m suggesting below have a long shelf-life. Another goal was to avoid junk food, though I realize, “junk food” means different things to different people. We also wanted to come up with ideas that are really simple. Nothing to mix or measure. The hope is that these could be set out quickly with little to no prep.

June, Betty and Maude helped me experiment with flavors as we came up with the pairings, and it was a really happy way to spend an afternoon. Though I didn’t predict this, I can imagine us holding a “pairing” activity whenever we’re getting bored of our current snacks. The kids ended up feeling ownership of the ideas, and for the sake of the experiment, they tried foods that they previously thought they didn’t like. So if your kids are bored, I definitely recommend using the “pairing” theme to come up with new flavor combinations and snack ideas. It’s super fun!

Now, on to the pairings!

Healthy Snack: Raw Almonds + Raisins. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Pairing #1: Whole Natural Almonds + Raisins

It doesn’t get simpler than that! This is definitely a favorite go-to snack for several reasons. First, it’s literally two ingredients — raisins and almonds. There isn’t even added salt! Second, this requires zero prep. Pour the raisins and almonds in a bowl and you’re done. Third, even though it’s simple, it’s super satisfying. I have a huge sweet tooth, so the raisins help with that, and the almonds really satiate my hunger quickly. Lastly, this combo works anytime. As an after school snack, in my handbag on-the-go, or even as something to snack on during dinner prep.

Healthy Snack: Raw Almonds + Raisins. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

A variation on this? If peaches or nectarines are in season, they pair wonderfully with Whole, Natural Almonds as well (as pictured at the top). The flavors are perfect together.

Healthy Snack: Smokehouse Almonds + Savory Treats: Swiss Gruyere; Dried, Salted Green Beans; and Salami. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Pairing #2: Smokehouse Almonds + Savory Treats: Swiss Gruyere; Dried, Salted Green Beans; and Salami

It’s hard to beat classic Smokehouse Almonds. They might be the perfect flavor. They’re wonderful on their own, but to beat snack boredom, they’re great for pairing as well.

Healthy Snack: Smokehouse Almonds + Savory Treats: Swiss Gruyere; Dried, Salted Green Beans; and Salami. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

This particular grouping has a lot of good food going on. You could practically make a meal of this “snack” — it would be ideal on a road trip or hike, or for a simple picnic. We paired the Smokehouse almonds with slices of salami, slices of Gruyere cheese (though any favorite cheese would work), and something new to us: dried, salted, green beans.

Beyond snacking, I thought this combination might also be fun as dinner party hor d’oeuvres.

Healthy Snack: Toasted Coconut Almonds + Dried Tropical Fruit (or Dark Chocolate!). In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Pairing #3: Toasted Coconut Almonds + Dried Tropical Fruit (or Dark Chocolate!)

Have you tried the Toasted Coconut Almonds? They are to die for. And the flavor is so mild, they pair well with almost anything! But our favorite pairings with the coconut almonds were definitely the tropical dried fruits. We used kitchen shears to cut up dried pineapple and dried mango into almond-size pieces. And we also tried the coconut almonds with freeze-dried bananas. (The flavors were lovely together, but the two crunchy textures didn’t combine very well — so I would recommend a chewier, dried banana instead of freeze-dried options.)

If dried fruit isn’t your thing, the coconut almonds also paired beautifully with dark chocolate.

Healthy Snack: Toasted Coconut Almonds + Dried Tropical Fruit (or Dark Chocolate!). In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Two notes on this pairing: First, when shopping for dried fruits, we sought out unsweetened, and un-sulfured options. The colors aren’t as pretty, but I love the wholeness of one ingredient on the label. And second, in these photos, I’m showing several options, but in reality, I would set out the almonds and one fruit or chocolate — as I mentioned, we like simple snacks without a lot of prep. And keeping it simple means we can spread out the flavors over several days for variety.

Healthy Snack: Sriracha Almonds + Sharp Cheddar Cheese. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

Pairing #4: Bold Sriracha Almonds + Sharp Cheddar Cheese

The whole family likes the Sriracha Almonds, but I think Ben Blair loves them the most — he can finish off a container in one sitting. They have a wonderful little kick to them, but it’s not too overbearing. We like snacking on these on their own, but we found they also pair beautifully with a creamy cheese to offset the little kick.

Healthy Snack: Sriracha Almonds + Sharp Cheddar Cheese. In a snack-time rut? Click through for food "pairings" that will spice things up!

So we like to set out a bowl of Sriracha Almonds, and a bowl sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes. If you’re having a salty craving, this will do the trick!

Now I’m curious: how do you handle snacks these days? Would your kids get a kick out of figuring out food “pairings”? And have you tried any of the combos I described? I’d love to hear!

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Living With Kids: Shelly Bergman Tue, 28 Jul 2015 14:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

At some point during the process of preparing these tours for publication, I usually ask our tour guides for just one more photo or just one more story or just a few more sentences about that sweet thing they mentioned in passing. Or “Where did you get those vases, because they’re super chic?” In Shelly’s case, I simply asked for a few more close-ups of her stunning gallery wall plus maybe a bookshelf.

And this is when she told me she was in the process of moving out of this home, away from her stunning gallery wall plus definitely her bookshelf! I still wanted to show you her home and share her words, because she has a lot to say about following our gut instincts and being brave and tackling DIY even if it scares the heck out of us. Also, there’s that gallery wall.

Please welcome Shelley as she takes us on one final tour of her home! She’s been in her new state for a day as of this writing, and so far, so good.

Hello! I’m Shelly and I’m living in Illinois with my best friend, lil bean, and pup. I could gush about my family all day.

My husband, Jeffrey, and I met at Purdue where I fell head over heels for him and his pet bunny. My mood is VERY much affected by his, which is good because he is the yin (calm/quiet/thoughtful/patient) to my yang (anxious/loud/quick to speak/impatient). He is a curious learner who can figure out how to do/build/navigate just about anything, but most of all, he makes me laugh.

My daughter makes us both laugh. Constantly. She is almost two years old, and such an empathetic, kind-hearted child. She’s great for a pat on the back, share of her cookie, or silly face to make you laugh. My husband has instilled his love of books while I have instilled my love of dancing in her.

Our rescue, Lexi, can’t stand to be more than three feet away from any one of us, but knows when she’s being annoying.

Our favorite family activities are playing at the park, visiting the book store, and wrestling.

We live at the very edge of a college town in Illinois. If you walk a block from our house it’s cornfields as far as you can possibly see, which makes for amazing sunsets. We were lucky enough to build our home in 2010. We’d looked at a ton of homes and realized it would be compatible in price to build. I was able to choose everything! Flooring, paint, cabinetry, tile, carpets, roof color, siding – everything was my decision and I loved it and I’m still happy with everything five years later.

Even though we chose everything about our home, we’ve still done a lot of DIY projects: built a deck and pergola, added a backsplash in the kitchen, and built-in shelving and automatic lights in every closet. I never feel like it’s finished; there are at least ten things on my DIY list, but that’s just because I’m crazy.

Our neighborhood also makes me very happy about where we live. We have at least eight families on our street that we trust and love hanging out with. There is a huge park in our neighborhood with tennis courts, a soccer field, baseball diamond, skateboard area, sledding hill, playgrounds, and a walking path that goes through wildflowers. It’s heavenly. I love the fact that we’re out by cornfields, but at the same time I’m only ten minutes away from the grocery, restaurants, theater, and Starbucks.

With the University being in our town, there are a ton of restaurant selections, different boutiques, and live music all the time. The library and YMCA are both brand new and are where Soph and I spend most days of the week. We’re only two hours away from Chicago and Indianapolis, where both of our parents live, so we have fun weekends visiting them and enjoying all that those big cities offer.

If I had to define my style, I would call my taste Modern DIY. I like the structure and foundation to be modern, but have personal touches to make my home feel special. I have art and photography from several family members as well as a ton of art that I’ve made. Clean lines in furniture (IKEA and Crate & Barrel mostly!) but with a few thrift finds thrown in the mix. I’m learning that everything in my home must have a place. It must be functional or beautiful. Otherwise there’s no use for it in our home.

We’re completely adjusted to life with a curious toddler. We put locks on the kitchen cabinets and stove. We also got glass and a screen for the fireplace. We keep the toilet seats down and if we really don’t want to worry, we’ll close the doors. For the most part, she likes to hang with us. We have all of her toys at her level so she has access all of the time.

She’s in a Montessori inspired room which has worked out better than we could dream. She goes to sleep easily, and when she wakes up she reads books or plays with her toys while singing the whole time. It is the sweetest thing in the world.

The only thing she can’t seem to keep her hands off is Lexi’s food and water dish. She eats Lexi’s food. It makes us crazy.

I have a blog called DIY Mama, which has been my savior while being a SAHM. I needed to have more than just baby routine in my life, so I started the blog when Soph was born to update friends and family. I have a passion for crafts and wanted to show that you don’t have to be afraid of arts and crafts.

No one is naturally good at ANYTHING. You have to try and fail and as you try more, you get better. I know so many people who would tell me “Oh I couldn’t ever do that!” or “You’re so talented! How did you even think of that?” when I believe anyone can do anything after enough tries!

My tagline is “Let’s try this again, shall we?” which I have transferred to all of my DIY/Craft/Parenting projects on the blog. I show all. I also throw in Disney posts because Disney is a huge part of my life as a Mickey lover, past Cast Member, and now new mom with a kid to spoil at Disney! Two weeks ago I took the giant leap and decided to monetize my blog, so I joined a few affiliates and am learning the ins and outs of the money side of the blogging world. I would like to be able to pay for Sophie’s food and diapers with the blog. I would LOVE to be able to pay for a blogging conference with my blog income…but it will take time.

Two things draw me to DIY. Not looking like everyone else, and knowing that we can make things less expensive and often with more quality than we can buy. I grew up with my parents being extremely hands-on with house repairs and DIY projects. Both of my parents were very crafty as well. We would make stained glass as a family, my sister and Dad would pause the TV to sketch the Disney movies I was watching, and my mom was always sewing for us or friends.

Since I’ve always grown up in an artsy environment, it’s strange to me when people don’t do crafts with their family, but I have learned why everyone doesn’t: there’s only so much time in a day! Still, my life has been enriched by arts and crafts, for sure. I can’t imagine a life without it.

My favorite part about having a daughter is watching her learn and experience new things. She is such a joy to have in our lives. Her interactions with her dad are my favorite time of every day. She has different things that she likes to do with each of us. I wake her up every day and Jeffrey lays her down every night. We all share dinner together and talk about our days. We talk to her like she’s an adult and she responds (in her own language) with such emotion and thought. She is already a performer and knows how to get a laugh out of us.

Two things have been a huge surprise to me as a new mom. First, breastfeeding is impossible and terrible for more than half of all mothers (me included) which makes you feel like a failure from the start. Also, being a stay at home mom is harder than working a 9-to-5 job for me. Never getting off work ever is hard. Thankfully, Jeffrey is very sweet to me and Sophie and lets me go off on my own sometimes. Usually I want to stay home to be with them, but when I’m particularly frustrated it’s nice to be alone to grocery shop, have dinner with a friend, or even take a normal length shower.

There’s actually been a majorly huge, bigger than big change in our lives: We’ve moved from this home! My husband, daughter, dog, and I are in the process of moving to Indy to be closer to family. We’re so fortunate to be welcomed by my sister to live with their family for three weeks while we wait to close on our new home. It’s quite perfect, actually, because she has two little ones, and having all three girls spending more time with each other is amazing!

Finding our home was super easy, as was selling our home! I’m beginning to think something terrible may happen soon since we’ve been so lucky with everything in our lives. I went to Indy to check out 17 homes in one day, and realized our price range was not reasonable. My husband and I both went back a week later and saw ten more houses, fell in love with one, and put an offer in that day. This home had two showings on the first evening, and we got an offer for full price that night.

The transition as been incredibly fast. I’m just starting to have time to realize the impact of moving from a place I called home. Coming from such a strong-knit neighborhood has me worried for what’s to come in our new neighborhood. I’m also struggling with having to go back to work rather than spending my days with Sophie. I’m worried I won’t know her as well if I’m away from her. My husband has been so strong, patient, and gracious during this whole process, which has made a huge impact on my feelings towards the move. The hardest part so far has been watching Sophie say goodbye to her friends. I’m thankful we’re moving to Indiana now while Sophie’s too young to have too many close friends in Illinois.

We’ve only been away from our home for one day, so it feels like I’m just here for a weekend trip. Our friends will be the number one thing I miss about living there. I’ll miss the deck and Sophie’s room a lot, as well. I didn’t tear up when we left until I stopped in Sophie’s room, realizing she’ll never sleep there again. We wouldn’t be making such a huge change in our happy situation if we didn’t know it will be even happier closer to our family. I’m really excited to know all of my family better, without having to rely so much on FaceTime.

I wish someone had told me if there’s something you’re nervous about, just press on because what’s on the other side will be amazing.

Thankfully, I have a lot of wise people in my life so I’ve been told a lot of good advice like communicate with your husband, sleep while your baby sleeps, don’t be afraid to ask, and be kind. The thing that I’m learning now, from past experiences, is to be brave. I’m not especially brave but when I have been brave in the past it’s always brought me great happiness. For me, the bravest thing I’ve ever done is to leave my friends and family to take a semester off school and work in Disney. It doesn’t sound like a hard decision to most people, but I was terrified.

Thankfully, I took the leap and it was one of the happiest times of my life. Be brave.


Be brave, indeed! I think you’re right: So many of us would say “Disney?! That sounds like so much fun!” But change is change, no matter how fun it might be in the end. Thank you for showing us around Sophie’s first home. I hope Indiana will be good to you all!

When Shelly said, “I’m beginning to think something terrible may happen soon since we’ve been so lucky with everything in our lives.” it made me pause and think for a bit. I sometimes worry the same way. Do you, as well? Why do we do that? Why can’t we just enjoy the fabulous while it’s happening? And then I consider the opposite concern: if everything is going poorly, when will some luck finally hit? We’ve all probably experienced both sides of that coin. If you’ve got any solutions to avoiding that sort of thinking, please share! We will all benefit.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Four Picture Books You’ll Love Mon, 27 Jul 2015 18:59:20 +0000 Design Mom

The Treehouse - a wordless picture book

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I think you’ll love this month’s round up of books! There are knock out illustrations, really good stories, and a non-fiction selection as well. First up, let’s talk about The Tree House, by Marije and Ronald Tolman. This is a wordless book — which means the images have to work even harder. But they totally do!

The Treehouse — a wordless picture bookThe Treehouse — a wordless picture book

A polar bear rides a whale to a tree that’s growing out of the water. How’s that for a magical opener? And it just gets more fabulous from there. Polar Bear isn’t alone for long — as the water recedes, more and more animals join him. Some by land, some by air. Your kids will want to study every image.

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Remember Iggy Peck, Architect? Well, today I’m happy to introduce you to Rosie Revere, Engineer. It’s written by Andrea Beaty, with gloriously detailed illustrations by David Roberts. Jessie Arora, the founder of Embark Labs, sent me this book to welcome our family to the Bay Area. Such a sweet gift!

Rosie Revere, EngineerRosie Revere, Engineer

Though Rosie may seem a bit quiet during the day, her nights are filled with visions of inventions. Not every invention is a hit, and Rosie is tempted to give up her dream of becoming an engineer. But maybe her invention “flops” aren’t as bad as they seem.  The whole book is written in memorable rhyme, and the message of the book is so encouraging, it appeals to kids and adults alike.

The Great Brain

Next up is The Great Brain, written by John D. Fitzgerald. This is a chapter book, not a picture book (though it happens to feature some memorable illustrations by the legendary Mercer Mayer).

The Great Brain

We’ve been reading this book as a family this summer and it’s been a huge hit. Ben Blair and I read this as kids and we both remember it fondly, but I swear, it’s even more fun to read as an adult — because as a kid, I think I missed a decent chunk of the humor. I know I don’t typically feature chapter books, but if you’re looking for something fun to read as a family, this gets a big thumbs up. I should note: this is actually a series, so if you like the first, you can find the rest here.

Unusual Creatures. A witty book about real-live animals you've probably never heard of.

And then we have Unusual Creatures, written by Michael Hearst, with illustrations by Arjen Noordeman.

Unusual Creatures. A witty book about real-live animals you've probably never heard of.Unusual Creatures. A witty book about real-live animals you've probably never heard of.

My son Oscar basically loves any non-fiction book about animals, and this book is certainly on his approved list. He keeps it by his bed and references it often. The book features facts and descriptions of real live creatures most people haven’t heard of (raising my hand here), and the whole thing is written with a lot of wit, so it ends up being informational plus fun.

Your turn! What are your kids reading these days? Are there any books on your shopping list or library list that you’d like to share?

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A Few Things Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

Apple Jacks

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness I CAN NOT WAIT to have my family back today!!! Ben Blair and the 5 youngest get home from Cousins Week this afternoon, and Ralph gets home from Scout Camp tomorrow. Hallelujah! I was having fun for the first few days, I went to a couple of movies, read like crazy, did some exploring around town, and ate some of my favorite treats (like sugar cereal!). But after that I was like a ridiculous combination of lonely and couch potato. Hah! I’m clearly not very skilled at living alone. : )

I’m going to sign off so I can think of something fun to welcome everyone home (have any ideas?). But before I say goodbye, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- For Seinfeld fans. Comedians in cars featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

- An open call for essays about childhood.

- The prettiest paper blooms.

- Where are all the aliens? It’s long, but I loved reading all the theories.

- So much beauty! A G0Pro camera attached to a sea turtle.

- A new theory about addiction.

- This shower curtain kicks you out after 4 minutes.

- Is that really an opinion? Or are you just wrong.

Edible Sprinkle Bowls.

- The trolls are winning.

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


P.S. — Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts on Monday’s school post. I LOVE your comments.

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Call It A Day: Maggie High Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:40:53 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

If I ever feel like my day is overflowing with challenges, I’m going to re-read Maggie’s account of her day. She’s a Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in Ethiopia, and her daily life is probably very different from yours or mine. For example, it might take her 15 minutes to properly and politely greet everyone on her way to work in adherence to local customs; there is no casual smile and wave allowed, even when sour moods are in the air! The internet is unreliable and slow. Also, her house has no indoor plumbing.

It all kind of makes me a little sheepish when I’m stressed about wrangling traffic or tackling a super long must-do list!

I’ve repeated one of Maggie’s thoughts to myself more than a few times since I interviewed her: “You can’t think about things you can’t have if you want to survive in the Peace Corps.” I guess that applies to all of us in some way or another, don’t you think? Please help me welcome Maggie! You’ll want to hear about her bedtime rituals; they’re quite lovely.

I wake up from the sound of wood smashing coffee beans. The maid is smashing coffee for our compound family using the traditional way: a large wooden mortar and pestle. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. The rhythm is steady and loud, just outside our bedroom. It’s only 6:30 am, so I try to snooze a bit more before our alarm starts singing.

I wake up and cover my nightie with a shidi, a simple, sack-like dress that goes from neck to floor. It’s leisure wear and every Ethiopian woman wears them around their compounds. I wear it because I have to go outside of my house to use the shint bet (outhouse/latrine) and even though my nightie is not scandalous by western standards, it is in Ethiopia. Our house has no indoor plumbing and we share the shint bet with our compound family. It’s a squat toilet, but I don’t mind it. After using a squat toilet for almost a year, I prefer it.

I teach class in the morning today, although every two weeks my classes shift to the afternoon, so I have a quick breakfast of green tea sent from America – the good stuff! – and white bread with peanut butter. I miss my old breakfasts of Greek yogurt with muesli, but I quickly push it from my mind. You can’t think about things you can’t have if you want to survive in the Peace Corps.

Twenty minutes before I have to start teaching my first class, I start my commute. My school is less than a ten-minute walk away, but I need extra time for greetings. Ethiopians value greetings very, very much. I greet six people on the way to school: two little girls playing outside their house, a trio of young boys walking to school, and the husband of one of my coworkers. The husband of my coworker is putting out the cow for the day. I shake his hand, ask how he is, how his family is, and how his work is. He asks me how I am, how my husband is, and if I am going to teach. We do this all in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which most people in our town speak. However, when we say farewell, I use the local language, Kambatissa,,to tell him to have a nice day. “T’ooma hos!” I say. He smiles wide with laughter and says the same to me.

I speak only a tiny bit of Kambatissa because it is used only in our zone, and Peace Corps trained me in Amharic. I love using what Kambatissa I can though, because people LOVE it. They really freak out and then they feel like we are one of them and are so kind to us. Integration win!

As I approach the school, I start seeing students in their green uniforms. I casually say hello in English to the students I see. It’s time for teacher mode – time to speak and teach English – but first I need to get my white lab teacher coat that all teachers wear, chalk, and eraser.

I walk into the teacher’s lounge and say hello to each individual teacher. I shake each of their hands and ask, “Hello, how are you? I’m fine, thank you.” Sometimes, when everything is hard and I wish I could be anywhere but a rural, Ethiopian town, these greetings to every single teacher (there are often at least 20!) can be really taxing.

Once or twice, I’ve rushed in and out of the lounge and went to hide behind one of the buildings like a naughty student to wait the few minutes for class to start. I just could not do it. Life can be really overwhelming sometimes. Thankfully, today is not one of those days. I smile, I greet, I check the time, and go teach.

Punctuality is not a strong suit of Ethiopians in general, but I am very punctual. My students have learned this and they are mostly all in their classroom waiting for me to show up. In Ethiopia, the students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers go from class to class. There are positives and negatives to this set-up, but I do wish I had my own classroom. As I walk in the classroom I say, “Good morning!” and the students all chorus back, “Good morning, teacher.”

Today we are learning about present perfect continuous. I write notes on the board and they dutifully copy them down in their notebooks. We go through the notes on the board together, students volunteering to read some parts when asked and me reading the rest. The same ten students raise their hands to volunteer when I ask who wants to help me read, but I don’t mind. I write some practice questions on the board, mostly fill in the blank, and have them work on them while I walk around. I hear a ruckus from one side of the room and go over to see a lizard has gotten in. We all laugh, I tell them the English word for what it is, and nudge it toward the door with my foot. After the lizard is out, I continue walking around the room and tell the students who are sitting and doing nothing, “Try! If you don’t try, you will never succeed.” I don’t know how many times I’ve said this over the school year.

When they are finished with the practice questions, they call me over to check their work. I was very happy to see one girl, who had never asked me to check her work before, raise her hand. That increase in confidence is something I’ve been working towards all year. Even though today it was just one girl, showing just one small increase in confidence, I can’t help but feel like that one hand raise is a win. In Peace Corps, you have to celebrate every win, no matter how small. Today I will celebrate that hand raise.

Class is over and I go to the shy bet – literally translated as tea house, but they serve coffee, tea, and sometimes bread or sambusas, fried dough with lentils inside – with a couple other teachers to drink coffee. It’s a small building (about 10’x12’) with mud walls painted blue and a tin roof. Mimi, the girl who works there, greets me with a smile and tells me in Amharic that she is boiling the coffee, which means it is almost ready. When it’s finished, she brings over a small cup and pours the rich, dark coffee out of the traditional coffee pot, called a jebena. She knows I like bado buna – empty coffee – so she doesn’t bring me the sugar bowl, like she would for most of the other teachers. Today my coworkers and I talk about climate change and who should pay for it. As a representative of the US, this could be tricky for me. However, the teachers I am with are open-minded, and I’ve learned to be diplomatic in situations like this. Also, these guys are my friends and we’ve talked about this before, so they know my basic standpoint.

I teach one more class and then go home. My official work is done for the day and it’s only 11:00 am! However, Peace Corps tells us we are on the job 24/7, 365 days a year, and it’s true. Interactions with locals in our town could be the only time for them to meet an American, and so their entire opinion of America could be based on how we act.

On the walk home, I stop at my new favorite shop to say hello to the nice woman who runs it and her gorgeous baby daughter, Diana. Today, Diana reaches for me, so I get to hold her while her mama gets me the things I need. These small shops are just a window you walk up to, so the shopkeeper collects everything you need and brings it to the window for you. Today I buy seven eggs, a kilo of potatoes, five candles, and a half kilo of dried chickpeas. I pay and give Diana back, silently grateful that she didn’t go potty on me since I realized she was not wearing a diaper.

At home I find Spencer, my husband, already back from teaching at the other high school in town and washing the dishes on the floor. He’s using our two, big green tubs to rinse the dishes and is listening to a Stephen Colbert audio book. I put a pot of water on the stove to boil for drinking water and start to help with the dishes.

When we finish the day’s chores, we decide to go to town for lunch and to use the internet. We go to a very basic restaurant to eat bayonet, which is a flat bread-like staple with little piles of different dishes on top. There are spaghetti with tomato sauce, lentil stew, rice, locally made cheese (covered with tomato sauce), and a potato/onion/cabbage mixture. In the dry season carrots and beets are included as well. The owner comes over to talk with us while we eat and we greet his little daughter in English to let her practice her skills. The restaurant is named after the daughter, which I think it so sweet. She is nine years old and is not shy to talk with us.

After lunch, we wash our hands (Ethiopians eat with their hands, and so do we!) and say farewell to the restaurant staff. We’re still a little hungry and so we go to get a juice. We live in southern Ethiopia, where we are lucky enough to get fruit year round. We always get espritz, which is a mix of different kinds of juice layered on top of each other. It’s super yummy! We know all the staff at this place too, so we greet them all when we get there and say farewell when we leave.

Next stop is coffee. We go to a shy bet we like, where the coffee is good, the people are friendly, and they boil their cups to kill germs in between uses. Not everywhere boils the cups and when they don’t the chances of us getting a bacterial infection, an amoeba, giardia, etc. is higher. We try to avoid sickness at all costs, because it really sucks to be sick when you don’t have indoor plumbing!

After coffee we head to the internet house to check Facebook, read email, and look up the things on our “list of things to look up on the internet” that we always seem to be making. The place we go to is just a small room with six computers, a copier, and a printer. It costs 12 birr per hour, which is about $0.60 an hour. It’s cheap, but slow. This is my first time to the internet in a week so I’m excited to see what’s been happening on Facebook.

After just 15 minutes of slow internet, and in the middle of writing a message to my sister-in-law, the power goes out. All the screens go black and Spencer and I look at each other like, “Great. Awesome. Well, that’s life in Africa.” We wait ten minutes to see if the power will come back on, but it doesn’t so we pay and go home. We’ll try the internet next time we’re in town.

Spencer and I walk home to the sound of thunder. It’s the beginning of the rainy season and in Durame, our town, when it rains it’s almost always accompanied by thunder and lightning. I really love it! We make it home just as it starts to rain. The power is out at our house too, so we open the shutters to let the light and the smell of the rain in. We don’t have window panes, but it’s not raining hard enough or at the right angle to make it in the house.

I start lesson planning for tomorrow’s lesson. I use topics from the official English for Ethiopia textbook, but supplement my lessons with information from a couple grammar books. I try to present the information very clearly, with relevant examples, and always get them to practice what they learn. It’s an easy topic, so it only takes me about 30 minutes to plan my whole lesson.

Before starting dinner, I make a cup of tea and read a magazine my mom sent me. The things I really miss from the western world are food and magazines, so I’m always grateful to get them in care packages! Today I read Elle and try to decipher what the new trends are in the US. I feel really behind on pop culture. I can only imagine what it will feel like to land back on American soil in the fall of 2016. I’ll probably feel like an alien and all my clothes will suck.

This thought makes me feel torn and sad. I want to be here, but I want to be there, too. I acknowledge the sadness, and then let it go. Staying balanced is a daily struggle, and I try to stay in the moment as much as I can.

Spencer puts on a new mix he made on the iPod and we make dinner to the sounds of the Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett (and other Triple J top 100 favorites), and Chimes of Freedom (a collection of Bob Dylan covers – Kesha’s version of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright is AH-mazing! Seriously, and I usually don’t like her stuff.) It’s getting dark, so we shut the shutters and turn on the lights.

Tonight we make a meatless taco bowl with red beans, rice, carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and taco seasoning, topped with avocado and lime. In the middle of making it, the power goes out. We turn on flashlights, light candles, unplug the electric stove and set it on the floor (to make room for the gas stove), and move the pot to the gas stove. We take all this in stride, as it’s an almost daily occurrence. The power goes on and off randomly and frequently, especially during the rainy season.

When dinner is ready we turn off the music and turn on the laptop to watch an episode of Vice. We just got the latest season from another Peace Corps Volunteer we met up with in Hawassa, the capital of our region and just three hours away from Durame. Peace Corps volunteers almost always travel with their external hard drives to share media. It really helps when you don’t have the internet or TV at your house or access to an English library. Peace Corps can get a bit boring and lonely sometimes. Luckily, we’re stocked with new (to us) shows and movies. We watch the Vice episode over dinner and afterwards talk about how crazy it was and our views on the main points. For dessert, we eat a couple squares of dark chocolate, sent from the US. A big thanks to both our moms for sending chocolate!

After dinner, Spencer rinses the dishes using the (mostly) clean water we have in buckets. We have a tap in our compound that turns on once or twice a week and we fill up the buckets then. The dirty water goes into another bucket, which we dump into a hole outside in our compound. We have one hole for water waste and one hole for food waste.

We brush our teeth, spitting into the water-waste bucket. Then we wash our faces, each pouring the water for the other so we can splash water on our face with both hands. I realize that this pouring of water is really quite romantic and intimate. It’s a daily reminder that we are here in this crazy world together, helping each other and loving each other.

Before going to bed, we both need to pee but it’s raining and dark outside, so we use the chamber pot. (Yes, we have a chamber pot!! Everyone here does. Sometimes I feel like we are living in the Wild West.) I go first because it’s easier for Spencer to not splash. We wash our hands and crawl into our mosquito net covered bed. We play a couple games on the smart phone or iPod (I play Criminal Case and Candy Crush, and Spencer plays Tiny Wings), then blow out the candle and settle down for sleep, all with the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof.

The rain starts to fade and then stops. A couple minutes later, I hear the hyenas start to whoop. I snuggle up close to Spencer to get more warmth and give him a good night kiss. The last thing I think about before going to sleep is that this is a crazy hard, fun, and interesting life and I am so glad Spencer is here to share it with me.


Maggie, the way you describe pouring each other’s water so you can each wash your face properly and a little more easily, truly made me catch my breath. You are right: it is a daily reminder that we are in this crazy world together, helping each other and loving each other. Also, I have to tell you how much I loved seeing the photos on this post. Ethiopia is the only African country I’ve been to, and this post has me reliving my favorite memories from that trip. Thank you so much.

Have you ever thought about what it is you do on a daily basis for someone else that sends the same message? I’d sure enjoy hearing about your tiny acts of kindness and love! And I can’t help but giggle when I think of how Maggie will probably be able to see this post…in a week or two! Tell me if you can go without the internet for that long!

P.S. – You can see all my Call It A Day posts right hereAre you interested in sharing your unique day with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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Recipes for Homemade, All Natural Facials Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:29:52 +0000 Design Mom

Homemade and All-Natural Skin Care Recipes - made from ingredients you already have at home!

Photo and intro by Gabrielle. Expert advice by Rachael Weesjes. 

My new friend, Rachael, is an esthetician. In April, she generously shared her best skin care tips, and lucky for us, she also offered to share her fabulous at-home concoctions to solve our skin concerns. These are natural, food-based, creams and cleansers — I’m betting you’ve got all the ingredients you’ll need in your kitchen right now. So let’s get started! Glowing skin, straight ahead!

A lot of people avoid the word oil when it comes to buying products for their skin. They think they have oily skin already and that’s a bad thing, so adding more oil to it will make it worse. But I wish everyone would throw that mindset out the window today and never let it back in!

Oil dissolves oil. Say it with me: Oil dissolves oil. Cleansers for oily skin tend to be drying, so your sebaceous glands, which are microscopic glands in the skin that secrete the oil, are going to go into overdrive because they are getting the message that all the oil is gone and they then produce even more oil than before. That leads to more blocked pores, more blemishes, more oil, more cleansing, and round and round it goes.

Let’s start with a cleansing option. You’ll need two oils for this part. First is castor oil. This is your base oil and you will not be using a lot of it. For oily skin you will use 30% castor oil to 70% of your secondary oil choice. You might want to tweak the amounts depending on your own personal results. You know those travel-sized shampoo bottles? Perfect size in which to mix your cleanser.

Your secondary oil will be a vegetable oil or sunflower seed oil or sweet almond oil. I like extra virgin olive oil. Castor oil will remove the impurities in your skin, has anti-inflammatory properties, and will heal your skin as well. The EVOO prevents dryness. Remember, if you use too much castor oil you will end up with super dry skin.

Once it’s mixed, pour a puddle into the palm of your hand, rub your hands together to warm it, and start to massage your face. For the castor oil to do its job properly, massage for five minutes. I say five because everyone always does three! Then, take a hot washcloth and lay it over your face, leaving it there until it’s cool. Wipe away the oil with the washcloth. You will probably have to repeat this step two or three times to make sure you’ve removed all the oil. This is actually where many people stop because they find that their skin is moisturized enough just from the cleansing. And you can stop here if this is how you cleanse your skin frequently, but if you want that little extra treat of a facial you can continue with the next steps. I will add that if you start to do the oil cleansing method, you really should do it only at night before bed;  if you are washing your face at night, there is no need to wash it in the morning. And bonus! A lot of people don’t find the need to cleanse every night once they start with this method.

Next is toner. Mix two teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar – it must be organic – and two teaspoons of tap water. Dip a cotton ball into the mix and wipe your face. If you find the vinegar too strong of a smell, wait five minutes after toning and then rinse with water. Otherwise, continue on with the facial. If you find your skin reacts to the vinegar, dilute it more with the water.

On to exfoliating! Grind one tablespoon of oats, add one tablespoon of honey, apply to your face, and rub in gentle circles for three to five minutes. Rinse off with water.

And now for the mask, which is my favorite step because you get to be a scientist and mix up ingredients any way you want! This one is a lemon and egg-white mask. Lemon is rich in Vitamin C, it’s great for getting rid of sun spots and uneven skin tone, and it will help exfoliate. You will notice tightness once you apply the egg whites, but that will go away once you remove the mask.

Beat one egg-white until it’s frothy. Add lemon juice (the equivalent of half of a lemon) to the egg-white, apply it to your face avoiding the eye area, leave on for 15 minutes up to 30 minutes, and rinse off with warm water.

I like to use coconut oil as a finishing cream. Choose the organic, unrefined kind. It is a hard white substance when cold, but at 24 degrees Celsius it melts and becomes oil. Melt about half a tablespoon in your hands, and massage your face with it.

You may find that your skin will get a bit worse before it gets better. Apple cider vinegar will definitely open up blockages and a lot of oil will be released, which can cause more breakouts. But be patient: it will subside once your skin adjusts to how nicely you are treating it!

To cleanse dry skin, use the oil cleansing method described above, but adjust your oil amounts. Your mixture will be a blend of 10% castor oil to 90% of your secondary oil. Again, extra virgin olive oil is my favorite choice.

Pineapple coconut water is a brilliant toner for those of us with dry skin. So refreshing with just a simple swipe over your face with a clean cotton ball. And to exfoliate, grind up some oatmeal, mix with yogurt or kefir, apply to your face, and leave for ten minutes before rinsing off. If you enjoy a good mask, mash half of a very ripe avocado and add approximately a quarter cup of honey. Apply to skin and leave on for ten minutes, rinsing completely with a washcloth. As for finishing cream, my newest discovery is cold-pressed avocado oil. It is very concentrated in vitamin E and other antioxidants. Just a dab of avocado oil on the cheeks and forehead, then massage in. It takes about ten minutes to absorb. If it takes longer, you’ve applied too much.

Again, I favor the oil cleansing method, but an anti-aging cleanser’s ratio will be 20% castor oil to 80% secondary oil. For toner, dip your cotton ball into pineapple coconut water and swipe all over your face.

Lack of moisture in the skin is definitely going to make fine lines more pronounced. Since aging skin shares the same concern as dry skin, the exfoliation technique is the same: oatmeal mixed with yogurt or kefir, applied and left on for ten minutes before rinsing off.

I have two mask options for aging skin.

For the first mask, mash up one ripe banana and mix with two tablespoons honey. Apply to your face, leave for ten to 15 minutes, and remove. The banana is going to tingle like crazy; if you feel it burning, remove immediately. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to do a test patch first. Bananas are known as nature’s Botox. Yes, you read that right! Bananas leave your skin firmer, the vitamins A and B will fade dark spots and lighten the skin tone, vitamin E fights free radical damage, and the potassium is very hydrating. Honey is a lot of things including anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, but we’re using it in this facial because it will help reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Another anti-aging mask option is mixing a half tablespoon of L. Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) and one teaspoon olive oil. Apply to face carefully. If it gets in your eyes, it will burn.

I tried to find an easy-to-make-with-pantry-items anti-aging finishing cream, but none of them felt right to me so I will just tell you what I do for my clients with mature skin. This will be the most expensive part of any of the facial steps I’ve listed, but it’s absolutely divine. Two tablespoons each of sweet almond oil and rose hip seed oil, and ten drops each of cypress oil, which is very firming for the skin, and geranium oil, which regenerates the skin. You can store this in a glass amber bottle. Use only at night, and don’t use too much unless you want to be super greasy.

A few additional notes from our own personal esthetician: Any mixture using fruit or eggs needs to be made and then used right away; there is no storing of that kind of thing. Which is one thing that freaks me out the most about store-bought beauty products: some of the stuff I used had a shelf life of up to two years! And make your at-home process as easy as possible so you’ll treat your skin regularly. I keep a container with ground oatmeal in it to make it easier to scoop out whenever I need it.


Oh, goodness. Don’t those sound fantastic? I want to head straight to the kitchen to mix up some skin care! I’m definitely feeling empowered to treat my skin kindly and gently — and cheaply! Thank you a hundred times over, Rachael. What about you, Friends? Any homemade skin care recipes that have worked for you? And have you tried any of the solutions Rachael suggests in the post? How did they work for you?

P.S. – If you’ve got a few insider tips from your own career, would you be interested in sharing them with the rest of us? Let me know!

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon, Part Two Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When we last visited Meghann in Amsterdam, I made her promise to show us around her new home once she moved to Saba. (Quick geography primer: Saba is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There is no crime, little traffic, and a close-knit local community. It sounds like Heaven, doesn’t it?)

I couldn’t wait to hear all about how they adjusted, get a first-hand peek into what homes look like on the island, and how it feels to live on a volcano! With 2,000 other people! (Are the city dwellers out there choking right now?! Hah!)

I’m so excited to share Meghann with you all again. Welcome, Meghann!

Except for my family — my husband, Koen, and our kids Tipp and Loula — just about everything has changed from my last appearance on Design Mom!

We went from city living in a densely populated, super flat country where there were more bikes than people and where sweaters are worn for more than half the year, to a sparsely populated volcano in the Caribbean particularly known for diving in its underwater world. Everything in life feels pretty new right now.

Even before we got married, we’d always thought we’d move abroad for our jobs for some time. We had travelled a lot, both before we met, together as a couple and also with our kids. In 2012, we even had the opportunity to live abroad for my job for six months. While I was starting to think that maybe I was fine just staying in Amsterdam for the rest of our lives, Koen was starting to get the itch to go. He was also ready for a new professional challenge.

At the time we were seriously starting to outgrow our little apartment, public health positions opened up in the Dutch Caribbean. I specifically mentioned to him at some point about a year ago, “We’ll never go to Saba, not even on holiday, so don’t bother applying there,” due to my fear of flying. But Koen got a call requesting that he apply to the Saba position. After a few days of discussing if I’d dare fly onto the island and what it might be like to live on a five square mile volcano with around 2,000 other people for three years, we decided he should go for it.

Why? Because we figured you don’t get these opportunities all the time. You don’t say no to this kind of thing. You try it, and go home early if it doesn’t work out. At least, that’s how we looked at it.

So, Saba now has a Public Health Department: Koen! Of course public health activities had been taking place on the island already, but there was not yet an actual department to coordinate those activities, to prioritize prevention, and to monitor and evaluate outbreaks, etc.

Koen no longer commutes 90 minutes each way to work. Instead, he has a scenic five-minute drive to drop the kids at school, and then another five minutes to work in The Bottom (which, you guessed it, is at the bottom of the island). It turned out to be kind of a dream job for my husband!

You’d be hard pressed to find something more opposite to Amsterdam than this place! Actually, Saba is different to any place I’ve ever been. It’s not at all what I think most people imagine when they think about Caribbean islands: white sand beaches, palm trees swaying, cocktails at beach shacks…

Saba is literally a volcano shooting out of the Caribbean sea. There is hardly a flat space to be found, save for the airport, which has the shortest commercial landing strip in the world! While we do have a lovely little beach with a nice playground and public restrooms, it is man-made. The only natural beach on the island only shows itself a few months out of the year, and this has not yet happened since I’ve been here.

The island, with its many eco-zones, is very green and speckled with white houses with green shutters and red roofs. I hear that Saba is even more beautiful underwater, but I’ve not yet had the chance – or dared! – to go diving to explore yet. As small as it is, I can be down at the beach on a hot day, watching a grey cloud come and engulf the upper part of the island, where it may be windy and raining. While the island has been inhabited off and on since around 1175 BC, and the first European settlers have been here since around 1640, the landscape is so mountainous and steep that engineers said it was not possible to build a road to connect the four villages. So up until the late 1950s, there was no road to connect the villages and everything had to be transported by foot and donkey. The first airplane arrived soon after.

Life is generally more relaxed here, mainly because of how small it is. Things move slowly, for better or for worse. Sabans are known for their friendliness. With only around 2,000 inhabitants, people’s faces quickly become familiar and crime is nearly nonexistent. You wave at everybody you pass in the car. We seem to have gotten used to this really quickly: when we were in St. Maarten for a bit of off-island time, we instinctively waved at everyone we passed! I won’t get into how completely different these islands are from each other, but it’s safe to say it’s not habit to wave there.

Up until now, there has apparently not been a need for addresses. I recently received a letter saying that everybody will receive an official address this year and street names will start going up. But, for the locals, I live in “Melanie’s house (or sometimes it’s called Benny’s house) up above Swinging Doors.”

Although the houses do have indoor plumbing, we do not have a public water system. All houses therefore have a cistern to collect rainwater, and our sewage goes into a sceptic tank. This means that water shortages are part of life, and it’s important to quickly get used to short showers where you only turn on the water to get wet and to rinse off. We’re in a drought this year, so we’ve had to purchase desalinated water a couple of times, which is brought on a truck with a huge tank in the bed and is pumped into the cistern. We now get excited to drink water from the faucet and take full five-minute showers when we’re off island. Party!

Being an island, everything has to be imported, making groceries super expensive. Wednesday – the day the main cargo ship arrives – is the busiest day of the week in the commercial center of Windwardside, and an important day for stocking up at the supermarket. If you can’t find something on Wednesday afternoon, it probably won’t be there for at least another week.

All in all, I think we’ve done a pretty good job acclimating. But, I must admit that it’s been quite a bit harder on me than I ever imagined. The nearly constant sea view and permanent warm weather are huge perks! But I also very dearly miss the life of the city, the multitude options of where to go (or to go nowhere at all), things to do and see, anonymity and, of course, my bike.

My husband has had an incredibly easy time! We moved here for his career. He works full time and he’s got a fabulous opportunity and challenge, so it makes sense that he’s not had any trouble adjusting. My daughter, Loula, is now five and has also had a pretty easy time adjusting. She seems to have perspective beyond her years. She also had only been in school for half a year before we moved and so had not yet built a real group of friends.

My son, Tipp, and I, on the other hand, have had a much more difficult time adjusting. I think that we’re both more sentimental in general. But we also both had stronger attachments to Amsterdam before we left. Although he’s only six years old, he already had a real steady group of friends in our neighborhood. And their moms had become my friends. You get the point.

The method of teaching is far more traditional here, and school finishes a couple hours earlier than in the Netherlands. My role has therefore become far more that of a stay-at-home mom who happens to have a small business rather than the other way around. I feel like I’m constantly being pulled different ways. While this often feels busy and unpleasant, I am thankful that I’ve been able to be there for my kids when they get home from school, particularly on the days that they’ve been homesick and need some extra hugs and a shoulder to cry on.

Luckily, we have met some really good people here and made some friends. We’ve created a set beach-day with a friend and her kids who are the same age as mine, which is something I look forward to every week. If I’m ever feeling down, those afternoons at the beach – snorkeling, watching the kids play in the water or dig in the sand – always perk me up.

My first friend followed my son’s school bus home one afternoon. No joke! Her son and my son are in the same class and wanted to play. She didn’t have my phone number, so she just followed the school bus home and knocked on the door. Ha!

I think it’s also been important for us to simply allow ourselves to miss our old home in Amsterdam. Yes, Saba is full of amazing beauty! But so is Amsterdam. I’ve kind of decided that it’s okay to grieve the loss of my beloved city, and that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the opportunity to live here.

What I absolutely love about this home is that we have a yard! And fruit! Our yard fully encircles our house. The kids have so much fun playing outside with their friends. We often have six to eight children running around, inside and outside of the house, over the cistern, along the cement wall. The best pineapple I’ve ever had came from my front yard, we’ve got a million bananas, and tons of mangos just waiting to be ripe enough for us to devour them. We’ve also got a few different herbs growing along one side of our house, as well as some beautiful flowers.

I love the vaulted ceilings throughout the majority of our home. My very favourite room in our house is our bedroom, with my workspace coming in at a close second. Our room is such a sanctuary of light and rest. There is nothing fancy to it. Just simple peace.

We will be able to stay in this home for the full three years of my husbands’ contract. It’s refreshing to know that you can stay put or change homes based on what suits us. I do sometimes catch myself thinking, “Do I really live here?” It’s light years away from anywhere I ever thought I’d live. But daily life definitely keeps me in check.

The most important things we brought with us are probably the items that hang on our walls, like paintings and special photos. I spent a good three or four days cleaning, unpacking, and arranging when we moved into this house. The kids were so excited when they saw all our photos and art hanging on our wall again! Funnily enough, they were also thrilled to see some super simple things, like mundane water glasses. “Look, mom! Our glasses are here! And our bowls! Wow!” Having their toys again, after about two months of only a backpack full of toys, was also quite a thrill.

These same things really helped me to feel at home as well. In addition to, of course, all of the furniture in my workspace. That’s the only room that we furnished completely ourselves. We knew that homes are rented furnished in Saba, so we didn’t bring everything. But we did still bring enough to make sure that the essence of our home in Amsterdam would shine through here. So if you’re thinking you’ve seen this home before, great! That’s exactly what we’re going for!

We made sure to move here on a weekend so that the kids would go to school soon after we arrived. We didn’t want to be here too long and have the excitement build up so much before starting school. So we arrived on a Saturday, Monday happened to be a day off, and they started school, uniforms and all, on Tuesday. Luckily school went well from day one! The homesickness only started after a week or two.

On such a small island, word gets around quickly that there are new people in town. And at the same time, because we have four villages, it feels bigger than it is and there are plenty of people I’ve not yet seen or met.

Living on Saba has hugely improved my children’s English. While I have always spoken English to my children, they have always responded in Dutch. Oddly, they continue to speak to me in Dutch, but the local language is English. From listening to the kids speak with Shirley, our kitten, it seems she speaks English, too.

The population is also really diverse and mixed here. My children are no longer part of the majority race in their classroom. We have talked about and exposed our children to different cultures, races, and religious beliefs, and their school in Amsterdam was pretty mixed, so it’s not actually something they notice themselves, and I don’t have a specific lesson I hope they learn from that. But I do think it’s a good thing to not always be in the majority.

Resource-wise, the importance and scarcity of water is something they feel and live with every day. We have talked about this a lot in the past, mainly because of the area of work I was in (international development), but they’ve never had to worry about whether the water might literally dry up. Here, we do. Which is crazy for a child, particularly when they see that they are surrounded by water! But they’re doing a really good job of conserving.

While we miss our bikes, the parks and museums, and everything Amsterdam had to offer, there is also a plus-side to having very little external entertainment possibilities. There is more time for general discovery, gardening, hiking, fishing, trying out new recipes together, or hanging out at the beach, without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.

All in all, I hope this change helps my children to understand that discomfort can be a good thing, that we learn when we remove ourselves from our comfort zone. That’s not to say that we should never become comfortable, or that we should seek out discomfort, but that it’s not inherently bad and it can help us to become more confident in ourselves

Creating a new work structure has been a real challenge. Accepting that has also been a challenge! It strikes me as so odd that a new balance is so hard to find when the daily motions really are quite the same: get up, eat breakfast, shower, do the morning routine, kids to school, husband gone, sit down and work. Should be simple. But it just isn’t for me.

It’s taken some work for me to allow that of myself. I think I finally have. So while my business is doing really well on the one hand, I’ve definitely not been able to grow it in the way I think I could have had we not moved. And now we’re into summer holiday, which means that time to work is at an all time low.

However, there are new possibilities that are starting to show up that would probably not have been available to me in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I was a small fish in a big pond. Here on Saba, it’s less likely to be lost in the masses. I’m starting to toy with the idea of working in a space outside of my home, perhaps one that could act as a bit of a shop. I feel like this would be a good place to test those waters.

I do think that a whole year to fully transition is probably what it will take. Now that I write that, I realize that we actually discussed that before we came. My lack of patience crept up on me and made me believe that I had to have everything completely under control. Happily, I’ve started to remember again that everything will never be completely under control; the chaos must simply be well managed.

The one thing that has surprised me most about myself and my family during this massive change is that we actually live here! That this is our life. In good moments and bad, I find it absolutely wild that I live here.

Also…what a team we are! I know it sounds super corny, but together we are strong and can support each other through difficult moments. This was not a surprise to me, but confirmation of what I already believed. There have been many moments filled with tears and missing friends and family, but we do all realize, particularly in our moments of doubt, that wherever we are together is home.


It was so lovely to hear from you, Meghann! I know you’re right: moves help us realize that wherever we are together is home sweet home. Also, the way you’ve described the island makes me and probably a few other readers want to visit, so maybe you’ll have more friends to someday add to that 2,000 population!

For those of you who’ve made a drastic move to a location completely opposite to your usual living setting, did this interview bring back some memories? Whether you went city to country, heavily-populated to just a few, I’d sure love to hear your stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Why We Don’t Stress Out About Choosing a School Mon, 20 Jul 2015 17:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

Back to School1

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I get emails about this topic all the time, and I’ve had a draft of this post written up for a full year! But I’ve hesitated to publish this because it’s such a stressful topic for so many people, and I don’t want to inadvertently add to anyone’s stress. Please, if you start reading this and you’re not into it, just skip it and move on. I promise, this is not a directive on how to pick a school, and I don’t claim to know where your particular child should go to school. This is just my thoughts on the topic for my own family.

For me, realizing that I wasn’t willing to stress about school, started when we lived in New York. People that live in New York are crazy when it comes to schools. I’m not sure that statement is even up for argument. And I don’t blame them. It’s intense. Our oldest turned 4 the month we moved there and school started a few weeks afterward. As we settled in, every time we met someone new the big question was: Where is Ralph going to preschool? And the stress wasn’t because we lived in Manhattan. We were in a little town just north of the Bronx, called Tuckahoe.

Since Ben Blair was starting his graduate work at Columbia, and I had baby number 3 a few weeks after we moved in, money was tight, and our only considerations for pre-school were essentially that it be cheap or free. You can imagine my shock when I found out that it wasn’t uncommon in our area for people to pay $20,000 or more per year for pre-school tuition. And these weren’t imaginary people with private jets. These were my friends and neighbors who didn’t drive fancy cars or take exotic vacations.

Back to School2

Well, paying that kind of preschool tuition simply wasn’t an option for us. So we kept asking around until we heard about other solutions. There was a co-op preschool some mothers at my church had put together — it would switch from house to house each month, with parents doing the teaching. The price was right (free!), but with 3 kids, aged 4 and under, I knew I couldn’t manage it. (We did end up participating in a similar co-op a couple years later for Maude). We also found a Methodist church nearby that offered a preschool with more reasonable prices. It wasn’t a bargain, but it was manageable. It also wasn’t a feeder into the ivy-league-track schools, but we visited it and could see that Ralph would be safe and happy there. We signed him up.

A few short months later, it was time to think about registering for Kindergarten. We knew Ralph would go to the public school in Tuckahoe, though it wasn’t rated nearly as high as the public schools in the nearby wealthier towns of Bronxville and Scarsdale. But even with that decision made, there was so much stress about which teacher he would get. My friends encouraged me to write letters to the school to make sure Ralph was put in the class taught by the Kindergarten teacher with the best reputation. The letters weren’t a guarantee, but they might help.

I found the whole thing just completely overwhelming. I was crushed with worry about who Ralph’s Kindergarten teacher would be. And I felt like an awful parent, knowing there were better-rated public schools available to us if we could afford more expensive rent in neighboring towns. At the park, in the grocery store, anywhere I went, it seemed like the topic of schools was all anybody could talk about.

Well, Ralph didn’t get assigned to that sought after Kindergarten teacher, and my heart was broken. I could barely sleep, wondering if I was sending my first child off to a horrible situation. But it turned out that the teacher he was assigned to was fantastic! Like really awesome! She was a terrific fit for Ralph in so many ways. Plus, she had a communication style with parents that was ideal for me and Ben Blair. Ralph had an amazing Kindergarten year! He loved school and we remained friends with his teacher for the 8 years we lived there. (As a side-note, the following year we didn’t make a teacher request for Maude, but she was assigned the sought-after Kindergarten teacher, and that teacher was excellent as well.)

After our experiences with Kindergarten for Ralph and Maude, I had a mental shift. I realized that I had been so stressed out about Kindergarten when I hadn’t even met any of the Kindergarten teachers. I also realized that the stress didn’t leave after Kindergarten. That these worries would continue till college — I knew my fellow parents were writing teacher-request-letters for every year of school.

At that point, we basically refused to buy in to the school stress any longer. And it’s not that we didn’t care about school. We definitely care that our kids get a good education! We care that our kids thrive and succeed! But spending time worrying about what school to attend, or paying exorbitant tuition, just isn’t okay with us.

If I find myself getting stressed out about choosing a school, I do my best to return to thoughts like these:

1) Don’t stress out.
I get it. It’s tempting to think about where our kids will go to college before we pick their pre-school, but I think that’s a mistake. Will my child really thrive at Harvard? Maybe. (Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath makes me think otherwise.) At age 5, we don’t know what our kids will be like during middle school or high school or college. And a school that’s working one year may drastically change if you get a teacher that’s not a good fit for your child, or if your son’s best friend moves and he falls into a depression. You can’t control for stuff like that. At different times you’ll need different things.

If you’re an involved parent at all, your child will be able to go to college. And whatever college they get into, can be a building block to the next thing. How many people do you know that went to average public schools, then a decent university, then did medical school or graduate work at a top school? I literally know dozens of these people! And they earn the same salaries as the people that attended high stakes private schools starting in Kindergarten.

Ben Blair and I simply don’t stress about getting into certain schools, and we don’t pick our houses based on school district borders. It’s not worth the worry to me. Instead, I like the idea of using that energy to improve the school we’re assigned to. Or using that energy to improve our home environment. We do not need to get obsessed with choosing a school. It’s unnecessary. We’ll know what to do for our kids. We’ll be able to figure it out, to ask for advice from the right people, to find another option if the first idea isn’t working. Stressing out will not help.

2) You can’t buy happiness.
Paying high tuition, or attending the highest rated school doesn’t guarantee my child will have a happy, successful, fulfilled life. It doesn’t guarantee that my child will be a good citizen or kind person. It doesn’t guarantee that my child will make lots of money as an adult. It doesn’t even guarantee the school will be a good fit for my child. She might hate it. She might be a little fish in a big pond. She might feel pressure to go ivy league, when really, she’d be a better fit at a state school, or even jumping right into a career.

Paying the most tuition in the area won’t guarantee the best or brightest kid. You can’t buy happiness.

So does that mean a quality education doesn’t matter? It for sure matters! We want our kids to have as much quality education as they can. But I think there are many ways to define “quality education”.

3) There are options.
The town I grew up in has since grown, but when we first got there, every kid in town went to the nearest public elementary school. There were no other options. The same thing is true in many towns across America. One public school option. And happily, it mostly meets the needs of the kids. But what if it doesn’t? Until about 10 or 15 years ago, if it didn’t meet your child’s needs, tough luck for you. But that has changed!

If we didn’t like our public schools, we would look around. What are the other public schools like? Is there a charter school? Do we need to do a co-op with other parents? Our kids crave social stuff, but could we do online school and have them get social interaction via extra curricular activities? I know I have options.

In the schools where we live now, there isn’t a ton of funding, so every school can’t provide every program. One high school has a marching band. Another high school has an orchestra. Straightforward options like that can help you choose the right fit for your child. So think about what your child needs. A small class size? Indiviualized attention? A chance to be a leader? Special programs for special needs? A campus garden? A school music program? A Latin and Classics program? A wood-shop on campus? Would he thrive with a diverse group of friends? Don’t assume the best rated school is automatically the best choice for your child.

Can’t find a school that fits your child’s needs? You can make your own education options as well! Maybe you can attend half a day at public school and have a tutor in the afternoons — it would be way less expensive than the typical private school and could be ideal for some kids or families. Does your child crave lots of music education? You could have him attend a decent public school and save your money for piano lessons.

4) I believe in public schools and free education.
My default is public school. I start there. I assume we’ll like whatever school we’re assigned to, and if we don’t, we’ll look at other options. But there are parents that don’t feel they have options at all. Maybe because they don’t speak English well, or are working two jobs and don’t have time to explore the schools in the area. Or maybe they feel like money is too tight and assume that the nearby public school is the only free or affordable option. But their kids deserve a great education just as much as my kids do.

Is public school a fit for everyone? Nope. But for most kids, public schools work, and it’s worth investing our time in them. Because most children in our communities attend public schools, and it’s only in our best interest to give those kids the best educational experience we can.

I know from experience the instinct is to look out for our own kids above all else. And that feeds into our worries about finding the best possible school for our child. The school with the best ratings, or the best reputation. We want to give our kids every chance at success. And we assume the better the school, the more opportunities. It seems like the best school we can find is the ultimate gift to our kids, right?

Well, I actually disagree. If we are so concerned with our own kids that we put them on an elite track, and make sure they’re only rubbing shoulders with the most successful families in our city, while ignoring the needs of other children in the community, that’s not a gift at all. Giving your kids special status while the rest of the world struggles and crumbles is no gift. You’re giving them a worse world instead of a better one.

If we want to give our kids a better world, the most effective way of doing that is making sure every kid in our community has the best possible chance at success. We need to make sure every child in our community has access to an excellent school. And supporting your local public schools is a great way to do that.

Here’s a way to look at it money wise: Our public elementary school raises approx $75,000 per year and that money pays for a choir program, school band, an art event, a campus garden, and more. These programs benefit 300 kids. In comparison, if Ben Blair and I put Oscar, Betty & June, our elementary school aged kids, into the nearest private school, we would be paying $90,000 per year in tuition ($30,000 per student). And that money would benefit only our 3 kids. Of course, we don’t have that much money to put toward tuition, but if we did, I would much rather see those funds go toward a public school, where it could improve circumstances for a hundred times as many kids.

It’s the same with donating time and volunteering in the schools. I think the parents and community members who get involved with public schools are doing amazing work, because they’re not just providing a good educational experience for their own child, they’re also building the entire community.

I believe in public schools and free education.

(That said, I also completely understand there are reasons parents choose private schools as well. Olive will be in public school for 8th grade this fall, but she was enrolled in a private school for the last two years. So I get it, I promise. And in another post, maybe I can talk about how we made that decision. My intention isn’t to shame anyone for not using public schools, I’m just trying to express why I think public schools are so important.)

5) YOU can change things.
When I first wrote about our Oakland public elementary school, I received an email from the woman responsible for transforming it. Not a school employee, she’s a parent in the community. And yes, it really did start with ONE person. In her email she said, “My work at Sequoia over the past nine years is one of the things in my life that I am most proud of. I don’t think you would believe the changes that have taken place in a relatively short time.”

Be confident you can change or fix things. You like your school but it doesn’t have a strong STEM program? You (yes you!) can make it happen. You are empowered! You can improve your school. You can provide what the school can’t provide until the school improves. You can do it. Parents do it all the time. Sometimes they have no choice but to dive in and improve the situation.

You can volunteer in the classroom. You can organize a group of supportive parents. You can organize a schoolyard clean-up day. You can do it!

6) Worrying about school is a privilege.
Realize that if you have time to think about these things, and have time to explore options, then you, like me, are very privileged, and that many parents don’t have the luxury of worrying about which school will be best for their kids. But even if they can’t worry about it, their kids deserve a good education every bit as much as your kids do.

I think anytime we find ourselves saying that a certain school is fine for other people’s children, but our kids deserve better, that there is a problem. Providing great education for everyone in the community, helps EVERYONE in the community — even those that can afford to opt out.


When we announced we were moving to Oakland, the main message of emails in response to the news concerned schools. Be careful of the schools! You can’t use the middle or high schools! The schools are awful! It’s hard to find a good school! It’s too late in the summer to get a spot in the good schools!


It was New York all over again. But I was determined not to worry about it.

So I did my best to ignore the passionate school-related conversations and knew we’d figure it out when we got here. And that’s what we did. A few days after our move, we visited the district office and registered the 5 oldest. They were all put into the geographically assigned school for our address — no surprises.

Did we know we would like the schools? No. We had no idea. But we chose to assume that we would like the schools. And if it turned out we were wrong, we knew we could try another option. We’ve been here for two years, and still have people raising their eyebrows at us that our kids are enrolled in Oakland public schools. But we continue to love our public schools. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing a great job for our community and they continue to improve.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your take? Do people stress out about schools where you live? What have your experiences choosing a school been like? Do you have a preference for public or private schools? Or maybe you favor homeschool? Do you live in a place that has lots of choices, or do you live in a town where 90% of the kids go to the same school? Do you think we’re crazy that we didn’t give a single thought to the school district when we bought this house? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — Want more education related posts? Here’s a link to all the posts about schooling in France. Here’s a link to all the posts about schooling in Oakland.

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A Few Things Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:46:07 +0000 Design Mom

San Francisco at Dusk

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello Friends. How are you? Was it a good week? We’ve had a busy one. Ralph tackled his Eagle project this week! He’s making a video for the non-profit group that created Slavery Footprint. The organization helps companies certify that their supply lines don’t use slave labor. And then tomorrow, Ralph is off to Scout Camp. His last one ever!

Yesterday, Ben Blair and the kids started the drive to Utah so that Maude, Olive, Oscar and Betty can attend our annual Cousins Week. June went with them too — she’s too young to officially attend Cousins Weeks but can’t wait to see her grandparents. Which means, I’m going to be at home solo next week. For the first time ever! (At least I think it’s the first time.)

I have high hopes of tackling a long list of tasks, but there’s a chance I might just read a ton instead. We’ll see. Have you ever stayed home while your family traveled? Do you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down? I told Ben that if I’m miserable, I’ll fly out and join them. : )

Before I start my solo week, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Is it time for Jews to leave France? So troubling!

- The trickiest extra credit question ever.

- If male actors were described the way female actors are.

- Wow! Have you seen this new line of clothing for kids with autism? No fronts, no backs, no tags, no zippers or buttons. So cool!

- Have you ever heard of ghosting?

- Crystal clear solar panels for windows.

A eulogy for Twitter. Do you agree it’s fading? I’m not so sure. Black Twitter seems to be incredibly active.

- Apparently, Amazon Prime Day was not that great. Did you find any deals that day?

- 800 songs from the 90′s in order of date. That’s 55 hours of music!

- Hah! Strawberry-rhubarb is one of my favorites.

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


P.S. — One of the tasks on my list is to make an appointment at the Apple Store so that they can help me figure out why my laptop storage disk is full. I keep almost nothing stored on here, and am a minimalist as far as apps go. So I can’t figure out what’s taking up all the space. Have you ever had this happen?

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Living With Kids: Mat Parke Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Mat told me he’d read all of my Living With Kids tours from the column’s inception, it made me smile. He said loved seeing the homes and being inspired by all the ways different families accommodated their kids. It made me so happy, I read his note twice.

Truly, that is all I’ve ever wanted these tours to accomplish! I am overjoyed at the idea that each peek might impart a dose or two of “Let’s try it this way!” or “Whoa, I never thought of that.” or even “Honey, we’re painting a wall of flowers and it’s going to be amazing!”

Also, he and his wife own a soda and cookie shop (in Meridian, Idaho if you’re close by!),  and he discusses finding balance and making time and going to bed a little later than they should and waking up a little earlier than they’d like…but his parenting philosophy is based on a story that might make you misty. I want you to read it, and I hope you’re inspired by it like I was.

Welcome, Mat!

We are Gigi, Mat, Chloe, Cameron, and Maisie.

Chloe is going into fifth grade and is our oldest. She is thoughtful and, when you first meet her, a little quiet. You might never guess the girl who is always reading heads directly to the steepest slopes when she skis and wants to lead out on any hike no matter how long. She has a tendency towards perfectionism, which we discourage at home because living with a perfectionist makes you want to tear your hair out.

Cameron is going into third grade and is the happiest kid I have ever seen. It takes him 30 seconds to bounce back from any trouble. I don’t know if that stems from inborn resilience or if he intuitively understands that a seven-year-old’s problems aren’t too serious, but in either case it simplifies things. When school is in session he strength trains every day with friends so they can one day defeat The Pokemon. He is generous in the way that children can be, happy to share or give away whatever he has.

Maisie is 16 months but already has very firm opinions about what she does and does not like. She is by far our most stubborn child, and we are on the edge of our seats wondering what life is going to be like when she is a teenager. Happily she is also very affectionate, toddling over to give hugs and kisses to whomever is closest.

Gigi and I met in law school 15 years ago and have been together ever since. She is smart and beautiful and hard working. She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl. I knew I wanted to marry her when she loved our first backpacking trip despite having never been camping. We both continue to work as attorneys – Gigi is in-house at a university and I have my own practice – and take turns running kids around. Planning and organization are Gigi’s strong suit,  and I’m constantly amazed how much she can get done in a day. I’m more of the wild man in our relationship, always thinking up something, which can both excite and stress Gigi out.

By the time we bought this house I had two rules: Keep a short commute, and get to know the neighborhoods before you buy.

We lived in New York right out of law school, and I struggled with the transition to a dense, vertical environment. After a year in Manhattan, we moved to New Jersey which meant that we had a long commute to our law firms. Big mistake. There are few things worse at the end of a long day than having to take a long car ride home.

After a few years I took a job in London. When we were deciding where to live my one criteria was that the commute had to be short. We found an apartment in Notting Hill 15 minutes from work, and it was a huge difference maker. It was so easy to fall in love with London because living close to work made it completely manageable. Plus – in our minds at least – it is the greatest city in the world.

When we came back to the United States we knew we wanted to put down roots but wanted to really get to know the area before we committed. The university Gigi was at let us rent a place near campus so we could take our time finding a place. After much looking we toured the house we now live in. Of course it was priced higher than we wanted to pay. We walked through twice more trying to decide if we should buy it when it sold to someone else.

We continued our house search but kept thinking about the house that got away. Six months after it sold, it came back on the market. And it was a lot cheaper. We put a full price offer on it the same day. It was a short sale and it took what seemed like forever to finalize the sale, but after six months we finally closed.

The house was built in 1953, and the person who designed it had a great sense of space and flow. Some of the things we love were obvious from the first walk through: the walk-out basement, the transitions between indoor and outdoor space, the wall of windows, of course. We had to be here a while to appreciate other things: the way the kitchen is open but the prep area is not visible from the living room, or the way the house is situated so as to let in lots of light while minimizing heat from the sun.

One thing I don’t care for are the dark wood floors on the upper level because they show every speck of dust. I would have put down something much lighter – perhaps a blonde bamboo. The kitchen and the floors were new when we bought the house and even though we would have made different choices, they are serviceable and it didn’t make sense to change them out.

I like a space where form follows function. It’s easy to become enamored with a design aesthetic and sacrifice comfort or functionality. One of the goals of mid-century architecture was to accommodate the family, but they didn’t always carry it off.

When we bought this house we loved the balcony that ran along the back side, but instead of a railing there was a pony wall that was about two feet high. Any parent looking at that wall would fear that sooner or later a kid would go over the side. So one of the first things we did was lay down a new balcony and install the tension cable railing.

The railing on the interior staircase has large gaps. We left it in place but when our baby started crawling I put up the plastic guard, which we’ll leave in place until she is older.

Gigi gets credit for the design and decorating of the house. She knew she wanted places where the kids can comfortably spend a lot of time and do their kid work. Our upstairs dining table is a natural place to spread out and do homework. The downstairs living room lends itself to projects and play. We keep most of the toys and craft supplies there and haven’t put anything in that space that would bother us if we found a blob of sparkly glue on it. Between the two levels, there are five sliding glass doors that lead into the backyard which makes it easy for everyone to run in and out.

I work as an attorney in my day job. I used to work for Wall Street banks and large corporations, but I always wanted to have actual people for clients and to feel like I was fighting for the little guy. We came back to the United States for Gigi’s career, so I needed to find a new job and that gave me a chance to pursue something different. One of my oldest friends and I started a personal injury law firm in Boise which has been the most fulfilling work of my career.

I have an entrepreneurial streak, and recently started a soda and cookie shop as a kind of hobby. I had met a few people who had soda shops and had talked about investing with them, but it didn’t work out so I decided to do it myself. We named the shop Entreat and it has been a total blast. We like to say that we sell soda and cookies, but are really in the business of happy.

The thing I like is seeing the shop become a gathering place – friends meeting there and families coming in for a little break. The simplicity of a fancy soda and a cookie is a nice contrast to the difficult, sometimes heart-rending things I see in my law practice.

It has become more important to me over time is to be supportive of Gigi’s career. She is good at her job and gets a lot of satisfaction from it. But I have to also admit to some self-interest because her work has also allowed me to do things that are important to me. By now we’ve worked out a pretty good balancing act. Gigi can use personal days when something special is going on, and since I’m self-employed I have all kinds of flexibility.

Maisie attends daycare a few steps from Gigi’s office, and we take turns co-op’ing in the older kids’ classes when school is in session. Making time to be in class two hours a week can be a pain, but you never regret it afterward. You see your children in a completely different setting and get to know their classmates and teachers. We get up earlier and go to bed later than we might otherwise, but as the kids have grown older and we see they are thriving it’s been easier for both of us to let go of any worry.

We put a lot of thought into structuring several spaces in the house as gathering and activity areas for various ages: the open living room and dining room with adjoining balcony; the fire pit and swing set; the open basement play area and kitchenette; the large reading nook under the stairs. I want them to remember it as an enjoyable and comfortable place where they spent time with family and friends.

I hope my kids will appreciate that we encouraged them to take risks. There is a growing body of literature discussing the adverse affects of helicopter parenting on children’s ability to properly assess risk and deal with failure. We don’t exactly subscribe to free-range parenting philosophy, but we try to let the kids do things for themselves. We want our children to know they are capable, to know that failure is a normal part of life and that they can improve.

At the same time I want my kids to remember feeling loved and secure. Right now we can be in a public place and Chloe will still climb into my lap. I know that probably won’t last much longer, and those moments have become incredibly precious to me. Cameron still trusts me with his secrets and wants to tell me which Pokemon characters are the best. Maisie is just a toddler but I already know it won’t be long and her peers will be her primary influence. So I hope my kids remember our house primarily as a place where they were unconditionally loved.

What has been my favorite part about living with my kids? That’s actually a poignant question for me. The short answer is getting to live with my kids. Shortly after we returned to the States, my sister died in her sleep from a heart condition none of us knew she had.

That was a dark time and that story is her husband and children’s to tell, but I later learned I had the same condition. I had an internal defibrillator placed in my body as a preventive measure, but the procedure didn’t go as planned and I was crash carted to the OR. I knew at that moment I might die and all I wanted to do was speak to my wife and tell her how much I loved her and the children and how sorry I was that I was not going to be there for them. It was strange to be simultaneously filled with love and sorrow.

I had a long recovery, but since that time when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment. Of course, when I try to explain this to my kids they laugh at me and think I’m crazy…but I hope at some point they’ll understand that their dad was trying to tell them they brought him joy.


“She was, is, and always will be my ideal girl.” I hope each of us has another who would say these words even when no one is listening! So nice. And as for Mat’s favorite part about living with his kids being the living part? Well, that puts everything neatly back into perspective, doesn’t it? “…when things are going right I’ve tried to take a moment and consciously recognize the goodness of the moment.” Indeed.

Thank you for adding your fine thoughts to our days, Mat. You are officially part of the tours you’ve read from the beginning, and I know you’ve changed someone’s day.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Rewind Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:04:57 +0000 Design Mom

Cassette Tapes

Image and text by Gabrielle.

You know that scene in The Incredibles, where Mrs. Incredible calls her husband at work and tells him that after 3 years, they are officially moved in? Because she finally managed to unpack the last few moving boxes? Well, we are totally living that same scenario at the moment. Wednesday will mark 2 years since our move to Oakland, and I have a handful of boxes that need unpacking and that I’ve been ignoring since we arrived here. I’m determined to finish tackling them this week.

Probably the smart thing to do is just throw them all out, since I can’t remember what the contents are, and since we clearly haven’t needed whatever is in those boxes for 2 years. (Actually, they’ve been boxed up for almost 5 years, because they were packed before we moved to France). But alas, I can’t help myself. I want to go through each one and make sure there’s nothing we will miss, before I eventually toss the rest.

I started last Friday and look what I found: Cassette Tapes!!

Now despite what those unpacked boxes are communicating, I’m actually decent at purging. And I don’t have a full tape collection in all its glory. I downsized many years ago. In fact, I only saved 5 cassettes — each one kept for sentimental value. There’s the first cassette I ever owned, a gift to me from my dad for my 11th birthday, Starship: Knee Deep in the Hoopla. (I listened to We Built This City approximately 1 million times while choreographing dances with my 6th grade bestie, Renae Gardner.)

Then, there are 3 tapes from local bands — including my brother’s band, Fumbling Planets. And there’s also 1 mix tape I saved, a Christmas gift from a high school boyfriend. I remembering saving it, thinking it would be fun to be able to show my kids a glimpse of what it was like when I was a teenager. (I kept a few issues of Seventeen and Sassy magazines for the same reason.)

But I’ve never actually shown the kids, because they were a little too young to care when these tapes were packed up years ago. Which means, finding these felt like striking gold! And in a further stroke of good luck, we actually own a cassette player at the moment — something that has not been true for most of our marriage.

Anyway, I couldn’t wait for my kids to hear their Uncle Josh’s first album. I threw the tape to 17-year-old Ralph and said with a big grin, “Go turn it on!” And then saw the expression on his face and immediately realized: he has no idea how to work a cassette tape. None. He’s never put one in a tape player. He doesn’t know about rewinding and fast-forwarding, and that you just have to sort of guess when to stop if you’re rewinding in search of a specific song. He doesn’t know about turning the tape over so you can listen to side 2. None of my kids know any of this!

It was such a trip showing them how it works. It was for sure the oldest I’ve ever felt.

And of course, the whole time I was getting a major dose of nostalgia. Those songs I hadn’t heard in so many years, but that I know by heart! I started wondering what the last time I listened to a cassette tape was and I couldn’t remember. I bought my first CD player during my sophomore year of college — 1993 — ushering in the end of my cassette tape collection and the beginning of my CD collection. And these days, I only have a handful of CDs. Like a lot of people, my music collection is mostly mp3s.

It made me wonder: do any of you still have cassettes? Your whole collection, or just a few? And if yes, do you have a way to play them? For readers in their twenties or early thirties, have you ever used a cassette tape? Have any of you ever introduced them to your kids? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. — I found myself trying to explain to my kids how important music was to me and my friends as a teenager. That we would memorize whole albums. There was no Youtube. No Snapchat. Music was everything. You too?

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A Few Things Fri, 10 Jul 2015 19:16:11 +0000 Design Mom

Blairs and Clarks

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ben Blair.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I hope well. I was traveling yesterday for a funeral and arrived home late last night — and then, this morning, I opened my laptop and started reading the amazing comments you wrote on my blog anniversary post. I am so touched! I can’t even tell you. I’ve been getting weepy all morning at your sweet words. As soon as I finish this post, I’ll respond to as many as I can.

And while I work on that, here are a few things that I thought you might find interesting:

- Colorado’s effort against teen pregnancies is a startling success.

- I totally have an obsession with tiny houses, but this article still made me laugh (warning: some cussing).

- “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.” Do you agree?

- Since we’re staying closer to home this summer, this guide of 30 places every California Kid needs to see is inspiring us.

You don’t have to hate anyone to be a bigot.

- Compelling new ideas about how to discipline children.

- Three kickstarters I bookmarked:  We Brave Women, and the LooGun. And this one I’m especially excited about. It’s called Everyword. It’s a crowd-sourced, really visually compelling site, that my nephew and niece are starting, where every single scripture in the Bible will get its own page, and then anything ever written about that individual scripture (both academic comments and more casual comments), or art inspired by that scripture, will be referenced on the page — it can incorporate all types of media. Free to use and completely non-denominational. And they only want $10 max donations.

- So fascinating. The mixed up brothers of Bogotá.

- Three cheers for this Malawi Chief! He annulled 330 teen marriages and enrolled the girls back in school.

- Famous films re-edited to highlight Hollywood’s race problem.

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


P.S. — The photo at top is from Wednesday. We spent the day in the city with the Topher & Lisa Clark family. In the photo, we had just picked up ice cream at Ghiradelli Square. Topher is one of Ben Blair’s earliest childhood friends, and they both married just a few months apart from each other. They are one of our favorite families. After hitting all the tourist sites, we came back to our house and ended up letting all the kids stay up watching movies waaaayy too late, so we could talk into the wee hours of the morning. Made me super happy.

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Growing A Family: A Bitter Pill To Swallow Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:25:32 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Illustration by the super talented Erin Jang.

If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ve likely agonized over taking any sort of medication that could potentially carry risks. “Will it hurt the baby?” is a phrase probably uttered many, many times over that nine-month period, right? And usually, if our doctor assures us it’s all good, then it is.

But what if our doctor is wrong? What if the worst of nightmares comes true and suddenly the medication we took that was most assuredly fine was most definitely not fine? What if it does hurt the baby?

This is a story about that nightmare come true. Almost. Please join me in welcoming Sara Gillis. I hope the lessons she learned will help you get through your own moment when you feel like you’ve just let down the world around you. We’ve all had one or two of those, haven’t we?

Three white, sticky circles were attached to his chest. Wires spilled across his breast bone, red and white in color. The beeping of the monitor tracked his heart rate – beep, beep, beep. His feet, wrapped in bandages as a result of many hours of pokes and tests, were oozing red and aching, making his sweet face grimace with each cry.

He lay in a bed with see-through sides, clad only in a diaper brandishing the letter “N” for newborn. The colorful mixture of cotton and sunshine yellow that swaddled his tiny middle was the size of my palm. He was sleeping, fitfully, clearly in a state of distress, which was undoubtedly caused by anxiety regarding when his next round of testing, his next unsuccessful round of nursing, his next interruption would disturb his slumber.

As the doctor came in to look at him, I rose from the chair beside him, the nursing slits in my pink floral hospital gown open, barely concealing my still-swollen belly. My husband Jordan approached from a pull-out sofa across the room and took his place by my side.

“I see that you are on medication for anxiety and depression,” the doctor said to me.

I nodded, my heart quickening as I saw the doctor’s eyes glance quickly at the chart in her manicured hands. The doctor let out an audible sigh – obviously, the morning had already been a long one – and met the eyes of the nurse, who was positioned behind me.

“As you know, your baby is here in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because he is struggling to maintain his blood sugar,” the doctor said. “His inability to regulate his glucose levels, as well as his overall sleepy state, tells me that his struggles are primarily due to the presence of your anxiety medication in his system.”

I looked up at the whitish-gray ceiling tiles of the room in the NICU as teardrops amassed, threatening to fall from my eyelashes to my cheeks to my chest, not yet swollen with milk. I blinked rapidly, willing the tears to subside; I turned away and brushed at my cheeks, the heparin lock still in place in my hand.

As the doctor continued to explain the NICU procedures and the treatment plan for the baby, questions swirled about in my mind as I attempted to make sense of the doctor’s statement.

Couldn’t his inability to control his blood sugar levels have something to do with his premature arrival at three-and-a-half weeks early? What about the fact that he was only five-and-a-half pounds at birth? What about the medication (terbutaline) that I was given (and that failed) to stop my labor – or the medications (a combination of morphine and vistaril) that I was given (and that failed) to allow me a time of therapeutic sleep as my body labored – could these have made him lethargic and thus complicated his ability to regulate his blood sugar levels? My milk hasn’t come in yet – could that be contributing to his low blood sugar? If the anxiety medication has such negative effects, why wouldn’t our regular physician make us aware of the risks to our child? Why did we not learn of this possible complication when I first went on the anxiety medication, before we conceived our first child who, by the way, was born healthy?

My eyes betrayed me. Through my tear-clouded vision, I stared at my little boy in the clear box. The irony struck my very bones: my brand new baby, so fragile, was placed in a box of glass.

As the doctor reached for the hand sanitizer and exited our room, my tears began falling faster, this time in tandem down each cheek. I looked into the nurse’s eyes and mustered just one statement, the one that wouldn’t be suppressed in the midst of all of the questions chasing each other around inside my heart.

“I never would have taken the medication had I known…had I known that it would hurt him in any way.” As I reached for my son’s tiny hand, my shaky voice gave way to a sputtering of sobs, a cacophony of painful waves that violently shook my whole being.

The next thing that I heard was the nurse – a new nurse, for the time had come and gone for shifts to switch – recommending a formula feeding in hopes of increasing the baby’s blood sugar levels. Guilt-ridden and tear-filled, I understood that I had only mere drops of colostrum to offer my child, as my breast milk had not yet come in. I nodded, my face relaying the hesitancy that I felt inside. How could I be trusted to make any decisions on my child’s behalf? After all, it was my choice to visit my doctor, to ask for help, to take a medication that the doctor said had caused my child’s body undue stress and had rendered my own heart shamed beyond recognition.

The nurse’s voice took on a caring, sympathetic tone. “We need to do whatever we can to get your sweet baby out of the NICU and back into your arms,” she said. “This will help us to accomplish that.” And so it was agreed: the baby would have one helping of nutrient-rich formula.

As I walked along the cavernous, winding hallways from the NICU back to the postpartum ward, back to my recovery room, I willed for my breast milk to come in, because the nurses had promised me that the arrival of my milk would jumpstart the fight against my boy’s low blood sugar. So, I waited and waited. Amidst update after painful update from the nurse that “There’s been no change in the baby’s levels, but keep trying to nurse as much as he’ll take,” I sent my husband to spend time with our newborn son, for his heart wasn’t clouded by the mama guilt that I was so fiercely, so relentlessly subjecting myself to. It was there, in the NICU, that my child received his first bath, a moment that I observed in pictures, not in the flesh. My heart would not allow me to experience that moment in person. I laid in my hospital bed, my arms empty. I stared at the empty space beside me, where the bassinet should be, where I should hear gurgles and breaths and whimpers from my sweet baby boy, brand new and swaddled and smelling of baby lotion and Heaven. I let my tears fall, again and again.

It came – it finally came! – and when it did, it came in buckets and barrels. I pumped it devotedly, hour by hour, bottle after bottle, marked it with my name, the time, the date, and the number of ounces. I gave it to my nurse to store in the fridge marked “breast milk – do not drink.” I astounded each nurse that I encountered in the next 24-hours with my robust supply, with my frequent buzzes of the “call” button with more breast milk to store.

For every ounce of milk that I pumped, I tried to forgive myself that much more. My family practice doctor had visited earlier that morning, and she assured me that she had never, in her years of medical practice, encountered any sort of complication with the anxiety medication that she had prescribed. “I have numerous expectant mothers on the very same medication that you are taking,” the family practice doctor said, in an attempt to reassure me of the safety of modern medication. Yet, this statement had the opposite effect, for all that I could think about were the other mothers, the other babies that might be, could be in my situation months from now, simply because they never knew of the complications, either. They just didn’t know. Why didn’t they know?

Every two hours, on the hour, I pushed my wheelchair through the halls of the postpartum ward, down the elevator, and through the security entrance to the NICU. Every two hours, on the hour, I wheeled into my baby son’s room, grasped his warm, diapered body tightly – I learned quickly to take care to navigate the positioning of the wires taped to his torso, so as to prevent needless alarms from sounding – and fed him my breast milk from a tiny bottle with a tiny nipple. Every two hours, on the hour, I held him in my arms as I sat in my wheelchair, and I burped him, rocked him and sang to him, songs about sunshine and twinkling stars and grace that amazes. And then, after it was all over, I would wind my wheelchair back through the depths and alleys of the hospital to sneak an hour of rest before doing it all again. I’d set an alarm, exhausted from the trek down and back, yet anxious and terrified for the alarm to alert me that it was time to do it all again.

My alarm sang out for the umpteenth time that day, this time right before supper. I again made my journey down through the NICU doors, pausing, as I always did, to scrub my hands from fingernails to elbows and back again, to ensure a clean shield upon which to cradle my brand new baby. Yet as I reached for my boy, awake and stirring and ready to eat, a nurse entered and told me that my sweet baby was ready to leave the NICU and return upstairs.

To our room.

His blood sugar had stabilized. My breast milk and every-two-hours feedings had worked. He could finally be in my arms, all the time.

Joy spilled over and over again, not unlike the tears of relief that fell from my cheeks, as my baby was finally able to room-in with me after his short stint in the NICU. In celebration of the baby’s rebounding health, we decided that it was time for our older son to meet our newest bundle. My husband led our oldest, Lionel, into the hospital room, and the two-and-a-half-year-old boy, clad in a shirt brandishing his favorite Sesame Street characters, smiled widely as his eyes met mine. Our older son was so sweet, so careful, but was so scared to touch the baby in his Mama’s arms. The baby’s name, Quincy, so carefully chosen and long kept secret from all, even the little boy, escaped his toddler lips over and over as he tried it out for a first, a second, a millionth time. Lionel saved his kisses and hugs, not quite sure about sharing them with his brother just yet; he showed remarkable control over his chubby toddler limbs in refusing to even touch the baby boy’s hands with his own. It was the sweetest of meetings.

Yet, despite my best efforts, my precious baby returned to his sluggish state. As the sun gleaned and glimmered off of the freshly fallen snow the following morning, his blood sugar levels took another dangerous dip, and when the nurses entered our hospital room, their faces grim, I knew.

As the words left the head nurse’s mouth – “We think it’s best that we take him back to the NICU to be further monitored, so that his blood sugar doesn’t continue to fall”  – tears of frustration escaped my tired eyes, reddened from the emotions of the passing hours and days since Quincy’s premature arrival. I pleaded with the nurse not to take him back, to find another way to monitor his progress that didn’t require hospital floors and secure entrances and “wash your hands up to your elbows, please” of separation.

After consulting with the doctors in the NICU, including the doctor whom had informed me of my culpability in causing my child’s distress, the head nurse relented and permitted our boy to be monitored in the nursery on the postpartum floor. As the nurse wheeled my baby boy away, my vision became clouded once more, and I pulled my knees to my chest and sobbed, not caring anymore about the pain of my incision from the cesarean, but only about the hurt in my heart.

By some miracle, Quincy’s blood sugar levels picked up after one bottle feeding in the postpartum nursery. When the head nurse entered the hospital room hours later, she was not alone – the baby was wheeled in with her. After much deliberation with our family practice doctor, it was determined that if Quincy was able to stabilize his blood sugar above a certain level for three rounds of testing in a row, he would be permitted to room-in with me and avoid a return to the NICU. Furthermore, if Quincy’s glucose levels remained above the preferred threshold for these three rounds of testing, he would be discharged with me the following day.

This news so quickly turned the day around for me, and for the baby, too; my priority became to ensure that Quincy’s tummy was always full. I continued to pump in order to track precisely how many ounces the baby consumed.

As each feeding commenced, I spoke silent prayers to God, begging for my child to rebound from this, his first struggle since arriving in the world outside the confines of my belly. With each ounce that Quincy drank, my spirits tentatively lifted, if only for a moment, so as not to allow too much hope to arise in my heart. I watched my baby boy’s bassinet wheel out and in, out and in, out and in of the room that day, my breath held hostage in my chest, as I awaited the results of each round of glucose testing.

With one round of testing complete, Quincy’s levels had stabilized. Two more heel stick blood draws remained, and with each bottle-feeding and each subsequent test came more admissions of cautionary hope on my part.

The second blood draw was encouraging as well: Quincy’s blood sugar levels again reached the safe zone. Only one more round of testing stood in the way of our ability to bring our child home with us the following day.

My favorite nurse – the one who had been by my side when Quincy was first transported to the NICU, the one who had reassured me when my mama guilt reared and pierced again and again – wheeled the baby’s bassinet into my hospital room once more. As we awaited the results of the baby’s final round of testing, my hospital room had filled with family members, many of whom began pacing the room in the worrisome in-between time when the glucose testing was being conducted in the nursery just down the hall.

The nurse’s face was emotionless in its refusal to betray even the slightest hint of the test results. As her eyes met mine, she glimpsed yet again the utter fearfulness that so blanketed me, and she finally spoke.

“He passed!”

The room erupted in cheers. As I reached for Quincy and cuddled him close to my chest, I whispered prayers of gratitude for all that we had endured.

Eight weeks later, a growing Quincy and I sat atop the examination table in the clinic of our family practice physician. It had been two months since the baby’s unexpected debut, and the time had also come for the family’s doctor to discuss with me – after much time spent swimming in medical research, and after repeated consultations with the hospital’s NICU staff, at my behest – precisely what had so complicated Quincy’s ability to maintain his glucose levels.

As the doctor prepared to speak, her hands reached out and touched my own in an act of comfort. My eyes, pained with emotion, clung in that moment to the embrace of the doctor in whom I had placed so much trust in caring not only for me, but for my children as well. Many nights had passed since our boy’s early medical struggles, but I spent most of them in fitful sleep, my heart awash in guilt and regret for my role in causing Quincy so much strife in his first days on the outside.

The doctor inhaled deeply, and her words fell on my open, bruised heart.

“The doctor who consulted on your child’s case in the NICU has expressed that her observation regarding your use of anxiety medication may have been exaggerated, or even unfounded,” she said. “In short, after examining the baby’s chart more thoroughly since his stay in the NICU and his eventual discharge from the unit, the doctor has determined that the complications associated with the child’s blood sugar levels largely occurred because of his premature arrival and corresponding low birth weight, not as a result of the low-dose medication that you were taking.”

The family practice physician then turned to the computer in the exam room and deleted the following statement from the child’s medical chart: “Fetal Complications Due to Maternal Medication Use.”

As the doctor exited the room, she smiled at me. And amidst my shaking hands and efforts to will the tears away, I clutched my blossoming child, and I smiled back.

This experience taught our family so much. If we could offer any advice to mothers- or fathers-to-be – or anyone in need of medical care – we remind all to be vigilant, to ask questions, and to ask them again. Talk to your doctor and EVERY doctor you see. Do everything that is necessary to take care of yourself and your child.

And, arguably the most important takeaway from this time, we learned to FORGIVE. Forgive what you idealize yet cannot realize, whether it’s the way in which you bring your child into the world or the choices that you make prior to that fateful day. Forgive the shortcomings of those around you, from the nurse who chides you for co-sleeping or not breastfeeding or fill-in-the-blank-here, to the doctor who misdiagnoses or misreads your baby’s symptoms and unknowingly causes pain and guilt that is unbearable at times. And lastly, forgive YOURSELF, for it is the only way to recover a peaceful existence.

Finally, what we give thanks to God for each day is that our thirty-six hour stay in the NICU with our son places us among the lucky few that are able to leave such a high-risk unit in such a short amount of time. Thus, to all of the families who endure long stays in the NICU (particularly those who are unsure as to whether their children will ever make it home), I pray for God’s strength and peace to envelop you and yours.


This: “Forgive what you idealize yet cannot realize, whether it’s the way in which you bring your child into the world or the choices that you make prior to that fateful day. Forgive the shortcomings of those around you, from the nurse who chides you for co-sleeping or not breastfeeding or fill-in-the-blank-here, to the doctor who misdiagnoses or misreads your baby’s symptoms and unknowingly causes pain and guilt that is unbearable at times. And lastly, forgive YOURSELF, for it is the only way to recover a peaceful existence.”

May we all extend that gift to those around us and ourselves. Can you imagine what a lovely existence that would be? Thank you so much, Sara, for sharing your painful story with us. I’m thrilled it ended happily! Welcome, Quincy!

As for medication, have any of you experienced such a conflict in information while pregnant or otherwise? Please share your knowledge, will you? It always, always helps someone else out there!

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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Nine Years Wed, 08 Jul 2015 19:07:08 +0000 Design Mom

Muir Woods

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Friends. It’s my blogging anniversary! Nine years ago today, I started Design Mom (here’s a link to my very first post).

Nine Years!

Over 6000 published posts. And another 60+ in drafts from over the years that may or may not ever see the light of day.

There are all sorts of related things I want to talk to you about. Things like the awesome phone call I had this morning concerning a super cool new series for the blog. I want to tell you about the insanely talented designer I reached out to for a blog redesign. I want to tell you about the podcast on parenting that Ben Blair and I are thinking about starting. (Sidenote: Would that interest any of you?). I want to to discuss blogging in general; how it’s changed, how it’s remained the same.

I would love to reminisce too! I want to remember when I used to have “guest moms”. I want to think about the first house tour (there have since been 195!), the long-running Secrets to Living Well column, the DIY posts. I want to ponder 2013 — the year I had a ton of regular contributors. I want to make a list of significant blog moments (things like the first giveaway, and the first award). I want to think about all of the different people who have helped make this website grow and thrive.

And I want to hear how long you’ve been reading! Are you new to Design Mom? Have you been reading since New York? Do you remember when Flora June was born in Colorado? Did you start reading when we lived in France? Do any of you remember the Ask Design Mom posts?

I’m fully aware that this blog would be nothing without YOU, the readers. And I’m forever grateful. I mean it from the bottom of my heart (and understand how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true). Thank you for reading!

P.S. — One of our favorite families is visiting from Utah, and we’re spending the day in San Francisco, but I’ll be thinking of the remarkable Design Mom Community all day, and promise to jump into the conversation as soon as I’m back at my desk.

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Living With Kids: Flora Saldivar Anderson Tue, 07 Jul 2015 16:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We are catching Flora just prior to her family’s embarkment on a fabulous adventure. If you’re dreaming of packing it all up and stealing your kids away for a year abroad, you’ve landed on the perfect post to inspire you. If you’re trying to choose between a city hustle and bustle existence or a slower paced life, Flora’s words will be a comfort. If you’ve been hoping for a wake-up call to push you in your right direction, there is a paragraph or two just for you. And if you’re trying to find the courage to paint a boldly blue kitchen nook, this is also the place to be.

One more thing. Flora apologized for her writing skills when she sent me her interview. I forgot to tell her that commas don’t really matter when you’ve written something that makes others smile and feel like they can accomplish just about anything, and suddenly realize that our dreams aren’t so far out of reach. There. I just did.

Please enjoy Flora as much as I have!

Hello, everyone! We are Chris, Flora, three-year-old Zoe Jane, and one-year-old Leo.

Chris is a freelance motion designer, an artist at heart since he was little. He has drawn, painted, and loves all things creative, and so to say he is passionate about his career is an understatement! His head is constantly solving design problems or coming up with new looks for clients.

I am also a freelance designer and mama, born in Mexico City. Design is something that comes second on my list of priorities. Most of my days consist of being a mother and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been obsessed with pregnancy and newborns since I can remember, so becoming a mama has been the ultimate dream come true. Being a mom is everything I hoped for and more.

I know lots of moms struggle with the transition of becoming a mom and leaving careers. Design is one of those lucky professions where you are not forced to pick between the two. I am able to pick up as little or as much work as I want. Right now, it is a little freelance and a lot of mothering. I purposefully try to take a couple projects here and there because I don’t want to lose sight of my career and I want to keep current with the design world. I am well aware my kids will one day be in school all day, and I would like to hop back on the working bandwagon seamlessly without struggling to get clients or trying to figure out the latest software.

Zoe is one of those extra high energy kids, and she doesn’t hold back even around strangers. She is a total riot. We love her lively personality, and she’s always surprising us with her new drawing and painting skills.

Leo is our sweet baby boy. People always told me if you have a high energy one, the next one is usually mellow. Well, that is not the case for us. He is also a high energy early walker, climber of just about anything, following fearlessly in the steps of his sister. He absolutely adores Zoe, and he’s no doubt a mama’s boy!

We recently moved from Chicago to Fayetteville, Arkansas. After seven years of living in the heart of a much-loved city, we made the big move to be closer to my family. With the impending arrival of our second kid, we decided we were going to need a lot more help! That reason, plus the cost of living compared to Chicago…well…it’s almost unreal.

We started house shopping and couldn’t believe how much more we could afford! It was dreamy. We looked at dozens of homes but none felt like we were seeing the one where we’d continue raising our family. Then we stumbled into this cute subdivision, and an even cuter model home, and we gasped. WOW! THIS IS IT! THIS IS THE ONE!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t for sale. So even though the plan was never to build a house from scratch, we did! People warned us it would be a horrible process, and at times it was, but it was also a lot of fun! We chose every detail, from the brick to the mortar to the roof! Needless to say, we were very nervous about how all our choices would end up looking in real life.

Our house definitely stands out when you look around the subdivision. It’s very bright! At first, we felt like we totally messed up, but we’ve grown to like it now.

The inside is still very much a work-in-progress. We are always torn when shopping around. We would love to splurge on the nice furniture, rugs, and accessories for the house, but we are terrified about what the kids might do to it. So we try to pick and choose our splurges and saves. For example, we splurged on the bed frame and headboard, but we got fairly cheap duvet cover so when Zoe spills my red nail polish, it won’t hurt as much to replace it.

Even though it’s been quite an adjustment moving from the big city to a small town, we are growing to appreciate it. We love having space. Chris now has his own roomy studio where he spends most of his days. He can blast music all day long, and the babies can peacefully sleep upstairs. That was once only a dream when living in our small Chicago condos when we spent every nap time and night tiptoeing around Zoe’s room.

We love having an actual playroom as supposed to having the living room act as the playroom. It’s nice for them to have their own fun space where they can spread out, be loud, and basically make a mess and enjoy being kids.

We’ve loved becoming friends with the neighbors, too. It’s a very different dynamic than in the city and it’s great to see Zoe having this All-American neighborhood experience! People actually open up their garages and the kids ride their tricycles around the cul-de-sac! Just like the movies! And Arkansas is not called the Natural State for nothing – there are trees galore! As soon as Spring hits, everything is covered in green and it’s like a explosion of awesome. Sometimes we are riding in the car and right next to us we spot a deer family hopping around.

Because my husband and I are both designers, we tend to carry on conversations about design on a daily basis. However, we do not share the same aesthetic. I am much more into clean lines and very simple design, and he’s all about complexity and lots of character. We are pretty opposite.

Shopping for furniture has always been a bit of a nightmare. It takes us months to come to a compromise. It seems like most non-designer spouses are pretty laid back about the look of the house, and they just leave that to the one who is home the most. But not Chris! Oh, he has a say in every detail! At times its’s pretty exhausting, but after six years of marriage we have almost mastered the art of compromising.

People constantly ask if we would be willing to do a duo design project, but we learned pretty early on that working together on the same project is a horrible idea. So we always say no to that, because that’s basically saying yes to a future argument. We are always bouncing ideas off each other and talking about our projects, but we keep projects separate always, and usually we agree to disagree. That’s not to say I don’t like his work, though. I am his biggest fan! From paintings to animation to design, he rocks all things creative, and his clients adore him, too.

A year before Zoe was born, my mother-in-law passed away at the age of 53. To us, that was a big eye-opening moment in our lives. We realized this life is not to take for granted. My mother-in-law had a love for life like no one else I’ve ever met, she was healthy as can be, and always happy and excited about life. In a way, I feel like we owe to her to live it up.

Fast forward a couple years a few months before our Leo was born, Zoe started having issues with her leg. She was limping for no apparent reason, and after months of doctor visits, x-rays, lab tests, etc., she was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis just months before her second birthday. It was crushing and one of the hardest things we’ve endured as a family.

Doctors insisted on giving her this drug which is essentially chemo, one of the drugs they give to cancer patients. After reading the side effects of that, we decided to go a different route and treat her naturally with nutrition, supplements, and lots of prayers. Well, God heard our prayers, and she stopped limping and went back to her normal self. She seems to be very controlled right now. But we know with this disease things can change quickly, so that’s a long story about another one of our motivations for the upcoming trip abroad we’ve planned. We have no idea what’s in store for the next years. All we know is that right now she can walk and run and enjoy herself, so that’s when our wheels started turning.

Fast forward one more year when my mom got this awesome job working for Delta. Her travel benefits are amazing, and within a few months she was traveling all over the globe. Needless to say, we got a little jealous of her spontaneous travels! For some reason, we felt like the kids were anchoring us. After several months of dreaming out loud about how we could travel while Chris worked on the road, one day we thought, “What are we waiting for? Zoe is not in school yet, so there’s literally nothing holding us back! Let’s do this!” That same week, we put our house up for rent and for the first time the dream of an overseas life started to take shape.

We started a list of all the places we would like to visit, and then we focused on narrowing it down. We made a rough itinerary for the whole year, about three to four weeks in each place. From Europe to Australia to South America. The lists is still in constant flux. All we know for sure is we are starting in Amsterdam, so we bought our one-way tickets, and booked a home on Airbnb.

Our second stop will probably be Paris, and the plan is to travel south from there to sort of follow the warmer weather. Once we hit three months, which is the longest US citizens can be in the European Union without visas, we decided to head to Australia to sort of skip winter. After three months there, maybe a month in Hawaii, and after that maybe Argentina, Costa Rica, Belize…who knows! The possibilities are endless. We are also well aware this long year trip with two toddlers is sort of crazy, so we are keeping our plans very loose and flexible. If we realize it’s sort of horrible within the first few months, we are not opposed to coming back.

Chris has had the dream of going freelance for years, but it was always “the wrong time to quit.” Can anyone relate? First there was the wedding, then our first kid, then the next kid. It wasn’t until we decided to move that his freelance dream was becoming a reality – but then his company offered to keep him! This development was shocking and exciting, but it delayed the process. It wasn’t until months after we moved that he fully transitioned to freelance, and what an awesome decision that was. To say that he loves it doesn’t even begin to explain how amazing it’s been. He has been so happy, and he’s worked with all of his top favorite companies! I think the biggest secret for all his success could be summed up in one word: passion!

We had that aha moment when we finally realized we can live anywhere! We’ve always talked about traveling, but for the first time we were serious and everything fell into place at the same time. We figured as long as he can take his computer, he can keep working while we travel. At first we thought about moving to just one place, but that turned into two months in each place which then turned into three weeks in each place.

We are hoping to keep expenses about the same. We are well aware things are more expensive while traveling, but we will also be saving lots by basically putting our life here in the States on hold. Turns out car insurance, cable, phones, gas, water, electric bills, and all that fun stuff that we are just so used to paying adds up to a hefty amount of money which we’ve added back into to the traveling budget. Since Chris will continue working while traveling, it shouldn’t be too much of a difference there.

I’m looking forward to finding out if we’re right! I can’t wait to see the world through my babies’ eyes. It’s my favorite part of living with them. Just the other day when I was trying to explain to Zoe about the trip, I realized she has no concept of the world! How the world is round and there are different countries. She asked me if we could go to Paris instead of the park! To be able to teach simple things like that is wonderful.

The most surprising thing about being a mom would be how well I can function with so little sleep. My kids are wonderful in many ways, but they are the worst sleepers ever! So functioning with little sleep is a skill I never knew I had! The newborn stage is one of my favorites – the way they fit in your hands and everything is just so perfectly tiny and new. The thought that days before they were inside your belly blows my mind. The way they smell and move is just fascinating to me. If I could change professions, I would be a midwife in a heartbeat.

I wish someone had told me to live in the moment rather than always thinking about the next moment.

I think it’s easy to always want what you don’t have. So when we were in the city, I was worried about crime and craved lots of space for my babies and being close to family. After we moved and got all that, we started craving all the restaurants and city life and shopping and the awesome playgrounds and museums.

So I came to the conclusion that I’m always so focused on what I don’t have and what I want in the future that I totally miss the awesome moments I get to live. Now I’m a little more aware of this so I’m trying to really live it up everywhere we go.


See what I mean? Her plan is a solid one, isn’t it? Following the warm weather, avoiding the need for visas, adding in utility bill totals to the travel budget – it all sounds sensible and fun, which is surely a trick. How many of you are planning your freelance career right this minute?

I am anxious to hear how Flora’s plans unfold for the family, so please keep in touch, Flora! And thank you for adding your positivity and can-do attitude to our day! (And if anyone is in the market for a vacation rental in Fayetteville, Arkansas, hit her up!)

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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A Collection of Random Thoughts Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

Santa Cruz Boardwalk Swings

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I woke up this morning with all sorts of little things I wanted to talk to you about:

1) Crowds are on my mind today. We did a few big things over the weekend (you can see photos here). On Saturday morning, we went to a parade, and then we spent the afternoon in Santa Cruz. The night before, we went to the A’s game and stayed for fireworks (which is maybe my favorite summer tradition — if you get a chance, DO IT!). In all 3 cases, there were big crowds.

I inherited a trait from my father — an intense craving to be where all the action is. So I feel like I’m always the first to sign up for whatever exciting thing is happening. But oh man, in actuality, it completely wipes me out! It’s like, I can’t wait to get there, and then I can’t wait to leave. Hah! How about you?

2) We met with an architect! We are finally ready to move forward with our master bedroom/bath renovation, and we’re making some big changes to how the current space is used, so we wanted to talk with a pro. The architect’s name is Erin Conner, she ‘s the mother of one of the kids at our elementary school, and she is fantastic. We love her work! Lots of modern, clean lines — her style would be perfect for this house.

We also loved how honest she was with us. I’ve spent two years imagining this space and feel like I have a solid plan. She could see that. She said we didn’t necessarily need an architect for this project and then she spelled out exactly what she would be bringing to the table, so we could clearly see the benefits and associated costs. She also offered to consult on an hourly basis, which I was delighted to hear, because sometimes I can really use an architect’s opinion.

We’re speaking with some contractors too, and then we’ll need to decide if we want to go directly with a contractor or work through an architect first. Either way, we’re super excited about getting started on this renovation!

I’m prepping a post where I share the current floor plan of the master bedroom & bath so I can explain what our plans are and show the before pictures. We’ve done some big projects in this house, but I think this is the biggest by far. I’m in the stage right now where none of it can happen fast enough — once I get the vision, I want to start demolition immediately. (Did I tell you I was excited about this project? I’m so excited!)

3) Is there such a thing as a cold where the only symptom is being tired? I took two different naps yesterday, plus I slept in! I didn’t feel sick, but I was pretty darn worn out. Hah! I’m feeling much better today.

4) Funerals are on my mind. Ben Blair and I will be in Utah on Thursday to attend one. It’s my second trip to Utah for a funeral in the last 2 months. When my dad died, it meant a ton to me that people came to his funeral. I was 22 years old, and it was the first time I understood that the funeral is for the living, not for the dead. My father didn’t care if anyone came to his funeral. He was dead. But it was such a comfort to me and my siblings and my mother.

Ben Blair and I both have big families and can’t attend everything — we miss baptisms and new babies and all sorts of events. But since my father died, we’ve tried hard to attend funerals — at least, the ones that affect the people we love. We can’t always make it work. In France it was often too difficult to take a last minute trip like that. But we try.

It makes me wonder. Do you have a policy on funerals? I know everyone is different. I have friends who really can’t bear to attend them at all.

5) Last summer, we traveled quite a bit. We took an epic road trip, touring around National Parks with our exchange students. And Ben and I took an amazing  trip to Sweden as well. But this summer, we’re barely traveling at all! Instead, we’re mostly staying close to home, and working on the house.

There are some exceptions. The older girls went to Girls Camp. Ralph is going to scout camp. And 4 of the kids will attend Cousins Week in St. George. But we don’t have a big family trip on the schedule.

I’m a little worried I’ll regret it. I’m wondering about fitting in some weekend trips here in California, or even just exploring the Bay Area. And I’m also trying to figure out if Ben and I can fit in a trip for our anniversary next month. We’ll see.

What about you? Do you have any big trips this summer? Or are you staying local?

6) Have you seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? Ben and I saw it last night. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I thought it was really good! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Anyway. Lots of random things. Feel free to discuss anything above. Or, consider this an open post — if there’s something you want to chat about, even if it doesn’t relate to anything above, feel free!

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A Few Things Fri, 03 Jul 2015 11:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

Betty and Flags

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. Happy Independence Day Weekend! Any fun plans? We’re heading to an Oakland A’s game tonight. After the game they invite everyone down on the field to watch fireworks. It’s pretty magical! It always happens on July 3rd and it’s an Oakland tradition.

On Saturday, we’ve got a hike in the redwoods and a family picnic back at our house. Then on Sunday, I hope we get to sing a bunch of the patriotic hymns. They’re some of my favorites! Don’t you feel like America the Beautiful has some truly epic lyrics? I mean verse 2 and verse 3? So good!

I’m signing off early this morning, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- I met the author of this essay, Clementine Wamariya, at the AYA summit last year. She is young and remarkable. The article is long form, so set aside a little time, because it will blow you away.

- The trailer for the cyber-seniors documentary looks super sweet.

- Feeling like you want to give up? I found this self-care printable really calming.

- My friend, Jane, sent me these Soludos slip-ons in gold and I’m in love! I’ve been wearing them like crazy.

- If you’re still feeling troubled by last week’s ruling on marriage, you may find these two links helpful. 1) A talk from an orthodox Rabbi on moving forward. And 2) this sincere offer from my friend Laurie. (I think it’s a public post, but if you can’t see it, let me know.)

- A world of languages (embarrassingly, I hadn’t even heard of several in the Top 23).

- The keynote presentation videos from Alt Summer are live!

- I keep thinking about this essay — ”Something I Wrote Once About Dating When You’re Plus-Sized.”

- A new contract made for writers/bloggers/designers/illustrators or anyone else who gets asked to work for free.

- Summer reading recommendations from an author.

- A conversation with white people on race (part of a series of mini-docs made by the NYT). If you’re feeling like it’s awkward to talk about race you might relate to this. Thanks, Jessie.

Father daughter beatbox battle. (I love how happy the dad is when she clearly outdoes him.)

- Will you be grilling tomorrow? Here are some awesome tips!

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


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Personality Tests Thu, 02 Jul 2015 21:29:24 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Yesterday, a friend shared this link to a free 10-minute Meyers-Briggs personality test. Do you know your Meyers-Briggs classification? Apparently there are 16 options. And until I took the test yesterday, I didn’t know mine. I remember taking a similar test years ago — it must have been when we lived in New York — though I wasn’t paying much attention to the results and don’t recall what they were. But I come across Meyers-Briggs references frequently, and sometimes wish I had a better understanding of the whole thing, so when I saw the 10 minute test link, I thought, why not?

Well, I took the test and the image above is a screengrab of the results. Turns out I’m an ENFJ. Immediately upon reading the results, I had about a million questions. Here are a few:

1) How accurate do these tests tend to be? Meaning, if people take a test like this once a year, do they always get the same result? Does it tend to be a permanent designation, or do personalities change over time?

2) Of course, it’s a total vanity feeder to find yourself sharing a personality with Bono, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Sheryl Sandburg. But obviously, admirable people are included with every personality designation. If you’ve taken the test, did you like the people listed who shared your personality? (I can’t imagine they ever list someone that is historically hated — like, hey, you share a personality with Stalin!)

3) If you’re someone who has taken the test, have you studied the description of your personality type? Do you know the personality types of your spouse or kids?

4) Do you consider yourself an advocate or fan of Meyers-Briggs tests? Do you take your results seriously? If yes, have you ever figured out how to improve a relationship based on what you learned from Meyers-Briggs descriptions? Has it ever helped you as a spouse or parent?

5) If you do counseling professionally, what’s your take on Meyers-Briggs? Do you find the tests accurate or valuable?

6) According to the test website, ENFJs “are a rare personality type and make up only 2% of the population”. But I was discussing my results on Facebook and there were a whole bunch of commenters that were also ENFJs. Certainly more than 2%! Does that mean I’m drawn to fellow ENFJs and have a higher percentage among my Facebook Friends?

So many questions! I would love to hear your Meyers-Briggs stories. I’m super curious. If you already know your personality type, I hope you’ll jump right in to the discussion. And if you don’t know your personality type, feel free to take the test, it’s super fast, I promise.

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The Trick to Stopping Poison Oak & Poison Ivy Thu, 02 Jul 2015 01:18:07 +0000 Design Mom

The (FREE) trick to stopping poison oak and poison ivy rash before it starts!

By Gabrielle. Poison Ivy botanical print found here.

Oh my goodness. At the moment, there is a major portion of my brain fixated on poison oak and poison ivy. Turns out I’m highly allergic! And I’ve been battling some intense poison oak rashes for months. I’ve had shots, used up dozens of tubes of prescription cream, and taken one million showers to ease the itch. (Oh the drama! Hah!) Remember the red dress I wore to the Iris Awards? It was chosen because it covered my poison oak rash all over my arms and legs.

Happily I think I’ve finally got it under control. So three cheers for that! But while it’s still on my mind, I thought I’d jot down the most helpful things I’ve learned about it in case anyone else out there is dealing with it too. Here are 10 things I’ve learned about poison oak and poison ivy since we moved to California:

1) Poison Ivy is found in the East. Poison Oak is found in the West. There’s Poison Sumac too, but I don’t know where it’s found.

2) Not everyone is allergic to these plants, but most people are — 85% of people have some sort of reaction. I seem to be on the highly allergic end. I swear, even if I don’t touch any plants at all, if it’s nearby I seem to break out in a poison oak rash. Luckily, no one else in the family (Ben Blair or the kids) seems to be quite as affected as I am.

3) The rash is intense. It goes deep and gets these nasty weeping blisters. So gross! For me, it doesn’t seem to improve at all on it’s own. I have to get medical help before I see improvement.

4) To ease the pain, someone recommended taking a super hot shower and putting the rash under the shower stream. She said to hold it there until it’s like a “good” pain. I followed the advice and found it totally works for me. Doing this can relieve my pain and itching for up to an hour. Though I should also note, no doctor has ever mentioned this to me, so I don’t claim it’s an official treatment. : )

5) Once it clears, you can see the scars of the rash for months and months — I had some on my leg that lasted a full year.

6) The thing that causes the rash (and that both poison oak and poison ivy have in common) is urushiol oil. It’s invisible, but it can rub off from the plant onto clothes or shoes or skin, or onto gardening tools or pretty much any surface.

7) Apparently, the urushiol oil stays toxic indefinitely. So if your garden rake comes in contact with poison oak, and then you put the rake away for the winter and don’t touch it again for 6 months, the oil would still give you a rash when you pick up the rake again.

8) Washing with soap and water doesn’t necessarily remove the oil. It’s intense stuff!

9) The rash doesn’t show up instantly. It can take 8 hours or more. So again, you may not even know you’ve come into contact with any of the plants or oil until the next day — at which point it’s too late to wash the oil off before it does damage.

10) Because you can’t see the oil, it can come into your life without you knowing it. Perhaps on your kids’ shoes, or on something like bike tires. Which means, it’s possible to get the rash even if you haven’t left the house!

Turns out number 10 is real the nightmare part for me. Our yard is like a bit of forest, and in the wild parts, poison oak thrives. We’ve removed as much of it as we can — and hired professionals to help too — but sometimes it grows back faster then we can keep up with it. So when the kids go exploring (which we want to encourage), they might run into some by accident, and then bring it home on their clothes or shoes. Or maybe the soccer ball gets kicked through a patch, and then picked up so the oil transfers to hands, and then the hands pick up the mail as they come inside, and then I open the mail, and then I end up covered in a rash.

But yesterday, I feel like I had a breakthrough in my poison oak battle. My friend Laurie shared this video on Facebook and I found it so helpful! Apparently the trick to getting the oil off is using a washcloth instead of plain soap and water. Take a peek:

Pretty awesome, right? I feel so much more confident about keeping the rash at bay now. Hopefully, some of you find it helpful too!

Tell me, friends: Have you ever had a poison ivy/oak rash? How about your kids? Do you have any tips that worked for you? Or any other pieces of info you’d add to my list? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — I hear there is a scientist working on a specific light bulb that will make urushiol oil visible. That would be amazing!

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The Treehouse: Entry Refresh + a Minted Giveaway! Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:52:22 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Minted. Don’t miss the $700 Minted Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

I’m super excited to show you today what we’ve done in the entry! Let’s start with some background: When we first moved in, the area right inside the front door was floored with tile, which transitioned to rug. (You can see a peek of the tile in this post.)

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The entry is an open area, with no front closet or storage, and it’s separated from the living room by the brick fireplace. To the left, as you enter the home, there is a hallway — and you may remember, that we transformed that hallway with cubbies and hooks to help with the non-storage in the entry. We also replaced/refinished the floors in the whole area, and whitewashed the brick fireplace with milk paint.

At that point the entry was bright and clean and simple and we’ve kept it that way pretty much ever since. But it’s a big enough space that I knew I wanted to do something more with it. So from time to time I’ve experimented. At one point, I tried a little love seat in front of the bricks, and when I wanted a holiday display in the entry, I would roll the hallway cubbies in and cover them with a tablecloth to act as a temporary console table. Though, really, it’s mostly been empty and waiting patiently for some attention.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

So over the last couple of weeks, I tackled the space and I’m delighted with how it turned out. Here’s a description of my design process:

First, I added a rug. It’s a rug that my sister Jordan picked up on a trip to Morocco and used in her apartment in Paris. I’ve tried the rug in the girls room too. I don’t know if it’s quite the right thing for this space, but I’m testing it out. I like the look here, but may need something more durable with all the foot traffic — I’m thinking I might want to go with a Dash & Albert indoor/outdoor rope rug — they can be scrubbed and hosed down!

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

For a table, I wanted something versatile that could display holiday or seasonal decor sometimes, but also function as a desk when needed. I chose this one from West Elm. It has a marble top, but you can also get it with a wood top or a glass top. I though the marble would be a nice mirror of the marble coffee table that resides on the other side of the fireplace.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Once the table and rug were in place, I turned my attention to artwork. I wanted something neutral that would fit well with the other pale surfaces we have going on in this space, and that I could put other colors nearby or in front of without causing problems.

I love using Minted for artwork, because they source all their prints from independent artists! (In fact, if you’re an artist, you can totally try one of their design challenges.) Many of the prints they offer are limited edition, and everything is available in lots of sizes — so you can go BIG or small. You can also choose a frame right when you’re ordering, which means your artwork will arrive ready to hang in about a week.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The Minted artwork collection is quite big. There are so many good options, it can be hard to choose! So this is how I did it. I first started favoriting everything I liked that was in a neutral palette. If it spoke to me at all, I favorited it. After awhile, I took a look at my collection of favorites and realized I had saved several circles. That gave me an idea — I thought it would be fun to do six prints, two rows of three. And I decided to use circles as a theme. I measured the space and determined what size artwork would work best (I chose the 11″ option).

At that point, I started using search filters (Minted has tons of filters — you can search by editors’ picks, by color, by shape, by artist, etc.) and found all the possible neutral-colored artwork that featured a circle shape in a square. There were 15!

Next, I narrowed down those to my favorite 6 — I had the kids voice their opinions too so that everyone felt invested. We ended up choosing Natural, Mineral 03, Surround Me, Moon Rock, Fox Shadow, and Under The Microscope (in gold foil!). To finish things off, I chose a natural wood frame to mesh with our “treehouse” vibe.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways — Here's the "Before" photo.

Here’s a shot of the “before” entry, taken from the front porch. You can see new floors and the whitewashed brick fireplace.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways! Here's the "before" photo.

Here’s another before shot so you can see how the fireplace fits in to the overall space.

Once the basics were in place — the rug, table, and artwork — I started experimenting. I styled the area three different ways with objects from around the house to see if it was as flexible as I’d hoped. And it was!

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

First, I tried it with Maude’s typewriter to see how it worked as a desk. I really liked how this turned out and I think this is the default styling I’ll use for now.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Next, I tried it with some golden yellows. I wanted to see if it was easy to refresh if I’m in the mood for a change. I love how the yellows warm it up.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Last, I tried it with some flags to see how seasonal decor might work. Charming, right?

Here’s a before photo, plus 3 different styled shots, all from the same angle, so you can compare:

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways. This is the "before" photo.Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

What do you think? Do you like how it turned out? Do you have a favorite of the 3 looks? And do you have a favorite artwork print of the six I picked? I’m also curious: Decor-wise, do you like to mix things up in your house seasonally or for the holidays? Or do you prefer to put everything in place and then call it good?

Oh. And how about that giveaway! Now’s your chance to bring amazing framed art into your space. TWO WINNERS will each receive a $350 gift credit to Minted!! To enter, go to the giveaway page on Minted and enter your email address on the form. Easy peasy. Good luck. I hope you win!

P.S. — You can find all the Treehouse posts here.

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