Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 28 Aug 2015 18:59:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 28 Aug 2015 18:30:17 +0000 Design Mom

Lake Agnes

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! I feel like giving high fives to everyone, because we made it through the first week of school!! I’m not sure what it is, but this year, that feels like a big accomplishment. Hah! To celebrate, we’re hosting a cousins sleepover tonight. Which means this should be a great weekend! How about you? Any fun plans?

Before I say see ya later alligator, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

Alt Summit registration for the flagship January conference is now open! Will I see you there? (Oh. And the Call for Speakers ends on the last day of August. That’s soon!)

- So how much water do we actually need?

- A donkey pinata transformed into a Unicorn pinata (so cute!).

- Why a marriage ought to be painful. Thoughts?

- I could watch these all day.

- Sarcarm alert: I don’t have white fragility.

- Toddler texts.

- It’s not worth it. This is some heavy stuff. I connect to it because I worked in advertising, but I think it applies to pretty much every career.

- 3D-Printed prosthetic beak for a toucan!

- I keep thinking about this essay on Donald Trump.

- Thanks for filling out the survey! I’ve never done a survey like this before and I really appreciate your feedback.

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


P.S. — I filled up my right sidebar with lots of fun back-to-school posts. Take a look!

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Family Finances: Creating a Budget Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:29:10 +0000 Design Mom

Monopoly Money

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As you may already know, I’m working with ScholarShare, California’s 529 savings plan, on a series of 4 posts about family finances. In the first post, we talked about teaching kids about finances (and I shared the money game I made up for my teens!). Then we covered Bookkeeping 101. And today, it’s all about Creating a Family Budget.

I mentioned this in the last posts, but it’s worth repeating: I know talking about finances can trigger worry or shame for lots of us, so I promise to keep things shame-free and totally approachable. ScholarShare feels the same way — they want to make saving for college as easy and effective as possible, and have lots of tips to help you get started. (And if you’re a California resident, you can even win $500 toward a college savings plan!)

Now, let’s put together a budget! No matter how many experts I talk to, or books I read about finances, they all seem to agree that having a budget is THE KEY to achieving financial health.

Ben Blair and I have used budgets off and on throughout our marriage, but I can’t say we’ve ever been super consistent. We tend to create a budget whenever we’re going through a big transition (like a move), and then we end up sort of ignoring it after awhile. (Oh dear!)

Since I am admittedly not a budgeting pro, once again, I turned to experts to get some solid advice on this topic. I talked to two accountants. One is Dan Brown. He’s been the accountant for me and Ben Blair (for our businesses and for our personal finances) for the last 6 or 7 years, and he’s one of our most trusted sources. I also called Alex Fishler who works for Square in San Francisco. I go to church with Alex and he’s awesome!

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On getting started:

The first thing is knowing what your spending patterns are. (That’s the bookkeeping!) Once you know your patterns, take some time to figure out if you’re spending your money the way you want to be.

The best thing to do is define what your goals are. Do you want to retire early? Travel? Pay for school? You need to understand what’s important to you, then aim toward that.

On budgeting tools:

Use software or an app designed specifically for household budgeting. Or if you like to do it yourself, you can even build your own spreadsheet using something like Excel or Google Docs. If you go for an app, look for one that will sync with your bank accounts, with things like Turbo Tax, and with your investments (like

If you’re really struggling to get a handle on your finances, a really common way for new budgeters to master their budget is going to a cash-only system. You label an envelope for each category in your budget, put in the allotted cash for that month, and when it’s gone, it’s gone! It’s a great way to learn financial discipline and to master your spending weaknesses.

On checking in with your budget:

If you’re new to budgeting, checking in more often helps you keep it at top of your mind, and more important, it helps you focus on your goals. Start with 30 mins a week until you get the hang of things. You’re checking in to figure out how you’re doing relative to the budget you’ve set.

Once you’re more disciplined about keeping to the budget, checking in monthly, and eventually quarterly, is fine.

On categories people often forget:

It’s easy to forget about expenses that don’t happen monthly. Most budget are designed around monthly payment, so if you pay your car insurance in a lump sum once a year, you might forget to add it in to your budget, and it will surprise you. Related, little things come up. Little things come up on an irregular basis — remember things like back to school shopping, anniversary gifts, birthday gifts, and travel.

It’s also easy forget about future purchases that you know are going to come, but you can’t predict exactly when they are going to happen. Like repairs and maintenance, or replacing appliances, or replacing tires on your car.

And don’t forget savings! Start saving as early on as possible. Time is on your side as far as saving goes. While you’re at it, save for more than one category — there are big purchases like a down payment on a home, but also remember long-term savings for retirement.

One more: don’t forget to save for emergencies, like in case you can’t work.

On budgets that fail:

Budgets fail because people don’t understand what they’re really spending. They are unrealistic about they can afford or not afford. Maybe you think you can get by with $200 a week for food, when really, there’s no way you can get by with less than $300. Food is the hard budget category for many people.

The other thing that makes budgets fail is that people try to tighten up too much on certain categories. They completely eliminate “eating out” or “entertainment”. But if all of your friends are going out for coffee everyday, and you never go, you’ll be miserable and won’t feel like sticking with your budget. So build in opportunities to “treat yo-self”.

If you need to satisfy an urge to shop, add something to your Amazon wishlist, knowing you may never buy it. Just adding it to the wishlist give a certain satisfaction.

On traits of great budgeters:

Check in with your budgeting often enough to see if it’s working, and to make adjustments within your income. Don’t cheat on your budget. Don’t use your credit card.

It’s important to keep your goal in mind and be working toward that. If you have a specific goal, it’s easier to forego the small things to achieve the big goal.

It can help to make things into a game. Progressing, and watching your bank account grow, and seeing your money stay yours. It’s satisfying! Figure out how to reward yourself when you meet your goals. If it’s a chore, you won’t do it, so make it fun. Plus, it’s easier to stay on track if it’s enjoyable.

On talking with your partner about money:

It’s so important to engage in those conversations with your significant other!

When you’re in a spot where there is little discretionary income, it’s important to talk often about budgets to keep things on track. When you have a big purchase coming up (like a big trip, or a car, or an investment), it’s also important to talk more often. If you’re both focused on the same financial goal, frequent talks don’t matter as much.

Talk with your partner in a serious way about big picture financial goals a couple of times a year.

One technique that works when two people are learning to combine their incomes is to put both paychecks into a joint checking out, then pay yourselves an allowance into private separate accounts. You can use that “allowance” however you like without having to consult with your spouse. One might like to save theirs up for a big ticket item, while the other might spend theirs on movie tickets or concerts.

On a budgeting philosophy:

From Dan — It’s important to me to save a good percentage toward for retirement. I also like to set aside money for giving (for charitable causes). Be realistic about purchases that have an ongoing cost (like houses and cars) — it’s not just a one time purchase. Most of all, live within your means!

From Alex — I save 20% of my take home pay. That’s important to me. I know not everyone is in a position to do that, but if you are, saving more than 10% is a really smart thing to do. I also try to invest most of my savings — I don’t keep much as cash, it might as well be earning money. Also, live a moderate lifestyle to achieve fiscal health. For example, don’t get the biggest house you can. I’d rather retire 10 or 15 years earlier than live in a giant house.


Thank you so much, Dan and Alex! I really loved the suggestion of adding things to your Amazon wishlist when you need to fill a shopping craving. I’ve done something similar at Target. Sometimes I put things in my cart that I know I’m not going to buy. It’s satisfying to acknowledge their beauty, and to “own” them for a bit as I walk around the store. : )

Okay, Readers. Let’s talk budgeting! Do you keep a budget? If not, have you ever tried? And do you want to try again? Also, what are your favorite apps and budgeting tools? For those of you who LOVE budgeting, what do you do to make it fun, and to stick with it? For those who dread budgeting, what is the hardest part?

Share all your favorite tips, please. I’m sure we all want to whip our budgets into shape!



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, shared in partnership with ScholarShare. If you’re ready to get started saving for college, ScholarShare can help you find out how 529 plans give you big tax benefits.

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Four Picture Books You’ll Love Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:15:14 +0000 Design Mom

Four Picture Books24

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Today, I have four excellent books to tell you about. One is a Caldecott winner, another is a Caldecott Honor book, another is an older reprint from Italy, and another was published just this month — and is one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in ages.

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Let’s start with Swan, by Laurel Snyder, with illustrations by Julie Morstad. If you’ve got a young dancer in the house, this book is a must have. It’s the life story of Anna Pavlova, legendary prima ballerina, and her most famous role.

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The words feel like a poem, and the artwork is outstanding. It is a seriously beautiful book, and I keep finding myself studying the illustrations.

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Up next is Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This book won a read-aloud award, and it’s well-deserved. I have no doubt this is a much requested bedtime story at houses everywhere. It’s very funny, and very fun to look at.

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Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen are the same team that created Extra Yarn, which was my first introduction to both talents. And ever since I’ve been a big fan — they both keep knocking it out of the ballpark with their books.

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Speaking of which, Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott! It’s a follow up to I Want My Hat Back.

Four Picture Books2Four Picture Books3

This is Not My Hat features a little fish with an little blue hat (that happens to fit him perfectly, but does not belong to him), and a little adventure. It will make you laugh!

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And one more book today, The Apple and the Butterfly by Iela and Enzo Mari. This was originally published in 1969 in Italy, with the title, The Apple and the Moth.

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It’s a wordless book, and it tells the story of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, and how it’s life is intimately connected to an apple tree. It’s beautiful and it’s educational. A classic for every library.

Your turn! What books are your kids requesting these days? Anything new-to-you that you’ve wanted to share?

P.S. — Here are Six Great Books about School, just in time for back-to-school season.

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The Big Flip Wed, 26 Aug 2015 18:53:32 +0000 Design Mom

Big Flip Posters

By Gabrielle.

Yesterday, Theresa, a Design Mom reader, sent me a link about a new documentary being made, called The Big Flip (there’s actually a gofundme campaign for it going on right now). The Big Flip is a film and photo-book about the rise of breadwinner wives, and the unexpected challenges it creates in families. Here are some of the stats they cite:

- Mothers are primary breadwinners in 40% of U.S. families.
- The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989.
- This reversal in traditional gender roles is what the filmmakers are calling The Big Flip.
- Women are expected to not just close the income gap, but reverse it by 2028. In other words, The Big Flip will be the new normal in 13 years.

But it turns out Big Flip families don’t have it easy. Not everyone is happy in their reversed roles, and divorce rates can go up. The documentary wants to explore all of this.

The film looks like it will be beautifully made and I look forward to seeing it. But my initial thought was that I was surprised by the prediction that The Big Flip will be the new normal in 13 years. I don’t see this societal transition as a big flip at all. At least, I don’t want it to be a big flip. The word “flip” seems to imply that most men will take on the full-time parenting duties, while most women take on the bread-winning duties. But I predict (or at least I hope for) a more equal sharing versus a flip. I predict both parents working, and both parents parenting.

Of course, my prediction is not based on any statistics at all. Mostly, I’m just thinking of my own experience raising kids and earning a living with Ben Blair. Over the last 20 years we’ve both had instances of being the primary breadwinner, and we’ve both had instances of being the stay-at-home-parent. But what seems to work best at our house, is when we’re both working, with jobs that have flexible schedules (this is KEY!), and we’re both taking on the parenting and household duties in pretty equal measures.

I realize our situation wouldn’t work for everybody, but it really does work for us. And it makes me want to advocate for jobs and careers that offer more flexibility. As I mentioned above, flexibility is key!

Anyway, all that to say, what’s your take on the idea of The Big Flip? Has it ever happened at your house? Or with your parents? Do you know many husbands that are stay-at-home-dads? Do you know many women who are the primary breadwinner? For those of you who are same-sex couples with kids, do you split up the responsibilities in traditional ways — one person is the primary breadwinner, one person stays home? What about those of you who are in a couple where both spouses already work outside the home? Do you feel The Big Flip still applies to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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The Easiest (and Most Fun!) After School Snack Tue, 25 Aug 2015 15:40:48 +0000 Design Mom

The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. Sponsored by Blue Diamond. Win a $100 Visa gift card! See details below.

Oh my goodness. I think you’re going to LOVE this idea. It’s as EASY as can be, and it’s absolutely no fail. Whatever food you’ve got in the house — raisins, fresh veggies, nuts, cheese, frozen peas, olives, and on, and on — can be used.

This is why it’s such a hit at our house:

1) It works with anything we have on hand. You can go savory with olives and pickles and cheese and broccoli and smokehouse almonds and cherry tomatoes. Or think rainbow, and pick red raspberries, orange carrots, green peas, and blueberries. You can use dried, fresh or frozen foods. Raid your pantry. No special ingredients required!

Rainbow snacks foods.The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack.

2) It’s creative. Our kids love making patterns and designing their letters. Will they go upper case or lower case? How about script? (As a bonus: it gets them thinking about typography — something I hope all of my kids have at least passable knowledge about. Is the O they are making rounder, or more elongated — and what sort of personality does each letter have?) If your kids aren’t spellers yet, you can create their name-in-food for them as a surprise. Or, you could even write their letters on the parchment with pencil, and have your child trace the letters with food.

The EASIEST (and most FUN!) after-school snack. Even big kids and grownups will enjoy this.After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun.

3) You can customize the snack with your child’s favorite foods, or, you can use it as a great way to introduce kids to new flavors. Ask them to make each letter out of a different food! And you can manage the portions by having the kids make the letters bigger or smaller. If your child has a long name, you could go with initials and make them big. Or use the full name and make them small. Or maybe use a nickname.

After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun. (Raid your pantry! Use up leftovers!)After-school snack idea: write your name with food! Easy and fun. (And YUMMY!)After-school snack idea. Easy, fun and yummy! Use whatever ingredients you have on hand.

4) It’s easy! The how to is pretty darn simple. We use strips of baking parchment for our “trays” because we can make them as long as we need. Then, I set out the building materials. Things like raisins and cherry tomatoes and peas can be set out as is. For foods like carrots or cheese, some simple chopping will be required. Try 5 or 6 food options today, and next week, you can try a whole different assortment of ingredients. You can arrange the options on one big plate. Or place them each in a little bowl.

5) We’ve noticed our kids are more relaxed and tell us more about their day if their hands are busy and the chatting is casual. This activity works wonderfully for encouraging conversation.

Play with your food! Write your name using different ingredients. EASY & FUN after-school snack.Play with your food! Write your name using different ingredients. EASY & FUN after-school snack.

6) Though it’s simple as can be and requires nothing special to pull it off, this snack activity feels special, it feels out of the ordinary. And kids of all ages (meaning YOU too!) will love working on these. There are no rules or lines to stay within — it’s the best sort of playing-with-your-food.

We all know school days can be long and hard for kids. When they get home from school, my kids are sometimes completely wiped out. Maybe they’re mastering a new math concept and their brain is exhausted. Or maybe they had an emotional exchange with a friend and are feeling tender-hearted. Whatever they might be feeling, we’re all about an after-school snack as soon as they get home. It’s one part recharging with some sustenance, and it’s another part connecting with the kids as they report about their day. Anytime we can make after-school snacks feel a little special is aces in my book!

How about you? Would your kids enjoy something like this? I’ll bet you’ve got everything you need for this snack in your kitchen right this minute. Try it with your kids today!

P.S. — I’ve got a survey about Design Mom that I’m sharing today. If you have a few minutes (it’s short, I promise!), I’d really appreciate it if you’d fill it out. As an incentive, everyone who completes the survey is eligible to win a $100 Visa gift card! I’m keeping the surveys anonymous, so if you want to win the gift card, just complete the survey then comment on this post that you did so, and you’re officially entered!

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Living With Kids: Etienne Fang Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:00:22 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lisa Leckie.

I love the design of Etienne’s home. To me, it seems like a complicated, layered, and yet still somewhat of a blank canvas that’s able to hold bold and colorful and fresh family memories, day after day. I tour through her home and I spy spots to cozy up whenever the urge to cozy up strikes, books well within reach, and toys that add to the decor, and I find myself breathing a contented sigh. But then I see her views, and sigh again. I highly doubt I’d ever need a piece of art or a television with those stunning scenes peeking in every window.

And speaking of sighing, there’s also this inspired, break-your-heart-a-little advice from Etienne’s dad to his young artist: “Even if something has been made before, it hasn’t been made by you.” I’m borrowing that one, won’t you?

Welcome, Etienne!

I am the daughter of a poet and an accountant. This means that I am a dreamer and overly practical all the the same time. I am deeply passionate just about everything I do, and live for inspiration. If I am not thinking about the next big thing, I get bored.

I am a design strategist, and formerly an interior designer and educator. My husband is a design manager of the growth team at Uber, was recently at Apple, and has a background in branding and advertising. We have two hilarious sons, Lucian is six and Julian is three. We all love kung fu, ice cream cones (cones more than the ice cream part), and family dance-offs to 80’s hip-hop.

My husband and I met two months after I finished undergrad at an outdoor dance performance with Merce Cunningham at Lincoln Center. He approached me that night because he’d seen me at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Museum (now part of MOMA). That summer, I was an art teacher, archivist, and door girl at the first season of P.S. 1’s outdoor “Warm Up” DJ parties, which spawned museum DJ parties everywhere. As the door girl at the coolest event of the summer, I got to meet the coolest people in NYC. Jason and I fell in love immediately and have been together now for 18 years.

Jason is also the one who introduced me to the world of design. Though I’d studied fine art in college – photography, to be specific – I had no idea what design was. I thought design was something that failed artists did to make money. But when I met Jason and his friends, who were all designers, I realized that design thinking – with its balance of creative and pragmatic – was what I’d been seeking all along.

I was born in Taiwan and moved to Piedmont, California, a city right next to Oakland, when I was in kindergarten. When I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to wait to go as far away as I could to college. So I went off to New York, where I ended up staying for 13 years. Despite falling in love with NYC, I never considered myself a New Yorker. Once my husband and I got married and started thinking about our next chapter, we began plotting our way back to the Bay Area. When we both got job offers in San Francisco, we immediately started looking for a home in the same area where I grew up.

When we were planning our next destination after NYC, my husband created a spreadsheet with various factors to compare several potential cities that we could move to. We quickly realized that the San Francisco Bay Area would be the most expensive, with a higher cost of living than even NYC. It would’ve made more sense to move to Portland or Boston! But that didn’t stop us, as my family is out here, as well as the unparalleled world of design innovation, and of course, the sunshine.

Moving back to the Oakland, the place where I grew up, has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. Oakland has improved tremendously in the past decade and continues to get better. It’s developed a personality akin to our beloved Brooklyn that is experimental and innovative, while staying authentic. I cannot imagine a better place to be living with our kids at this point in our lives. My husband and I would love to move back to NYC once the kids are out of the house, but before we’re too old to walk up subway station stairs or dodge yellow cabs.

We ended up buying the house in the Oakland hills that once belonged to my grandparents who had passed away a few years prior. I had spent a lot of time at this house growing up, so it has a ton of sentimental value for me, and for my large extended family.

When we bought the house, it was a mess. It had three rooms with orange wallpaper, one working stove burner, an amber glass wet bar, and dingy white carpet throughout. We’ve been lovingly restoring our house over the past seven years and have made it unique for our family.

Though we did the lion’s share of the work within the first nine months of buying the house, we continue to evolve and personalize it. There are always more improvements we want to make to our house. Next up might be a hot tub deck, or rebuilding our garage to become a studio and guest cottage.

Though I’m a trained interior designer, I had a hard time at first establishing our style at home. Previously, I designed commercial spaces for Rockwell Group Architecture & Design: restaurants, retail, libraries and hospitals, to name a few. However, designing one’s home takes into a completely different set of programmatic and aesthetic considerations. I tend to favor the bold over the subtle and have to work hard at making things homey.

The hanging swing on our front porch is my happy place. And it doubles as a climbing structure for my three year-old whose motto is “nothing is not climbable.” The chair is hung low so that little people can hop right in. We’ve had mamas rock their babies to sleep in this swing at our parties while all the action was in the backyard.

My favorite part of our home are the breathtaking views. The view from our back deck never gets old. We have had countless parties back here, of upward of 80 guests – kid birthday parties, school parties and family parties. You can see San Francisco and the bay from our dining room. This is where the boys learned the words “ascend” and “descend” while they watched airplanes with my mother, who’s formerly an air traffic controller, and keep track of the blue birds and cats that call our backyard their home.

Once you walk into our house, you are welcomed by a large open space. I designed the long benches with storage baskets originally for our Brooklyn apartment, and my talented father-in-law built them. The baskets in the benches are for organizing shoes and jackets. We don’t have a mudroom, so this is it.

Books are our decor. I am a third generation bibliophile, and my husband is a book collector as well.  Art is very personal to us, as we are both designers. Our framed art will be hung one day. But for now, we love them clustered on the mantel.

My husband designed the Pina Bausch poster back when he was design director at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), the tower sculpture is by our older son, and the ceramic vase I made in high school.

Our “atelier” is the center of our home. I fell in love with the Reggio Emilia education system when I was studying education (teaching in an alternative public school in East Harlem was my first career). In the center of every Reggio school is the atelier and classrooms revolve around it, and children are encouraged to create as the main path to learning. Our atelier is the center of our home, and was once the dining room. But who needs a dining room this large?

The magnetic chalkboard wall is our art gallery, writing/math practice, and signage space when we have something to celebrate. Guests love seeing a special welcome message to them when they visit. The book rails display our favorite books and make them easy to see and grab (and climb).

Some of my favorite textiles are by Josef Frank that I picked up at the legendary Svensk Tenn in Stockholm where we spent some time. It was possibly my favorite retail experience in the world. They were made into cushions by my friend and are throughout the house. The boys like to make pillow forts with them.

Despite having primary colors throughout the house, I keep our bedroom white. When my grandparents lived in this house, this room seemed so big, peaceful, and airy. I extended that vibe by keeping a neutral palette that’s rich with textures.

I am a design strategist at Clorox, which means that I help guide front-end product innovation for brands like Brita, Hidden Valley Ranch, and Clorox.  Previously I was director of consumer strategy at Method (the eco-chic cleaning company) where I got to help the company understand people to better design products for them.

I’ve been lucky to be able to follow my passion throughout my career. With every position I’ve had, I have learned tremendously about myself: my strengths, my weaknesses, and how to apply them toward my next steps. I remember being a middle schooler planning out my four years of high school classes in front of me. So I naturally tend to look ahead, while being nostalgic about the present moment because it’s so fleeting.

Balancing work with motherhood is a constant challenge. Curbing my workaholic tendencies has been the toughest necessary change as a working mom. My career has always been about following my passion.  So I tend to throw myself fully into everything I do.

My mother worked full-time though my entire childhood. Therefore, it never occurred to me to stay at home with my kids – I had only envisioned working full-time the way I was used to. Since having children, I have experienced working 60-hour weeks, to being a consultant, to working on my own start-up, to being a stay-at-home mom, to working at a big corporation now. Every variation has been good, though challenging in its own way.

I have learned that I hold the same high standards in my professional work, care for my family, or volunteer work. I simply do not have the same kind of time and space I used to devote to work as I did pre-children. However, I do feel that I am so much more efficient at work than I used to be – there just isn’t the time to waste on anything. The balance between my own high standards and realistic expectations is something I am constantly keeping in check as a working mom.

The greatest career advice I ever received was from my best friend’s dad when I was finishing graduate school. He said, “Every job you have in life is a revelation of you.” And he gave the analogy of peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal its core. That image has alway stuck with me.

Rather than building a career, you are revealing your truest self.

The massive toy shelf is our toy editor. If there’s no more room on it, it’s time to give away some old toys, to make room for the new ones. The block set is the best money I’ve spent on toys. Well worth it.

I avoid big bins for toys as they can easily become abysses for junk and difficult for kids to navigate. We only have one big basket in the corner for indoor balls and costumes. The rest of the organizers for the kids are sorted by category and tuck away on the shelf.

We got the biggest table we could fit in our dining area. We do everything on here: eat, do homework, fold laundry, make art, and have big dinner parties. It’s huge and it’s indestructible. Writing and drawing materials nearby invite the kids to create. Often I find them just sitting on the floor in next to the markers and crayons, creating some crazy thing with washi tape and the hole punch.

The boys’ room has evolved from having one bed, to bed and crib, now to two twin beds. I turned a neglected dollhouse into a bookcase. Low drawers make it easy for them to get dressed by themselves. We have an understood rule in the kids’ bedroom: no hard toys, only books and stuffed animals. This way, the bedroom is for sleep and quiet play only.

I think the boys will remember the garden as a world of endless exploration. When we envisioned our large front and backyard, we imagined the space as being highly structured and geometric in the front, that becomes gradually more organic and wild toward the back.

In the front, our landscape architect friend designed an incredible recessed seating area with a weeping rock fountain that serves as the an imaginary swimming pool, meteor crater or hot lava bed for the boys. We wanted the backyard to be about discovery. Wander around the bushes, pluck a fig, orange, apple or pear from a tree, or snack on the tastiest tomatoes you’ll ever encounter. Play soccer on our new drought-tolerate turf. Climb on the Bucky dome. No one gets bored back here — not even the teenagers who’ve come over.

I hope that the boys remember me as a mom who created time and space for them to be curious — and that I gave them to tools to create whatever they can imagine. My father used to say to me when I was a young budding artist, “Even if something has been made before, it hasn’t been made by you.” That creative spirit has always stayed with me, and is one I want to pass on to my boys.

The mom moment I would live every day if I could is a weekend morning snuggle in bed with the entire family. I love how giddy the kids get when we are all laying in bed together: my husband asleep, me half-awake, and the two boys giggling. I’ll miss the day when we don’t all fit in one bed. And when they won’t want to snuggle (which I hope will be never).

The other moment that I’d love over and over again, is when I visit my sons at school. I try to make as many classroom volunteer opportunities I can at my sons’ schools. I love being able to see them in action with their teachers and classmates. It gives me such a different perspective of them as people. My most favorite — though admittedly, most difficult part — is when they get sad and don’t want me to leave. Usually, I’m in a rush to get back to work after volunteering in the classroom. I try not to get annoyed by their clinginess, as I realize that the days of wanting Mommy to around at school will not last forever. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to want me to chaperone for middle school dances! So I make the most of the school moments now while I am fortunate enough to have them.

I wish someone had told me that having two kids is exponentially harder than having one. It’s not 1+1=2. It’s 1+1 to the nth degree. I am an only child so two seem like a lot. I have no idea how people have three, four……or six kids!


Ha! You bring up a very interesting topic, Etienne! I wonder how many parents, who were once an only child, are shocked by the chaos of more than one kid? On a related note, what about parents who hail from huge families who are completely happy with one child? I am looking forward to your thoughts!

Thank you, Etienne, for showing us around your place. And thank you, too, for sharing your friend’s dad’s genius advice: “Every job you have in life is a revelation of you.” I’ve just spent an enjoyable few — more than I care to count! — minutes thinking about what my jobs reveal about me!

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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Poetry Series with Dallas Clayton Mon, 24 Aug 2015 20:20:28 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Image by Dallas Clayton.

Oh my. What an exciting and hectic and emotional day for our family. First day of school for all six kids!!! And three of them at new-to-them schools. Our oldest taking his first college classes, our youngest starting Kindergarten. How’s that for a contrast?

I don’t really know if I can articulate all the things I’m feeling today — it’s some strange mix of worry and pride-in-my-kids and joy and fear and relief and homesickness and enthusiasm and calm. I would say I’ve handled most of our first days of school pretty well over the years, but this one, not so much. I’m a bit of a wreck.

It is amazing to me to think that in a few weeks all of this — this new schedule, these new schools — will seem like a forever habit. Like it’s always been this way.

With all these bits and pieces swirling in my head, I thought today would be a great day to introduce something new here on Design Mom. For the next few months, I’ll be sharing poetry by illustrator and author Dallas Clayton!

Do you know his work? I first became familiar with him in 2009 when he wrote to me about An Awesome Book. And since then I’ve become a big fan. In fact, he was one of my first Author Interviews, and I even asked him to Keynote Alt Summit last January, and he received a resounding standing ovation. (If you ever get to hear him present, don’t miss it!)

I hope you’ll love his poetry as much as I do! It always make me smile.

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A Few Things Fri, 21 Aug 2015 15:17:33 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? We are still grinning ear to ear about our lovely trip to Lake Louise! We got home late last night and the kids had all stayed up to greet us in a big way — an anniversary celebration for our whole family. With the help of Grandma, they went all out!! There were handmade banners and decorations, plus homemade desserts displayed on pedestals — schaum torte (my favorite!), chocolate mini cupcakes, and lemon bars (my second favorite!).

But that’s not all. The kids were wearing their matching pajamas from Christmas, and they had prepared a song to perform for us. The song was written by Ben’s brother for our wedding all those years ago. My mom told the kids about the song, which led Ralph to message his Uncle Dell to get the words. Then they practiced all day and surprised us! It was fantastic. Straight up Von Trapp family!! We were dying.

Gosh, it’s always good to be back home.

And now that we’re home, we’re looking ahead and jumping right back into school prep — our first day is on Monday! We’re hoping to shoot this year’s what-to-wear-to-school photos this weekend, and June will meet her teacher this afternoon at the Kindergarten Picnic. (Kindergarten?!! My heart.) But before I pull out the camera, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Did you see my sister Jordan’s house tour on Cup of Jo? It’s so good! Jordan’s style is always spot on.

- A book created by a Swedish scientist is said to help any kid fall asleep in minutes. I wonder if it really works? Find it on Amazon here.

Solidarity Fridge? Yes please!

- A moving StoryCorps video featuring a white mother and black son.

- How to project power.

- Humans of New York is fighting slave labor in Pakistan.

- What is art? Apparently crowd-funders and experts both agree.

- This comic explains the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino.

- When it comes to diseases, your astrology chart matters. (I read this on the plane last night. Hah!)

- Project Sunroof can tell you if getting solar is worth it for your address.

- First Film Festival submissions DUE tomorrow!

- We left on our trip on Sunday night, and early on Monday morning, I woke up to a text from Maude that said: “EARTHQUAKE!!” Turns out the 4.0 earthquake was centered just a few miles away! Happily, our kids were all safe and sound.

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


P.S. — I’m working on a post about our trip to Canada! In the meantime, you can see a few photos on Instagram.

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Growing A Family: Oh, The Guilt! Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:33:37 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Micro Lemon Elephant via Made With Clay And Love.

Babies who arrive earlier than scheduled or with complications carry with them a bassinet full of feelings. There’s disbelief, sheer terror, a never-ending case of the what-ifs packed in with the daily now-whats, and then there is the guilt.

For Monica, the biggest surprise about becoming a parent is the ever-present feeling of guilt. There’s a quote I read once that guilt feels like carrying an elephant. It’s a weight that will crush you no matter if you deserve it or not. Oh, guilt, you are not the greatest parenting partner, are you?

Please join me in welcoming Monica, her heartening experience, and her guilt…which I hope is long gone, or at least the size of the tiny elephant above!

I have two wonderful children. A hockey-obsessed seven-and-a-half year old, and a feisty 18 month old…or rather, a 15 month old. It’s not that straight-forward, you see?

Neither of the births was straight-forward, either.

My son was five weeks early. My water broke at noon on a Friday, while I was at work. It was the day after a snow-storm and it took us an hour to drive to the hospital. I did not even get chance to really wrap my mind around what was happening because within three hours of my water breaking, I was given an emergency C-section after my placenta ruptured and by son’s heart-rate dipped to 60.

I was under complete anesthesia for the procedure, and did not get to hold him or even see him right away. My husband caught a glimpse of him as he was taken into NICU for observation. He was small at five pounds three ounces, but healthy, and we were fortunate to be able to take him home only a few days later.  Everything had worked out. He was healthy, and that’s all that mattered.

I occasionally had moments of regret that I did not get to experience that special moment when you get your first glimpse of your newborn baby, that enormous wave of love washing over you. Instead we felt relief that it had all gone well. After all, it had been a serious situation.

Aidan was a relatively easy baby. And the unexpected experience of his birth eventually faded into memory.

Six years later, my pregnancy with my daughter was considered high risk. Mainly because they were never able to figure out exactly what had happened the first time, and also, I was now 37. Even so, my mentioning that I was feeling contractions as early as four months did not really result in any additional observation.

You can imagine my panic, when at 28 weeks my water broke during a delicious dinner of ribs. We tried to keep calm. As calm as you can be in such circumstances. My husband drove us to the hospital, while I called my sister to come meet me and get Aidan. I was not ready, and all I could think was “Oh, no…not again.”

I knew it was early, way too early, and it was nearly impossible to keep negative thoughts at bay. The baby was breech and they were unable to stop or even slow down my contractions. The nurse was starting to look concerned when she realized that I had gone from level one to level three contractions in about half an hour. The Obstetrician on call was called out of surgery to see me. She let me know that there was no way around it: I needed a C-section…immediately. No time to argue, think, evaluate. Really, what other choice did I have?

And so, once again, three hours after my water broke, my daughter was delivered via emergency C-section. No magical moment, no personal space, no natural experience. But at least this time I was conscious for the procedure and was even able sneak a peek before she was rushed into the NICU.

We were numb. Scared. Completely disoriented.

It took another eight hours before I was able to go see her. I did not feel pain as I tried to get out of bed and into a wheelchair to make the 50m journey to her. When I first saw my newborn baby in the isolette, all I noticed was her full head of hair. Strangely enough, I did not take note of all the wires attached to her, at least not at first.

Sienna was a tiny two pounds and ten ounces. I always joke that she was the size of a rotisserie chicken. She did not have an ounce of fat on her, her skin was see-through, and she was still covered in a fine layer of hair. The cartilage in her ears had not yet formed and they looked strangely fragile and stuck to her head. I remember sticking my hand through the door of the incubator and fearfully touching her, surprised at how warm and dry she felt. I felt numbness, nothing else. I was afraid to allow myself to feel any other emotions, especially not that guilt that hovered around the periphery of my thoughts.

Thus started our eight weeks stay at the NICU. Talk about an emotional roller-coaster. We bounced around between feelings of panic, careful optimism, frustration, joy, impatience, pride. It was exhausting trying to absorb all of the medical information we were being bombarded with. We tried really hard not to Google anything and miserably failed at that, which of course only increased our level of anxiety. We would leave the hospital and keep hearing the beeping of heart-monitors and the alarms of different machines echoing in our minds. All this while trying to maintain a normal environment at home for my older son, who was dealing with being overshadowed by a sibling after having enjoyed his status of only child for a glorious six years. But in a way that helped. We would drop him off at school in the morning, head over to the NICU, spend the day with her, then pick Aidan up at school, and resumed our daily routine.

The hardest thing was leaving. There was no possibility of spending the night really. They encourage you to leave, get a change of atmosphere, but it is impossible to shake that nagging feeling of worry, and especially GUILT.  Oh, the guilt! The biggest surprise to me, in becoming a parent, is the amount of guilt that I feel all of a sudden. Or is it just me?

Health-wise Sienna was stable, but since her lungs were underdeveloped she was intubated to help her breathe. It took about two weeks for her to open her eyes for the first time. At first, she was fed through an IV. Because her veins were hair-thin, it would sometimes take up to 45 minutes to insert the needle. And the IV had to be replaced almost daily as her veins would eventually give out. This meant that we had to watch her go through this torture on a regular basis, and also that eventually they ran out of veins to use, and had to shave her hair in order to put IV’s into her scalp. (I would end up bringing her home completely bald.) She was jaundiced, so had to spend a few days tanning. The nurses would fashion a bikini from a surgical face-mask to cover her up, which was adorable, but also gives you an idea of her size. We were told that she had a heart-murmur.

It took me about a week to bring up the courage to hold her. I was terrified. Who is afraid to hold their own child? But there you have it, I was afraid. And there it is again, that nagging, ever-present guilt.

So the days ticked by. Some were better than others. We were ecstatic to hear she would not require surgery for her heart; they were treating it with medication and it was showing improvement. Then again, one day we noticed that she seemed less responsive, very lethargic. We mentioned it to her nurse and she promise to keep a closer eye on her. It was especially hard to leave that day. That motherly intuition was setting off alarm bells. Sure enough, at 11:00 pm we received a phone call. Blood tests had shown that she had caught an infection and was septic. She needed an immediate blood transfusion to treat it. We did not sleep all night, we cried, we were terrified, we felt guilty for not being there with her. She recovered, we started feeling positive again. Up and down it went like that.

Progress was painfully slow, but it was progress. We kept telling ourselves we were lucky, she was strong, and there was nothing to worry about. More days passed, she was stable, and eventually she was ready to be bottle-fed. There was no question of nursing her, she was already six weeks old, and it was imperative that we know how much milk she was taking. And thus we had our next challenge. Turns out she had laryngomalacia (a soft larynx, mainly due to her immaturity), which meant that she would choke several times during a feed, complete with alarms going off because the machines she was attached to would signal low levels of oxygen. On a few occasions she needed oxygen as she had turned purple and her tiny fragile lungs could not recover on their own. She would also take forever to finish a bottle. A quantity of 60ml could take up to 45 minutes. It was torture. As much for her, as for us. But until she mastered the art of feeding, there was no leaving the hospital. She got better at it, but it was painfully slow. Eventually we were told that ready or not, we would be discharged, as she was considered stable enough to leave and the feeding would simply take time and practice.

But not before we faced one more challenge. A few days before we were scheduled to leave, her blood tests showed that she was anemic. Premature babies often are. The situation was monitored, but in the end she was anemic enough to require another blood transfusion.

And then all of a sudden, we were told, she was ready to leave. After having waited for weeks to be able to take my baby home, and care for her myself, full time, in the comfort of our own house, I have to say, I was terrified. Of course the amount of terror I felt was matched by an equal amount of joy. After all, being sent home, meant that she was doing well, was improving, getting stronger, better. The first weeks at home continued to challenge us. I was plagued by insecurity. She was still choking while feeding, and now I had no machines to rely on, to tell me if she was recovering fast and well enough. Would I have the presence of mind to know what to do if something happened? Would she continue to thrive? Would I be able to recognize the signs of a new problem? I felt completely inadequate, but…what choice did I have?

What I came to realize is that you have to dig deep, to listen to that motherly instinct, to your common sense. That bond between mother and child is there, no matter what course a birth takes. In a way, for me, I think that bond is even deeper, because I had to wait for so long for her to be mine, because it was all shrouded by such worry and concern.

It took months for me to be able to stop worrying and actually start enjoying being her mother. I loved her from the moment that I knew she existed, but I only allowed myself to feel that love much later. It was too scary and painful before that point.

She is now almost 18 months old (15 if you count from her due date), and she is a handful. She has just taken her first steps. I feel that I am in turn taking my first steps to see her as regular child, and no longer the fragile, vulnerable being I was afraid to hold. I am catching up on cuddles and smiles, kisses, and hugs. And I am acutely aware of how lucky we are, because many mothers in my situation do not get such a happy ending.


Oh, Monica. Thank you. “It took months for me to be able to stop worrying and actually start enjoying being her mother.” Isn’t that the reality when something goes awry with one of our own? And the way you describe finally bringing Sienna home, without the safety of the monitors and medical professionals two steps away, really hit me. This baby business is scary, isn’t it?

Here’s a question: For all those with babies who came to the party early, how do you calculate their ages? Do you find yourself explaining the numbers like Monica did?

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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Twenty Years! Wed, 19 Aug 2015 15:30:40 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from Lake Louise in Canada! Today is our 20th wedding anniversary!!

I don’t have a single photo from our wedding day on my phone, but I happen to have a few photos from our college graduation day — which was 4 days before our second wedding anniversary (that’s pretty close, right?).


To mark our graduation day, we drove around the city wearing our robes, with a roll of black and white film, taking photos at some of our favorite spots (this was before digital cameras!). Fun fact: I was very pregnant, as you can see in the third photo, and our first baby, Ralph, was born 12 days after we graduated (another fun fact: he was born on his due date!). Luckily the graduation robes were very roomy and accommodating.


I am feeling really lucky today. We’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing on this trip. We’ve gone through each year of our marriage and talked about some of our favorite parts, and we’ve been making notes about possibilities and goals for the next twenty years.

We love looking ahead! Though we’re kind of freaking out, because in twenty years, little June will be 25 years old, and Ralph (our oldest), will be almost forty!!!!! So hard to imagine.

Here’s a little exercise for anyone who is in the mood (and it will help us out as we make our goals!). How would you fill in these blanks:

The first twenty years of marriage are about ________.
And the second twenty years of marriage are about ________.

Happy Anniversary!!

P.S. — Did you see the photo of the Brimhall Building? It’s a building on the BYU campus. It was important to me, because the design department, and almost all my classes, were based there, and it was meaningful to Ben because George H. Brimhall is one of his ancestors.

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Giveaway! Fresh Flowers from The Bouqs Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:30:09 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by The Bouqs. Find the giveaway, and a discount code, below!

I have a new service to introduce to you today called The Bouqs, a fresh flower company that I think you’ll fall in love with. The prize? It’s a 6-Month Supply of Gorgeous Flowers!!

Fiery orange roses.Fiery orange roses.

I swear, the giveaway is perfectly timed, because this month, it was especially important to me to have fresh flowers in the house. We’ve had loads of houseguests and I feel like flowers always make the house feel happy and cared for. Fresh flowers feel celebratory too — and since our family has two birthdays plus our wedding anniversary in August, it makes having flowers around doubly appropriate. So when I heard about The Bouqs, I was definitely game to give them a try. I ordered two deliveries and both turned out wonderfully!

Fiery orange roses in a neutral living room.

This is what I liked: The Bouqs sources their flowers from a farm on a volcano in Equador! Why does that matter? Well, the volcanic soil is so mineral rich that the flowers grow especially well. Then, the blooms are cut the day you order(!) and shipped the next day (free shipping always), so you get them sooner and they last longer. I also loved that with The Bouqs, what you see is what you get — the flowers that are delivered are exactly like the picture. No teddy bears, cheap candy, or depressing vases. No up-sells or hidden costs. Just fresh, beautiful flowers.

As I mentioned above, I ordered two deliveries this month. The first bouquet was the fiery orange roses pictured at the top. They were simply stunning. And they became more stunning with every passing day as they blooms became bigger and fuller.

White Ranunculusthree vase bouquet of ranunculus

For the second delivery I chose to go with a lighter palette that would coordinate with the light colors I already have in the living room. I chose delicate ranunculus — they are one of my very favorites, and they are often so hard to find! I split the flowers in the second order among three jars. This made the arrangement really flexible and I had fun moving them from the kitchen to the coffee table to the entry, whenever inspiration struck. I even split up the trio and used them as stand-alone arrangements too.

three vase bouquet of ranunculuswhite ranunculus

The Bouqs really is perfect for someone like me who loves having flowers around but doesn’t always have time to seek out the best ones. With their service, I can choose exactly what I want and have it dependably delivered on the exact day I want it. Would you like to give The Bouqs a try? Use code SUNSHINE to receive 15% off your order! You have until 8/26 to use the code.

Now for the Giveaway! To enter, do this:
1. Click here to visit The Bouqs
2. Register for an account
3. Browse the selection of flowers
4. Comment back on post with the name of your favorite pick

Good luck! I hope you win.

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Living With Kids: Lisa Scott Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Luke and Alexa.

Lisa Scott and I weren’t sure if she was the best fit for a Living With Kids tour, a Call It A Day recap, or a Growing A Family essay. She lives in a gorgeous home in Nova Scotia, leads an incredibly interesting life and built a shop as an Ethiopian advocate, and added kids to her life in an inspiring manner. Or two. So I thought about it and then suggested — which really means I asked with my fingers crossed — if she could show us around her home, tell us about her children and how they came to be hers, and also introduce us to her life’s work if she had a spare minute. Basically, I begged for a three-in-one feature! And, lucky for us, she agreed.

Her words are wonderful. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that her career has always landed in the helping professions, and this interview of hers is no exception. I’ve read it many times, and each time I think to myself, “This woman is a brave one.” And then I reach her ending and find myself in a tiny puddle. I sure hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

Welcome, Lisa!

I met my husband Toby the first month at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was not looking for love and either was he, but on such a small campus we kept bumping into each other, and he finally asked for my number. I was a bit standoffish in the beginning. The first time he called me, I told him I could not talk long as I was watching Oprah. He still asked me out, and the movie we went to see was The Commitments; fitting, as we have now been together 24 years. He really is my rock. From the outside I’m sure we could be seen as an opposites attract situation, but his loyalty and stability has been our life-line during challenging times we have faced as a family.

My husband and I remained students for a very long time as I completed my B.A. and he competed his PhD in Marine Ecology with a few intermittent surf trips to some great locations. This delayed our starting a family, but in 2002 the world changed with the arrival of my chubby baby Oskar with an enviable head of hair. What fun we have had with this guy. It’s such a cliché, but time does fly by. This July he turned thirteen, which was emotional for us as parents, but just another cake for him!

He is the type of kid who people in the community say, “I ran into Oskar and we had a great conversation.” That conversation could be about world travels, family, politics, or the rising price of groceries. He has the most wonderful mind. Always has. From the age of three to around six he would tell us “Don’t forget your imagination!” every time we left the house. At 13, that same creative mind uses my coffee grinder to grate kitty litter to form clay for his latest project. His abilities in the kitchen are a marvel and he is thrilled with a new subscription to Fine Cooking. All this creativity comes with a price: a big mess that is often left for me. We are working on it!

There are five years between my son and my eight-year-old daughter, Juniper. I had planned that my kids would be much closer, but I soon learned family planning does not quite work that way. In 2008, we travelled to Ethiopia to meet the person that would complete our family. Our daughter. This little lady is larger than life. She has affirmed for me that we all come into life with a temperament. Hers is very strong-willed, but with pure joy and love in her heart. This is a girl that knows what she likes, and when she likes it, she loves it. The most important part of her life right now is her friends. She is a loyal friend and is always thinking about the next play date. She came into our lives at one year old and it was immediately apparent that the two things that comforted her most were music and animals, and that remains. Although as a family we don’t have musical talent, she comes by it naturally. This past winter I took her back to Ethiopia to do some volunteer work. Not many seven year olds would have jumped into such extreme conditions without a flinch. Proud doesn’t come close to what I feel.

Lastly, I’m Lisa. I can ramble on about my family but come short on what to share about myself. I guess I would be best defined by my love of people! Nothing makes me happier than a gathering, and I believe whole-heartedly in the power of community and being an active member of it. Most of my career has been in the helping profession. Last year I left my job at the children’s hospital and I now run a business called Second Life Ethiopian Artisans that shares the work of Artisans in Ethiopia.

When we were looking for a home in 1999, we looked in the neighborhood of Halifax where my husband grew up and in which we had rented for eight years. It was depressing. The sky-high prices and the small homes motivated us to broaden our search.

My husband is an avid surfer, but I know that I am a city girl and could not live at the beach. Toby suggested we look at homes in Dartmouth. Dartmouth is across the bridge from Halifax and 20 minutes closer to most of Toby’s favorite breaks.

When we went to look at our house, we fought all the way across the bridge to Dartmouth. I made it clear I did not want to live in downtown Dartmouth; it was too far from Halifax! In fact, the house is a five-minute walk to the harbor ferry, which is only an eight-minute ride across. When we viewed our house, it was occupied by tenants and did not have a lot of furniture. We walked in and our jaws dropped. Needless to say I ate my words. The high ceiling, huge rooms, and most of all original detailing of this historic home were indeed a diamond in the rough! Our offer went in immediately!

We were aware we were buying a great house in a not-so-great neighborhood, but we were young and wanted to take the chance. A biker gang mostly occupied the house beside us. There was a house of ill repute across the street, and a drug house on the adjacent corner. Boy, were we naïve. The house is located right downtown, and at the time very few businesses were thriving and most of the homes were rented to people with lower incomes. The other residents, regardless of their walk of life, welcomed us in the neighborhood. The regulars would come by and see what new flowers were planted and to tell us stories of the previous owner who had lived in the house for several decades.

We are only the fifth owners of our house, built in 1888, and the first family to raise our children here. The original owner was a mercantile from New York City, followed by a doctor who lived and practiced in the home for 40 years, the Dean family, and in the end the Dean’s elderly son Garrett.

Some wonderful friendships were formed. In fact, one of the ladies who lived near by was an artist with very limited income. In 2002 when I had my son, she heard we had a rough time and left a card saying she had donated blood to the blood bank on our behalf. Every year forward, until she had to move, we would awake on Oskar’s birthday to our front sidewalk filled with the most amazing sidewalk chalk art. Although she had to move back across the bridge, we still keep in touch – the old fashioned way, by mail!

Buying in a not-so-thriving downtown allowed us to make other real estate investments in the community. We were taking a gamble that the future would be bright in this community. Fast forward to 2015 and we are still living in our diamond in the rough, and the along with the house, the community has blossomed. It is still a very affordable community, but values have really increased from when we bought. We have had several condos built near by, lots of businesses coming in and offering awesome eats and cool stores. We walk up the hill and through a large park called “The Commons” to get to school.

Both my kids are in the same school: a small elementary downstairs and the middle school upstairs. We are a ten-minute walk from Lake Banook – Dartmouth is also called the City of Lakes – where the kids have spent almost every day of every summer vacation paddling at our club. Five minutes down the street in the other direction is Halifax Harbor, the second largest natural harbor in the world. We feel pretty lucky that we live here. Our community and the people in it are special, but really I’m quite fond of the whole province.

We are the little provinces on the Atlantic Coast, one of four provinces called the Maritimes. Nova Scotia is just under a million people and the greater city of Halifax is at about 300,000. Most of the province is very rural. Fishing and farming communities, rich in culture and in history. Living in Atlantic Canada can mean some harsh weather conditions. This year we had our last major snow storm mid-April! Our summer is only about eight weeks of warm weather for swimming. The weather is a big topic of conversation here, but the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!”

I look forward to seeing how much more our community grows. I can’t do much about the weather, but I would love to see my immediate neighborhood keep its socio-economic diversity and to see our province retain the young people that go to the many universities in this city. We are getting there but we have room to grow!

When we first bought our home I was completely overwhelmed. It seems so mature and had so much history and I had never decorated a home. Our limited financial resources and the immediate need for them to be put into the mechanics of the home limited what we could do. I now see that we were given the gift of time. We got to know the house, and we got to know our tastes. It soon became apparent that we might not ever move from this house, so our renovation and decorating choices were made with the philosophy of do it once, and do it well.

My philosophy is to decorate with purpose. Either it needs to be functional, meaningful, or so beautiful I can’t live without it. We moved into a house with a lot of history, and we have been fortunate to have inherited a lot of artwork and some furniture that has family history. I want our house to reflect us and I feel the one thing that does that most is our family wall.

Our stairway has a huge wall and we have filled it with family snap shots, and we are really lucky to have two sets of portraits of family members four and five times removed. We tell the children they are being watched by all types of family!

Ethiopia is part of our soul and part of our home. As we travel back and forth, I have taken to trying to get to know and purchase from new artists. I love that part of Addis Ababa is hanging on our walls. There are so many meaningful treasures I have from our travels that I incorporate them into our daily living: kechene pottery, beautiful textiles, and woven household items.

When you are young, you think of all the things you want to do in life,. I have been lucky to do so many of the things I dreamed. I dreamed of motherhood, but I could have never imagined the path we took to it, or that it would be the single greatest challenge of my life and the truest joy in my soul.

After we were married we decided what would be would be, and that was Oskar. Never was there a pregnant woman so joyful, so excited, and so large. Lots of aspects of pregnancy are not fun or easy, but I marveled in them all.

My own mother died when I was 12 and so I did not have the stories of her pregnancies or the motherly support. I read every book I could and I was pretty sure I had it all in good hand. When the time came to deliver I was so excited. I felt prepared and I was going to be a mom. The lesson I learned was that despite carrying the baby and being the mother to this infant, I was at the mercy of so many people to help me. My nurse was my angel and as it turned out, my son had a very complicated delivery. His APGAR was 1 when he was finally born and stayed there for five minutes before shooting to eight. I met him when he was six hours old, in a recovery room where my husband had pushed his way into after my extensive surgery. It was a very complicated birth, one we are both lucky to have survived. However, we did survive and we thrived with the help of so many people.

The consultation after birth was that I could conceive, but I had to understand the risks of carrying another baby. We felt so blessed to have a healthy son and we had always wanted to adopt, so we opted to not take the chance with another pregnancy but to proceed with an adoption. Like pregnancy, I invested in learning everything I could about the process of adoption and the potential needs of our child. Heart and soul, we headed into a local adoption process that is administered by our government. The process was so frustrating. We had everything to offer, and were open to many situations, but it became clear that the politics of this process was flawed.

Three years into waiting for a child, our son was starting school and we were no further ahead. Around this time, my cousin, who lived in another province, was going through the process to adopt internationally. When I saw the referral picture of her daughter waiting for her in Ethiopia, I felt that perhaps we should pursue this. If it did not work, we would move forward as a family of three.

So many people have opinions on adoption, if it’s domestic or international, questions are routinely asked about motives for adoption and why we made choices we made. I could not have planned any of this. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but every aspect of our adoption story is one of love for this baby girl, our daughter. Her story is private, but she knows her story and with every year she matures she will understand it in different ways.

The day we met our daughter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we were not much different than any other parent in the world. A small precious life was placed in our arms, and it was trusted that this child would thrive in love and support. Our daughter and her needs were very different than a child being placed at birth into their parents’ arms. I could write a book about the literal and figurative journey of bringing home a one year old from another culture, who had no reason to trust and had lost everything she knew. This time, all my reading did come in handy and we were completely committed to attachment adoption. We worked so very hard to earn the trust and love of this child.

To see her today, I can proudly boast we have done a darn good job. Like all parents, our journey continues.

When we adopted our daughter, I fell so deeply in love with her, but was overwhelmed and intrigued by her culture and the people of this country. We knew it was a huge responsibility to adopt a child from another culture – particularly a child whose color tells the world she is adopted. Because of these factors, the story of her adoption and her cultural roots are topics that flow in and out of our daily communication. It is just part of who we are, it is what is natural to us. There is no subtext; we are quite literal about all of it. When you share facts with a child in an age-appropriate context, they can usually digest it.

Ensuring my daughter knows her culture is vital to raising a strong independent woman. From the beginning, we made the commitment to return to her country every few years. The first trip I did alone. I felt as a mother I needed to work through my relationship with this culture, to understand it better in order to integrate it into my parenting.

I went with an amazing group called Canadian Humanitarian. They run centers that support orphans living with guardians. My role on the team was to do Grief Workshops for the guardians in the communities we visited. I used the resources of the hospital I worked at and provided the best information I could on helping kids cope with grief.

I am the mother of a child who was orphaned, and I am an orphaned child. When I stood in front of these women, it was intimidating, but when they found out that I too had lost a mother as a child, they embraced me and trusted me. My workshops grew into many one-on-one meetings. The stories from this work can be told, but they can never be felt like when you hear them face-to-face.

When I returned home, I processed the trip and I grieved hard, but this trip and the people I met cemented Ethiopia to me. My daughter was a little ticked that I had left her for three weeks, but I could tell she was proud. I would find this five year old with my phone watching videos. When she saw a video of me dancing, she told me, “Mom, these are my people – not your people!” One evening at supper she told me, “Ethiopians don’t eat beets.” And she asked that we just call her Ethiopian. I believe my experiencing her country without her made it a fact that we are all connected to Ethiopia.

This past March, just before her eighth birthday, I tool my daughter back to Ethiopia for three weeks. The first part of our trip was spent with the same humanitarian group, Canadian Humanitarian. This time we went into city slums to repair mud homes – Juniper and I entertained the kids while the men worked. We also brought portable puppet theaters made of PVC piping, and therapeutic puppets for each of the five Canadian Humanitarian Centers. We both helped the kids make sock puppets. At first they thought we were crazy, but once they saw the socks come to life they really got into it! We travelled to a rural community and no matter how long we went without water or electricity, Juniper never complained. She ran with the kids, taught them happy birthday songs and their ABCs and collected grasshoppers.

The last five days of our trip we spent meeting local weavers and artists for my business, Second Life Ethiopian Artisans. In 2013, I started this business as a way to integrate the Ethiopian culture into our daily life and home, and to do what I could to support the beauty of this country. Through visiting and developing relationships with artists and suppliers in Ethiopia, I have been able to bring affordable, high quality, and unique products to my customers. The company is called Second Life, as it is my daughter’s Amharic name translated to English. In addition, by supporting ethical craftsmanship in Ethiopia, we are giving the artist a chance at a better life. That translates to healthier families and more vibrant communities.

I truly believe in the power of one consumer providing opportunity for one artisan. Once that is multiplied, you have many consumers connected to not just the products, but also the well-being of an artisan on the other side of the world, an understanding of their culture, and a pride in what is created. The truth is, the business would not have started if I had not been so crazy about the weaving, jewelry, and art I came across while in Ethiopia. When I travel, I typically like to get to know local artists and their crafts. Weaving is a patriarchal trade in Ethiopia, with spinning being matriarchal. These skills have been passed for thousands of years and with some of the organizations I’m working with, these skills are being taught to individuals who otherwise would have been unemployable.

I found the quality of the products, combined with a fresh use of color and pattern, irresistible. The empty hockey bags that had been brought to the country filled with donations, were going home with items for my friends and family. It seemed only natural to take it one step further and create a more formal relationship with the artisans and allow the product to reach more people. We have grown steadily since our first shipment, and I look forward to developing a really solid business that reflects the brand of Ethiopia: a showcase for all that is authentic, vibrant, creative and strong in this country.

I feel like my kids might remember that I was cranking and constantly hounding them to do what’s right when they think back on this time in their lives, but I hope that they remember how present their parents were in their daily lives. One thing about a difficult journey to parenthood is you don’t take a thing for granted. We try really hard to have every aspect of our life be family-centered. We walk the kids to school each day, encourage their interests, we travel together and spend lots of time alone as a family at our cottage. We have really open communication and the kids know that any topic is open for discussion. I hope they look back and remember a really tight family unit.

You asked me what part of their childhood I already miss. Does anyone else mention this question makes them teary? Gosh, I think about the cribs and the toy boxes and the high chairs and sand boxes. The bathtub is a big one for me. You bring home this tiny little being that looks ridiculous in the tub and in a blink of an eye their chin is on their knees.

Seriously though, my favorite part of living in this house as a family is the sense of roots. I moved a lot as a kid, especially after my mom died, and I never felt I had roots. We moved into this home that has a history of people staying for decades. It’s the only home my kids have known and they have really deep roots here. I love that with these roots we have created our own traditions and identity.

I already miss the little people tucked into their beds at night. I will miss the silent kisses I sneak when they are asleep. I miss the dirty kitchen from my son’s awesome cooking experiments.

Now I’m actually crying, but I will miss this being our safe haven. It’s hard to think about letting them go into the world and find their own homes.

I wish someone had told me not to be so scared. Slow down, relax, enjoy the ride. I regret living with so much fear. I know it has stolen joy from experiences and it has also rubbed off on my husband and children. I’m anxious. I’m always worried someone will get hurt or die. I have had things happen in my life that let me know that yes it can happen to you, but I need to remind myself it likely won’t. I have let these worries grow into really big anxieties to the point in which I have needed help.

I wish I had been more reasonable, not caused so much stress for those around me. Instead of being anxious, I wish I had learned from my life that I can survive and I’m pretty darn strong.

Most people in my life likely don’t know I hold so much fear. In the last year I’ve made some good headway. I will never get through a day not worrying about my husband and kids, but instead of those being big worries, I’m working on them being fleeting moments. I want my kids to grow up without anxiety.

I need to set a good example.


Did your heart just break a little? I don’t know what it is about people sharing their struggles with the rest of us, but I find it so reassuring and healing and life-affirming all at once, don’t you? We are not in this alone. Lisa, your honesty helped a bunch of us today. I know this for sure. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

This line is unforgettable to me: “I am the mother of a child who was orphaned, and I am an orphaned child.” So powerful. Lisa, I know you’re a trusted resource to the women and children you help.

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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Tool Lending Library Mon, 17 Aug 2015 14:00:13 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Does your town have a tool lending library? Ben Blair discovered the one in Oakland ages ago, but I first visited earlier this month, during our big backyard building projects, and now I’m kind of obsessed! I tell everyone I see about it. : )


I had never heard of a tool lending library, and if you haven’t either, I can tell you that it’s exactly what it sounds like: It’s a library with tools instead of books. So many tools! Drills (both cordless and corded), power saws, shovels, leaf blowers, wrenches, hammers, axes, and on and on. They have every yard tool you could ever need — even tools as simple as a trowel. And they also have those accessory tools, like extension cords, that I sometimes forget about when I start a project. It’s so awesome!


Just like at your local book library, the tools are FREE to check out! All you need is your regular library card. Isn’t that the coolest? I can think of so many times over the last 20 years when we’ve purchased a tool that we only needed to use once or twice. Or bought a tool we intended to use a whole bunch but then never did. A tool lending library is such a brilliant alternative! Those odd tools you only need once in awhile? No need to buy and store them! Have a big project coming up? Save your money for materials, and borrow any needed tools from the library instead!

I was thinking it’s especially genius for apartment dwellers who don’t have storage space for tools, but love to keep a little balcony garden. Really, it’s awesome for anyone!

Apparently tool libraries are not a new thing, but they are becoming more common. I was chatting with the tool library staff and asking more about the history of the tool library, and they said they thought the first tool library was created in Columbus in 1970, and then the second one in Berkeley in 1979, and that Oakland’s tool library was established in 2005.


If you’re wondering if your town has one, there’s a handy wiki page with a list. (There are 8 in California — mostly here in the Bay Area.) But, the more I talk about the tool library with people, the more I hear about other interesting libraries across the country — like a kitchen library and a toy library. Do you have any unusual libraries in your neck of the woods? I’d love to hear!

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A Few Things Fri, 14 Aug 2015 18:54:13 +0000 Design Mom

Kayaking Lake Merritt

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello Friends! How’s it going? Have you had a good week? Ours has been totally task oriented — knowing we’re gone next week means doubling the work load this week. But being productive is one of the sure fire ways to make me feel accomplished, so I can’t pretend that I mind the extra work. Hah!

The big event for the weekend is that Olive is going to a Taylor Swift concert tonight! She has been talking of little else for months now. She saved up her babysitting earnings, bought her own ticket, planned out a costume (a costume that lights up!), and talked her aunts Liz and Jordan into joining her for the evening. And she’s bringing lights for their costumes too! I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, but they’re being good sports about it. : )

After I hit publish on this post, the next task is helping Ralph finish up his Eagle Scout application. Woot! Woot! But before I start on that, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- My crazy talented friend Lisa Valentine Clark is starring in a new movie called Once I Was a Beehive. Good reviews are coming in! Have you seen it? I’m dying to! Trailer here.

- If the Black Lives Matter Movement Would Just Be Convenient. Kelly Wickham is so dang good.

- This Yamaha article made me laugh way too hard.

- So did this very short video. I’ve totally been the lady with the green scarf! You too?

- The fabulous Christine Koh & Asha Dornfest started a podcast called Edit My Life. The second episode is all about simplifying back-to-school. Good title and good stuff.

- I’m always delighted when A Blog About Love is posting. This one about walking a crisis tightrope is excellent.

- Sesame Street moving to HBO? Is this a real thing?

- Old Navy’s toddler pajama game is winning. June wears these. So cute!

- Beautiful math. Thanks, Rachel.

- Mapping paid maternity leave.

- My favorite feel good story of the week: Barber gives haircuts to children in exchange for them reading stories to him.

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


P.S. — Ben Blair and I head off to Lake Louise on Sunday afternoon. So excited! Thank you for all the tips and ideas. And no worries, I’ve scheduled lots of good stuff for next week.

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First Film Festival News! Fri, 14 Aug 2015 18:33:44 +0000 Design Mom

First Film Festival logo

By Gabrielle. Logo by Audrey Moore.

Oh my goodness. I haven’t shared an update on First Film Festival in ages. And there’s good stuff going on — including a snazzy new logo! In case you missed my original post, First Film Festival is a project we launched to encourage kids to get out there and make videos. Entries have been coming in all summer, and it’s so exciting!

There will be three big winners, with three big prize packages — but EVERYONE who enters will receive a $25 movie pass, plus a First Film Festival t-shirt. Awesome! And it’s open to anyone under 18.

There is still one week left to enter — so if your kids are interested, there’s still time! The final day for entries is August 22nd. Then, the entries will be handed over to our illustrious judges (have you checked out the fantastic judges page yet?). The festival will happen online in October. It will be both live-streamed and recorded. So wherever you are, you can watch it in real time, or watch the recording after the fact.

We have LOVED the response to the festival so far, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the entries! Tell your kids. Tell your friends. Such a fun opportunity for all those budding filmmakers out there!

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Family Finances: Bookkeeping 101 Thu, 13 Aug 2015 15:50:48 +0000 Design Mom

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As I mentioned last month, I’m working with ScholarShare, California’s 529 savings plan, on a series of 4 posts about family finances. In August, we talked about teaching kids how to budget and save (and I shared the budgeting game I made up for my teens!). For the second post in the series, I’m covering the topic of Bookkeeping 101.

I mentioned this in the last post, but it’s worth repeating: I know talking about finances can trigger worry or shame for lots of us, so I promise to keep things shame-free and totally approachable. ScholarShare feels the same way — they want to make saving for college as easy and effective as possible, and have lots of tips to help you get started. (And if you’re a California resident, you can even win $500 toward a college savings plan!)

So. Why Bookkeeping 101? Well, from what I’ve seen, the road to good financial health starts by simply having an accurate current picture of our finances. Because if we don’t, we often end up making decisions blindly and then putting out financial fires later (and paying for it with interest, late fees and overdraft charges). Plus, without an accurate picture of what’s happening with our funds, it can be practically impossible to achieve savings goals.

How do we get an accurate picture? Bookkeeping! We record our income, we record each expense, big and small. We do things like make a record of any debt, what our recurring expenses are, and a projection of incoming funds. Maybe we save or scan receipts.

Sounds simple enough. But it can be really hard to get started. And then, even if we have started, it can be even harder to be consistent. Do we need to do bookkeeping daily? weekly? monthly? (Or for some of us, maybe hourly? Hah!)

I’m no expert on bookkeeping, so I turned to Ben Sutton of Mazuma. Ben offers accounting and bookkeeping services, and I met him at Alt Summit, where he manned the Ask An Accountant help desk. I called Ben up, and he was kind enough to share awesome information, like key reasons bookkeeping is so beneficial, and some his very favorite financial tools.

Gab: First of all, since this is 101, let’s start with what’s the difference between an accountant and a bookkeeper?

Ben: Bookkeeping is a sub category of accounting. An accountant can do many things, and bookkeeping is one of those functions. Bookkeeping is primarily entering transactions into a system — a spreadsheet or accounting software, then reconciling the account, and categorizing each expense (like rent, groceries, etc.) in a way that provides good information. A bookkeeper is really a data entry pro.

Gab: So would you say that most families can handle their own bookkeeping?

Ben: Yes! For home and family, doing it yourself is best, because only YOU know all the details about your transactions — a bookkeeper can’t tell if the purchase you made at Walmart was for food or for toilet paper. At our firm, we do bookkeeping for families, but it’s very rare.

Gab: That’s good news! A task we don’t need to hire out. : ) So then, what would you say is the goal of bookkeeping? Or, why should someone do this? What are the primary benefits?

Ben: Well, obviously, many of us get by without doing it. But if you want to have and keep a budget, it’s essential.

Bookkeeping at it’s most basic is knowing how much you spent and what you spent it on. The primary benefit of bookkeeping is for your own personal use, so that you’re not going over budget, and so that you have control of your finances and are aware of what’s going on. As a secondary benefit, having your books in order can help with tax returns.

Gab: Got it. If someone is ready to tackle their bookkeeping how would you recommend they start?

Ben: First of all, find out what you are spending. How much did you spend eating out last month? I’ll bet you it’s way more than you think. Spend 5 minutes going through your bank activity and add up all the eating out — restaurants, Starbucks, everything. Do you feel good about that number? Most people say: No! I didn’t know I was spending that much! People are often surprised at what they actually spend their money on.

Then tackle your other categories. How much did you spend on clothes, groceries, insurance? Knowing what your’e spending is the pre-requisite for creating a budgeting.

Gab: Okay. So how often do you think bookkeeping should happen?

Ben: At least once a month. Preferably weekly. For my own personal bookkeeping, I do almost all my spending with a debit card so it’s all online (I hardly use cash). I look at my bank account activity online, then categorize each expense. It’s a matter of grouping like expenses.

Gab: Any tools/books/websites you’d recommend?

Ben: Three things come to mind. First, — it’s a cloud-based software that gathers all of the activity that goes on in your bank account and then presents it to you in a way that’s easy to categorize. It’s the BEST tool for personal bookkeeping and family budgets.

Second, if you want something that’s more of a traditional spreadsheet tool, try Quicken (or Quickbooks if you need something for a small business).

Third, Dave Ramsey’s book, Total Money Makeover. I highly recommend it, because it empowers you to take control of your financial life and not just drift in the wind. Plus, it offers good perspective on debt and is really encouraging about getting out of debt and avoiding debt. Dave Ramsey also has a radio show.

Gab: If a friend told you they were too overwhelmed to get started on their bookkeeping., what would you say?

Ben: I would help them understand how much peace can come from knowing what’s going on with your finances and having a plan for saving, and for getting out of debt.


Thank you so much, Ben! I really love that you mentioned the peace that can come from doing this. I’ll bet we can all use a little more peace in our lives!

Okay, Readers. Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on bookkeeping? Though I don’t make as much time for it as I should, keeping expense records is the kind of straightforward work that can actually soothe my mind when it’s going a mile a minute. How about you? And what are your thoughts on the tools Ben recommends? Have you tried any with success? Or do you have something else you would add to his list? Have you ever had completely messy or nonexistent financial records and then whipped them in to shape? Lastly, for those of you who are awesome at bookkeeping, how often do you do it, and for how long? Or stated another way, how much time per week/month do you spend on it?

Share all your favorite tips, please. For those of us struggling to get started, success stories are so inspiring!



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, shared in partnership with ScholarShare. If you’re ready to get started saving for college, ScholarShare can help you find out how 529 plans give you big tax benefits.

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Call It A Day: Misty Brough Thu, 13 Aug 2015 14:04:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I started my Call It A Day column for one reason and one reason only: I am fascinated by how each of us travels through an average ordinary day. We all seem to carry along a little something heavy, don’t we? I’ve found that when we share our load, well, it feels lighter, somehow.

At first glance, Misty’s account looks like an average ordinary day. But if you read between the lines, you’ll notice how much she’s doing behind-the-scenes to prevent any drama or unnecessary commotion for her family. It reminds me of watching ducks float on top of the water, gracefully and seemingly without a care in the world. A peek below the surface, though, tells a totally different story!

Please help me welcome Misty! It’s so good to have her here.

My day starts very similarly to how it did 11 years ago. My husband gives me a kiss and says, “Wake up babe.” Might sound cheesy but it’s the best. He knows I’m not a morning person and I get up by 6:00 am.

My husband has been up since 5:30 and is leaving by 6:20. His commute is much easier in the early hours. We live in the outskirts of DC and the traffic is fierce! This also means he can come home to us earlier. (By 4:20, but who’s counting!)

I sleepily go in to wake up my son Adam, who is seven.

I have been very lucky to be given kids who like the morning. He’s a very pleasant waker. Slightly groggy, he says he doesn’t want to get up, but he’s smiling. I help him step into his clothes and then head off to start getting breakfast.

I write a note to his teacher about the previous night, about our family time and video chatting, or anything out of the ordinary, just to keep them in the loop. Adam is in a self-contained Autism unit for half of his school day. We are working towards more inclusion, and are going slow and steady with the help of some awesome teachers and aides.

Breakfast is always the same for my son. He wants cereal. He would love to subsist on carbs and dairy only. But, at breakfast, I don’t push. I want him to have a positive start to his day. He wants the cereal exactly to the line on the white bowl. The milk has to make the cereal float almost to the absolute limit.

It’s always the same. If there are changes, it can cause an immediate melt-down.

His bus comes at 6:30 to our door, and he has a long trip to the school. I’m very grateful they don’t pick him up far from our house as I would have to wait with him. He tends to wander. This frightening characteristic is an autistic tendency and the reason he wears a watch that can track his movement if he ever gets lost. When we first moved into this house, he let himself out at 5:00 in the morning to wander our neighborhood. He deftly undid locks and other obstacles.

After he leaves, I have a few minutes’ break. With my time, I read a part of a book and meditate or pray for a few minutes. Soon after, baby Marie wakes up and I get her a bottle.

Both my girls, Kayla (age four) and Marie (six months), are up at 7:00, bright-eyed and ready for the day!

Kayla sometimes asks for dinner leftovers or a PB&J for breakfast. She has an odd palate but is pretty good about eating most things. At times, we have even found her eating non-food items like chalk or paper. We figured out she’s anemic (like me) so we give her daily doses of iron mixed with honey which keeps her off the chalk! She wants her dad’s homemade pizza this morning.

Allie is still on formula. My husband wants to introduce more solids for her. I think I resist because I want her to stay a baby. We contemplated my breastfeeding our adopted kids. But, because adoptions are so unpredictable, I don’t want the physical wreck on top of the emotional, should the adoption fall through.

I have an apple with peanut butter and I love it. I’d eat cereal with milk but the calcium interferes with my iron pill. Fifteen years ago, I had a stroke in my dorm room. Long story short, after lots of tests, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease similar to Lupus, which did a lot of damage to my insides. Fast forward through chemo, strokes, seizures, and surgeries, and I’m in complete remission!

But my past dictates my future. Doctors cautioned that if I were to conceive, there would be extreme complications and/or fatalities. I had always wanted to adopt and so I count myself lucky! I didn’t have to endure the uncertainty of infertility but, definitely had my moments of feeling loss. I have anemia from the chemo, which explains the iron pill.

On two days a week, I watch a friend’s little girl. But not today. I do some laundry and started on dinner – at the least planning part.

I also package up orders from our family’s online store where we sell letterpress artwork. It’s called Adoption Arts. It started when we were looking for some adoption-themed art to hang in our home and couldn’t find any that was our style, so we made our own. Currently, we only have a few letterpress posters but we are trying to find new artists. This morning, I searched for artists who might be a good fit for our site, and looked at Pinterest and Etsy. Even though I’m doing work, I’m also looking for fun.

Then, I email our lawyer about what needs to be done to finalize our daughter’s adoption. We just finished our last home visit and need to submit the report to the court. Our first two adoptions were completed through our church services. They had a lawyer and social worker on staff who handled most of what needed done.

We did a direct parental placement for Marie’s adoption. This means we have done most of the leg work ourselves including the advertising to find a birthmother who wanted to place with us. It’s been hard. We were lucky to find a friend of ours who would do some of the legal work, pro bono. If he hadn’t helped, I don’t think we could have afforded the $20,000 average price tag of most adoptions.

Around noon, my husband calls and we talk about boundaries between our family and the newest birth mom. She’s having some struggles, and we need to decide how much to intervene. My husband and I think very much alike and I’m super glad. We don’t really have to compromise much with each other.

Having three open adoptions has been hectic, encouraging, profound, hilarious, and love-filled. These birth families are people I never would have met in normal circumstances. But they are now tied to me in a visceral way. I would love to tell you all about them, but I want to respect their privacy. I truly feel like they are part of our family.

And with that comes all those mixed feelings. Pride, hurt, frustration, and deep, deep love.

I try to get as much of my “have tos” done early on. When my son comes home, the opportunity for completing chores is over. My focus completely changes to keep him on task and diverted from tantrums.

My deaf friend comes over for lunch. We are able to discuss her aging mother and the state of our families. Sometimes we go out to eat and she runs errands with me. I learned how to sign when I was eight after meeting a deaf girl at church. She taught me when I was young, and when I got older I took community classes. I love sign language.

Phone conversations are hard with active kids around. So, I am constantly texting with various people, including my mom and my husband.

For lunch, Kayla wants to eat everything that is on my plate rather than hers. I’m eating Korean fried rice my husband made a couple nights before. It’s a little spicy.

I take my daughter and her friend to preschool. Marie naps in the van as I drive.

I update the private Facebook page we have for our children’s birth families. It’s a page where I can upload photos, funny quotes, and videos of the kids often. This way, my other friends don’t get inundated with seeing me post how great my kids are! Their birth families totally get it, and they agree! These kids ARE the best! I often get comments back pretty quickly about something I posted. My husband is a part of this page, too, so he can see updates while he’s at work. This has been a great tool for us. My kids do things like sing happy birthday to their birth-mom, show off their school work, or do dance moves.

I keep LOTS of phone reminders: garbage day, appointments, and finger nail clipping day are all listed. I was a late adopter of Google calendars but now I can’t do without it!

I try to incorporate my four year old daughter in what I do. She helps me sweep and do some laundry. (I do cloth diapers). Right now, Kayla is so in love with Marie but doesn’t always display that love softly. I am constantly trying to teach without being bossy or short. My husband reminds me that being a big sister is a first for her. She’s new at this.

I finish planning our dinner and make sure we have the needed ingredients. My husband loves to cook. We try to focus on anything that isn’t typically American fare. I have this romantic idea that by eating international foods, my kids will be better world citizens! We love home-made hummus, curries, kimchi, and more.

At 3:00 pm, my son comes home on the bus.

Adam has to decompress a bit after school. I’ve found that he holds everything together quite well at school. But, once home, all his frustrations or perceived injustices come spilling out. He sometimes gets violent.

He plays on the Wii for a bit but then suddenly gets angry because his sister got some earrings at a rummage sale and he felt that it was unfair. The resulting outburst and throwing the controller loses him his Wii privileges for tomorrow. I let him cool down in his room after he is throwing anything he could find in the living room.

After a few minutes, I go in to talk with him and see if we can figure it all out. He starts hitting me and calling me names. I used to think I would be a strict parent who would quickly reprimand my kids for things like this. With him, though, I have found if I swiftly and angrily correct these behaviors, he fixates on them and repeats the behavior. If I let it go in the moment and talk to him when things are calm, he reacts and learns better.

Reading notes from his teacher, I find that some of his work today was hard. He didn’t understand and he’s frustrated and sad. During this time, I worry about his sisters. I make sure they are busy elsewhere. Kayla is having some screen time and Marie is in her ExerSaucer. I check back in on Adam. He’s calmed down a bit so we talk while he swings from his therapy swing in his room.

We then work on homework. We just started ABA therapy, and they are still devising a plan for him. The therapist arrives and observes how we go about getting homework done. Being under the microscope is awkward. But I know they have to get a baseline of his behavior. She takes notes and then excuses herself.

Marie sits and makes faces and we all laughed. I’m a little worried about the crawling stage. Right now, she’s content to sit and watch us.

We try to not watch TV more than 30 minutes a day. This has been hard but I want my children to understand how to interact with each other. This leads to lots of learning interactions, otherwise know as fights. I’m hoping that as they learn now, they will improve more without the distractions of constant gaming or TV.

Sometimes, my husband asks the kids to do tasks in the evening. This is his way of transitioning them from doing whatever they want to having fun and listening. Some tasks are “Give your mom a hug” or “Pick up your shoes” or “Go outside and yell ‘I am king of this neighborhood!’”

Then, laughing, we start brushing teeth. My son is entrenched in routine. So he is very set on doing the bedtime routine the same way, every night.

As difficult as the constant fighting is between the two older kids, sometimes things end up just perfect. Tonight, without instruction, my son sequestered himself over at the table with craft supplies and made a card for his sister that simply said he loved her.

Even though my husband and I detest dishes, every night we find ourselves loading the dishwasher and cleaning up from meals. We laugh and talk and watch a show on the iPad while cleaning.

My mind races before I fall asleep. Most recently, I’ve been thinking of racism. In a world where black men are often immediately thought of as guilty, I fear for my son. He is a biracial, autistic boy who can be impulsive and obstinate. I think about my daughters and worry whether I am giving them enough of my time and energy. Having a brother with special needs is tough for them sometimes.

I think about how grateful I am that three women have made me a mother.

I try to cheer myself by thinking of a funny voice my husband used with the kids tonight. Instead of breathing out while talking, he was sucking in. We were all hysterical.

It’s been a busy day but, I feel satisfied with it.


Oh, Misty! Your final thought of your day truly hit my heart: “In a world where black men are often immediately thought of as guilty, I fear for my son. He is a biracial, autistic boy who can be impulsive and obstinate. I think about my daughters and worry whether I am giving them enough of my time and energy. Having a brother with special needs is tough for them sometimes.” My heart is with you. And you are doing a great job! We all are! Let’s remember that, okay?

I can just imagine the hysterics after being ordered to run outside and yell “I am king of this neighborhood!” That is a fantastic day-ender. I also loved the way yourapproach your son’s mornings. Same routine, day after day, to avoid throwing him off before the rest of his day might. It’s smart and kind. Thank you for your day and your wisdom.

Anyone else relate to this “same old, same old” process at the beginning of your kids’ days? A few months back, a friend told me about a mom at school pickup who seemed super impatient and excited to pick up her son. “I yelled at him this morning because he was taking so long tying his shoes, and there wasn’t any milk for his cereal,” she explained while wringing her hands, “and I’ve been thinking about him all day because who wants to start their day like that? It’s awful!” Poor thing! Of course, her son came bounding out like he didn’t have a care in the world! Ha!

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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Eating Disorders Wed, 12 Aug 2015 14:50:15 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle

The topic for today’s post is eating disorders. I know. It’s pretty heavy. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I haven’t experienced an eating disorder myself, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t touched my life. In fact, something that makes my head spin: 5 of my nieces have battled (or are battling) anorexia. Five! Five girls from five different sets of parents (and in case you’re tempted to feel judge-y, please don’t. I assure you, these are all loving, kind, involved, attentive, wonderful parents.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, no one knows the exact cause of anorexia, but as you can guess just based on my first sentence, there appears to be a genetic predisposition to it. So you can imagine, as parents of four daughters and two sons, in the same extended family of 5 people who have experienced anorexia, we try to keep our eyes open for possible eating disorder warning signs, while at the same time attempting not to get buried under unnecessary worry. (Ah, parenthood.)

For those of us who know someone struggling with an eating disorder, and who are feeling helpless as far as how to improve the situation, I have a solid new resource to share. My sister-in-law Lisa has a child who has battled anorexia off and on for years. And Lisa found that navigating the illness and recovery was insanely confusing, often ineffective, and completely discouraging. But after lots and lots of frustration, then lots and lots of research, she finally found proven therapies — evidence-based therapies — that really work. Since then, she’s dedicated much of her time helping other parents avoid all that confusion and frustration

Lisa launched a website called Parents-to-Parents, to share what she knows. There, you’ll find specific resources, and advice on finding a therapist. You’ll also find a new video Lisa created — she made it for parents who have just discovered their child has an eating disorder and don’t know how to start responding. Her mission is to help parents take action as quickly as possible, because the quicker parents take action, the more likely a full recovery will be made.

The video is super impactful. It helps parents get into the mind of their child, to get a picture of how their child is suffering. It’s 40 mins long — so you may want to watch it in smaller segments, or set aside time to watch the whole thing.

As I touched on above, eating disorders are not uncommon, and they end up touching the lives of almost everyone. If someone you know is suffering and you don’t know how to help, I highly encourage you to watch the video — it’s like a quick crash course on the disease.

A couple of big takeaways from the video:

1) As parents, don’t feel guilty. You did not cause this. Really. You didn’t. And the guilt won’t help. The disease is not your fault.

2) As much as you’re suffering, your child is suffering far more. This is a mental disease. Their brain has essentially been hi-jacked, and they are in a very, very dark place. So do what you can to get an idea of how much pain they are in (the video will help), and use that understanding of your child’s suffering to gain an extra dose of patience and compassion. You may need that extra dose, because eating disorders have a way of wreaking havoc on relationships.

Lisa’s goal is to reach as many parents as possible. She knows friends will spread the word, and she hopes pediatricians will share the video link with parents, if their child is diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can be hard to discuss, but I know there are so many people struggling with these diseases, and so many parents worried sick about their kids, and so many friends and relatives that want to help but don’t know how. I’m sharing this here, hoping that the video and website will offer encouragement, plus practical steps that families can take on the road to recovery.

If you’re up for sharing, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you had any experience with the confusion and frustration of eating disorders — as a parent, a victim, a sibling, or a friend? (And feel free to remain anonymous if this is not something you want to share publicly. Obviously, everyone has their own comfort level as far as sharing about this sort of thing goes.) Do you have any good resources that you’ve found that you would add to Lisa’s list? If you’re on the other side of it now, do you remember what happened to finally turn things around?

Lastly, know that I am sending huge love to any families going through this right now.

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Living With Kids: Kimberly Senn Tue, 11 Aug 2015 14:00:06 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Maribeth Romslo and Nicole Feest.

I get so many notes from readers wishing they could find the courage to send photos of their homes, but then months pass without even a peek! When I check back in with them, they sometimes tell me it’s not yet camera ready or they just need one more perfect piece to make their living room livable or “WE ALL HAD THE FLU AND NOW I WANT TO MOVE!” The goal of perfection really does get in the way of life, don’t you think?

I get it. And so does Kimberly Senn. But somewhere along the way, after missing out on opening up her home to old and new friends because of a fear that it wasn’t stylish enough or clean enough, she consciously stopped pausing her life and holding her breath and waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead of sitting alone pondering the layer of grimy fingerprints on the lower three feet of her walls, she and her family now open up their home as often as possible — today, to us! (As she put it so eloquently, “Our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer.” Ha!)

And guess what? No one notices the grit. All I can see is the joy. Come see it, too! Welcome, Kimberly!

We’re a family of four, the adults born in the Midwest and the kids in California. My handsome husband Marty is a writer and nonstop creative force. We met working together at an ad agency in NYC and became instant friends. He’d tell you he knew from the moment I started working there we would be together. We couldn’t get enough time with each other and eventually admitted we were both smitten. He’s now a creative director at an agency here in Minneapolis and works so hard to spend all of his free time with me and the boys.

We have two boys: Hugo is five, and Freddie is two, almost three. Hugo is a strong-willed, fiercely intelligent, and creative little guy. He was born on New Year’s Eve, so every year we now feel like there is just so much to celebrate around that time. He loves being a big brother and he’s truly the best at it. He runs like Tom Cruise in action movies. Hugo starts Kindergarten in the fall and he couldn’t be more excited.

Freddie is so naughty and so cute. Somehow those two things balance out quite perfectly. He’s a kid who wakes up happy, ready to hand out hugs. He hugs like he means it, every single time. Freddie is madly in love with his big brother. He is so attached to him and will do anything to keep up with Hugo. His speech is getting more clear now that he’s nearing three years old, but he only has one volume, and it’s very loud.

We knew we would be leaving San Francisco to move to Minneapolis right after Freddie was born. Marty had accepted a job just a couple of months earlier, and they really let us take our time for the relocation. We are forever grateful for this small detail!

Just a few weeks after Freddie was born, Marty traveled to Minneapolis with Hugo for his mom’s 70th birthday party. The little guy and I stayed back in SF this time, knowing that we’d be in Minnesota permanently in a couple of months. He checked out a couple of houses while he was there, and our current home was one of them. It had been on the market for a while and it just wasn’t moving. But for whatever reason, Marty loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it, so when all four of us landed permanently on Minnesotan soil, we called our real estate agent and told her about it. She showed us a handful of other properties, but we knew this was the one. Apparently it was totally weird to other people. The layout was kind of odd and it was on a busy street, relatively speaking.

It was decorated in a very fancy way – not at all our taste and not at all right for the actual house, but we knew we could un-fancy it. I think other people didn’t understand the house, and somehow we did. We liked that there was something off about it. It wasn’t at all what we imagined we would buy, but it is seriously perfect for our family.

We’re in a suburb just southwest of Minneapolis, and we live right on the border of the two cities. Our neighborhood is filled with families and little kids, and bigger, babysitter-aged kids, too. It’s a block-party kind of place. We are also just a ten minute drive from Marty’s parents and not quite three hours from mine, which was a big factor in moving here.​

From a practical standpoint, we love that it’s close to amazing public schools, walking distance to a great shops and restaurants, a short bike ride to the Minneapolis city lakes, and close to highways for a commute to downtown Minneapolis. It ticked all of our boxes, even the ones we didn’t know we had. Our list was so simple since we were living in a small Victorian apartment in Presidio Heights. Things like “a bathroom that has the toilet in the same room as the bathtub” was enough to blow our minds!

Biking from our house, we can hit creeks, playgrounds, great shops, and the city lakes that have beautiful walking trails, beaches, paddle boarding, sailing and even restaurants that will serve you really good fish tacos while you are wearing your swimsuit and flip flops.

There’s also just so much to do here. The Walker Art Center is amazing, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is incredible and free to visit. We have so much theater in this town and so much opportunity for creativity. I’ve also found that there’s a really supportive and active creative community here. It seems like what’s good for one Minneapolis maker is good for all Minneapolis makers.

You might not know it, but we also have some incredible food here. The restaurants popping up all over town can definitely go head-to-head with those in New York and San Francisco. We had a pretty high bar coming from the Bay Area, but we’ve been so happy with the food scene here. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise — Minnesota has been doing the eat local movement pretty much forever. It’s almost not so much a trend, but a way of living here.

And let’s be honest, the cost of living in Minneapolis is just so much more manageable than some of the other cities we’ve lived in. I don’t know that we spend that much less — you kind of afford what you can afford — but it just gets you so much more here. We have space in our home for a studio, so I can work from home, and a big yard for the boys to play in. It’s also got that extra bit of inside play room for the boys which comes in really handy, especially during the wintertime. There are amazing public schools a short walk away, which you almost can’t put a price on — unless you’re paying for private schools, in which case you could probably put a very accurate price on it!

I will say that we were a little surprised that things like dining-out and groceries weren’t all that much cheaper than in San Francisco. But parking for those things definitely is.

I think generally, life can be pretty easy here. I say can be, because we probably always make things harder than they have to be, but generally the daily tasks that seemed like giant chores in San Francisco just happen without too much hassle here.

Here’s the big asterisk: I’m answering these questions in the summer. The winters are LONG and COLD and quite brutal, even for those who have lived here their whole lives. I guess that’s the tax we pay for all that other amazing stuff I just mentioned.

Sharing these photos of my home was a bit of a personal stretch for me. Up until recently — I’d say well after having Freddie — I was always really self conscious about not having a perfectly clean and decorated house. I worried that as a creative person who had a passion for interior design, the expectations of my home were that it would be immaculate, perfectly styled, and basically magazine shoot ready at all times. Marty and I would move into an apartment and then tell ourselves we’d have friends over as soon as the house was ready or finished.

I had some picture in my head about how our home would look, and when it wasn’t exactly that, I’d just avoid inviting people over.

Now with two little boys, there are definitely realities about how things can be decorated and how clean things can be. There’s a perpetual layer of grime on the walls about three feet off the ground. The floors? Covered in crumbs and legos and paper clippings and cardboard swords and little socks…and that’s all just what I’m seeing when I look up from my computer while perched on the living room couch.

Here’s the truth: When I go so someone else’s house and see some clutter — mail on the counters, kid stuff everywhere, dirty dishes by the sink, a basket of laundry waiting to be folded, etc. — I feel a MASSIVE sense of relief. It reminds me that we live in homes that are filled with people, life, activities, and constant action. That I’m not the only one just trying to keep up.

Beyond the physical space, I also came to realize our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer. (And other things too, I suppose, but mostly the good beer!)

I’d say our aesthetic is sort of Cabin Up North Meets Mid-Century California Quirk. We have a mix of new pieces and vintage, and are slowly but surely creating a home filled with only things we love. We had a bad habit of moving every two years until buying this house, which we’ve now been in for almost three years. We know now that we should have things we really love, and it’s worth saving to get the right piece rather than settling from something just to fill up a room.

One of my favorite art pieces in the house is a giant print that hangs over our kitchen table. Pre-kids, Marty and I were living in London and decided to take the train south for a little beach day in Brighton. It was, of course, a horrible rainy day, so we spent the entire time hopping from pub to pub and shop to shop. One of the stops we made was a poster gallery of sorts where we found a huge artist’s proof silkscreen of Godzilla crushing Tower Bridge by Trafford Parsons. It perfectly captured how we were feeling that day. So we bought it and had it framed and shipped up to our apartment in London. We ended up missing the last train back to London that night and rather than finding a hotel, frolicked through town until we could catch the 4:00 am train home, making the whole trip even more memorable.

I own Senn & Sons, which is basically just a dream job I created for myself after leaving my advertising career and taking a year as a full-time stay at home mom. Funny enough, Senn & Sons was named when we had only one son! It just sounded better, so I went with it and thought we’d just explain it later if we ever had a daughter.

I painted a series of three canvases for Hugo’s room right before he was born. After failing to find artwork I really loved for the nursery, I just created it myself. I posted a few photos of the decorated room on Facebook and people really liked the art and wanted to know where they could find it! After a year or so of casually accepting commissions for nursery paintings from friends and their families, I made the decision to turn my hobby into a second career. I asked a very talented designer friend if he’d be interested in creating a logo for my new business, and opened up an Etsy shop. Pinterest was just getting started, so I posted my artwork there and on my blog and it started to get some traction.

After a couple of designs became really popular, I knew I needed to find a printing partner to help with production. I opened up the print shop with a handful of my most popular designs right before Freddie was born. Because we moved when he was just ten weeks old — an endeavor I don’t recommend to anyone — I had to take on so much more in LIFE for the following year or so. Finding a home, buying a car, getting settled, finding schools, dealing with hugely emotional transitions, etc. was really quite a lot to manage with a three year old and newborn baby, so the business coasted along for about a year until I was ready to really get back into it.

Once I was ready to return some of my energy to Senn & Sons, I’ve been able to expand the business quite a lot. I introduced other products like personalized growth charts, and partnered with a local blogger to create a “Live & Love MN” line of products that are sold in boutiques throughout the state.

My latest excitement is a collaboration with an amazing family company called Blue Sky that’s based in California. We’ve worked together for about a year and now have a beautiful line of calendars and planners that are sold nationwide at Target for back to school this year. I have really loved translating my design aesthetic beyond artwork for the nursery and plan to do a whole lot more of this in the coming months. And, being in Minnesota, Target is obviously a dream come true.

I’m now in a phase with my business that I’m trying to say yes to almost everything. I’m open to any opportunity that comes my way and I’m working to create partnerships with other family brands all while developing new products for babies and kids. I look to my own crazy boys for inspiration, which is why I’m working on a really fun illustrated matching game that I know they’re going to love. And selfishly, I think it might keep them busy for a few minutes! I’m also partnering with my incredibly talented friend and filmmaker Maribeth Romslo on a series of stop motion animated films based on my illustrations. They make us and our kids happy, so we keep making more.

My goal for the business is simply to create super fun stuff for super fun families. It’s purposely uncomplicated, and I find that when I’m working on products I am constantly thinking about who is going to be able to get a little joy from what I’m creating.

I try to find balance when I can, but I’m not sure it totally exists as a constant. I work to prioritize my family above all else, but there are times when my business becomes more time consuming and we shift the balance a bit so I’m able to deliver on work expectations.

My schedule is really flexible, which is by design and also a major luxury. It changes quite a lot since my working hours are based on the kids’ schedules and what they need. My most productive times are when they are at school during the day, so I try to fit in most work during normal business hours when they’re out of the house. I often pick it up a bit after they go to bed just to plan for my next day and fill in the missing pieces; but I also value my time with my husband after the kids go to bed, so we try to limit our after hours working as often as possible.

It sounds pretty ideal and manageable now, but it took me a while to figure out my work schedule. I have learned slowly and somewhat painfully that work and kid time has to be kept separate. I’m a better mom AND a better business owner when I know that the kids are having fun at preschool or spending a few hours with a creative nanny while I work — and, conversely, that I’ll have dedicated time to work so I can devote full attention to the boys when I’m with them. It is such an incredible luxury to be able to set my own schedule to be what works for our family.

I like that there are so many parts of my brain that get used running a small business. I do everything for Senn & Sons right now including packing and shipping orders, sales and wholesale management, accounting, production, product development, making art, designing everything from the actual products to catalogs and packaging, photo shoots, blogging, managing the website, marketing, PR, and more. I don’t really have a consistent task list or schedule that I follow on work days, but I do wish there were more free moments to spend actually creating. This part of my process is just so different from running the business, which is a lot of tasks and checkboxes, whereas my creative process includes a lot of open space and time.

My latest scheduling experiment is with early morning workouts. For the past few weeks I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 5:00 to get to the gym near home for a class, which has been going surprisingly well. We struggled with sleep challenges with both boys, so now that they’re getting better about staying quiet throughout the night I’m able to make this work!

There’s never a dull moment around here, which I actually really appreciate. There’s life in the house and energy that often can’t be contained. We recently entered a phase that includes the boys being able to play with each other, even for just a short time, so Marty and I can enjoy reading a bit of the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. Some days we feel like total geniuses — like “WOW, it’s really working! They’re playing together and look at us! Reading the newspaper!” Other days they aren’t so cooperative and we need to shuttle them out of the house for some activity immediately, no newspaper reading allowed. Thankfully, now that the boys have discovered Legos, we’re having more lazy Sundays than ever!

My favorite time of day has always been bedtime. We cuddle in a chair and read books until the boys are melty little puddles of cuddle on our laps. I nursed both of them as babies and it was always so sweet to just have them and hold them until they were so restful and peaceful — especially after a long, hard day. There are a lot of long, hard days, this has always helped put things into perspective. At some point, the gas runs out and the kids succumb to their exhaustion. It’s a beautiful thing.

The older the boys get, the more I enjoy being a mom. I love how smart they’re getting and how much fun we can have as a family now. I love watching them play together and have their own real, beautiful, complicated relationship. We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.

I wasn’t a mom who bounced back quickly from pregnancy and birth, either emotionally or physically, so it took me a while — like over a year — after each boy to feel like myself again. I think sometimes we don’t hear that from moms enough; it seems like everyone is cool and back to normal at that six week postpartum appointment. That just wasn’t the case for me.

You asked if they could remember just one memory from this childhood home — and me as their mom — what I hoped it would be. And this question sort of made me cry. I had to both picture the boys, my little babies, as grown men and also remember that all of things we are doing on a day to day basis are forming memories for them…and that feels sort of overwhelming.

I don’t know that it’s a specific memory that I want them to have, but more an overall feeling. A feeling of warmth and comfort and consistency and support. Of opportunity and honesty and unconditional love. Of growth and of all the feelings. Even the hard ones. Of silliness and laughter. I want them to remember driving south along the Mississippi to visit my parents in Wisconsin and fishing off of their houseboat and pontooning to a sandbar to play in the water. I want them to remember the annual Minnesota Wildlife Art Show that Marty’s dad does with our boys and their cousins during their summer visit to the Midwest.

Mainly, I just want them to remember there was a lot of love here, no matter what.

I wish someone had told me that being a mom is actually really complicated. That maybe you won’t fall into it naturally right after the baby is born, but that’s okay…everyone is different. You also probably won’t understand anything people tell you about having kids until after you’ve had them and experienced it firsthand. There are A LOT of decisions to be made, every single day, and for a while each one feels so very important which is kind of stressful.

In the end, I believe as long as you really, truly care for your kids and do your absolute best even on days when that doesn’t seem very good, that they and you will thrive.


Thank you for all the sweet reminders and real reassurances, Kimberly! “We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.” It is a moment to remember when that happens in our families, isn’t it?

And I had to giggle when Kimberly was extolling the virtues of Minnesota and then stopped to mention one caveat: that she was writing this love letter during the summer months! Check back in with us in January, will you? Anyone else have this love/”Oh goodness, I am freezing!” relationship with their cities based on the weather? Tell us about it, will you please?

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, 10 Aug 2015 17:15:58 +0000 Design Mom

Half Moon Bay Miramar Beach

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

In July, you may remember I wrote a post with an identical title, and I’m toying with making it a regular once-a-month feature. In the old blogging days, before Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest, random thoughts like these might have become short blog posts. Those were the days where I would post on the blog 3 or more times a day! Things have changed and now my blogging is much more long-form — with lots of words, or lots of photos, or both. And those shorter posts have migrated to my social media accounts.

But sometimes I miss having those shorter posts here on the blog — because I know there are Design Mom readers who don’t follow along on social media. So a compilation post like this could be a good way to share all those little thoughts without overwhelming people with too many posts. And it’s also a way to let people share their thoughts on all sorts of topics. We’ll see. As you know, it’s always a big experiment for me. : )

On to the randomness!

1) The first thing I’m dying to tell you is that the backyard bridge is done! And the zip line is up! I’m super excited to share all the details with you. If I’ve hesitated, it’s because I’m finding it’s hard to capture a full photo that gives a sense of the scale — though I keep trying. I suppose I just need to share what I have so far. The whole thing is pretty dang fantastic, and the additions have added a major does of magic to the yard. If you’re feeling impatient for the post, definitely take a look at Instagram — I’ve shared (and continue to share) lots of photos there.

2) Summer is coming to an end. It’s been a good summer. Very laid back. And I’m not ready to face the daily school grind again. I’m holding on to these last two weeks of summer vacation with everything I’ve got! We signed up the youngest four for one more session of swimming lessons, and I’ve put a moratorium on screen time so that the kids get outside as much as possible. (Honestly, with the new bridge and zipline, it’s not that hard to tempt them to get out doors.)

3) Next week is our wedding anniversary! It’s a big one and we wanted to make sure we marked it properly, so Ben Blair and I (just the two of us!) are heading out on a little getaway. We’re going to Lake Louise in Canada! It is hard to express how excited I am about this little trip.

I’ve never been to Lake Louise, but I read about it when I was 19 year old — it was featured in a fashion article in the now defunct Victoria magazine. (Do any of you remember that magazine? I LOVED it!) I was so taken with the images of the mountain lake that I immediately got on the phone with the resort there to see if they were hiring. I was picturing a summer job in the mountains! But alas, it was quickly established that unless I had a work visa, I couldn’t get a job in Canada.

It was the first time I had ever heard of a work visa. I had no idea up until then. Hah! And though I couldn’t go there for work, I’ve had Lake Louise on my travel wish list ever since.

Have you ever been? Please tell me it’s as awesome in real life as it is in my head!

4) But: I seemed to have lost my passport!!! And I’ve never lost my passport. I’m actually pretty decent at keeping track of my stuff and I don’t typically lose things at all. I’m mystified. I remember having it at Alt Summer in June, but I haven’t seen it since. And it’s not in the usual spot where I keep it. So now I need to make a last minute appointment in San Francisco at the passport office.

I’m nervous this won’t work out and so I’m trying not to think about it and I keep searching new places in the house hoping my passport isn’t lost after all. It’s so last minute. We leave on Sunday! But I had no idea the passport was missing.

UPDATE: Passport found!! Huge sigh of relief.

5) We started back to school dates. I go shopping with each kid one-on-one. We pick out something for the first day of school and get a cupcake or go out to lunch. It’s a great way to connect with each child individually and hear their thoughts, hopes and fears about the upcoming school year.

Since I’m traveling next week, this is the key week for making it happen. Do you do something similar? It’s a pretty new tradition for us. We only started these back to school dates when we moved here. But the kids already seem to think of this as a long-standing tradition.

6) Maude is very close to getting her license. She has a permit and asks to drive at every opportunity — and of course, we want her to get as much time behind the wheel as possible. I feel like driving well is so much about logging hours. Right?

Not much to report on this. Just something that’s on my mind.

7) On Friday, we took a break from backyard construction and went to the beach. We tried a new-to-us beach on Half Moon Bay called Miramar. You can see it in the photo at top. The pros: beautiful, plenty of space, great waves, clean sand. The cons: no ice cream shack or surfboard rentals right on the beach.

Apparently it’s known as a surfing beach — and there was a surf camp going on while we were there. We loved it and will definitely be back.

8) Erin Conner, the architect I mentioned last month, is coming to take measurements on Wednesday morning. So awesome! I grin every time I think about the upcoming transformation in the master bedroom and bath. I know it’s going to be a ton of work, and totally disruptive. But worth it!

9) Remember I mentioned the kids have been taking sailing lessons? Well, Ben Blair has too. And suddenly, we now sail!!

We’re totally beginners of course, but we’ve spent two afternoons with rented sail boats on Lake Merritt here in Oakland so we can practice. (I say we, but I mean the family, and not me — I haven’t taken any lessons at all yet.) The thing that has surprised me the most: how much vocabulary there is that is related to sailing only. I feel like I’m learning a new language. Hah!

The other thing that has been a wonderful surprise: how much we love sailing. We love it so much that we’re killing ourselves that we didn’t start lessons the moment we moved here — it feels like wasted time. Because being able to sail is an amazing way to take advantage of one of the best parts of living here: the water!

Do you have any experience sailing? We’re laughing, because we’re so new to it but find ourselves already scheming about sailing off to exotic locales.

Anyway. As I said, lots of randomness. Feel free to comment on any topic above — or consider this an open thread and bring up a completely different topic. I can’t wait to hear what’s on your mind!

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