Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:44:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 One Item, Three Ways Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:00:08 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kid Room

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Lindsey Rose Johnson. This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Room Essentials to make modern life easier.

This is the second post in my two-part series about Target’s revamped, and super affordable, Room Essentials line. You can find the first post here. For this post, I wanted to demonstrate the versatility of the pieces in the Room Essentials line by taking one item and showing how it can be used in three different ways. For the example, I chose this handsome metal piece with wheels.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kids Room Art Supplies

Though toys are probably not the first word to come to mind when you see it, this cart would make a fantastic playroom addition. The top could be a play surface — the perfect height for little ones to build with blocks or make Lego creations or set a doll house or draw up a masterpiece.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kids Room Blocks

Then, you could use the lower shelf to store the toys in happy baskets. (The orange baskets, also from the Room Essentials line, are nice and deep — perfect for blocks, dress-ups, stuffed animals, or any of the other zillion toys that need a home — and they are only $5!)

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Coffee Table

Or, how about in the living room? A cart like this would work beautifully as a coffee table in front of the sofa. It has locking wheels so it doesn’t go anywhere unless you want it to.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Coffee Table Pillow

During family movie night, you could fill it with popcorn and sodas and easily roll it to the side, to make room for pillows and blankets on the floor. And it adds a pop of color that would bring cheer to any room!

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kitchen

Of course, it would also be brilliant in the kitchen. You could set it near a sunny window as a place to grow a kitchen herb garden. You could use it to hold odd-sized kitchen items (like a bread maker) that might not fit in the cupboard. You could stack it with plates and bowls — easy access when your kids are setting the table, or use it as an additional pantry space and fill it with baskets of onions and potatoes.

Room Essentials Blue Cart - Kitchen Herb Plants-2

As I was coming up with ideas for how this cart could be used, the list got longer and longer. As a TV cart. Next to a bed. In the garage. On a patio. The size — and the wheels — lend themselves to all sorts of flexibility. And for me, flexible furniture is key to creating a house that works for my family.

Do you own anything like this? A piece of furniture you’ve used in several rooms in your home? I’d love to hear about it!

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Alt Summit Summer Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:00:29 +0000 Design Mom

Lunch Menu at Alt Summit

By Gabrielle. Images by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit.

I know Alt Summit happened a month ago, but I’ve been waiting to write about it until the Keynote Videos were edited and ready to share. And now they are!

This was the very first Alt Summit Summer and I loved it. It had that shiny new event feel. Almost all of the attendees were new to Alt, and most I hadn’t met before. Just like at Alt Winter, the attendees were smart, encouraging and enthusiastic. Alt Summer was started because we (fun fact: I’m an Alt Summit founder) wanted to give the full Alt conference experience to more people, but we didn’t want to increase the size of Alt Winter — at 750 people, it’s still small enough that if you want to meet a particular speaker or connect with a sponsor, it’s totally doable.

So instead of opening more spots at Alt Winter, we created an event that mirrors it, but happens in the summer. Alt Summer follows the same format as Alt Winter, with topics that are equally engaging, and opens up spots for a whole new group of people. Instead of going to both, attendees can choose which conference fits their schedule better.

Going in, it felt like a bit of an experiment. Would Alt Summer feel as awesome as Alt Winter? Will people come? Will the speakers be as excellent? Will the keynotes be as inspiring? Happily, the answer to all of those questions was a flat out YES!

Some of the highlights I don’t want to forget:

Joy Cho’s keynote address, which was sponsored by Sherwin-Williams. Joy opened the conference with her talk, and learning about the path she’s taken as she’s built her fabulous company was fascinating and inspiring. If you missed out on Joy’s speech, you can see the whole video here, and see photos here.

- Then, at lunch, I loved seeing the tiny party hats from the Oh Joy for Target line decorating the tables. I wore my hat for the rest of the day!

Dance Lesson at Alt Summit

- That night, the Party in the Park made me grin. I loved watching the street dancers do their thing, and I loved that they gave us a little dance lesson. I loved the food trucks. I loved the chalk art leading the way to the party. And I was laughing that we needed jackets in June in Salt Lake City — the chilly weather was such a fluke. Hah! See photos from the party here.

- And speaking of parties, the Garden Party was probably even more memorable than the Party at the Park. Such a visual feast! The ribbons in the trees. The yellow cruiser bikes. The pastel mopeds as photo op. The lemonade tables. And the gorgeous attendees! The party was beautiful from every angle. Tons of photos here.

- But the thing I remember most is Martha Stewart’s keynote. Since I launched Alt Summit years ago, Martha has been at the top of my wishlist of keynote speakers for the conference. I couldn’t believe she was really there!

Martha Stewart before her keynote

I was able to spend a little time with here before her keynote started. She was kind and friendly, totally with-it technology wise — teaching Kevin Sharkey how to use Instagram as we waited for the cue to come on stage. Entrances happened from behind the stage and to get there, we walked through the behind-the-scenes parts of the hotel — through the kitchens and delivery doors. As we walked, she took time to compliment the kitchen staff, shake the chef’s hand, and get photos with everyone. She made sure to ask where each person was from. Gracious as can be.

Martha Stewart Alt Keynote

During the keynote, which was sponsored by Bing, I interviewed Martha. I was definitely nervous as I prepared, but once we were on stage, I felt calm and ready. I suppose it’s because I have followed Martha’s career since I was in design school and I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her. And really, I couldn’t go wrong, because Martha is easy to interview. She’s smart and funny and has so much knowledge — and she shares it freely.

Martha Stewart Keynote at Alt Summit

I’ve admired her passion for design and attention to detail since her magazine launched over 20 years ago, and though I’d briefly met her before, this was the first time I’d really had a full conversation with her. I don’t keep a life list, but if I did, this would have been on it. How wonderful it was to have her at the conference and get to learn from her. I wasn’t surprised at all that she received a standing ovation before and after her keynote. If you’d like to see the interview, you can watch the full Martha Stewart keynote here.

After the interview, there was Q&A from the audience, and Martha had time to take photos with a few attendees. Then it was time to say goodbye as she went on her way to see the sites of Salt Lake City before her next event. Right before she left, I snagged a selfie with her! You can see more photos of her keynote here.

A couple of days after Alt Summer was over, Martha sent a personal thank you, and she wrote a lovely blog post about the event as well — making sure to acknowledge individuals, which made everybody’s day.

I’m still sort of stunned at how fabulous Alt Summer was. I hoped it would be good. I suspected it would be. But I had no idea it would be that good! I think I’m still on a post-event high. : )

I’d love to know if you’ve ever had the chance to meet one of your heros. Were they what you expected? Were you emotional? Did you take away anything from the experience? And if you watch the interview, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #6: Lake Powell Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:00:16 +0000 Design Mom

Antelope Canyon at Lake Powell

Image and text by Gabrielle.

As I mentioned in the last trip post, we weren’t originally planning to stop at Lake Powell, but knowing it was on our way, we ultimately decided to squeeze it in. And we’re so glad we did!

Lake Powell was one of the main destinations for my family vacations growing up and I have a dear place for it in my heart. To me, the ideal way to visit Lake Powell is on a houseboat. I want to stay for 5 days at least, and have access to a motor boat for water skiing and exploring the canyons, and wave runners too. It’s a particular sort of trip and it requires a ton of preparation because you have to bring all food and supplies with you.

I suppose that’s why I didn’t put Lake Powell on the original schedule — I think I forgot you could enjoy the lake even if you only have one day, and even if you don’t have access to a house boat. : )

This was how our last minute day worked out:

We drove into the Wahweap area after noon, and looked for signs to boat rentals. We knew chances were slim, but we thought it was worth a try. But as we predicted, the boat rentals were taken. Waverunners too! Had we been there earlier, or had we been able to book via the internet (at Jacob’s Lake, where we stayed the night before, we didn’t have internet or cell phone coverage), I’m sure we would have had better luck. But no matter. We quickly made plan B.

We drove from the Boat Rental area to the Wahweap Swimming Area. We took our towels down to the beach and got in the water as quickly as we could. The sun was brutal that day! So it was heavenly to be in the water, and there were beautiful views of Castle Rock from the beach. After about an hour, we saw the sky changing and watched as a summer storm came in. When the winds reached us, we finished up our swimming and sought out a late lunch.

Since we couldn’t rent a boat, we decided to take a boat tour instead — we really wanted the kids to see what it was like out on the water. Boat tours launch from the Lake Powell Hotel & Resort (also at Wahweap), so we booked our tickets and ate lunch there at the hotel while we waited for our launch time. The boat tour was beautiful. It was an hour and a half and took us past the Glen Canyon Dam into Antelope Canyon.

One thing about Lake Powell: it’s not inexpensive. Well, if you want to swim only, it’s actually totally affordable. An annual National Parks Pass gets you in for free, and swimming doesn’t cost a thing. But if you want to get out on the water, the costs add up fast. A speed boat rental, plus skis, or a wakeboard, or a tube, is not cheap. Either are boat tour tickets. So our day at the lake felt like a splurge. But we all concluded it was worth it.

After the boat tour, we jumped in the lake one more time, swam for another half an hour, then said our goodbyes.

I hadn’t been to Lake Powell for years and it was interesting to see what it was like with the water levels lower than during my childhood. The peak water level was during 1983 and 84, and it’s much lower now, but still gorgeous. As a child, I assumed Lake Powell was universally loved. It had never occurred to me that there were many people who thought it was awful that we had filled in a huge section of gorgeous Glen Canyon. My teenage brain couldn’t really understand the issue until someone said to me: Imagine if we’d filled in the Grand Canyon, or even a section of it. And then it clicked for me and I realized what an insane manmade alteration we’d made. But still, I can’t help but love Lake Powell. It’s a magical place.

A last tidbit about the lake. The next morning, we drove over the Glen Canyon Dam on our way toward Moab. If you’re in the area, the Dam is worth a visit. On one side you see the Lake, and on the other side, you see the deep, deep, canyon with the Colorado River running along the bottom. All of sudden you realize that while you’re floating in the water in the middle of Lake Powell, you’re actually hundreds of feet above ground. So crazy!

Have you ever been? Did you go on a houseboat and stay for awhile? Or maybe camped on the beach? Or did you drop in like us, just to catch a glimpse and a swim?

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Living With Kids: Sharon Miller Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:00:20 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Sharon‘s friend, Chedva, contacted me to inquire about a home tour for her pal, it was an easy, easy yes. All she had to do was mention Israel, the Maharal Valley, and Paper Bella. Then there were the photos of Sharon’s home. And then there was the view.

I was hooked. And I was curious, especially, to see how Israel’s ever-changing and charged political climate affects the entire process. Turns out, that’s not even a factor – or, at least, not in the way I imagined. The view, however, is. Enjoy the tour!

Q: Tell us all about this sweet family in Israel.

A: Are you ready? We’re quite a group! I’m the artistic type, which means I’m constantly losing my glasses and then finding them in the fridge. Everyone is used to it by now and try to make up for it. My husband Alon is a businessman which should mean that he’s the grown-up in this relationship, but actually he’s a kid at heart who goes to flea markets on Saturdays at 5 am to collect old transistor radios and antiques, and rides an off-road motorbike.

Yahli, our 10 year old daughter, follows in my footsteps, which means she’s very musical and extremely messy. And then there are Ben and Daria, our twins. Ben’s highest goal in life is being Messi (as in the football player). We call him our Mowgli because he just loves being outdoors as much as possible. Daria is in charge of our family; at just seven years old, she is amazingly responsible and together.

The kids love watching TV with Alon, but their other favorite pastime with their dad is being outside in nature. With me, we spend hours on crafting websites, downloading patterns for paper-cutting projects, and things like that. As a family, we love taking trips, hikes and mini-journeys, and going anywhere where there’s water – like trips to lakes or going to the beach.

And I can’t really describe our family without mentioning our animal family! There’s Chikita the dog, who puts her life at risk every night fighting pigs and foxes. There’s Alfred, a cat who is absolutely positive he’s human. Oh, and we have five more cats who live outside on the porch or in the yard, two guinea pigs, and five bunnies.

Q: Describe your house to us. What makes it home?

A: After studying and living in NYC for a while, I knew I wanted my home to reflect the coastal style I fell in love with when we’d go on vacation and stay in charming B&Bs upstate and in Martha’s Vineyard. It was a big leap for me as an eternal city girl to move to a pretty rural area where my husband grew up. As a son of the moshav, Alon won the lottery – which meant we could choose which land we’d get – and we chose the last plot on the moshav with a forest on the north, pasture behind the house, and the Maharal Valley in front of the house.

It was clear from the starting point that the outside was going to play a huge role in the architecture of our house. We raised the whole structure so the porch would be high enough for us to enjoy the view even when we’re inside, installed ceiling fans so we can stay outside even in the Israeli summer heat, and it all paid off.

We brought a lot of home decor accessories from the States – I’m still a fan of William Sonoma and Pottery Barn – and I even ran eight blocks to Pier 1 when our apartment in NY was already all packedto get a lamp I couldn’t get out of my mind. We have a lot of thrift shop and flea market finds, but most of the furniture is inexpensive; it’s the accessories and the art that tell the story and add personality. I really think what makes our house a home is the mixture of the people and pets that live in it, the amazing feeling of being on vacation even when we’re home, and the unique area where we live.

The funniest thing is that I’d never imagined I’d live so far away from the city! I grew up in Tel Aviv and also lived in London and NYC, and always saw myself as the ultimate city girl. When we moved to Kerem Maharal, I insisted we install a top notch alarm system because I was terrified! Well, suffice it to say, the alarms only worked for two weeks and then I completely forgot about my fear and frequently even leave the front door open…

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: As someone who has lived in places all over the world, I can say that Israelis have a really unique connection to their environment. I don’t really think it has a lot to do with Zionism; we just have this amazingly strong connection to our roots, and the history just pulls us there.

There’s something about Israel – whether it’s the political situation or the fact it’s a young state or the Middle-Eastern temperament – that makes life in it very intense. Yeah, it can be stressful at times, but somehow it just makes you feel and experience every little thing in the most extreme and palpable way, including joy and happiness and friendships, or just enjoying the view. You should definitely visit and see for yourself.

Q: How does Israel’s political unpredictability and proximity to countries in turmoil affect your daily life? Are there any safety precautions you take at home and while traveling?

A: Life in Israel teaches us to make the most of each day and Carpe Diem! We’re much more likely to jump at risks, and that helps a lot of people make their dreams come true…or at least try. There are a lot of Arab families in our area, and it’s a beautiful example of co-existence. The person who helps us to get ready for all the trade fairs and sales Paper Bella participates in is Safian, an amazing guy from a nearby Arab village who has become one of our closest friends and essentially a part of our family. And hey, the other day we got a message on Etsy from a girl in Libya who wants to purchase one of our rugs! Turns out, there’s no way to ship from Israel to Libya, but we found a way around it.

Otherwise, life in Israel is pretty normal, safety wise, and we don’t need to take any precautions normally.

Q: How would you define your style? Did it change when you added kids to the mix? 

A: My style is inspired by American coastal living and based on a very easy-going lifestyle. I learned a lot from the American building style, which unlike the local building, dedicates a lot of the space to vast shared rooms rather than dedicating most of it to private rooms like bedrooms. Merging the inside and the outside is a huge part of our house. The kids’ rooms are all on the ground level, and almost all the rooms look out to the porch and the yard.

Q: You’ve got a gorgeous company! Tell us what you do! 

A: Thank you so much! Ever since I was a really young student at Oxford, I used to spend the little money I had on old books and catalogues and technical brochures or science charts. No one was really interested in those at the time, and they cost mere pennies. I didn’t really collect them with an intention in mind; I just enjoyed the aesthetic side of it.

When I moved to NYC to study at Pratt, I continued to scour flea markets in search of what I now know is called “paper ephemera.” We returned to Israel after I left a career in high tech, and I started taking on decorating clients. I soon discovered that I always got stuck on the last step of the process when the time comes to add that layer of personality – all those things that actually tell the story of who lives there. A house can be perfectly designed, decorated, and styled, but as long as the walls are bare it’s lacking something. That’s how I feel.

Anyway, it was hard to find affordable art that doesn’t look cheap, and so I found myself getting back to my vintage collection. I looked at the magazines and catalogs, and added my own interpretation and design point of view to the mix. I had them printed and then used them in my home, in clients’ homes, and even in stores I’d style for photo shoots. At one point almost two years ago, my house was photographed and published in a design book and I started getting a lot of questions and requests for those prints, first from the employees at the publishers’ and then from other people.

Around that time I met Tal, whose twins attended the same school as mine, and she brought a whole new perspective of finding exciting and innovative ways to print my designs on self-adhesive murals, rugs, and more. Thanks to our partnership, we were able to take Paper Bella to the next level. What’s really important to us is the constant search for solutions and products that are attainable and easy to use but not flat – something that would really add a depth and a story and help make a house a home.

Q: Tell us about how starting your business affected your family.

A: Paper Bella is actually a family that consists of four parents, two couples, and six kids…including two pairs of twins! My business partner, Tal, and I only met because our twins go to the same school. Our work is divided between two houses and two families, and that means not only assigning tasks for work but also carpooling, babysitting, trips together, and clothes swapping. (Tal just dropped of a huge bag of clothes for Daria). We also go on trips together every summer; this year it’s going to be Greece! I don’t know if it’s the fact that we have similar views or that we’re just in the same stage and place in life right now, but we have an amazing symbiosis.

Q: How do you try to merge motherhood and running your home with your design life? What tricks keep you sane even when your schedules get crazy?

A: It’s impossible. The guilt is constant. I have no doubt that merging motherhood and work is a huge part of my life story. When I had the twins, I stopped working and only got back to work when they were five years old. My tip for newly working mothers is that I was amazed to discover how the shift from me being only with them resulted in a newfound independence on their part.

How do I actually make it work? I work at home so I’m always there. I do work very long hours but I’m always present. The hours do become pretty bizarre because I’m known for being a night owl. Yeah, one of my eyes is always on the kids while my ear is in the phone and my fingers on the keyboard, but they know I always stop everything else if they need anything.

It’s like the command chain in the army! I oversee everything but I don’t have to have a lot to do with every little detail. And I’m always there with a hot meal and to help with homework or just talk and hang out.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What do you already miss?

A: I already know I’ll miss our bedtime rituals, when the kids tell me I’m the best mommy in the whole world. I was single for quite a time before settling down, and so I know how it is to feel alone. Something about having kids, even more than being in a loving relationship, makes you feel like you’ll never ever be alone again.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a mother? What’s the one part of parenting you adore…and the one you don’t?

A: What really surprised me is that I can be the type of mother I wanted to be. I think as young kids we all say to ourselves “When I’m a parent I’ll never do that” but somehow you always end up raising your kids just as you were raised. I was really surprised by how I managed to stick to my values and beliefs in parenting, and how it really works. As a very sheltered city kid, I now raise a free-spirited, country clan, and I’m discovering that both ways are great.

My favorite part of parenting is having in-depth discussions with my kids and hearing some mind blowing insights from them. My less favorite part is the logistics of it all…You already know that I’m not the tidiest person.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me that I’m responsible enough to be a mother of three! Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible that I have a 10 year old daughter. Maybe it’s because I never gave up my kid spirit and I’m still living with my dreams.

Also: It’s possible to raise twins. I did it!


Sharon, thank you so much for letting us peek into your life! And a special thanks to Chedva for nominating her friend! It was fascinating. I love how you describe life in Israel somehow giving everyone the speed to chase their dreams, no matter how great the risk!

Friends, wouldn’t you kind of love to have a company with a good friend? Or would you be scared of ruining the friendship? To me, there’s something so fun about working with friends and family, so I know where I stand on this one! How about you?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.


[ Update: As you can read in the comments, some thought the post was ill-timed, others felt like it was more than appropriate. A big enough variety of opinions have been shared that I think it's best to close the comments now, as I'm afraid I won't be able to monitor them appropriately this week. Thank you to all who participated in the discussion. If you have a compliment for Sharon or her home, feel free to email it to me and I'll add it to the post! ]

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #5: Grand Canyon Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

Grand Canyon

Image and text by Gabrielle.

This was an especially fun stop for me because I hadn’t been to The Grand Canyon since I was very small, and only had vague memories of it. As I write this, I can see my thoughts on The Grand Canyon are a bit scattered, so I’ll write things up in a list form. That way, I’m less likely to forget things — and I can skip from topic to topic freely. : )

- First, The Grand Canyon is BIG. So much bigger than it was in my head. In fact, while we were there, we read that you would have to rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere several miles in order to see the whole canyon at once. So when we took in a view from the edge, the canyon seemed massive, and yet we knew we were just seeing a bit of it.

- I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but peering off the edge of the rim, down into the canyon made me catch my breath. I kept feeling like it was the view from an airplane. The canyon is so deep — a mile deep in places — that being on the edge of it feels insanely high.

- From what I could tell, if you’re at The Grand Canyon for one day, it’s mostly about taking in the views. Even the hikes we went on were on the surface and were all about ending at a great view looking down into the canyon (at other National Parks, even in one day, you can interact with the park a bit more). If you want to go below the rim and really get into the canyon, plan on a multi-day commitment or maybe even a legit backpacking experience. Someday, I’d love to hike with the whole family into Havasupi Falls. I hear you have to get hiking permit reservations over a year in advance! (But that could totally be a rumor.)

- We were on The North Rim. The South Rim is much more popular and touristy than the North Rim, and most of the famous photos you’ve seen are taken from The South Rim. But we loved the quieter option! We picked it because it was less driving based on where we were coming from, but we were delighted with our choice. The North Rim still has a grand lodge, grand views, a visitor center, food options, and a gift shop — but it feels calm, and there are fewer people than at any other National Park stop we’ve made. The North Rim and South Rim are only 12 miles across from each other, as the condor flies — but the drive between the two is over 5 hours.

- It was a super hot day, so after we’d taken in some of the short hikes off of the Visitor Center, we hung out at the lodge and listened to the Ranger talks. One was about the California Condor and one was about the Grand Canyon Rock Formations. We learned that at a few years ago, the California Condor population was down to 22 birds, and predictions of total extinction were everywhere. But hopeful conservationists have brought the population up to over 400 birds. They are still endangered, but the progress is good! The rock formation session was essentially a geology class and we loved it. Flashbacks to middle school earth science class! All the ranger talks are free.

- Speaking of the Lodge, the old school National Park lodges are fantastic, and this was no exception. Grand views, huge old leather chairs, an amazing dining room.

- Many of the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program specifically geared toward that park. Oscar and Betty did the program at Yosemite and another one at The Grand Canyon. The programs are free. The kids pick up a booklet with instructions and after they fulfill the requirements — things like taking in nature observations or asking a question of a Park Ranger — they are sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge. My kids LOVED this.

- The drive coming to The North Rim surprised us. The landscape changed from red rock desert to forests and grassy plains and grazing bison. It felt like I was in Yellowstone land!

- We had originally planned on staying two days at the Grand Canyon, but switched up our plans so that we could fit in Lake Powell as well. And that was good. We took in the views, hung out at the lodge, took advantage of the Ranger talks, and had a more physically relaxing day than we’ve had at other parks.

- We stayed at Jacob’s Lake that night. It’s a hotel about 15 minutes outside of the park, famed for it’s homemade cookies! The next morning, as we went to the little shop to round up some breakfast, we ran into our niece Lindsey, who is working at Jacob’s Lake for the summer before she heads to college. The best sort of surprise!

Yay for the Grand Canyon! Have you ever been ? North or South rim? Any tips?

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Personalized Clothes for Back to School Mon, 28 Jul 2014 16:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

Old Navy + PS I Love You01

Images and text by Gabrielle. // This post is brought to you by Old Navy + P.S. I Made This. Dream big and customize your clothes to match your dreams! #PSxOldNavy


[ Update: the original post included an announcement about in-store events at Old Navy. Total bummer, but the events were cancelled. Sad face. Still want to get in on the clothes personalization action? Check out P.S. I Made This for the coolest ideas. ]

This is so fun! My friend Erica created P.S. I Made This — the popular blog full of DIY and craft ideas. I first met Erica when we were on a panel together at an American Made event. Then, we both worked on a holiday event last fall. And then, I invited her to come Alt Summit in January. Erica is talented and smart and brings the best kind of enthusiasm to everything she does. Her latest project? She teamed up with Old Navy to encourage kids to personalize their back-to-school clothes!

Old Navy + PS I Love You02

To show you what it’s all about, P.S. I Made This & Old Navy sent clothes for the kids plus a box of craft supplies.

Old Navy + PS I Love You03Old Navy + PS I Love You04

The craft box was jam packed with materials — stencils, sequins, paints, iron-on letters, gems, ribbon, fabric glue, a tie dye kit, and on and on. So we went to the park and got our craft on!

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Olive bedazzled a dress for June.

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Oscar added “Oakland” to the side of a shirt.

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Betty thought about ribbons and sequins and tassels.

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Ralph tie-dyed a white polo in orange and red.

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Maude stenciled the back pockets of a pair of jeans.

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And painted an ombre shirt with June as well.

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Pockets and cuffs were embellished. Messes were made. Clothes were personalized. Fun was had by all!

Want to get in on the action? Your kids can find instructions, and inspiration videos to customize their own kids from Erica and P.S. I Made This team. Now tell me, Friends, do you ever get an urge to personalize your clothes? Maude cut up a basic tee during Girls Camp and it looks awesome. Between that and the new season of Project Runway, we’re kind of on a clothes personalization kick. : )

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #4: Zion Mon, 28 Jul 2014 04:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

Zion National Park

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Well now! We’ve done a bit of traveling since my last post. On Friday, we went to Zion. On Saturday we went to the Grand Canyon. And earlier today (Sunday), we went to Lake Powell. I’ll write about the Grand Canyon tomorrow, and I’ll write about Lake Powell on Tuesday. But today, I want to share a little report about Zion National Park. Since I grew up so near Zion, it’s the National Park I know best and I’ve visited most. I love getting to share it with my kids.

Zion is the sort of place where you could spend a week or more, but it’s small enough, that you can also get a good taste of it in a couple of days. Earlier in the week, as part of Cousins Week festivities, my mom had taken the kids to Zion to tube in the Virgin River, so when we visited on Friday, we considered it Day Two at Zion. And we didn’t even have the whole day — we had some tasks in St. George on Friday morning, and it was already early afternoon by the time we arrived at the park.

So we kept it simple. We started by watching the IMAX movie about Zion. I was nostalgic about it and was excited for the kids to see it, but man oh man, I was surprised to watch it and realize it felt dated and a little cheesy. Oh dear! But, the nice thing about the movie, is that while we watched, a summer storm moved in. By the time we got out of the theater, the temperature had dropped from obscenely hot to totally reasonable, and everything smelled all-caps AMAZING.

One funny thing: During the movie, there’s a flash flood scene, and right when it was happening, all the cell phones in the theater started buzzing with texts about a flash flood warning in the area. For a minute, I was wide-eyed and wondered how in the world the movie triggered the alerts. Then it finally dawned on me it must be storming outside the theater. Silly me, I know.

After the movie, we hiked to the Upper Emerald Pool. It’s the perfect hike for a family of all ages — uphill enough to get your heart pumping, but ultimately short and sweet, with lots of beautiful water spots along the way. The hike was particularly wonderful because everything was so fresh from the storm, and grey skies kept the sun from beating down.

Once we reached the Upper Pool, we cooled our feet in the water, scrambled around the rocks and dunked our heads per family tradition. There’s no swimming allowed there, or we would have jumped right in, clothes and all.

I didn’t have our big camera with us, but I took some iPhone photos that might be the best I’ve ever captured in Zion. The light was just spectacular that day!

After the hike, we knew we had time for one more thing before we drove back to the hotel. We gave the kids a couple of options and they chose a visit to Grafton — the ghost town that’s near the park. We hadn’t been back since we filmed in Grafton for Olive Us, so the kids were excited to see it, and our exchange students were fascinated by the idea of a ghost town as well.

I think it was one of our best days on the trip (at least so far). Not too much driving, and a good balance of indoor and outdoor activity. I keep looking at the photos from that day on my Instagram stream because they make me grin.

Have you ever been to Zion? Do you have a favorite hike or activity there? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — If you grow up in St. George, when you say Zion, you pronounce it Zi-yun. But when I talk to people that grew up in other places, many pronounce it Zi-yawn. What’s your preferred pronunciation?

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A Few Things Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

St. George

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How was your week? We are in the middle of our #epicroadtrip. Today, we are headed to Zion, and tomorrow the plan is the Grand Canyon. Very exciting. Also, very hot!

From growing up in St. George, I learned that I can handle dry desert heat pretty well if I have an ice water in my hand. But if I don’t remember to bring an ice water, and we’re hiking or getting into a car that’s been sitting in the sun, I am a total crab. It’s like I turn grumpy and hopeless instantly. So you can imagine, I have a cooler full of icy bottles of water in the van with us at all times. : )

Before I finish up my work week and head out on the next leg of the roadtrip, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Lace Graffiti.

- What are your thoughts on this Weird Old Trick?

- Simpsons Marathon. The entire series!

- Jenny the Bloggess wrote an amazing and compassionate response to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr. I’m lucky to call her a friend.

- Hah! What every trendy restaurant menu looks like.

- Big happy news!

- Everything iconic about summer in New York City, all in aerial.

- Still laughing about these Instagram confessions.

- Changing Tides. Thanks, Maude.

- The best places to raise kids. Is your home on the list? The state I’m writing this in (Utah) is rated high. The state we actually live in (California) is rated low.

- These toasters print selfies.

- Have you seen this inglorious fruit campaign? (The video made me homesick for France. Intermarché was our closest grocery store. Seeing the store signs and even receipts made me happy. I can’t believe we’ve been gone for a year!)

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


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Epic Roadtrip Stop #3: St. George & Cousins Weeks Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:00:46 +0000 Design Mom

Cousins Week Begins

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

On each day there’s an adventure or two with the aunts or uncles or Grandma. Things like tubing in the Virgin River at Zion. Or cliff diving in the Sand Hollow Reservoir. Or rock climbing. Or hiking the narrows. Or seeing a musical at Tuacahn. Or visiting the sand dunes at night. Or tie dying t-shirts.

But mostly, it’s swimming and sugar. In fact, there’s a whole freezer dedicated to popsicles, and a whole drawer dedicated to candy — the kids call it the Drawer of Wonders and talk about it with hushed, sacred tones. : ) When they need a break from the sun or the pool, they watch movies and look up favorite videos on YouTube. Though the adults are right there, ready to help, it’s definitely a very kid-centered week.

My kids LOVE cousins week. There are a lot of cousins in my family, and the cousins live, and have lived, all over the place. So this is an amazing time for them to get to know each other with no distractions. Oscar starts talking about the next cousins week as soon as the current one is over. It might be his favorite thing in the world.

Betty turned 8 in May, so this was her first year. I was so worried about her getting sunburned. She burns so easily! But she made it through with skin intact and she had a fabulous time. When cousins get to college age they sort of graduate from cousins week. They might make an appearance if they can get to St. George, but they usually have jobs or summer semester or study abroad programs that keep them away.

Cousins Week typically starts with a BBQ for the families — even the parents and the kids under 8. And it ends with a “talent show” on Thursday afternoon, again, for the whole family. I put talent show in quotes, because it’s very silly. The cousins don’t really perform their traditional talents, but instead do lip syncs and make crazy videos and do funny skits — the kids put together their talent show performances during the week.

After the talent show, we search the house for missing flip flops and track down random socks, then pack everyone up and head out. The kids are happy and exhausted. Ready for a break from their cousins, but already looking forward to next year.

Some of my siblings drop off their kids and then head home — even if they live hours away — then return on Thursday for the talent show and pick up. But we live far enough away, that Ben Blair and I always stay in St. George during cousins week. We check in to a hotel or stay at a friend’s house, then we hang out with the kids that aren’t old enough to go — when Cousins’s week started, Olive, Oscar, Betty & June weren’t old enough yet, but now it’s just June! We might visit my dad’s grave, or hang out with friends from my high school days, or go to dinner with my siblings or my Mom.

On this trip, my sister-in-law, Erin, had June over to the house to play with her two youngest, which was amazing! I was able to have solid work days and tried to catch up on as much email as possible.

Now, I think that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about Cousins Week. Hah! But I’d love to hear: Did you grow up close to your cousins? And are your kids growing up close to their cousins? Has your family ever tried something like Cousins Week? Would you ever be the host of something like Cousins Week? I don’t think I could it, but my Sara & Steve seem to love it!

P.S. — We don’t really do family reunions on the Stanley side of the the family. Between Alt Summit conferences and Cousins Week, we seem to get our fill of one another’s company. How does your family handle reunions?


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Gemvara Giveaway Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:00:10 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Today’s giveaway is going to knock your socks off! Gemvara is the sponsor. And the prize is a $1000 gift certificate!!!

Gemvara Design Mom1Gemvara Design Mom2

Do you know Gemvara? It’s an online high-end jewelry store where every piece can be customized in any metal, and with any gem you’d like. For real. They offer 20 different natural gemstones and 9 different precious metals.

Just playing around on the site is delightful — and surprisingly educational as well. I started with this Small Circle Pendant. Then I tried changing the metals. Then I tried changing the gemstones. Each time I’d make a change, I could instantly see the change reflected in the photo, and also in the price. Depending on what I chose, the price would go up or down. I know almost nothing about gemstones or precious metals, so it was fascinating to me to see the relative value of each option reflected in price. The same piece of jewelry might be anywhere from $300 to $1700 depending on the metals and gems. So fascinating to see!

When you order a piece of jewelry from Gemvara, it’s made just for you. Seriously. There is no inventory. Instead, each piece is crafted by hand in NYC, then delivered in less than two weeks.

Gemvara Design Mom3Gemvara Design Mom4

Gemvara sent me a piece of jewelry so I could see the quality in person and photograph it for you. They sent the gorgeous Pure Pave Pendant (pictured above) in gold and tiny diamonds. It really is stunning. It comes in a beautiful box, with an official certificate of authenticity, and feels like something truly special to open. The necklace is simple as can be, and the scale is petite — the whole thing is smaller than a dime. But I think it’s ideal! Small enough to wear every day. It adds a touch of sophistication to even the most basic outfit and is great for layering with other pieces. Since we kept my birthday low-key, I’m calling it my 40th birthday gift. : )

Gemvara Jewelry

If I won the big prize, my favorite pieces are the Stacking Ring set, the Five Stone Necklace, the Triple Drop Earrings from their Gemstones by the Yard Collection, the Two Hearts Ring (you could pick two different colored hearts!), the Victoria Band, and the classic Martini Studs.

Extra fun: Design Mom Readers get 15% off in the next 72 hours by clicking through this link. (Discount will automatically apply, no promo code needed.) And you can shop worry free, because Gemvara offers free-shipping and 101-day returns (even on engraved pieces).

To enter, click here to sign up for Gemvara’s email list, then comment below with the url of your favorite piece. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Kari is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Growing A Family: Trading Adventures Thu, 24 Jul 2014 05:40:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Tara’s company that she and her husband co-founded, Knowmad Adventures, was born from the idea that travel makes us all better people. I would suggest that babies do the same exact thing!

In total seriousness, running a South American travel company that specializes in authentic adventures is probably one of the best training grounds for parenthood, don’t you think? Unpredictable climates, crazy eating habits and sleep patterns, a continually changing and ever inspiring landscape, and daily excursions that leave your heart beating like nothing else in the world…

Yep. That’s parenthood. Friends, please help me welcome Tara as she shares the story of her favorite adventure yet.

Q: Tell us about the moment you first learned or suspected you might be pregnant.

A: Well, it actually took me over six weeks to realize I was pregnant. Trey was conceived on a trip to Patagonia and the Atacama Desert in Chile. We spent a little over a month there researching luxury lodges (real rough!), and the day after we returned I hopped a flight to New York for a college friend’s wedding. Needless to say, I’d been on the run so I kind of forgot when I was supposed to get my period. When I realized I was late, I figured it was because my body clock was messed up.

Finally I got worried enough to take a pregnancy test and I literally thought to myself “I’ll take this so I stop worrying and it’ll start tomorrow.” That big, purple plus sign proved that theory wrong!

Jordan, my husband, wasn’t home. As soon as he walked through the door, I told him to sit down and that I had something to tell him. He guessed it from that and paced around the house saying “It’s a miracle!” We took the next day off, got breakfast together, and tried to let the news sink in. I think it took me until month five before I was over the shock, however.

Q: What were your favorite parts about being pregnant? And least favorite? Also, tell us about the challenges of managing a growing baby and a growing company!

A: I loved eating whatever I wanted to. Old fashioned donuts were a real weakness, along with macaroni andcheese and, of course, ice cream. I’m still battling with that ice cream addiction.

I hated not being able to horseback ride, ski, bike, and do all those active things. It made me really appreciate what a positive impact they have on my day to day. I found it challenging to find good stress release in their absence, and apparently turned to sweets!

Running Knowmad Adventures, the South American travel company that my husband I founded five years ago, while pregnant was also a challenge. My first concern was for our baby’s health. We had had a trip planned to Peru to trek to the Incan ruins of Choquequirao a week after we found out I was growing a little bebito inside. It consisted of four days of intensive hiking in high altitude. I was still in my first trimester and my doctor assured me that it would be fine (fetuses live in an oxygen-less environment in the beginning anyhow), so I did it.

It was physically more demanding than I had thought it would be and I was absolutely worn out after, but I don’t regret it for a second. It gave Jordan and I some time to disconnect, to reflect on the change that was to come in our lives. We were able to nurture the really beautiful, tender bond between us that, trust me, as a couple you really need to fall back on in those first sleepless months after the baby comes.

I also can’t wait to tell Trey about all the places he had already been before he was even born! By chance, I had just started collecting sand from each place in glass bottles on the trip to Chile, and so now those can be his.

However, back at the office after the Peru trip, I pretty much freaked out. The due date became a looming deadline. I had a website to design and a million projects to delegate and get off my plate in an effort to carve out a maternity leave for myself. We managed for the most part, although I was still doing some weekly accounting right after he was born. I was really envious of my friends that worked for corporations and got a clear cut paid maternity leave. When he was three months old though, I thought of them having to return to work all day, five days a week, whereas I was able to be more flexible at that point and gradually increase my hours as they worked with Trey’s schedule. I felt very grateful for our situation then.

Q: How did you prepare for your delivery? Take us through the day (or night!), and be sure to include your best and not-so-best moments!

A: I was more or less a possessed nester. My background is in art and design so, naturally, I thought decorating our house was an utmost priority. We painted eight rooms in our house before Jordan refused to do one more. So I wallpapered the nursery.

I organized every closet and every cupboard. It was cathartic and made me feel prepared, but truthfully I was really scared for delivery. My mom had broken her back and pelvis in a ski accident, and my sisters and I had been c-sections so she couldn’t really ease my fears. And my aunts comforting words were basically “Don’t worry about it – it’s so painful you’ll forget.” Which, in hindsight, is true but not really what you want to hear!

My water broke movie-style early on a cold December morning. Jordan was already at the office and so I called him, but he didn’t answer. I had to text him then that my water broke because I wanted to call the hospital right away. Of course then when he called back I was on the other line and so he raced home, dropping his phone in a snow bank and breaking it!

We spent the rest of the day at the hospital waiting for labor to start, but my contractions wouldn’t come. Finally they induced me at 7pm and it went from zero to sixty like that! I labored for five hours before requesting…no…demanding an epidural. After that, I honestly took a nap before I was dilated enough to push.

After four hours of pushing, our precious baby boy came into the world at 6:34am on December 10th. It was a precious, precious moment.

Q: You and your husband are successful business partners in high-actions, high-stress situations. Was that a good training ground for becoming parents?

A: Yes and no. A baby is so much different than a business. You can’t approach constipation issues like you would finding a good web programmer. But I think we had already developed a great admiration for each other’s endurance and strength and a real teamwork mentality, which helped.

Q: How has your baby merged into your life?

A: Trey, in a way, has helped us a bit with our work life balance. We had a real problem letting Knowmad seep into every aspect of our lives. I actually had to make a rule once – no business in bed – so we wouldn’t talk about it until the wee hours of the night. I really wanted to be present for Trey when I was with him, every moment of everyday. So now there is no (ok, minimal) checking email at home, and we try to leave Knowmad at the office as much as possible.

The adjustment for me of being so homebound has been hard, though. Minnesota just survived the worst winter in over 30 years with over 55 days below zero. There were literally weeks where it just wasn’t worth it to spend the half hour it took to preheat the car, get all packed up and bundled for an excursion even to a coffee shop.

Nor had I spend so many consecutive months Stateside in a long time. I’m nursing and pumping wasn’t really working for me enough to leave Trey. Besides, my priorities had really shifted and I really just didn’t want to leave him anyway. So Jordan has done all the traveling for Knowmad this year, and I played single mom in the meantime. Single moms out there – you absolutely rock this world. It is tough.

Luckily, we’ve had so much help and support from family and friends. Countless meals were dropped off, grocery runs made, the dishwasher emptied, diapers changed, sidewalks shoveled…the list goes on and on. It really does take a village and we are so thankful.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I feel like a mom when I…

A: I feel like a mom when I realize I haven’t worn high heels in over a year!


Tara, thank you so much for your story. Your experience is so unique, and I know you’ve inspired readers out there worried about balancing their old, adventure-laden life with a bit differently paced trip that includes a baby.

I read your blog post on motherhood, Tara, and I especially love this: “Admittedly, the days of traveling to foreign, Latin American lands seem so far, far away. But even though every day brings new challenges, I literally wouldn’t trade motherhood for the world. Every morning that our baby boy wakes us with his perfect smiles and delighted coos I’m reminded that this is the trip of a lifetime.”

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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Your First Grownup Apartment Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

Target Products Fall 2014

By Gabrielle. // This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Room Essentials to make modern life easier.

I’m betting the reason I first fell in love with Target so many years ago is the same reason you did: they made excellent design available on a large scale, at prices that are accessible to everyone.

Over the last year, Target revamped and relaunched their Room Essentials line. If you’ve been in-store lately, I’ll bet you’ve seen it — I couldn’t help but snap an instagram months ago when I was walking down an aisle on a late night Target run and the RE display caught my eye. So when they recently reached out to work with me, I was already a fan of the renewed line.

I have several nieces and nephews heading out on their own — some are moving in to their first post-college apartment, others are newlyweds — and I thought it would be fun pick out some of my favorite items from the Room Essentials line and imagine how I would set up my first grown-up home if I were doing it today. Take a peek:

1) Microfiber Sheet Set. Super soft, easy care, sophisticated colors — and a total bargain.

2) Citron Dot Sham. So cheerful and sunny! A pop of color for the bed.

3) Shadowbox Mirror. I love this piece! The depth of the frame makes it a convenient spot to leave your favorite earrings or lipstick — even your keys. Put it in a bedroom — or by the front door for a quick glimpse as you leave the house.

4) Tripod Table Lamp. Such a good-looking lamp. It would work on a side table next to your sofa, or on the nightstand as well.

5) Cube Organizer. One of those pieces that will be useful in any space for many years. It works as pantry storage in the kitchen, bookshelves in the living room, or clothes storage in the bedroom.

6) Grey Ottoman. Another flexible piece I adore! A footstool or extra seating. And so handsome in grey.

7) Plaid Comforter. I’m always a fan of a good gender neutral comforter. This one in navy plaid is great looking, reserves to grey for a fresh look, and is totally affordable.

8) Modern Clock. I’m picturing this cheerful clock in the kitchen. Or maybe by the front door. It would make me smile every time I came home.

Geez, thinking about first apartments is making me nostalgic. I consider my first grown-up apartment to be the hosue that Ben Blair and I first rented after we got married. We had a blue velvet sofa that was a hand me down from his parents. I adored that sofa!

Tell me, friends. Have you noticed the Room Essentials line? Or tried any products from the line? Do you remember the pre-Target days, where it felt like hunting down good design was way too hard and way too expensive? And lastly, what do you remember about your first grown-up apartment?

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Living With Kids: Kat Hertzler Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I definitely wouldn’t look at Kat‘s home and think to myself “I’ll bet they did all this debt-free!” No, that would not be my first, second, or even tenth thought. Because there’s so much else to think about in this tour! Like the rustic kitchen island or that gorgeous countertop, the ceiling in the nursery and that insanely lush carpet, the leather couch that looks like it was plucked from a London pub…I could go on. Wait! One more: her master bedroom and bath was once a two-car garage.

But back to the debt-free part. Yes, the renovations and decorating took far longer than if they had sped along their wish list and borrowed the funds and bought new. But where would the fun be in that? Friends, I hope you’re inspired by Kat today. (I know I’m off to check Craigslist!)

Q: Tell us about this family of BOYS!

A: It’s true…we have three little guys who are our world: Ryder (6), Bryce (4), and Finn (18 months). Plus there’s Mitch, my better half, whom I met in high school. We went to college together too, but were just buds then. We didn’t start dating until after we graduated. We’ve been married almost nine years! And I’m Kat, the momma of this all-boy household.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Lancaster County, PA, in a little white rancher. From the first time we saw our no-frills little box of a house, we knew it had potential. Mitch bought the house before we were engaged, but I put my touch on it right away by picking out crazy paint colors and going to town. We literally had a yellow kitchen, red living room, bright green bathroom and a purple spare bedroom; I cringe when I think about it.

Right from the get-go we ripped up carpet, painted, scraped off wallpaper border, and did pretty much whatever we needed to make this house more us. We weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to our little two bedroom rancher.

As time went on and babies started making their appearances, we knew we had to do something…we were quickly running out of room. Our bathroom, which didn’t even have a bathtub in it, wasn’t going to cut it for much longer.

The first thing we did to make our house larger was to finish our basement. It’s so nice to have another space in which to relax, watch movies, play together, or simply send the boys to get out of my hair for a bit. Then about three years ago, we decided to make our house even larger by converting our attached two-car garage into a master bedroom/bathroom, mud/laundry room, and dining area. We did this by tearing down a wall that separated the two spaces and opening our kitchen up to that space.

At that time, we decided to redo our kitchen – since everything else was a mess, why not? And now we have a three bedroom/two bath house with a lot more living space. Every room in our little house has undergone a transformation (some more than one), and we’re really proud of all the work and character that went into those remodels.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Both Mitch and I have very fond memories of our childhood towns in which we grew up, hence the name of our blog, Maple Leaves & Sycamore Trees: Maple Leaves because Mitch grew up in Alberta, Canada, and Sycamore Trees after the street on which I grew up in a small town in South Jersey. I always pictured raising a family in a small town, but alas, we’re in the country and are loving raising our boys here.

We have so many different farms that we frequent. We buy our milk from a farm that is literally right down the road. There’s a cheese farm where our favorite cheese is made. I even have an “upholstery farm” where I’m currently getting two chairs reupholstered. I can’t forget about the “paint farm” where I recently bought two gallons of paint to redo our family room. Even our kitchen cabinets were made by a local farmer. These farms are literally just that – farms that have side businesses. And the farmers are local Mennonites that do great work and are really affordable.

Lancaster County is the home of the roadside stand, where you can find local in-season produce, local honey, fresh-cut flowers, and even baked goods (shoe-fly pie, anybody?). I’m so thankful that I can feed my family fresh, local homegrown food. There’s also a lot of discount grocery stores here where I can get good organic foods at a serious discount. I just bought organic grass-fed chicken for 99 cents a pound!

Plus, it’s just beautiful here. A country sunset is hard to beat. We have horses and buggies that go past our house every day. The view out our master bedroom is just stunning.

Q: Your home underwent serious renovations. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?

A: Probably the hardest part of our renovation when we converted our garage into living space was the amount of time it took us to complete it. Because we did all the work ourselves with help from friends, we had to rely on evenings and weekends to chip away at it. It wasn’t an easy task, especially with two little boys at the time vying for our attention as well. We would let Ryder and Bryce “help” when they wanted to, and would have several breaks that we took from it to focus on family.

Obviously the funnest part was when everything was done. It’s so fulfilling looking around a room knowing that you did the work and that it actually looks good! The toilet actually flushes, the pipes aren’t leaking, and the lights go on when you flick the switch. Mitch learned a lot through the whole process. Prior to the remodel, he really didn’t know the first thing about electric, pluming, etc., but now he can lay pipes, wire lighting, and tile like nobody’s business. If he didn’t know how to do a particular thing, he’d ask a friend to show him or he would look it up on YouTube. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching videos!

Q: What was the one design element at you wanted to be sure your family home included after the renovations, as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: Well, the biggest thing we wanted to include was a bathtub. It’s not all that practical to bathe a kid in the kitchen sink – after a while it kinda gets tight in there! – or in the shower. So we definitely wanted a nice big tub for not only the kids, but for Momma too! That was one of the first purchases we made; we found a garden tub on Craigslist and snatched it up.

Q: You mentioned that most of the renovations in your home were completed debt-free. Tell us your secrets to staying within a budget.

A: I mentioned that we found our bathtub on Craigslist. That’s pretty much where we would turn to when we needed something. We found our toilet (yes, our toilet), bathroom vanity, kitchen island, and a ton of smaller things like the Moravian star pendant light that’s over our tub on Craigslist.

We even found things on Craigslist that we didn’t necessarily need. For example, one day I was checking out the free section and noticed that someone was tearing down a barn and all the wood was being given away. “Just come and take what you want,” the ad said. So Mitch and a couple of his buddies went and filled a truck bed with barn wood that we then used on the ceiling of our stairwell.

At the same time, Mitch discovered a huge piece of slate in the barn. He told his buddies, “I gotta get this for my wife…she’d LOVE it!” So they hauled the slate onto the truck bed as well and later Mitch made a frame for it and it’s now on our dining room wall. The boys enjoy doodling and I love being able to write Bible verses on it. And you can’t beat free, right?

Craig is definitely our buddy and the first “person” we turned to when we needed something for our house. I’m also a big thrifter, so I found a lot of little things at thrift/antique stores in the area. I also hit up some outlets I found the chrome etagere that’s in our bathroom at the Restoration Hardware Outlet for $20.

People are always asking me, “How do you find these things?” I don’t know…I guess I’m at the right place at the right time? I thrift consistently – less these days since we don’t really need anything – so that helps to find some good stuff and I’m not afraid to take a chance on something. Things that people might totally pass over because it’s ugly, I’m more apt to see the potential in and buy and transform it. I did that to a funny-looking console table that I found at Goodwill. We chopped off part of the legs and upholstered it and turned it into the perfect-sized ottoman for our living room. So one little tip I like to give people – look for the potential in something that has otherwise seen better days.

Q: With three boys, do you find yourself gravitating toward more rugged, durable furnishings?

A: I’ve always loved a more masculine-looking room…there’s just something so not-fussy about that look. So we have a lot of antlers in our rooms as well as durable surfaces. I just had couch cushions recovered in kid-friendly outdoor fabric. Also, when Mitch made the top to our dining room table, he made it out of old barn wood that had lots of character in it so that the boys couldn’t really destroy it.

While planning out our master bedroom space, I definitely wanted it to be a mix of both his and hers. And I think I achieved that look. There are botanical prints on one wall and an Audubon bird print (which reads masculine to me) on another. Our wardrobes are a charcoal color but there are feminine touches in accessories like antique lamps, pillows, etc. It’s been fun collecting items over the years that I know will fit in with our style. Thankfully this momma doesn’t love pink, but I guess I get my feminine fix with flowers – I love having fresh-cut flowers on our table.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: We have special nights where we camp in. This usually includes a movie, indoor s’mores, some singing around the campfire, and a sleepover in Mommy and Daddy’s room. We have an electric fireplace on our bedroom wall that we all snuggle around, lay out the blankets and pile on the pillows. I know that’s something the boys really enjoy and it’s something that we’ll look back at and reminisce about, I’m sure.

One thing that kind of surprised me about being a mom is that sometimes I can be really short with my boys. I’ve always loved being around little kids – I used to be a teacher and I loved my little fourth graders – but being a stay-at-home mom definitely has its challenges. There’s no break. I know that sounds like a “duh” statement, but parenting is a full-time job. On days that I just want the boys to play together nicely, they fight. Imagine that. Then I get frustrated. Being a parent isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes you gotta lay down the law and that’s not an easy task, especially when you’re sick of telling them for the 27th time that day, ”Don’t hit your brother!” This too shall pass, I’ve been told.

I try to savor each stage of my boys’ childhood. Some stages are easier to enjoy than others (um…hello, terrible twos!) but I know their childhood is so short and before you know it they’ll be all grown up. So the more time we can spend together as a family, the better in my opinion.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: It’s funny because we were just talking about that the other day. I was dreaming out loud about our forever home and both Ryder and Bryce said, “But I want to stay here. This is our home.” They love their little house, and I think that’s because Mitch and I (and them!) have put so much into it. Whenever we pull out of our driveway we all say, “Good bye, house!” so there’s already that attachment to this place that warms my heart. Playing in the yard, having a camp-out in the playhouse, breakfast on Saturdays together as a family – all these things! Family times are what I’m hoping they remember from their childhood home.

Great, now you’ve got me thinking I never want to leave!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: You can’t do it all. I think a lot of moms these days have so much pressure put on them to be Super Mom. Doesn’t take but two minutes perusing Pinterest that you soon see your inadequacies and start to feel insecure, telling yourself that you don’t measure up to the mom who apparently has it all together. Whether it be a squeaky-clean house, or having a hot meal on the table every evening, blogging, to staying in shape – I’ve realized that I can’t do it all without help.

I’m trying to focus my attention on what really matters: my family. Because at the end of the day, loving relationships are what count the most – not that we were able to juggle it all. I’m trying to live a less busy life and really enjoy the times we’re all together.

That being said, I need breaks too. Mitch and I really enjoy our time together going out on dates. We need that. I think every mom needs that. That time apart from my kids recharges those parental batteries and makes me refreshed and ready to go another round because, you know, this raising kids thing isn’t for the faint of heart. But I love it, am so thankful for my family, and wouldn’t change it for the world.


Yes, yes, yes to dates! Thank you, Kat, for the lovely reminder. I’m so proud of you for completing so much of your home (and so well, I might add!) on a budget. It’s inspiring.

Friends, could you ever tackle a renovation project like Kat and Mitch took on, or would it be worth a little debt to have it done by someone else on a much faster timeline? (I think I’m good with making tables and installing concrete floors and whitewashing bricks, but turning a garage into these lovely spaces? Not too sure!)

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! 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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The Treehouse: Front Porch Makeover Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:56:41 +0000 Design Mom

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.  |  This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to refresh your own front door, so your home can make a welcoming first impression.


I love a good front porch makeover! It’s one of those projects where small changes can make a big impact, and make any house look like it’s loved and up-to-date.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Way back in the day (2007), when we lived in a rental house in New York, I did my first porch makeover. It made such a difference. Instead of being bummed out as I drove up to the house, I grinned! I’ve been a big believer in making your front door a happy place ever since.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

In this particular instance, we replaced the front door, which can be expensive. But if you can keep your current door, a Front Porch Makeover can actually be a bargain project and can be tackled over a weekend.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

If you’re thinking about your own Front Porch Makeover, the key elements are:

1) A fresh coat of paint on the door. A fun new color is ideal! You’ll only need a quart of paint, so this isn’t a big expense.

2) A new light fixture. There are great looking options in every price range. My first porch makeover included a light that was $30.

3) Fresh pots and plants. If you’re willing to DIY, you can create something awesome for a bargain.

4) Updated house numbers. There’s something about shiny, new house numbers that communicate this house is loved and cared for.

5) An extra detail with a pop of color. It could be a red mailbox, or a blue chair, or a yellow bird feeder. Something pretty that brings an out-of-the-ordinary feel to your entry.

I’m telling you, for less than $150, you can give your house a facelift that will make a huge difference in how your feel about your residence.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

I’d love to tell you all about the decisions I made on our front porch — the door, the light, the chair. All of it. It was such a fun project!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

First, let’s talk about the door. You may remember, that we bought this home without seeing it in person. In fact, the first time I saw this house in real life was the night we arrived from France and moved in. I had seen it in photos, and I loved the house even more in real life, but my first thought as we walked through the door: This door doesn’t make sense with this house, we’ll need to replace it, hopefully soon.

So basically, updating the front door was the very first thing I wanted to do when we moved in. And it took us a full year to get around to it!

I wanted something that looked simple, clean and modern and fit with the architecture of the home. I did a bunch of research and found a company that made true mid-century modern doors, but the doors were crazy expensive! Way out of our budget. So I kept hunting. Eventually, I happened upon a line of doors called Pulse by Therma-Tru. Clean lines, and simple designs at realistic prices. We special ordered ours from the Lowe’s door department and it arrived about 3 weeks later.

I stood outside with my laptop and looked at the door options on the Therma-Tru website, then looked up at the real porch and figured out what I liked best. I knew we wanted to keep the left sidelight, and I knew the handleset should be on the right, and knowing those two things helped me narrow the options down.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

After the door was chosen, I picked out a modern handleset, called Seattle by Baldwin. Again, this was a special order from Lowe’s. I researched online, found the handleset I wanted, then went in store to order the exact thing. It was helpful to order in store, because there were a bunch of construction questions that affected the order that I didn’t know how to answer — I’m afraid if I had tried to order something online, I would have chosen the wrong type.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The  door arrived unpainted and I spent a good chunk of time thinking about color. When I think about the future of this house, I picture the exterior in a charcoal gray with a shiny red or yellow door. But it may be awhile till we paint the exterior. It’s a big commitment. So for now, I needed to work with the colors that are currently on the house — a red-brown and a dark grey-brown. I ended up choosing Valspar Storm Grey. And I love it!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Next, I updated the light fixture. A shiny new light fixture makes a huge difference. Our old one looked rusty and cobwebby even when it wasn’t. I chose a new one from a company called Kichler. It’s so handsome! I love the straight lines.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Then, it was time for smaller details — house numbers, and a sleek, simple doorbell.

We hired out the door installation, but the smaller projects — the new light and doorbell and house numbers — we could install ourselves.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Once the more permanent details were in place, I turned my attention to seating. I really wanted a chair from the old school Homecrest line. They are vintage metal outdoor furniture in several shapes, and they look amazing with mid-century architecture. I stalked Craig’s List every day till I found just the right one.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Eventually, a set showed up in Santa Cruz — about an hour and a half away. The set included a highback chair (pictured here), and two smaller chairs with a table. (I’m saving the two chairs + table for another spot.) The highback chair had some rust damage, so we restored it. It wasn’t hard to do, it just took some time and muscle — I’ll create a restoration how-to tutorial for a future post. But the chair looks like new now!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The next project was making concrete planters. A super fun, easy project. Really inexpensive and really satisfying. I’m planning to include the DIY in my book. Very excited about it!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

I feel like I’ve bought a million succulents for the house at this point, but they do so well in Oakland’s climate. I can’t help myself! I found these beauties in Lowe’s garden department.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The last details I picked up were the wooden doormat, plus a pillow and citronella candles I found at Marshall’s.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Oh man. The makeover has added such happiness to the entry! I love walking up to the front porch, and I love sitting in the chair and watching the birds. I knew the makeover would make a big difference, but I think it surprised me how BIG the difference actually is.

Have you ever taken on a Front Porch Makeover? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. — Find more posts about The Treehouse. Also, here are a few “before” photos so you can see the difference:

"Before" photo of a Front Porch Makeover"Before" & "After" - Front Porch Makeover on Design MomFront Porch Makeover Before+After

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A Few Things Sun, 20 Jul 2014 22:30:50 +0000 Design Mom

Blairs at Yosemite

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How has your weekend been going? I’m here with a Sunday edition of my weekend link list. The fact that I’m posting this two days late will give you some sense of how behind I’m feeling on work at the moment. Hah!

We’re off to St. George next, but while we get packed up and back on the road here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- When to use tu or vous in French? A helpful flowchart. Thanks, Allysha.

- Haunting photos. Living below the poverty line in Troy, New York.

- For those of you who found Overdrive lacking, I just heard about Kindle Unlimited — all the ebooks and audiobooks you want for $9.99 per month.

- Would you ever try a babywearing ballet class?

- A letter from John Cleese.

- A modern treehouse.

- Woah. It can happen to anyone. Can’t stop thinking about this video.

- I don’t know why this is so funny to me, but it is!

- I don’t care if you like it. (Be aware: the article has some cussing.)

- 5 ways to raise kind children.

I hope your weekend was the much needed break you deserve! I’ll meet you back here this week. I’ve missed you like crazy.


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Epic Roadtrip Stop #2: Las Vegas Sun, 20 Jul 2014 22:03:34 +0000 Design Mom

Las Vegas Boulevard

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #1: Yosemite Thu, 17 Jul 2014 04:00:15 +0000 Design Mom

Yosemite Summer Sunset

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living With Kids: Leah Stapleton Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Leah first sent me photos of her home, she almost didn’t include any photos of her kitchen. It’s a huge work in progress, you see, and still reflects the 90s almond craze in appliances! But she figured there are others living with some big sections of their homes far from magazine worthy and not exactly the way they want them to look, so she submitted it all. Somewhere along the way, she found a lesson in that room’s cramped configuration and dated colors, armed only with a positive attitude and some chalkboard paint!

It’s life, isn’t it?

I’m so proud to share Leah with you, and I just know you’ll find some inspiration in her home and words. Welcome, Leah!

Q: Tell us about this family of yours!

A: Our family is a happy little family that I wake up every day thankful to be a part of! My husband and I have been married for nearly seven years, and we have two little girls: Ida (two and a half years) and Amy (seven months). Andy is a high school teacher and soccer coach at a classical Christian school, while I get to stay home with the girls and help them grow up.

Ida is an observant, thoughtful, and high-spirited girl who loves books more than anything. At the moment she is busily paging through a Latin and English dictionary that caught her eye on the bookshelf. Amy is our beacon of joy; she is always scanning the room just waiting for someone to catch her eye so she can smile at them. She throws herself wholeheartedly into every moment, like when she grabs my cheeks and bites my nose just to say “I love you.”

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We moved to the northern suburbs of Cincinnati from Philadelphia four years ago. I loved Philly itself, but found life there to be lonely, temporary, and harried, and we were ready to start a family. We had some trouble finding the right home and had what we thought was our dream home slip through our fingers. One day, we were driving around some neighborhoods in our favorite part of town and stumbled across a cul-de-sac street of red brick, three-level townhouses surrounded by tree lines. And one was for sale!

A day or two later, I walked into an empty house, all old oak, seashell sinks, almond and black appliances, and painted for sale in a flat beige/green/gray horrible paint. There was little natural light and no yard. And I fell in love. It felt like home, so we immediately put in an offer and it became home. I still catch my breath a bit when I turn onto our street, so thankful to live here.

We’ve loved townhouse life and plan on making this house work for us for years to come. We’ve been able to overcome some of the superficial downsides to our home. For example, while we’d like to have a yard someday, the deck has been a great space for us to enjoy and the lack of a yard pushes us to frequently explore nearby nature walks and the neighborhood parks.

As for the gloomy interior of the townhouse, I just decided to embrace it. I went with deep colors on the walls on the main living level and bright colors for the decor in order to make the space homey and warm. I do love airy, bright homes, but I also love where I live and wanted to create an aesthetic that maximizes its potential.

The deeper tones also complement the antiques we’ve inherited through the years. The dining table, antique and vintage chairs, stools, bookshelves, and other items from family members’ homes came with their own vibrant shades, and rather than go to the expense of reupholstering everything (I did repaint a few things), we’ve just enjoyed the unusual colors and patterns. We love having those memories mixed in with all of our new ones.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family. Our suburb is actually an old place with a cute little historic downtown, surrounded by a well-planned, community-centered residential area. So much thought went into designing it, with bike and walking paths everywhere, great parks, attractive public landscaping, and a wonderful community center. So, of course, it is filled with families. And there are big city amenities just a short drive away – Ida’s favorite is the zoo!

Q: You mentioned your kitchen is not your happy place right now. How does it affect your daily mood to have an unfinished room in your home? Especially one where you spend the most time?

A: Our kitchen, in addition to being out-dated, is not well laid out. There’s a lot of empty, unusable space and it feels cut off from the rest of the open living area. I’ve tried a lot of different configurations for the space and none has been particularly functional, so I’ve come to realize that without a full scale renovation and floor plan makeover that probably would include taking down a wall, it’s going to remain isolated and inefficient.

When we moved in, we painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the hardware. However, due to having two babies and a limited budget, any serious renovations of the kitchen are not possible anytime soon. It has been a good exercise for me in contentment and learning about what really matters. We have people into our home a lot, and happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.

Our kitchen is the sunniest room in the house so we chase the light in there. Sometimes I turn around from the sink and Ida is at her desk coloring, Andy has spread a blanket on the floor to play with Amy, and there’s absolutely no way for me to get to the pantry to grab the pasta for dinner but I still can’t help but smile because almond counters or no almond counters, my family is together in the sunshine.

Q: What are your plans for that space? Are there any little, affordable ways you make it more stylish?

A: As the girls get older and more independent, I would like to refinish the existing countertops, floors, and cabinets (again) myself, as well as tile a backsplash, replace the appliances, and find a way to put a banquette into the empty wall.

In the meantime, we’ve focused on simple updates. I painted the almond fridge with chalkboard paint, and its smudged, messy exterior fits in well with the worn rest of the kitchen. We added the inexpensive kitchen island to create more prep and storage space. The stools were from my parents‘ first apartment, and I refinished them in a bright yellow DIY chalk paint. I also went a little crazy adding inexpensive or homemade colorful decorative touches. Color makes me happy, and helps the kitchen feel loved, worn, and lived-in…and not neglected.

Q: When does your home work best? What time of day is most enjoyable with you and your family?

A: Our home works best when it’s filled with people, for meals or overnights. We’ve done our best to make it family-friendly and comfortable. But when it’s just us, we really love the hour between dinner and bedtime. Daddy and Ida turn the living room into a big gymnastics space while Amy cheers them on from her exer-saucer (from a safe distance, of course) and I can be in and out of the fun while cleaning up the table. That’s when it’s great to have a sturdy, durable couch and a padded ottoman!

Q: What are your goals as a mother, day to day? How do you make sure your home support these goals?

A: My biggest goal as a mother is to help my girls grow in grace. I want to nourish their mental, physical, and most importantly their spiritual development. Thus, a favorite decorating theme in our house is trees, to reference the Psalms where it says “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

With such tiny girls, home is the place right now where they do every bit of their growing and learning. So we keep books of all reading levels everywhere, including touch-and-feel books for little Amy to explore and chew on and chapter books for Ida to page through. We also try to encourage independent and imaginative play, so we keep careful limits on how many toys are available at one time and try to fill our home with toys that require creativity, like blocks and puppets.

I love to hear Ida’s chatter as she plays or reads on her own – it really gives me a window into her little mind and heart.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: I love seeing how different they are, even at such young ages, and imagining how these little personality traits will grow into confident ladies. I love their wonder at everything in the world, and complete lack of shame at whole-heartedly enjoying what they love. I wish I could be like that.

But I do already miss the sleepy newborn days, where they fit perfectly into your shoulder and need only you. They don’t need me so much anymore, less and less everyday. And it’s bittersweet.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember having time to just be. Long mornings with nowhere to be and no plans. Long walks with nowhere to go, and long drives with smoothies just to see the green countryside. Being able to take their time and explore, with Mommy always there to help and encourage.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: Well, people told me this, but I wish that I had accepted it earlier. I wish that I had accepted that it is okay to need, as a mom. I went into motherhood thinking that my husband and I needed to do it all, and be everything for our kids and home.

The hardest lesson for me has been learning that it is okay for me to need – to need help, to need friends, to need support, to need prayer, to need a couple of hours away from the house. And that acknowledging that need and letting others fill it helps me to be a better mommy and a better wife, too.


Thank you, Leah. These words should be on a poster hung in every old kitchen: “Happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.” Such a great reminder.

Friends, she’s right, isn’t she? We all have one or two areas in our home that prompt a cringe every time we pass through it! Until free time and budgets and all the stars in the sky align for the perfectly painless remodel, how are you feeling love for those spaces?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! 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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Nesting Tue, 15 Jul 2014 05:30:41 +0000 Design Mom

Family Room Bare Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

What a day! I don’t think I sat still for more than a few minutes today. I’m looking at the clock (11:20 PM) and laughing that it could be this late.

We leave on our epic 3-week road trip on Wednesday morning, and I feel like I’m somehow nesting before the big event. Today was filled with big projects like clearing out the garage, little things like putting house plants outside (we have someone who will be coming by to water plants and collect mail and check on the house in our absence), and lots of laundry. Then this evening, when I was supposed to start packing, I rallied all the kids and we cleared out the family room furniture and pulled up the carpet! Hah!

The carpet was already badly worn and stained when we bought the house and I’ve wanted to pull it up all year (can you believe this week marks one whole year in California?), so I’m happy as a clam that it’s gone! But it’s such a random thing to do before a big trip. I hope it means we’ll get home from the trip and get right to work on the new flooring. I’m really excited to put the family room together — that space has felt halfway finished since we moved in.

I’ve been thinking back to past family trips to see if I have a habit of nesting before I travel, or if this is really just me procrastinating the packing. How about you? Have you ever surprised yourself before a trip by taking on a new project? Or maybe you have another pre-trip habit you’ve noticed? I’d love to hear!

The Genet Scar by fashionABLE. A collaboration between Alt Summit and

Shifting gears: Totally unrelated to the trip, but I wanted to make sure you heard about the new scarf design contest Alt Summit is hosting with fashionABLE. The open call for designs was announced today. And the prize is big — worth over $1000! The winner will receive a pass to the Alt Summit conference of their choice, plus a $500 gift certificate to fashionABLE. Nice. The last time we ran this contest, the winning scarf was the Genet. It’s my favorite. I truly never travel without it! Entries are due on July 24th, which is coming up fast. That’s why I wanted to mention it right away — I want you to have plenty of time to submit a design. Find contest details here.

Well. That was a random post for a random Monday. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start! Wish me luck on the packing. : )

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A Few Things Fri, 11 Jul 2014 18:30:33 +0000 Design Mom

Studio Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! I hope it was a good week for you. We have some fun stuff going on at our house. 1) Ralph, Maude and our French exchange student, Charles, are all on a Pioneer Trek this weekend. 2) On Saturday, we’re adding another exchange student to the mix — one of Ralph’s friends from England, Chris, will be joining us for several weeks. Yay!

3) We’re prepping for an epic roadtrip. All 10 of us (8 Blairs + 2 exchange students) will be driving around the Western U.S., visiting National Parks and other sites for almost 3 weeks. We leave next Wednesday!  4) We installed flooring in the studio/home office this week. The floor looks great (see above) and we need to move everything back in today. 5) Yesterday, we had a new front door installed. Hooray! I’ll share photos as soon as I paint it up and add some details to the porch. 6) I’ve been shooting the cover of my book this week. It feels like progress. And also makes me nervous. I want the book to be so good.

And 7), tonight we’re hoping to meet up with friends at Point Reyes. I’ve never been, but the photos look amazing. I love how this summer is turning out! How about you? Anything fun going on at your house?

While I go work on putting the studio back together, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- ONE just launched their Girls & Women Initiative! Meet Phiona Mutesi, their first guest curator.

- Penny In Your Pants.

- Related, something called Bicycle Face was once a medical condition. Hah!

- What happens when LeVar Burton gets pulled over.

- The New Yorker’s hilarious take on Eloise, at 46Thanks, Dani.

Mater Mea — a bimonthly online magazine that celebrates the lives of women of color as they balance work and motherhood.

Taryn Brumfitt’s story has me thinking.

- Free paper crafting class for Bay Area readers — or you can access it online from anywhere!

- Is parenting in crisis?

- This story is great: The letter that kicked of a radio career. (Proof that there’s never any harm in asking. The worst that can happen is someone says no.)

- Everything you need to know to host an Outdoor Movie Party.

- The music is the best part!

I hope it’s a wonderful weekend for you and yours. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — You can follow along to all of our summer activities, like Pioneer treks and new front doors, on Instagram.

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