Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 09 Feb 2016 18:17:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DIY: Chocolate Alphabet Wraps — Plus a Free Printable! Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:45:04 +0000 Amy Christie

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Oh my goodness you guys. This is the cutest little project! I’m basically in love with it. And even if you are not crafty, this is doable, I promise. Can you print things out? Can you buy chocolate? Do you have scissors and tape? Then you can make these! You’ll love writing sweet messages with them, and so will your kids.

As you can guess with the timing of this post, these wraps were originally brainstormed as a Valentine’s Day project. But once the chocolates starting getting wrapped, it became clear that these wraps would be adorable any time of year! Write messages for Mother’s Day, for birthdays, for book club, for a baby shower. Wrap up initials as place markers at a dinner party. Drop off a sweet chocolate note for a friends who is having a hard day.

You simply can’t go wrong with these happy little wraps!

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Amy Christie led out on this project and here’s what she says:

This project is probably one of my favorites ever. It’s the colors, the cuteness, all the possibilities of messages to write and it’s chocolate!! #winning to the max. And while this week is all about Valentine’s Day, like Gabrielle said, these sweet treats can be used for any occasion throughout the year! New babies, dad’s day, kid’s day, after-surgery day, teacher gifts, a treat for the mail carrier. Even a ho-hum date night. Everyone, EVERYONE, will love this.

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We picked fab colors and all you have to do is print, cut and wrap. If you sneak a few chocolates while you’re working, that’s okay too.

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Brush up on your proofreading skills and let’s get going.

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- chocolate miniatures — the letter wraps are sized to fit just perfectly over Hershey’s miniature chocolates
- printable letter wraps — pink, orange, chartreuse, teal, chartreuse*
- glue dots or double-sided tape or tape
- optional: printable cards for messages


- The letter wraps can be printed at home, of course, however, the color will be probably be better from a copy shop.

- Each color set has 40 pages — all letters, numbers and a few punctuation marks. Printing them all gets a bit spendy. To save time, money and paper, take a few moments to plan out a phrase or two and the colors you’d like and print only those.

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To wrap the chocolates, we found it easiest to center the wrap on the front of the chocolate first.

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Then wrap the flaps around to the backside, gently pressing the paper to form around the bar.

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Add a glue dot (or double-sided tape) to the inner flap.

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Fold the other flap onto the glue dot. If you’re using regular tape, add it here.

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Done and done.

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Wrap up the rest of the phrase and toss in a treat bag for your Valentine. A little love puzzle? Or, if you want to SHOW the message to your loves, use the printable card.

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Using glue dots or double-sided tape or regular tape rolls to hold the chocolates in place.

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See what I mean? They are so dang cute. Definitely irresistible. Thank you, Amy! Okay, Dear Readers, if you make these you know we want to hear about it. Happy chocolate messages to one and all!

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie. Graphic design by Annie Galloway

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Living With Kids: Justina Tey Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and raise kids on the world’s only island city-state? Me, too. And so…welcome to Singapore! Today, we’re visiting the home of Justina and her family who reside in a high-rise apartment — think 40 to 50 stories high! — and homeschool from way up there, too.

Her life, to me, is pretty normal and yet so fascinating at the same time. I want to visit! I want to smell the aromas of Singapore, walk through the streets around her house, look out from her balcony, ride public transportation… Oh, today is one of those days I wish my home tours could be videotaped and watched over and over, like an episode on HGTV!

Please help me welcome Justina and her boys, plus one little girl who is set to make her arrival very, very soon. (UPDATE! She was born yesterday, on Chinese New Year! Congratulations, Teys!)

Hello, I’m Justina, hailing from sunny Singapore! I’m married to John, and we have three little boys: Jude, Jamie, and Josh, who are seven, four, and two. We’re also expecting a little girl, who will be joining the family really soon, probably by the time this tour goes live!

I’m currently a stay home mum. I used to teach Biology and Science in an all-boys secondary school, which I believe is what you would refer to as high school in your part of the world. I’ve always wanted to be an interior designer, ever since I set my eyes on an IKEA catalogue when I was 13, but my parents hoped that I would be able to get a stable job. And so I ended up becoming a teacher instead.

I did love teaching, and I enjoyed my time teaching those classes of rowdy boys! However, the kids came along, and we decided I would stop work to care for them full-time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

The hubby is an anesthetist. He’s from Penang, Malaysia, which is arguably the street food capital of the world — this means he’s quite particular about food! We make regular drives all the way back to his hometown, and each trip usually results in me gaining some weight from all the non-stop eating we do when we are there.

Since he’s quite the foodie, he’s a good cook, too. He used to do most of the cooking before the kids came along, since I was hopeless in the kitchen, but I’ve since learnt to cook from the sheer necessity of having to feed the kids!

Jude is our little bookworm, and spends most of his time with his nose buried in a book. He loves to draw and paint, and is just crazy about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.

Jamie is our spirited kid who can be such a sweetheart. He is fascinated with vehicles and numbers.

Josh is quite the cheeky toddler, who never fails to makes us laugh. He loves to eat, and is always opening the fridge or kitchen cupboards demanding “I hungry, I want bi-kit!”

All in all, our three little boys are so very different, but they complete our family.

We are based in Singapore, where it’s hot, humid, and raining one third of the time! We aren’t too fond of the weather, because everyone’s sticky and sweaty all the time when we are outdoors. However, we spent a year in Germany a few years back, and I’ve learnt that winter with kids isn’t that fun, either. So I’m just glad that we don’t have to pile many layers on squirmy toddlers here, and that we can escape into an air-conditioned mall or eatery when it gets too hot.

Since Singapore is really small, land is scarce and property prices are really high! Most of us stay in HDB (Housing Development Board) flats, which can go up to 40 or 50 stories high.

This kind of high-rise living means everyone is community whether you like it or not: your neighbour might hang her dripping wet laundry over your almost-dry clothes, and we know what our Indian neighbour is having for lunch, because we can get whiffs of the curry cooking in her kitchen.

Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with good neighbours. Sometimes the aunty next door — we call the older ladies Aunties as a sign of respect, and the older men Uncles — brings over green bean soup and other yummies when she cooks them for her family.

Most people love living in Singapore for its cosmopolitan vibe, and its varied and colourful culture. You can get all sorts of yummy food at any time of the day! For us, we are more country folk, so we do find life here a little too hectic and crowded. But the nice thing about Singapore is that there are many green spaces that we can retreat to when the concrete jungle gets to us.

Many find that bringing up children in Singapore is expensive, since the cost of living here is pretty high. The pace of life is pretty fast, as well, and many kids have a packed schedule with school, tuition, enrichment classes, and other activities. I guess we wanted a slower pace of life for our kids, which was why we made the decision to homeschool.

Owning a car here is rather expensive too, so most of us rely on public transport, which runs pretty efficiently. It helps that Singapore is small, so getting anywhere usually does not take more than an hour. We have a car, but my husband primarily uses it.

The kids love taking the bus. While going out with three littles can be challenging, we more or less have gotten the hang of it. I’m not sure how it will be with four, though!

The hubby and I started house-hunting when we were going to get married, and we limited our search to the area near my parents and our workplaces. We looked at a couple of places, had a few debates, and finally settled on our current home. We didn’t choose the place with kids in mind, since we were not thinking that far ahead then.

One of our main criteria was that it needed to be a place we could move in with minimal renovation, since we both had just started working some time back, and didn’t have much money to do much. In Singapore, most people hire contractors or interior designers to do their renovations, since DIY isn’t popular and materials can be hard to find.

We did end up doing some renovations, though, as the kitchen was falling apart. But we decided we could live with the old bathrooms. We hired one of the cheapest contractors we could find, and it was one of my greatest regrets since everything started falling apart with the passing of years!

We ended up renovating the kitchen and the bathrooms after we came back from our one year stint in Germany. I especially love our kitchen now, since it looks so much brighter and cheerier than our earlier kitchen.

We love the area we stay in, because everything is near by: there is a wet market across the road for us to buy fresh produce, the supermarket is a 15-minute walk away, and we have a relatively large green space with playgrounds just downstairs. We would be really sad to bid goodbye to this place because the location is so convenient, but we decided to look for a larger place, since the kids are home more often because of homeschool, and we really needed more space to spread out.

We initially started out filling our home with lots of dark wood furniture before the kids came along. We had a black kitchen countertop and dark cabinets. Looking back, I think it was a little dreary.

Our style slowly evolved with the arrival of the kids, and now I’d say it’s more Scandinavian mixed with touches of vintage. I think having kids makes you want to make your home lighter, brighter, and more colourful?

Because we have to squeeze all five of us in a relatively small space, we try our best to maximize every little bit of space we have. Our entryway houses the kids’ nature corner, with a blackboard wall to doodle on, and we have another blackboard wall that we use for learning and for writing greetings for parties.

The boys all share a bedroom. We did some hacking to some walls in the home to allow for us to have more light, as well as a larger dining area. This way, we could fit a long extendable table in the dining room, so that we can host gatherings or craft sessions.

We find that we have to keep adding storage, so that we can house the crazy amount of children’s books that we have. Kid lit is one of my weaknesses!

Since we have such limited space, we do our learning anywhere. I find that children learn all the time, and we don’t need to sit down with textbooks to make learning happen.

The kids head out some days for co-ops where they get to play with their friends, but on days that we stay home, most of our crafting and seat-work happens at the dining table, as we don’t have the luxury of a school room. As our kids are young, only Jude has an hour or so of lessons, while the younger two sometimes join in and want to do school. Learning these days is still pretty organic, and there’s lots of reading, and exploring at their own pace!

I love crafting, and used to do a fair bit of scrapbooking. These days, I don’t really have the time to scrap, but I enjoy making stuff with the boys. Again, all these things happen at the dining table. I discovered that when you make materials accessible to the kids, creativity naturally happens,. We always have someone doodling or cutting or pasting in some corner of the house. It helps that we ensure all mediums are washable…after one accident of oil pastels on the sofa!

Over the past ten years, we’ve slowly added all sorts of memories to our home: posters picked up from our travels, the kids’ artwork, photos of our family, all sorts of vintage findings, and my enamel plate collection. I love digging around in flea markets, and especially love these enamel plates, since they bring back memories of the time my mum used to serve food in some of these dishes. I love decorating with items that hold a history, where you can tell a story about where you got the item from, or who used to own it, or how so and so painted this when he was five years old.

Sometime ago, I read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying, and her advice to keep only things that spark joy really resonated with me. So I think that’s my philosophy for decorating now, to keep and use only things that I love, not stuff that is trendy or stuff we feel obligated to keep because someone gave it to us. It’s been helping me in my decluttering process, since we are now slowly packing for our move in a few months time!

I started a blog after the oldest came along, in the hope of journalling his growing up years. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so blogging is a way I unwind and unravel all the thoughts swirling around in my brain. Over time, it grew into something bigger since I realized how powerful words posted in cyberspace can be.

I started writing more posts about our own struggles as parents, as well as the crafts and activities we tried as a family. I had readers writing in to share their own problems, sharing how they were encouraged by my blog. From the blog came the FB page, and with it, my Instagram account. I found that Facebook was a great way to quickly share with others links that inspire or encourage us, and Instagram was alternative way of recording memories.

I could never figure out Twitter, though! These days, I’ve been quieter on the blog since life has been so full, but social media has been a way of remaining connected with others.

Blog aside, a friend and I started a little business selling vintage-style home decor items. Both of us love sourcing for such things, so it’s been a fun venture, as we get to buy things we like and see them brighten up the homes of others. I admit, sometimes I feel rather overwhelmed by the needs of the home and family, so having the blog and biz helps to give me a sense that I am not just a diaper-changing, cleaning, and cooking machine.

For me, the evenings just before dinner are the hardest. Everyone is tired, and I am trying to rush to put dinner on the table. Fights seem to be the most frequent then! I am quite the introvert, so after a whole day of breaking up fights, and carrying a sticky toddler, I am usually quite spent.

The hubby usually isn’t home until dinner time or after, but these days my dad comes by in the evenings to bring the kids to the playground, to let me cook dinner in peace. My dad has been such a Godsend! He decided to stop work to help me when he learned of our decision to homeschool.

I used to struggle a lot with having a messy, chaotic home, but I am learning how to look beyond the messes. I love how children fill a home with such joy. The laughter, the bright scribbles of crayons, the pattering of feet. I realize that home would not be the same without them.

I hope that our children will remember our moments spent as a family, of reading together, of crafting, of preparing for birthday parties together, of loving each other even though we sometimes got on each other’s nerves!

I wish someone had told me that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of my family.

It took four pregnancies for me to learn this, that I had to fill my own cup before I could fill the cups of others.

I am quite the Type A person, and I tend to just chug along and focus on getting things done, and suddenly I realize I am neglecting my own needs in the whole busyness of being a mum.

During my third pregnancy, I struggled with a period of antenatal depression. Added to that, I was suffering from really bad backaches from having to carry a toddler while heavily pregnant. I learnt that I cannot neglect self-care, and I’m thankful that I had my faith and a supportive hubby to tide me over that period.

Now, I am a lot more careful to look out for my own needs. I took up prenatal Pilates during my fourth pregnancy, which really helped me to keep most of the aches and pains at bay. I also try to take time to write or read in the early mornings, so that the introvert bit in me has some respite from the daily noise of little people. I’ve been much happier since!


Thank you, Justina, for the tour and your reminder about self-care! No matter how hard we try, it’s sometimes difficult to remember how thirsty we are when we’re so preoccupied filling up everyone else’s cups. It’s true.

I had to laugh and shake my head in wonder when Justina described her neighbors’ laundry dripping down on her own dry clothes, or the odors of a particularly spicy dinner wafting over from the apartment next door. I know a few people who live in neighborhoods and wait to mow their grass on Saturday mornings until they’re sure everyone within a two-street radius is awake! I’m curious how I’d handle such close-quarter intrusions. I hope they’d make me smile and be grateful I lived in such a unique circumstance, you know? I would hope that I would be a wonderful neighbor like Justina’s and bring over food!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Creating a Bathroom Pantry Mon, 08 Feb 2016 17:00:49 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. Photos of me were shot by Maude Blair. This post is brought to you by IKEA.

So I’m totally into this project! I can’t wait to tell you all about it. IKEA issued the Daily Creativity Challenge: Take one area of your home, and organize it or make it more efficient, so that it frees up a few minutes of your day. Then take those minutes and use them to focus on a creative pursuit. Awesome, right?

I love this, because I’m always up for making the house run more smoothly, and because making the most of small chunks of time is something that has been on my mind. I have a lot of very different projects I want to take on this year, and I’ve been thinking about how to divide my day into small segments — each segment dedicated to a different project — in order to move them all forward. So this challenge really came at a perfect time.

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I thought about this challenge for awhile, and decided that at our house, something that could really help free up some brain space, and keep our mornings running smoothly, would be to create a “bathroom pantry” for the kids. If we don’t stay on top of our supplies, it totally causes preventable stress — like having Olive realize mid-shower there’s no more conditioner, or hearing Oscar report that we’re on the last role of TP and wondering if it will last until I can get to the store that evening.

Historically, we’ve been pretty good about staying stocked up on bathroom supplies, but in this house, we don’t have much in the way of cupboard space in the kids’ bathroom, and it’s been more challenging. So I figured we could use some blank wall space to add some shelving and create a bathroom pantry.

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Yes, it’s out in the open, which is tricky, because bathroom supplies aren’t necessarily handsome, but IKEA is actually perfect for that sort of challenge — they’re all about affordable storage solutions! That fantastic red shelf? It’s called VITTSJÖ and it’s $49 bucks! That green rubber laundry basket? It’s called TORKIS and it’s $4.99!

And it turns out there’s actually a big benefit to having everything out in the open: It’s much easier to stay aware of our stockpile. I’ve instructed the older kids to text me whenever they see any bathroom supply hit the 50% mark. Then I just copy the text to my ongoing grocery list and — tada! — we’re doing a much better job of staying on top of our supplies.

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If you’d like to use this idea, here are the products we’ve found most helpful. The VARIERA bins. We used these for the TP, and for general supplies. I like the red and blue interiors combined with the high gloss white — such a fun way to add a color accent. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but they coordinate really well with these GESSAN boxes. Plus I really like the nesting blue PALLRA boxes. These are great for storing things like first aid items and ointments that call for more privacy.

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I’m also in love with the yellow additions — the LANGESUND mirror and the GLOTTEN stool. Adorable, right? Other products pictured: green FRÄJEN towels, white KARDEMUMMA pots, white TOFTBO bathmat.

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Little silver GRUNDTAL knobs to hang the towels, green TOMAT spray bottle (only .99¢!). Everything I used was totally affordable. That’s a nice thing about refreshing a bathroom — you don’t have to spend a ton to make a big impact! Here are the before and after shots:

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Much better use of space!

And now, the best part. What is the creative pursuit I’m working on for this challenge? Textile design! A few months ago I was talking with my sister Rachel when she was in town for a wedding. She’s a quilter and we discussed collaborating on some baby blankets together.

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I would design the fabric, and Rachel would make the blankets. So I’m using my freed up minutes to start working on possible designs!

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Okay. That’s my report. Now it’s your turn. First of all, I’d love to hear how you handle bathroom supplies. Do you stock them deep? Or prefer to keep just one bottle/tube/roll at a time? If you have a good system, please share!

Also, would you like to take the Daily Creative Challenge? Go for it! Take 20 minutes every day for a week (or a month!) doing something creative that is out of your ordinary routine. Ideally, do this in the morning or evening, so you can see how a quick creative exercise affects the start or end of your day — and if you need to, you can free up those minutes with clever IKEA products to get yourself organized. Then snap a photo of your creative pursuit and share it on Instagram using #iamcreative.

I can’t wait to see what you share! It’s always fun to see the cool things you are working on.

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DIY: You Light Up My World Valentines — with Free Printable! Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:43:12 +0000 Amy Christie

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

First of all, are you familiar with fingerlights? Basically, they are a tiny colored light with an on/off switch and an elastic band so you can wear it on your finger. A couple of Octobers ago, a neighbor gave them out to trick-or-treaters and I made a mental note of their awesomeness. I know they are just tiny little lights, but I find them quite irresistible and thought they would make wonderful candy-free valentines!

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design MomYou Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

Happily, fingerlights are easy to find. I ordered these on Amazon, and asked Amy Christie to put together a happy little printable to go with them.

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All you need to do is order finger lights, print out the cards, and pop on a glue dot! Done and done. Let’s get to it!

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine


- finger lights
- printable cards – orange, pink, teal & yellow — print them on white cardstock for best results
- glue dots or double-sided tape

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

Print the cards and cut them out. Then, use glue dots or double-sided tape to attach the finger lights to the cards. (A great job for the kids!)

And that’s it. You can have your kids sign the back if you like, and then they’re ready to pass out to classmates.

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design MomNon-Candy Printable Valentine for School! You Light Up My World | Design MomYou Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

Here’s to a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie.

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A Few Things Fri, 05 Feb 2016 19:38:53 +0000 Design Mom

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? I woke up today with the It’s Friday song going through my head. Hah! It wasn’t a particularly challenging week, but nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that the weekend has arrived! You too?

Compared to last weekend, we barely have anything on our schedule, which is fine by me. I think the biggest thing I’d like to do this weekend is sketch out built in shelf options for the family room and office. How about you? What are your plans? Will you be watching the big game on Sunday? It’s happening just across the Bay!

Also, I really appreciate all the contractor advice from yesterday’s post. After I sign off here, I’m going to make a bunch of phone calls and see if I can figure something out. But before I do that, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Oh wow! This made me catch my breath. Can you imagine the joy in the room?

- Something new. The DuVernay Test is like the Bechdel Test, but for race.

- In Oakland, this big-hearted and super-inspiring man is building tiny houses for the homeless.

- Save this link. A searchable catalog of the best kids’ books from the last 8 years.

- What it was like when women were not allowed to have their own credit cards.

- America’s oldest mall was turned into 48 charming, low-cost, micro apartments. Does your town have an empty mall?

- What Frida Kahlo wore.

- I came across this short history of Japan on Twitter, and now I want to watch one for every country in the world.

- Cool DIY laundry folding tool for kids (or adults!).

- Do our schools lack joy?

- My friend Kristen Howerton, has been the target of white supremacists over the last few weeks. The brutality is hard to comprehend. We like to think this doesn’t happen in our “post racial” society, but that’s not true. She writes about the experience here.

- Related, I’ve been thinking about this article putting forth the idea we need to make publishers more accountable for the comments on their sites. And this is where I also need to say HIGH FIVE to Design Mom Readers, because you manage to have big discussions and share diverse opinions, while also being both civil and responsible. Having to delete a comment is a rare thing for me. Thank you!

- Lastly, turns out trees have social networks too.

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


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Recipe: Schnitzel from a James Beard Winner! Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:40:26 +0000 Design Mom

Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get 2 free meals with your first order!

So cool! Blue Apron has a new Guest Chef Series that I just tried. I think it’s an awesome concept, and I can tell you it tastes awesome in reality. Essentially, Blue Apron partners with a renowned chef who shares a special recipe. Then, customers can order the featured recipe as part of their regular Blue Apron delivery! This makes it possible for home chefs across the country (like me!) to make one-of-a-kind meals.

farm fresh ingredientschopping chivesSchnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Blue Apron has partnered with chefs in California, New York, Dallas, and more, including Chef Melissa Perello and Chef Johnathan Adler. This year, they are working with Markus Glocker, an Austrian-born chef and restaurant owner. He recently won Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation for his restaurant, Batard. Such an honor!

The best part? Last night, I got to make Chef Glocker’s Schnitzel recipe — and so can you! If you want to try the Schnitzel, order within the next week, and it will come with your Blue Apron delivery on February 18th. Plus, the first 100 Design Mom Readers to sign up will get 2 free meals off their first order. Schnitzel for everybody!

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Chef Markus mentions this in the video below, but the schnitzel recipe is a classic Austrian dish that he had all the time growing up. It’s not officially on the menu at Batard, but he started making it for his Austrian friends when they would visit the restaurant and it’s become a crowd favorite. In fact, Pete Wells, the food critic for the New York Times, reviewed Batard, giving it 3 stars (an amazing rating!), and when he visited the restaurant, he specifically requested the schnitzel.

I think we can all consider ourselves lucky, because now we all know that Glocker serves this recipe off the menu, and we can request it if we ever get to dine there. Happily, in the meantime, Blue Apron will deliver it to our doors.

use a pot to flatten chicken when cooking schnitzelMaking Schnitzel: flour then egg then breadcrumbs

If you’d like more from Chef Glocker, I’ve got good news. In addition to creating a video about the recipe, Blue Apron also created two “chef tip” videos that share Glocker’s secret tips to the perfect schnitzel and the perfect potato salad. These are really authentic tips, and I love that they give us a peek into the kitchen of a New York City icon!

peeling fingerling potatoesSchnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

I’ve written about Blue Apron before, so I know most of you are familiar, but just in case it’s new to you, here’s a quick summary: Blue Apron delivers all the farm-fresh ingredients you need, right to your doorstep, in exactly the right proportions, to make chef-designed recipes at home. No trips to the grocery store and no waste from unused ingredients. Everything arrives in a refrigerated box so ingredients stay fresh even if you’re not at home when your package arrives. I find it super convenient, especially on busy weeks.

Potato Salad Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

My conclusion? The schnitzel was delicious and so was the potato salad! Maude and Olive both said it was their favorite Blue Apron recipe so far. If you get a chance to try it, I want to hear what you think! I mentioned it above, but in case you missed it, next week is your big chance to order the schnitzel, and you can find the discount code here.

Now I’m curious. Do you follow any world-renowned chefs? Do you try their recipes? If you had the chance to choose which chef Blue Apron partners with next, who would it be?

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A Collection of Random Thoughts Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:34:37 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I just realized I skipped January’s post, but here’s February’s installment of random thoughts just for you. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments!

1) It seems to be spider season at our house. I have a long-standing deep fear of many types of spiders. In France, some of the spiders were massive, especially in the fall, and I did not deal well with the situation at all. And growing up in St. George, wolf spiders were both gross and terrifying to me (they still are!). But these Oakland spiders don’t really scare me. They’re often tiny, and they’re daddy-long-leg types, so there’s not much mass to them.

The thing that bugs me is the constant battling of cobwebs. I vacuum them all up, and the next day they are back in full force. I’ve heard that wiping down surfaces with lemon juice can keep them away. Apparently, their taste buds are in their feet and they don’t like the taste of lemon. Any one out there tried this? Other tips?

2) Not sure what to do about this, but we’re having a really hard time finding a contractor for our master bedroom remodel. I was not expecting this and and am feeling stuck. I’m wondering what the story is. Last time we hired a contractor, we had 3 bids within a week. This time, it’s hard to get anyone to return a phone call. Maybe there’s some sort of building boom going on that I’m not aware of?

I could have sworn we’d be done by now and we haven’t even started the demolition. Very frustrating! I usually try to hire people on recommendation, but at this point, I feel like I”m going to need to start cold-calling every contractor in the area and see who has time. I’m happy to take any advice! I’m really, really excited to get going on this. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.

3) Our whole house is buzzing with excitement over the launch of Teachur. I’m super proud of Ben Blair and my brother Josh. The kids are proud too — they check in and give me updates on the Kickstarter page throughout the day. Cousins call and cheer Ben on. My siblings share the post and pledge support. The response has been really wonderful and I love any time Ben Blair gets to shine.

I also LOVE the responses you gave on the post I wrote about it. I can’t thank you enough. The feedback and questions are incredibly helpful to Ben and Josh. Feel free to keep them coming. If you’re interested in following the progress of Teachur, a pledge of even $1 is awesome! It helps them gauge interest and makes it easy to update people with Teachur news.

4) Both of my boys are growing their hair out. They’ve worn their hair short for so many years, that I think we’d forgotten how curly it is! They haven’t needed it before, but I bought some mousse and gel for them to try out as they figure out which sort of curl they like best.

Betty and Olive don’t have much curl, but Maude and June definitely have some. In fact, June used to have a ton! A whole head full of ringlets. But her curls have relaxed in a big way over the last 2 years. I have no idea why. Age? Humidity levels? It’s always fascinating to see my kids grow and change. I love seeing who they are becoming.

5) A few months after we moved here, we hired a woman named Natalie as our housekeeper. She was excellent! An artist who wanted flexible work so she could paint in her spare time. She would come about 10 hours per week to clean house and run errands. But she took a full-time office job last fall (awesome for her!) and we haven’t replaced her yet. I think it’s time to hire someone again, but I keep putting it off. It feels like asking someone to join the family and I want to make sure I’m hiring the right person.

What’s your take on hiring help in the home? Have you ever hired someone? A house keeper? A nanny? A personal assistant? I know some people love hiring help, and others find it stressful to have non-family members in their home on a regular basis. As for me, I truly love the help, but at the same time, having a break for a few months has also been good. Yes, it has meant more of my time spent cleaning, but if I’m honest, I’m also more relaxed when I don’t have workers in my house. How about you?

6) Sometimes I get the urge to do a video — probably a Periscope — where I can talk about random stuff like this. I haven’t tried something like that before. Pretty much every video I’ve created has had a specific purpose or even a script. So I don’t know if the randomness would work. I’m sure there must be You-tubers that do something similar — random chatty videos that are unedited. But I haven’t come across any, so maybe they’re not aimed at my demographic. Who knows.

Really what I want is a conversation. I want to talk about random stuff with another person. I want the back and forth. If you have any thoughts on this idea, let me know.

7) I’m feeling really lucky today. It’s one of those days where I’m having a moment of clarity, and can clearly see that I’m surrounded by good people and good things. If I started making a gratitude list right this minute, I’m quite sure I would get to bedtime and not be finished yet. Little things like the unexpected fresh flowers a thoughtful friend sent. And big things like the fact that I really like my kids, not just because they’re mine, but because they are as human beings. Have you ever had one of those days? It feels good.

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

 P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

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Dessert for Two: Salted Caramel Brownies Wed, 03 Feb 2016 20:02:17 +0000 Amy Christie

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

Woo hoo! The next installment of Dessert for Two is ready to share. And as usual, my mouth is watering at the photos. I’m officially dedicating this post to everyone out there burning the midnight oil on a project — from science fair displays and purging your closet, to term papers, taxes, and building a startup. When you and your kid/partner/spouse/bestie need a late night boost, this recipe will be waiting for you.

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Alternatively, I’m also going to give this a big thumbs up for your Valentine’s Day celebrations. In case you need a reminder, Valentine’s Day is Sunday after next, and if you are looking for a way to add a little romance to the day, dessert for two is pretty much perfect.

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Liz came up with this month’s recipe, and she had me at salted caramel. Doesn’t it look amazing?

Before we jump into the recipe, I just wanted to mention that I LOVE the enthusiastic response to this new column. Feel free to keep the ideas coming. If you have particular dessert cravings, I want to know about it!

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Here’s what Liz says:

I was so happy when Gabrielle decided to turn Dessert for Two into a monthly series because these small dessert portions fit in perfectly with a tradition my husband and I started about a year ago. It’s your basic date night in, inspired by a fabulous cookbook of the same name, in which we put our littles to bed and enjoy a late dinner together in which no drinks get spilled and the topic of conversation is allowed to extend beyond Anna, Elsa, the Hulk, or Tarzan.

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Because we are among the dishwasherless, we generally keep these meals pretty simple so we’re not faced with a mountain of dishes at 10 p.m.. On most Wednesday nights, you can find us chowing down on copious amounts of bread and cheese and wine, sometimes talking, sometimes silently letting the brie talk us down from the day’s chaos. We call our date nights Wine Not Wednesdays? mostly because I have a giddy love of puns but also because giving it a name makes it feel official and helps us stick to it more faithfully.

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Our meals on nights like these always end in something sweet and indulgent, and a dessert portioned for two is helpful so that it’s not me vs. half a cake the next day. What I usually want for dessert, and really, on any given moment of every day, is brownies. Dense, fudgy, chocolatey-rich brownies.

So I was happy to face the challenge of turning my go-to brownie recipe into something two people could share, but I also couldn’t resist adding some salted caramel to the mix. These brownies are chewy and moist, fudgy and thick. The caramel layer is soft and the sea salt just takes these over the top for me.

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Truth be told, I’d say these are brownies make Dessert for 2.5, which works well for our family since I’m pregnant and unceasingly hungry. But with the little you might have leftover, you can treat yourself to a bite or two the next day or maybe even share them with your toddler after lunch the next day.

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Whether you’re looking for a sweet treat to end a date night or something to share with your roommate while you count the weeks to spring break, these salted caramel brownies are the perfect treat to share with someone at the end of the day!

Salted Caramel Brownies


Brownie Batter:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup + 2 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg
⅛ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup flour

½ cup caramel bits*
½ cup sweetened condensed milk**
generous ¼ cup chocolate chips (milk, semi-sweet, or dark – your preference)

sea salt

parchment paper
6 ½-inch cast iron pan or 2 ramekins
cooking spray
*I found that caramel bits as opposed to caramel squares worked best for quicker melting that didn’t scald the sweetened condensed milk in this recipe. Plus, no unwrapping caramel squares!

**Unused sweetened condensed milk can be kept for up to two weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator. Otherwise, it can be frozen for up to three months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator. It may need a bit of a whisk if it separates once thawed. I like to use the leftovers for an additional batch of these brownies or in my coffee if I’m feeling indulgent.


Preheat oven to 350°. Line cast iron pan or ramekins with parchment paper that extends up the sides. Spray parchment paper with cooking spray.

Place the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a bowl large enough to fit the batter ingredients. Microwave in 15-second increments, stirring between each increment, until mostly melted. Remove from microwave and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the sugar. Then whisk in the egg, table salt, and vanilla extract. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir in the flour until completely combined.

Spoon a little under half the brownie batter into your prepared pan(s). You want a really thin layer here – a ¼” deep at most. Bake this thin layer for 5-7 minutes until just beginning to look a little puffy.

As it bakes, melt the caramel bits and sweetened condensed milk together in the microwave in 10 second increments, stirring between each increment until melted together and smooth.

Once the thin brownie layer is bit puffy, remove pan(s) from the oven. Pour the melted caramel/condensed milk layer over the base brownie layer, spreading as needed. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over that. Use a spoon to dollop the remaining brownie batter over the caramel and chocolate chips. Use a butter knife to combine the caramel and brownie batter and swirl. Take about a tablespoon of the caramel/condensed milk mixture and drizzle over the top of everything to make the top look pretty.

Return the pan(s) to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Once done, don’t be concerned if it still looks a little gooey and a toothpick inserted in the center doesn’t come out clean. The residual heat of the pan(s) will finish the brownie, and we’re going for fudgy brownies here anyway.

Sprinkle a couple turns of sea salt over the top to taste. Allow to cool slightly before digging in. You can eat this straight from the pan(s) or use the parchment paper as a sling to lift this onto a plate once mostly cooled.

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Wow! Thank you so much, Liz. I can not wait to make these. And, I’m totally enamored with your “Wine Not Wednesdays?”. A weekly date night at home sounds wonderful. Especially when half the country is snowed in!

Would you like more recipes for two? You can find the whole (growing) series here.

Credits: Images, styling & recipe by Liz Berget. Assistance by Amy Christie.

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Living With Kids: Alison Little Tue, 02 Feb 2016 17:00:26 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Revival Photography.

I love how Alison describes her small town: “My family moved here when I was ten years old, and I remember pulling into town and noticing that there was a McDonalds…and not much else. The town has grown only a bit in the 26 years I have lived here, and I both love and hate that about it.”

I’m sure a lot of us share this dichotomy between a deep appreciation for comfort and an equally deep craving for change. It’s always a toss-up on which will win the contest, right? Either way, one look at her home and reading of her thoughts and I get the impression she’s living an inspired life in her one McDonald’s town. I hope you enjoy this peek into how she’s living with kids. (And who just searched for a wall-sized, roll-up map for their living area? Me, too.)

Hi, everyone! I’m Alison. I am a wife and stay-at-home mother of four young children, including a two year old set of twins. My husband, Scott, is a hard-working, incredibly talented designer. A couple years after graduating high school, I saw Scott (who was two years younger than me in school) out with some mutual friends. We talked for a few minutes and then parted ways. I remember saying to the friend I was with, “That Scott Little is hot. I would marry him.” A few months later we ran into each other again, and the rest, as they say, is history. I knew right away he was the one, as cliché as that sounds!

Our boys are eight and six. Jackson, our oldest, is smart and tender hearted. He has a quirky little personality and has always kept us on our toes. I always said there was no one in the whole world who loved me the way Jackson did, until our daughter Charlotte came along. She is so much like he was at her age, and shows love and affection much the same as he did. It’s fun to see the similarities between them.

Grayson, our six year old, is his own little person. He is independent, and has a unique style that I love so much. He gives absolutely no thought or worry to what others might think of him. It is my very favorite trait of his, and I hope he carries it with him always.

In the Fall of 2012 we found our we were expecting our third baby, and at our six week ultrasound found out we were actually expecting our third and fourth babies! Having twins was the most shocking and most wonderful surprise. Juliet and Charlotte were born in the summer of 2013. I barely remember those first four months. I never knew I could be so tired, or love coffee so much.

They are now two-and-a-half, and I’m convinced this is the very best age. They are sweet and funny and the cutest (of course!), and I just feel so lucky to be their mama.

We live in a small town in the foothills of North Carolina. My family moved here when I was ten years old, and I remember pulling into town and noticing that there was a McDonalds…and not much else. The town has grown only a bit in the 26 years I have lived here, and I both love and hate that about it.

While there are many benefits to raising your family in a small town, there are also frustrations. We live a good 30 minutes in any direction from good restaurants, shops, and coffee houses. I’m not a city girl by any stretch of the imagination, but I would love to have more options and a little more culture. I basically want to live way out in the country, right outside of a city!

We moved into our current home a little over five years ago. We were renting a small house one town over, and knew we wanted to grow our family and would need to expand.

My parents, who we currently rent from, mentioned that their renters were moving out. It is a larger house, outside of town, and sits on two acres of land. Moving in was kind of a no-brainer.

This is the fifth house we have lived in since we got married 11 years ago, and it is by far the one I have felt the most at home in. I love the style and the character, and I love that we have a big yard where my children can safely run and play.

As much as we have loved this home, we have recently felt a pull toward something different. I dream of an old white farmhouse in the country, something needing just enough work that we can make it our own. A couple months ago, my husband and I sat down and went over our finances and put a plan together that will make this dream happen sooner rather than later. It’s been exciting to dream and plan and work towards this goal together.

I’m not one to over-plan or fill our schedule to the brim. I prefer to be home together as a family, or out adventuring together. I don’t want to be so busy with various activities that we are all going in different directions. As my kids get older and their interests change they may want to be involved in sports or dance or music, but for now it just doesn’t fit well into our lifestyle.

We love being outdoors, and enjoy being able to pack up on a Saturday and head to the mountains for the day…or the weekend.

I think of my style as traditional and simplistic, with an emphasis on our home being comfortable and inviting. It has always been important to me that my children are free to be children in our home. After all, this is their space just as much as it is my husband’s and mine.

We don’t have any spaces that are off limits. This doesn’t mean we don’t have rules, or that they have the run of the house. It simply means we are all free to live and gather and play in each and every room in our home.

I remember as a little girl going to my great aunt’s house, and she had a sitting room with fancy furniture and expensive looking trinkets. I always felt grown up and special when we sat in that room, but I also felt like I shouldn’t touch anything. I don’t want any of our spaces to feel cold, or too grown up. I think every room should be loved and lived in.

I have always enjoyed decorating and bringing order to our homes. A friend once laughed at me when I told her I enjoyed rearranging the shelving in our dining room. There’s just something about bringing beauty and order into a home that is so soothing to me. Clutter and excess make me feel anxious, so I work hard to keep our home tidy. It may sound a bit dramatic, but it just makes me a nicer person and a better mother.

I started The Common Table two years ago with two very close friends. Every Sunday evening, we gathered in each other’s homes for dinner. We started having people ask about our gatherings, and express a desire for the same. The purpose of The Common Table is to encourage others to cultivate community in their lives. Our hope is that through our stories, and the stories of others, people will be encouraged to reach out and invite people in.

If you visit the site, or our Instagram, you will notice we haven’t posted in a while! Joni went back to school last year to pursue a degree in Interior Design, and needed to be able to focus her attention on that. We all decided to take a step back from the blog. Community is something that will always be very important to us, and even though we have stepped away from the blog for the time being, we still have Sunday dinners and gather together often. We hope that our blog and Instagram still offer hope and encouragement for anyone with a heart for community and building relationships.

Green Cove Collective is an online shop that my husband and I (but mostly my husband!) run together. For years we have thrown around the idea of collaborating on a shop. A few months ago, we sat down at our dining room table with a pen and a large roll of paper and wrote down all of our ideas and goals for this little endeavor. We made a list of possible names, logo ideas, and products that we each would like to contribute. It is still in the early stages, but we are very excited for the support we have already received, and for all that we have in store for the future.

One of the things I love about Instagram is the way it allows us to make connections and build relationships with people we never would have crossed paths with otherwise. I love that an app can bring people together and make us feel less alone in whatever stage of life we’re in.

I try to keep my little space positive and uplifting. I work hard to be honest without being negative. I have found that people seem to connect more when you are willing to share the good and the not so good. Everyone loves a pretty picture, but it helps if we are willing to be honest from time to time about how everything behind the scenes isn’t always so pretty. I believe this can, and should, be done in a positive way. We don’t have to complain or tear others down to be honest and truthful. I think it’s a fine balance, and one I work hard to achieve.

Instagram is full of talented, creative people. At any given point, a scroll through can provide me with a delicious new recipe, inspiration for my home, or encouragement in my parenting journey. It’s an amazing thing, really, that people from all over the world can reach out and encourage you and lift you up when you need it.

I love that I get to stay home with my children, although it’s a role that was difficult for me at first. It has taken me a few years to settle into it and become happy and content being at home. I find that the older I get, the more I truly enjoy being a wife and mother. As my children grow, I want them to see a mom who enjoys spending time with them, and who finds great joy in her role as a mother.

Of course there are times I feel weary, and days that seem mundane and repetitive, but my hope is that when we all look back on our life, and their childhood, those things fade into the background.

I wish someone had taken my tired, overwhelmed, doing the best I could, 29 year old face in their hands and said, “You don’t have to be the kind of mother everyone else is. You are allowed to follow your instincts and do what you think is best, even if it looks nothing like what all your friends are doing.”

My boys were born 18 months apart to the day. We moved into a new home a few months before our second son was born, and I had recently become a full-time stay at home Mom.

I suffered with PPD after his birth, and was struggling with my role as a stay-at-home mother. I felt lonely and isolated, and overwhelmed by life with two babies. I remember looking at my friends and thinking everyone had it together except me. They all had a certain and very similar way of doing things, and I thought that must be how I was supposed to do things.

I realize now that none of us had any clue what we were doing, and were all just doing the best we could. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished that I could go back and do those first few years of motherhood all over. I would have worried less about how everyone else had their baby on a schedule, made all their baby food from scratch, and potty-trained their one year old. I would have trusted my instincts more, and been at peace if they were wrong and we had to try something different.


Well, that kind of melted me. Especially this: I wish someone had taken my tired, overwhelmed, doing the best I could, 29 year old face in their hands and said, “You don’t have to be the kind of mother everyone else is. You are allowed to follow your instincts and do what you think is best, even if it looks nothing like what all your friends are doing.” Thank you, Alison.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling, you know how powerful a moment this would be. I hope I remember to do this for someone who needs it without being embarrassed about overstepping! Have any of you experienced someone swooping in and pressing pause on your battle, offering encouragement or just a hug when you needed it most? What do you remember touching you the most? I’m sure we’d all like to hear your story. Please share, will you?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Teachur: Bachelor’s Degrees for a $1000! Mon, 01 Feb 2016 22:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

Teachur Screengrab

By Gabrielle.

I’m SO EXCITED to share this post with you. I know I haven’t written an update in ages on what Ben Blair has been up to. And today, I finally get to tell you! He’s been building a brand new company with my brother Josh Stanley, called Teachur. And it’s such a cool thing — it has the potential to transform higher education in a major way.

Teachur is a new online platform where students can earn an accredited college degree for the flat price of $1000.


Intrigued? Well you can learn all the details on the Kickstarter page that launched today. There is a short video packed with info, and the story on the Kickstarter page has even more info. If you’re not in the mood to click over, here is Teachur as I understand it:

The cost of higher education has increased from $40,o00 (in today’s dollars) in 1982, to $128,000 today. Which is insane! People used to be able to work a summer job and then pay for tuition. But now it’s a student loan model. The average student graduates with a 4-year degree and $32,000 in debt. Yikes!

And the thing is, the increase in price hasn’t made the curriculum and teaching significantly better. They’ve stayed pretty much the same. Instead, the new costs are tied to things like massive stadiums and a huge increase in the number of people in administration.

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Josh and Ben wondered: could they separate the actual learning that takes place when earning a college degree, from the inflated costs of a high-end campus? And if they could separate it, how much would the actual learning cost a student? Turns out: they think they can do it for $1000. So amazing!!! Currently, the least expensive degrees out there are $20,000. So $1000 is revolutionary!

So what is Teachur going to offer? Well if you’ve ever taken an online class, you might be picturing something like that, but Teachur isn’t planning to offer online classes. Instead, they will give students Objectives and Assessments. What are Objectives? When a teacher is building curriculum, they come up with a set of objectives that students need to master for any particular class, and then they might align the objectives to guidelines for their specific discipline. Objectives are basically a list of everything a student needs to learn in a class. So for a U.S. History course, there might be 20-200 objectives (depending on how detailed the objectives are), including something like: student understands significant causes and consequences of the Revolutionary War.

What are Assessments? They are tests and reviews. They are a way a student and assessor can see if they’ve mastered the objectives. I’m sure you remember these very well from your own schooling. Sometimes they are written, sometimes they are multiple choice, sometimes they are oral reviews.

With Teachur, students will receive a set a objectives for their desired degree. It’s basically a path: learn this, then this, then this…. with assessments along the way… till you get to the accredited degree. Students will master the objectives in any way they like — watching online videos or tutorials, reading books or essays, talking with an expert. Then, Teachur will provide the assessments. When the student passes all the assessments? They’ve earned their degree!!

One more note on Assessments. The big question with these, is how to make them secure. And this is an awesome part: Teachur will be tying assessments to the Blockchain. I’m no Blockchain expert, but essentially it’s the security system that Bitcoin was built on, and it’s actually much more secure than the current testing systems that happen at real-life universities. If you’re curious, you can read about it here. The whole thing is so dang cool!

At the same time that the cost of education has gone up, up up, the internet has made it possible to learn pretty much anything you can think of at no cost. And Teachur will help people take advantage of that fact by giving them an accredited path of what to learn and in which order. If you want to learn to be a rocket scientist, the knowledge to become one is freely available. You just need to know what it is you’re looking for (objectives), and you need to prove that you’ve actually learned it (assessments).

Clearly, Teachur won’t be appealing to everybody, and I don’t imagine for a minute that it will replace our university system. Certainly, there is something valuable and wonderful about the experience of attending real-life classes on a campus, something that goes beyond simply learning the offered curriculum. And yes, there are lots of people that learn best that way. But not everyone does, and not everyone makes use of what a campus has to offer, and not everyone can afford a traditional university education. Some people really just want the learning and the degree.

How’s this for a metaphor: It’s like if you went to the hardware store to buy a hammer, but you can’t just get a hammer. In order to get the hammer, you have to buy a whole deluxe 50-piece tool kit. The deluxe tool kit is awesome! Filled with high quality tools. There’s a drill, a tape measure, a screwdriver set and tons of useful objects. But the thing is, you own some of those tools already, and when you look closely, you know you won’t use about half of what’s in the kit — even though the tools are excellent. You really just need the hammer. And you only have a budget for the hammer. Why do you have to buy the whole deluxe tool kit?

Josh and Ben are perfectly trained to build Teachur, and they’ve already been working on it for months and months. Ben Blair’s PhD is in Educational Philosophy from Columbia and the bulk of his professional life has been building curriculum and aligning objectives. Josh also studied at Columbia — with a focus on Educational Technology, and he’s spent his career thus far working as an instructional technologist, building educational tools and directing college faculty on how to incorporate technology in their teaching. As you know, Ben Blair has 6 kids, and my brother Josh has 5, so they are both keenly aware of the realties of college and what it costs.

Why Kickstarter? Well, like I mentioned, they have already put months and months into building Teachur, but they’ve reached a point where they need a bigger team to make this happen in an impactful way — they want to offer 130+ degrees! And they can’t do it on their own. Kickstarter is an awesome way to gauge interest. Sure, I’m totally into it. But I’m the wife of Ben and the sister of Josh. Are other people interested? That’s what the Kickstarter will tell them.

So I hope you go check it out! I’d love to discuss it with you and I’d love to hear what you think of it. Is there anything confusing? Anything you especially like? And what are your thoughts on the rewards – you can have a campus building named after you! Hah!

I’d also love your thoughts on higher education in general. We’ve talked about paying for college before, but what’s your current thinking on it? Does it stress you out? Would something like Teachur offer hope? Chime in!

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DIY: Easy Envelope Wraps for Valentine Sweets – Free Template! Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:26:00 +0000 Amy Christie

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine! | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Happy February! Pull out your red construction paper and your pink glitter and your heart stamps, because for the next two weeks it’s all about Valentine’s Day. Are you excited? Neutral on the subject? No interested at all?

Well, wherever you fall on the Valentine’s Day spectrum, you’ll like this project. It’s all about how to print out and fold this handy little wrap-style envelope. Yes, this envelope is perfect for gently wrapping up a Valentine sweet, but it’s also useable any week of the year, and can be printed on any colored or patterned paper you like.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Use these simple envelopes to wrap up a note, the pony bead necklace your son made for his aunt, cookies or chocolates, a set of coasters, friendship bracelets — really, anything that’s small and relatively flat. These are so simple and so useful! You’ll want to make a stack to have at the ready.

Bonus: Amy Christie shot the photos for this project and made awesome initial cookies from font printouts. So you can learn how to do that in this post too!

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Before we jump to the how-to, I’m curious. When prepping for Valentine’s Day, do you make valentines for your friends? And have you ever heard of Gal-antines Day gatherings? The idea is to celebrate your gal-friends on February 14th instead of focusing on who does or doesn’t have a love interest at the moment. I’m thinking these little wraps are perfect for cookie deliveries to your circle of friends.

Okay. On to the instructions!

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Here’s what Amy says:

Making friends and favorites sweet treats for Valentine’s day is something I look forward to each year. And when I can personalize a treat, say, with a initial, it makes it all the more special. Conclusion: Monogram cookies are the personalized sweet treat you’ve been searching for! Paired with the printable paper wrap, it’s going to be a very happy Valentine’s day indeed.

Let’s get to frosting!

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- letter cookie cutters (these are great) or printed letters (see below).
- favorite sugar cookie recipe. (This is our favorite. Cut-outs keep their shape through baking.)
- favorite frosting recipe. (We are buttercream fans and this is our fave.)
printable paper envelope template
- card stock
- ribbon, twine, tags

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There are 2 ways to do the letters:

1. Use letter cookie cutters. Easier, less time consuming. These 3″ letters are perfect.

2. Use a computer document program and print out the desired letters. Our letters were about 3.5″ tall (which fit just perfectly in our envelopes. A sans serif font is best, although we found lower-case scripty fonts look good and aren’t too much trouble.

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Cut out the letters. Bake. Cool. Then frost. As a buttercream fan, I should warn you there is a chance the frosting will get smooshed a bit but I’m willing to deal with that.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Print the paper envelope. Cut out and fold on the lines.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Place the cookie inside and gently close the edges. Wrap with ribbon or twine.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Add a tag and it’s ready.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom


Thank you, Amy! The photos are terrific, and I love the idea of using a favorite font for the cookies. Even better, if I’m not up for baking, these little wraps would work just as well with store bought cookies — and make them feel a whole lot more special. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie.

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A Few Things Fri, 29 Jan 2016 16:45:17 +0000 Design Mom

June Blair Kindergartener

Photo and text by Gabrielle. That’s my kindergartener!

Hello, Friends! Happy Friday! How are you? Our school district is having a teacher prep day, so the kids have off school, and I must say, skipping the morning routine today felt like the ultimate luxury. Hah!

We’re looking forward to a full and exciting weekend. Birthday parties to go to, Winter Ball at the high school, a conference on Saturday and a lecture on Sunday night. A friend is coming to stay, and Maude is hosting a sleepover too. All good things. How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to? I’d love to hear!

I think that’s it for today, but before I sign off for the weekend, I have a few things to share with you. Lots of great links this week:

- Finally! And hallelujah! A new call for Depression Screenings during and after pregnancy.

- Turns out the English language is sexist and helps form our currently sexist society.

- Related, a disturbing chart of sexist tweets Trump supporters sent to reporter, Megan Kelly.

- But sexism be damned, because after the blizzard, only women showed up to run the Senate!

- One step closer to artificial intelligence, a computer beat the reigning champion in a game called Go. I had never heard of Go, but apparently it’s considered the most challenging game humans have ever created.

- Did you see the announcement about the new Barbies? New skin tones, new curvy shapes, short versions and tall versions. What do you think? Is it awesome news or too little too late?

- Science! The organ shortage could be solved by a technique called decellularization. So cool.

- I had no idea this was happening. The numbers behind America’s heroin epidemic.

- An 11-year-old girl, sick of reading books about white boys and dogs, launches #1000BlackGirlBooks.

- Something  fun — Jane Maynard interviewed me on her new podcast!

- I’ve read Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech for years, but somehow I missed the launch of Cool Mom Eats! Really fantastic content — like this post on kid-friendly, non-meat sources of protein, or this one on healthy Valentine Day treats. I highly recommend.

- Lastly, here’s a silly one that made me laugh. Watch with sound.

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


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Forty One and a Half Thu, 28 Jan 2016 19:20:34 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photo by Brooke Dennis for Alt Summit.

Let’s talk about ageing for a bit. I feel like I age in spurts — as if I look and feel the same for 6 or 8 years, and then suddenly, over 1 month, I can see and feel big differences in my body. I was sort of expecting to feel an aging spurt at 40, but it didn’t happen. Instead, it came at forty-one-and-a-half. Suddenly, I’m feeling it. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. And I’d love to hear yours!

On Hair:
I know I’ve already talked about this one at length, so there’s not much to say. The short version in case you missed the hair post: I am now 75% grey. Which is a lot, and it’s early (I found my first grey hairs at age 13). In fact, most of my peers are just getting a few grays here and there, or a specific streak of grey. And I’m not sure if and when I’m going to stop dyeing my hair. Sometimes I watch my older sisters to gauge how their grey is coming in, thinking it will help me decide.

I should also note, it’s not just a change of color — the texture of my grey hair is different than the brown hair I grew up with. The grey is more wiry.

On Eyesight:
I’ve mentioned this before, but I have awful eyesight. And it’s been awful since I was a kid. I’m extremely near-sighted — I have 20/800 vision, which I’ve been told qualifies as legally blind. Though I remember my father going blind from diabetes and I can’t pretend that I’ve ever had to face that sort of challenge.

But I definitely can’t function without glasses or contacts. That’s not new. The new thing is that I’m now becoming farsighted too! Very exciting! Hah! It’s just barely started. And it’s not bad enough to need help with yet, but I think this means some sort of bi-focals or progressive lenses are in my very near future.

On Working Out:
I’ve been going to the gym consistently for about 4 months now. This feels like a big accomplishment to me because it’s the most I’ve exercised since I was on the high school track team. So high fives all around!

Interestingly, I don’t feel like my body has aged exercise-wise. It seems to be the same as it always has been. But, I do notice I have to fight like crazy to keep any upper-body strength progress I make. For example, if I skip working out for a few days, my legs and back don’t seem to notice the break. I can jump in exactly where I left off. But my arms. Well, if I skip a few days of the gym, my arms act like I’ve never exercised before in my life.

My biggest gym success so far: I did 2 pull-ups! I know it’s not anything to brag about, but I was still proud.

On Feeling Fragile:
You would think that with the gym work, I would be feeling super tough. But that is not the case. Over the last few months I’ve become more protective of my body — not protective like I’m under attack, but protective in that I’m less willing to push too hard or to take bodily risks.

I remember celebrating our 14th anniversary, six years ago, by hiking a Fourteener. A Fourteener is a Colorado term for mountains that are over 14,000 feet. Outside of just my normal living, I hadn’t exercised in years, but I hiked the mountain without preparation or worry. My body had always done what I needed it to do and never gave me reason to doubt it.

Now cut to a more recent example. We went ice skating as a family at the Oakland Ice Rink. I’m not good at ice skating. At all. I’m totally awkward. But that doesn’t stop me from getting out there with the kids and trying my best — even if I look like I fool. Which I definitely do. But on this recent ice skating outing, during the last few minutes of free skate time, I took a big fall. The tip of my skate caught and I hit the ice hard. My leg was covered in cauliflower bruises and I was so dang sore! It took over a month to heal.

It was this reminder that I’m not a kid, and that my body isn’t quite as resilient or elastic as it once was. I find myself being more careful of how I move my body through the world.

I know it’s kind of vague, but aging wise, this is the biggest difference I’ve felt so far. I really never had to give my body much thought, and now I’m far more aware of it.

On Grooming:
This has probably been true since I hit puberty, but I only put words to it recently: 90% of grooming is keeping hair at bay. Legs, bikini line, underarms, haircuts, eyebrows, random chin hairs or mustache hairs — and recently nose hairs gone wild! Soaping up and getting clean takes no time compared to all the hair-related work.

The issue is, at this point, I’m so bored with all the hair maintenance.

On Skin:
I think my skin changes are happening too slowly for me to really take notice of. Obviously my face looks older than it once did, but I don’t seem to notice the wrinkles or smile lines.

The biggest skin change is that the skin under my eyes feels more crepe-y or paper-y. That’s definitely new. There’s probably some serum I should be using. Let me know if you have any recommendations.

On Food:
The food I eat and the way my body works or looks never really had a connection in my mind. They didn’t even relate.

Not true anymore! I seem to have developed carb sensitivity, which I know is a normal part of aging, but is still something I’m getting used to. If I eat lots of carbs, my pants are tight and I get sleepy. If I don’t eat lots of carbs my pants are not tight and I don’t need a nap.

So. There’s that. (And I realize this is where I’m a jerk, because some people have been fighting with their bodies since they were kids. Related, I shared this essay before, but it’s so good!)

I saw Madonna’s dance studio video recently, and I’ve found my self pondering it. She’s 57 now, and I think the video came out when she was 51. If that’s a possibility for me in ten years — being super fit and flexible at 51 — should that be the goal? Do I even care?

On What’s Next:
Angelina Jolie, who I believe is my age, recently talked about her forced menopause. She had surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Reading her article got me thinking. When will it happen to me? 10 years? 5 years? What’s the average age? And what happens exactly?

I realized I know almost nothing about menopause and only have a vague idea of what’s coming down the line. Essentially, every time I feel warm, I’m like, “Is this a hot flash?” Hah!


That’s all my thoughts for now. I’d love to hear if reading this sparks any of your own thoughts. Do you notice aging in yourself? Are you ever surprised when you look in the mirror? Has anyone else out there felt the body fragility that I mentioned? Where are you on aging markers like grey hair or wrinkles? Do you worry about them? Love them? Share your stories!

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DIY: Snow Paint Made From Old Markers Thu, 28 Jan 2016 17:20:56 +0000 Amy Christie

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Facing another snow day? Well I’ve got the perfect activity to keep the kids active and happy — and the main thing you need is old markers. Emphasis on the old! Before you throw away that set of neglected/mostly-dried out markers, give them one more shot at artistic glory. Use them to make snow paint!

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As you can imagine, Oakland is not snowed in at the moment (or ever), so I asked Minnesota-based Amy Christie, to help us out with this DIY.

The photo turned out so wonderfully! They make me want to load up the car and head to Tahoe so we can have a snow day too — snow painting, sledding, making a snowman. Hmmm. We don’t have school tomorrow because of a teacher prep day, so maybe we can really make this happen!

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Before we jump into this very easy DIY, I’d love to hear the snow situation in your part of the world. Are you snowed in? Stuck at home? Or are you seeing all the snow photos on social media and wishing you had an excuse to pull out your mittens and snow boots?

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Here’s what Amy says:

Did you get hit by the snowstorm last week? We didn’t get anything extra here in Minnesota, but we weren’t exactly hurting for more anyway. Friends of mine on the East Coast have reported they are on their fifth snow day! Holy cow! I’ve been a mom for long enough to know a snow day as a parent is a bit different than a snow day as a child. Parents everywhere are asking: how will we fill the time? Outside activities are imperative and I’ve got a fun idea that everyone will enjoy.

One of my favorite things to do is to weed out old, crusty markers. Who wants to keep the duds, right? Earlier this winter, instead of tossing the old markers, I soaked them in water, put the water into spray bottles and then we all headed out to add some color to our white world. The children went all out. My favorite part was the color they added to the piles at the curb. It was a bright spot to see when we come home.

It’s just so happy seeing bright coloring on the white snow. Grab your old markers and let’s get started.

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- old non-toxic markers* **
- water
- jars or plastic containers
- spray bottles
- snow!

*Please make sure the markers are non-toxic. Colored snow is super fun but it will melt and the colors will soak into the ground. Be kind to Mother Earth.

**Don’t have old markers? Use food coloring or non-toxic liquid watercolors. Add desired amount to water-filled spray bottles and you’re set.

Gather up old no-toxic markers. Bent tips, dried out and crusty? Doesn’t matter. It all works. Separate them into colors.

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Place the markers, uncapped, top down into jars, half filled with water. Allow to soak for at least 8 hours and up to a day. The longer they soak, the denser the color.

A couple things to note:

- You will need more than one marker to make a dense enough color spray.

- Think about combining similar tones together. Unless red is very strong, nearly opaque, it looks very similar to pink on the snow so combine them together to make a stronger, deeper rosy hue (we did that!). Other good combos are black and gray, teal and green or teal and blue, yellow and orange.

- All hues are not created equal. Blue, green, purple, black, brown, orange — strong, potent colors. Yellow and a true red are more of a challenge (though we resigned ourselves to a pinky red above). Purple can appear purple-ish pink.

- When spraying, set the bottles to the spray or mist setting instead of the stream. The stream setting pierces the snow and could damage a fantastic snow sculpture.

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When the markers are finished soaking, pour the colored water into spray bottles and use!

I had to make a second batch immediately because we used it all!

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Oh my goodness! This is so much fun. Thank you, Amy! The colored snow is really stunning. What a happy thing to see on a gloomy day.

Hey Friends, looking for more winter activities for your kids? Try these colored ice ornaments and these DIY ice luminaries.

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie.

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Thai Sweet Potato and Chicken Curry Soup Wed, 27 Jan 2016 17:00:43 +0000 Amy Christie

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

Oh my goodness. There’s been so much snow across the U.S. in the last week! Is everybody staying warm out there? The photos of buried cars, and a snowy, car-free Times Square are filling my social media feeds, and watching from sunny California makes it all seem pretty magical.

But of course, if we were going on day 3 of cancelled school, and my back was sore from clearly a path to my door, I know I wouldn’t feel so cheerful about things. I’ve experienced plenty of snow days in my parenting life and know full well that sometimes they are awesome, and other times they are exhausting.

So for any of us stuck at home, or just feeling chilly today, I thought it would be fun to share a stick-to-your-ribs recipe. Something that is warm and hearty and delicious, but doesn’t feel like the same old, same old.

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I asked Liz for some ideas and she had just the thing. A soup that spoons up like a thick casserole! And it’s packed with tons of interesting flavors.

And speaking of flavors, you may remember my aversion to cilantro (it tastes like soap!). My girls seem to have inherited my taste buds and they aren’t fans either, but my boys, and Ben Blair, all love cilantro. Whatever your take on cilantro is, it’s used here as an optional garnish, so you can pile it high and deep, or avoid it altogether. No worries!

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Alrighty. Let’s see how to make this warm and cozy feast!

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Here’s what Liz says:

If you follow anyone on any sort of social media who lives in my part of Minnesota, you’ve probably seen a lot of big puffy parkas, dogs with snow booties, and sunlit windows with frost lines creeping up them, thanks to the highs around -6 degrees we’ve been having here. And I’m sure you’ve heard mention of the -30 degree windchills. That’s thirty. Negative thirty.

It has been absolutely brutal here these past few weeks, and while this is not shocking, because it happens every year, it still never ceases to be jarring when you walk outside and your eyeballs begin to feel like ice cubes within seconds.

If there was ever a time of year to be called “soup weather,” this is it. In these dark winter months of January and February, I tend to make up a big batch of soup on the weekend that we can eat leftover for lunch for the rest of the week. Soup is exactly what you need to to thaw your eyeballs after coming inside. Soup is exactly what you need to nurse you through that sore throat that this time of year inevitably brings. Soup is for winter, and this one is no exception.

This soup has all the flavor of a mild Thai curry. It has just the tiniest kick of heat that is perfectly tempered with the sweetness from the sweet potatoes and coconut milk. With the chicken and the additional veggies — broccoli, peas, and bell peppers — this soup has tons of flavor and texture. The rice is conveniently cooked in the soup, making this a fairly low-maintenance meal that yields a large batch of soup that can be enjoyed by many…or hoarded by you to enjoy for days afterwards because it is still that cold outside.

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Thai Sweet Potato and Chicken Curry Soup
serves 4-6 as a main course

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil (coconut or vegetable)
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons red curry paste*
1 teaspoon fish sauce
5 cups chicken broth**
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into ½-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ½ cups broccoli florets, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 bell pepper (yellow, red, or orange), cored and cut into ½-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste
garnishes: fresh chopped cilantro and lime wedges/juice

*Use 3 tablespoons of curry paste if you like more spiciness.
**I made this to be a thicker soup, but if you like your soups brothier, you could add 1-2 cups of extra chicken broth.


Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a small baking pan, and place chicken breasts inside.

Salt and pepper the chicken, then drizzle the olive oil over.

Bake the chicken for 35 minutes.

Shred when slightly cooled and set aside.

While chicken is baking, heat 2 tablespoons of coconut or vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes until slightly softened.

Stir in the curry paste and fish sauce and cook for an additional minute.

Pour in the chicken broth, coconut milk, rice, and sweet potatoes. Stir and bring mixture to a boil.

Reduce heat, and stir in the sugar and lime juice.

Place cover on pot and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the broccoli, peas, bell pepper, and the cooked chicken.

Simmer, covered, an additional 5-10 minutes until rice is done and vegetables are soft.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnished with the cilantro and additional lime wedges/juice.

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Thank you, Liz! That looks amazing. My mouth is watering from seeing the photos. I can’t WAIT to try this!

How about you, Dear Readers? Do you ever use curry in your cooking? And how to you feel about cilantro? I’d love to hear!

Credits: Images, styling & recipe by Liz Berget. Assistance by Amy Christie.

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After Alt Tue, 26 Jan 2016 18:56:52 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I know it’s only been a few days, but it seems like ages since I’ve had a chance to connect with you. Blogging has been such a big part of my life for almost a decade now, that if I miss a day of posting, I feel off-centered till I check back in. Hah!

Here’s what’s been up with me in the last few days. I arrived home from Alt Summit late on Saturday night. It was a really good conference. So many people emailed me or texted me: Best Conference Ever!!! And that always brings a smile to my face. I have no idea if it’s actually true, but the thought that it gets a little better each year is more than I could hope for!

Since I arrived home, I’ve done essentially 3 things: slept, ate, and hung out with the family. Alt Summit doesn’t always wipe me out, but this time it did for sure! I’m craving a week-long recovery period, while simultaneously feeling homesick for my usual work schedule.

There are so many posts and topics I want to share with you these days — my editorial calendar is currently packed! — so I don’t think I’m going to do a full Alt Summit recap. And instead, I’ll share highlights here and there. But if you’d like to get a picture of what the conference was like for me, take a look at Instagram. I didn’t manage to post much during the actual conference, but yesterday I shared 15 photos from my week!! Including one of me and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a whole bunch that show my new haircut.

It was so many photos in one day, that I definitely annoyed people, but I wanted to share while all the memories were fresh. You can also see all the professional photos from the event on the Alt Summit Flickr page.

Hooray for Alt! And mostly, I’m glad to be back!!

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Living With Kids: Jenni Fuchs Tue, 26 Jan 2016 17:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Here’s what I know after spending some time with Jenni’s tour: I enjoy people who meet their spouse at a Japanese night class in Scotland, people who wholeheartedly love the setting in which they are raising their children, and cactus caretakers. (I think it takes a perfectly balanced mix of concentration and forgetfulness to raise a cactus, don’t you?) Turns out, I also enjoy people who take their kitchen shelves seriously! Jenni’s sure are cute!

And I can’t forget to add people who smile when it’s raining to my list!

If you’d like to see how she and her husband are living with kids in a Berlin rental, please stay awhile. There’s a ton of fabulous ideas that can be achieved with very little investment, whether you’re currently in a restricted rental or simply on a decorating or time budget. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. Welcome, Jenni!

Hello, my name is Jenni. I live in Berlin with my husband and two sons: Oskar is five and Alfred is one. We moved here from Scotland almost four-and-a-half years ago due to my husband’s work. I am originally from Germany but I grew up in Scotland, so we speak English with each other at home and I speak German with the kids when we’re out and about.

My husband and I met in Edinburgh at Japanese night class — as you do — over ten years ago, and we have been married for just over six years. I have to admit, I have forgotten most of my Japanese, but I always say I gained a husband so the classes were a worthwhile investment!

He is a software architect and I am a museologist, though currently still on maternity leave with the little one. The safety net for families — parental leave, maternity pay, child benefits, subsidized child care — is very generous here in Germany, and we count ourselves lucky to benefit from it.

Oskar will start primary school this year, after the summer, and he is already super excited. He’s a very free spirited boy with a compassionate heart, who knows what he likes and will put people in their place if they tell him he looks like a girl because he has shoulder-length hair or likes wearing pink. His favorite things include cars, dinosaurs, and flowers, and you’re as likely to find him wearing a Spider-man costume as you are butterfly wings.

Alfred is just finding his feet, literally, and will start at kindergarden after Easter. He is a jolly little fellow, who loves to laugh at everything — he even laughs in his sleep — and tries to copy everything his big brother does, whom he absolutely adores. He’s also really into music; if you put any on, he’ll immediately start clapping his hands and jumping around on his knees.

We live to the north of a district called Schöneberg, which is in central Berlin, in a third floor rental apartment. We only moved here six months ago. Initially, we were actually going to leave Berlin altogether, but then things worked out differently.

Our old apartment was nice too, but the area didn’t have much for families. It was near quite a few of the city’s key sightseeing points, so geared more towards tourists. When it became clear we would be staying in Berlin, we wanted to move somewhere more family friendly, and with a good school for Oskar in its catchment area.

If you look up our neighborhood in a guide book, it wouldn’t strike you as being popular with families. It has been one of the centers of Berlin’s gay scene since the 1920s, and is known for its countless gay clubs and venues. It’s also famous for being host to both Europe’s largest LGBT street festival, and Europe’s largest fetish street fair. But when I asked for feedback on the different areas we were looking at, in an expat parents’ forum I’m a member of, the almost unanimous recommendation was to move here!

It’s fantastic for families. There are several amazing play parks within walking distance of our house (Oskar particularly loves the Wild West themed one), lots of little cafes, restaurants and shops — including two award winning ice cream parlors! — a farmer’s market, a park for Oskar to ride his bike.

And I love that the boys get to grow up in such a colorful neighborhood, which is also known as the Rainbow Quarter. It’s completely normal for them to see two men holding hands, taking their dog for a walk, and I like that. They’re more interested in whether they can pat the dog!

When we were searching for our new place, we identified several districts we could imagine living in, based on proximity to the city centre and work, public transport connections, school reviews, and whether there were the kinds of things we had been missing in our old place, such as playgrounds, parks, cafes, library and swimming pool nearby, etc.

When we first moved to Berlin, we had the disadvantage of not knowing the city at all. None of us had ever been here before, except for my husband to attend his job interviews, so at the time, we relied heavily on our relocation agent’s advice. Four years later, we had a much better idea of where in the city we would like to live.

Then we searched on a popular German rentals website, where you can put in your preferences such as location, minimum size, maximum rent, number of rooms, all kinds of things, and made some calls. We ended up viewing five apartments, applying to four, and getting an offer for three of them.

The one we wanted the most really took their time getting back to us. We had actually already verbally accepted one of the other apartments, and were just waiting on the papers to sign. But there was a several week long postal strike in Germany last summer, and the papers were delayed. It was a really nerve-wracking two weeks, waiting to see if the offer for our preferred apartment would come through before we had to sign the papers for the other one. We had already handed in our notice on our old apartment, so didn’t want to risk turning down a definite offer for one that may or may not happen. In the end, it all worked out the way we wanted. But I have never been so glad about a postal strike, I can tell you that!

The architecture of our building is quite typical of the old houses in Berlin. It’s divided into a front house and a back house, with the apartments in the back house wrapping around either side of a courtyard. We live in the back, so we need to go through the front and across the courtyard to enter our stairwell.

Our apartment is an elongated L shape. It has a long, thin hallway — over 20 meters long in total — with all the rooms coming off it to one side. They all face the courtyard, so we don’t have any windows facing the street. The downside of that, is that we get very little direct sunlight, as the sun has to be at a certain angle to reach the windows in the courtyard.

But on the upside, it’s very quiet. You’d never guess that we are just a stone’s throw away from a major public transport hub and lots of bustling shops and restaurants.

Another typical feature is the high ceilings, at almost four meters! We’ve had to hang all the lamp fittings low enough that we can change a lightbulb without having to borrow the oversized ladder from our superintendent every time. And it means we’ve only bothered with curtains in the bedrooms, as finding anything suitable for windows that size is a bit of a nightmare.

Many things we thought were non-negotiable when it comes to living with kids fell by the wayside in the end. I really, really wanted another apartment with a balcony. We were so excited to have one in our first Berlin apartment, since hardly anyone has them in Scotland.

And did I mention the crazy thing about kitchens? As a rule, German rental apartments don’t come with a kitchen. You either bring your own, which you are then obliged to uninstall when you move out, or quite often you buy the existing kitchen off the previous tenant. I wanted to find an apartment with a kitchen we could take over, to save us the hassle of having to fit one with two small children in the house.

In the end, out of all the apartments we viewed, this was the only one that had neither a balcony nor a kitchen. The only deal breaker was that I refused to move anywhere higher than the third floor unless there was an elevator, because I didn’t want to be carrying children, strollers, shopping bags, etc. up and down endless flights of stairs. And there had to be an adequate supermarket within walking distance, because we don’t have a car and home delivery isn’t as well established here, though there has been a lot of progress in the last few years.

Living in a rental brings its challenges. I would really love to have a couple of feature walls, maybe some fun wallpaper in the playroom, or a wall with blackboard paint somewhere. But our contract stipulates that if and when we move out, we need to hand over everything exactly as it was when we moved in. That would be a lot of hassle, and — at almost four meter high ceilings — also a lot of work and expenses, both putting everything up and taking it down again.

So instead I take it as an opportunity to hunt down artwork, prints, maps, and other fun things to put on the walls, alongside my husband’s paintings and pencil portraits of us and the kids.

The other big problem is wall fittings. Our walls seem to be invariably made of diamonds or eggshells, as my husband puts it, which means it’s either too hard to drill into or too soft or hollow to attach anything of significance. It’s really frustrating to have these high ceilings and not be able to use the height for efficient storage, because you just can’t fix the right kind of shelves to the walls without more permanent solutions, which would be possible if we owned the place but not in a rental.

It has meant that in some rooms the structure of the walls has dictated where the furniture goes, rather than what I perhaps had in mind, so that we could secure shelves and wardrobes to the walls to keep the children safe. It was a matter of practicality over interior design.

I guess practical is also how I would describe our style in general. Most of our furniture is from Ikea. It’s convenient and easy to replace. This was our second move in four years, and both times it was cheaper to sell and buy new Ikea furniture at the other end, than to pay for the cost of moving. Our brown cord sofa was chosen for practical reasons because it can hide a multitude of sins, from felt tip pens to chocolate stains.

But we like to mix up our off-the-shelf furniture with some family heirlooms — such as my grandmother’s rocking chair, my dad’s old children’s desk which is now being used by a third generation, or my old dollhouse which my dad made for me over thirty years ago — and by adding little features here and there from some of my favorite design companies, including cushions and rugs, toy baskets, or kitchenware.

I swear, Muuto does the best darn pepper grinder I have ever owned! Other brands I like that you will find scattered around the house include Hay, Ferm Living and Oyoy from Denmark, but also small independent brands, such as Petit Pippin from California, or Gretas Schwester from right here in Berlin.

Despite having a playroom, we’ve created other spaces throughout the apartment for the kids, too. We try to keep the bedroom toy-free — except for some favorite bedtime snuggle friends — to keep the room as calming and distraction-free as possible. But they have a reading nook there and a CD player for listing to audio books. One of their favorite things recently, is to hang out there together during the day, listing to stories and looking at books.

In the living room, we’ve created a corner for drawing and crafts, with a small extra table and an art cart. It’s also where I like to sit and sew. Then there are a couple of toys for when we’re spending family time there, such as the rocking zebra — my old rocking horse which we repainted for Alfred last Christmas — a cardboard play house which can be easily slotted together to accommodate cars or dinosaurs, and a box with a Playmobil circus set, and we have a big tub of percussion instruments readily available for them to play with.

We’ve made use of our long hall by adding some indoor games such as a crawl tunnel, velcro darts, and an extra play mat for cars. With two car-obsessed boys in the house, you can never have enough of those! On weekends where it’s just been too wet or too cold to go outside, that hall has been a life saver. We just let them run or crawl up and down it until they run out of energy.

There’s a language school on the floor below us which is empty at the weekends, so there is no one to be bothered by all the thumping. Of course, we do have some house rules, and we try to raise our boys to behave like civilized human beings, but at the same time, I don’t want them – or me – to have to worry about breaking any expensive design furniture. Maybe when they are older I will finally treat myself to that chair I’ve always wanted, but for now, practicality and comfort are the order of the day. It is their apartment, too, and I want them to feel comfortable here.

Museums play a big part in our lives. Obviously, because I work in museums, but they are also quite dominant in our leisure time, too. I’ve visited over 200 different museums in the last couple of years! And our apartment is littered with museum souvenirs, from the tote bags we use to go shopping, to a display case full of little trinkets in our bedroom.

When my husband was courting me, he used to come to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where I was supervising the Sunday family events. I thought he was interested in the performances, but it turns out he was just there to see me. Talk about being slow on the uptake!

Both our boys visited their first museum when they were just a couple of weeks old, and five years later, Oskar has turned into quite a pro. If you ask him what he wants to do at the weekend, a museum will quite often be his answer. I’m hoping Alfred will follow in his footsteps.

I’ve been writing a lifestyle and travel blog all about museums since 2009. I sometimes get asked if I ever get bored blogging about museums, which I think is an odd question. Would you ask a food blogger if they ever get bored of food? I’ve blogged about everything from parasites and perfume, phalluses and fire engines, to mummies of Egyptian pharaohs and the world’s tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton…so the answer is No! I’m not bored yet!

The blog has changed course quite a bit since its beginnings. It started out aimed mostly at peers, but quickly swung round to target the general travel and culture loving public. My mission in life is to show that museums are interesting and fun. That museums are for everyone! And since becoming a mum, an added focus of visiting museums with kids has crept in: from general articles encouraging parents to take their kids to museums early and often — one of my most read posts to date — to reviews of museums we’ve visited and tested as a family. One of my favorite features is a series where I interview other museum loving families, asking them to share their experiences and tips. It’s great to feel all that enthusiasm.

I have always been a keen photographer. I think I received my first camera when I was about six or eight, and I’ve been trying to encourage the same love of photography in Oskar. He received his first camera when he was only three, and he’s taken to it like a duck to water. You should have seen him when he came to visit Alfred and me in hospital! He practically stormed in to the room camera in hand, and proceeded to take several dozen photographs of his new little brother “to show my teacher and friends at kindergarden.”

As good as I am though at taking lots of photographs, I’m really bad at doing anything with them. I used to regularly have them printed in albums, but then life caught up with me and now I literally have hundreds of pictures that I’ve taken with my DSLR, languishing on my computer, waiting to be processed. But I’m also an avid Instagrammer, which makes it much easier to share the moment. I’ve been using Instagram almost since its beginning. It was launched a month before Oskar was born, and I started posting shortly after, so in a way it has documented our entire life as a family together so far. I only post pictures of the kids in moderation, more of the places we go, the things we do.

Street art is always popular with my followers, and there’s plenty of that around in Berlin. But also shots from around the city in general seem to attract a lot of likes. And food, especially anything with the hashtag #glutenfree. We have celiac disease on both sides of the family, so I was already familiar with gluten free baking, and even though I myself don’t have the disease I developed a gluten sensitivity when I was pregnant with Oskar. With a family history like ours, it’s apparently not uncommon for a hormonal change such as puberty or pregnancy to trigger it. I love cooking and baking, and my husband is a dab hand in the kitchen too! I make most meals from scratch because I need to be careful about ingredients . And since I love cake — who doesn’t? — I have developed quite a repertoire of gluten free cakes.

The most challenging part of our days are definitely mornings! Not the getting out of bed part of it, but getting everyone out of the house on time. When you first have kids, you feel like leaving the house suddenly takes forever. Double checking you haven’t forgotten anything essential for the baby. Last minute diaper change just when you thought you had it sorted. But when they get bigger, you realize that it was relatively easy until then. At least when they are little, you can stuff them in their clothes, grab them under one arm, and out the door you go. But trying to get a five year old to cooperate, who would much rather play with his cars or read another comic than get ready for kindergarden, is a whole different story. He’s too big to just grab and go.

Are you ready? Yes. You haven’t got a sweater on! I forgot. Where’s your bag? Don’t know. You get the drift. How can it possibly take someone ten minutes to put on a single shoe?! And the exasperating thing is, I know he can be quick when he wants to be. Give me a day when they are going on an outing, and he’ll be standing by the front door, jacket, shoes, and bag on, before I’ve even had a chance to get out of bed.

To be honest, I don’t always deal with those mornings very well. We’ve tried everything: being strict, reasoning, getting everything ready the night before, rewards charts…you name it! But nothing seems to work. Sometimes our mornings involve quite a lot of shouting. I try to stay calm, take a deep breath, count to ten — after all, the world isn’t going to end if he arrives at kindergarden a bit late! All they do is play anyway! But once I have several drop offs, when Alfred starts kindergarden too and I go back to work, the clock will be ticking in the mornings. And then, of course, Oskar will be in school after the summer, which to my shock I discovered starts at 7:30 am here! At the moment, I see ourselves getting up at 5:00 am to be ready on time. Please tell me it all falls in to place once they start school!

My favorite part about living with our kids is having a house full of life. Full of laughter. Full of love. Children have the capacity to see the world wide eyed and full of wonderment. Through them, I feel I can recapture some of that myself.

I want them to remember a happy home. One we created together.

One of the reasons I love making things for my kids, is that they are so attentive and appreciative of even the smallest things. Oskar will come home and notice something new I’ve made for the playroom, and that second when his eyes light up just makes it worthwhile. Even little Alfred will clap his hands in excitement. And I mean, who doesn’t like being called the best mummy in the world! I want them to remember all those little moments: snuggles at bedtime, reading our favorite books together, teaching them how to bake a chocolate cake and getting to lick the bowl, lazy Sundays on the sofa, eating popcorn and watching Cars for the 438th time. I want them to remember feeling loved, unconditionally.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) not to read so many parenting books before I had my kids! Okay, so I didn’t actually read that many. But in all seriousness, whether it’s books, magazines, or other media, there seem to be a lot of unrealistic expectations placed on new parents these days. You will hold your much longed for baby in your arms at last, and everything will be perfect. And, of course, quite often it’s not. I’m not talking about things like sleep deprivation, which no amount of warning can prepare you for!

Both our children were planned and very much wanted. Oh how they were wanted. Both pregnancies were uncomplicated and easy going, both births straight forward and fast. So you can imagine my confusion when that rush of love at first sight that I had been expecting — that I had been built up to expect — didn’t wash over me, as I held Oskar for the first time. My husband’s heart was visibly brimming over, but I felt a kind of numbness. And disappointment in myself, after looking forward to this moment so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved him. Always! But there was this feeling of apathy, that hung around for a while like an unwanted guest. Feelings of despair, which I couldn’t explain. I cried myself to sleep every night for the first eight weeks. It’s hard not to feel like a bad mother in moments like that. I’m not ashamed for it, but I didn’t talk about it much. The only acceptable answers to being asked how it feels being a new mother, seemed to be happy or tired. But we need to stop treating this as a taboo subject, because it helps no one.

And yet, I feel I got off lightly. A friend of mine was hospitalized with post natal depression after giving birth to her first baby. She later told me, that knowing what Oskar and I had gone through, and that we came out okay at the other end, really helped her. That it gave her hope things would work out okay for her too. Since then, I try to share my story more often.

Of course, for many years now, my heart has been brimming over for Oskar. I wouldn’t miss a day without him. My warm hearted, independent, special boy. But the experience stayed with me for a while. I’d always wanted several children, but suddenly I was scared to have another. Not because of the pain of childbirth, but because I was scared the same thing would happen again. I wasn’t sure I could go through all that again.

In the end, my longing for another baby was stronger than my fears, and luckily, the second time was smooth sailing. No numbness, no tears. The only one crying was the baby. I just felt tired. And that was okay.


Jenni, I never get tired of people acknowledging and sharing their low points! It helps others on levels we might not even realize, and it always gives me chills when someone is brave enough to be brave enough. Thank you so much for being with us today.

I must admit I’m yet again smitten with cacti after seeing Jenni’s collection! Who wants to start a cactus club? Anyone?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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DIY: Wood You Be My Valentine? Etched Heart Flair Pins! Thu, 21 Jan 2016 16:00:10 +0000 Amy Christie

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

It’s been a whole year since I pulled out my wood burner/etcher. But I’m feeling the burn once again! So I was brainstorming possible wood-etched crafts with Amy, and she happened to mention there are metal initials you can use with your wood burner. They attach to the wood burner, heat up, and then “brand” the wood.

Well, that pretty much blew my mind, because trying to write with a wood burner is super hard and I generally avoid it, but now that I know about wood burning letters, it opens up all sorts of awesome possibilities!

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Awesome possibilities like these wooden initial pins! We’re calling them heart flair. (Did you ever see Office Space?) And the concept is pretty simple. Take pre-cut wooden hearts, burn in the initials of your true love (or all your 3rd grader’s classmates), and then glue a brooch pin on the back.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

You’ll find links to all the supplies below. Plus! There’s a super cute FREE printable to go with the pins!! Wood you be my valentine?

Get your etching tool plugged in and let’s get started.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

Here’s what Amy says:

Let’s do some more wood burning! Remember our wooden spoons? Cutting boards? Keychains? Using the same etching tool, plus a metal alphabet set, initial-etched hearts are a cinch. Hot glue a brooch pin to the back and it’s a bit of flair to share with your Valentines.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

Little wooden hearts are just the thing for school mates, friends, family and neighbors. Grab the class list and burn it out. Print off our free Wood You Be My Valentine card, and attach the pin for a sweet, but candy-free, Valentine treat.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom


- Wood You Be My Valentine printable — available in pink rectangles, tan rectangles, pink squares, and tan squares
- wooden hearts
- wood burner tool
- metal alphabet for wood burning
- brooch pin backs
- hot glue

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

1) Use the wood burner tool and the metal alphabet to etch the initials of classmates, friends and other special Valentines onto the wooden hearts.

Our alphabet set measures 5/8″ tall which allowed us to put two perfectly spaced letters on our 2″ hearts. To attach the letters, insert the threaded post on the backside of each letter into the threaded port on the etching tool and twist. It’s really simple. Allow the heat tool to heat the letter. It takes a little time but not too much.

Once the letters are hot enough, take a look at the heart. For two letters, visually divide the heart into two parts, right down the middle. Think about placing one letter on one half and the second letter on the other half. Also, work to set them level. If you only want to do one letter, place it smack dab in the center of the heart.

Press the letter to the wood and hold. Depending on how hot the letter is (depending on how patient you are!), the time it takes to burn will vary. You can lift one corner of the letter and peek how it’s doing. We were able to pull the whole letter and tool off, assess the brand and replace it exactly to burn it a little longer. Once it’s dark enough, it’s done. Repeat with other letters.

To remove the letters, we found it easiest (and most efficient) to use a rag towel to twist the hot letter off and a second rag towel to lay the still hot letter on until it cooled. Use a rag towel because it will burn some when it comes into contact with the stamp and tool. Using another towel to lay them on will protect your work surface from getting burned.

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2) Use hot glue to add a brooch pin on the backside.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

3) Print the Wood You Be My Valentine printable on cardstock. Choose from rectangle cards in pink or tan, or square cards in pink or tan. The square ones have a little arrow to go through the heart.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

4) Attach the wooden hearts to the cards with the brooch pin.

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Give to all your friends!

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Thank you so much, Amy! I think this project is adorable. It makes me excited to pull out my wood burner! And thank you for introducing me to the metal letters. Very cool! I think these little hearts will be so cute on my kids’ backpacks.

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you tried a wood etcher yet? I’m a fan. They’re not expensive and they don’t take up much space.

P.S. — More Valentine posts here!

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie.

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Growing A Family: Once You’ve Held A Miracle… Thu, 21 Jan 2016 14:00:53 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Anthony Burrill’s upbeat artwork is lovely, isn’t it?

Steered by Flannery O’Connor’s own raison d’être — “I write to discover what I know.” — Carrie Willard’s writing normally centers around exactly that, which means her topics range from minimalism, healthy food and wellness, homeschooling, the science of happiness, frugality, and the economics of a large family. Large family meaning seven children, by the way.

It is the story of her seventh that brings her here with us today. She had stopped writing about parenting for the most part until she gave birth to a 27-week preemie. I’ll let her tell you the rest of the story. It’s pretty remarkable. Welcome, Carrie!

This morning I woke up with a very small, very blonde, blue-eyed imp crawling over me and babbling all the new consonants he’s learning. It felt very normal. I took a moment to appreciate it, because nothing about my pregnancy, his birth, or the first few months of his life were normal. He is my seventh child but my first preemie, meaning he feels like my first baby.

Because with a preemie, everything is different.

We had decided our family was complete and my husband and I were being very, very careful — so we were completely shocked when I began feeling the familiar, tell-tale signs, and a pregnancy test showed a BFP.

A few weeks later, as I was coming to terms with the fact that we were adding to our family again, I began feeling hard cramps, something I had never experienced before. When the bleeding started, I was horrified. I had been so lucky; I had never had a miscarriage. I had given birth to six beautiful, perfect babies. I called my husband and told him to come home, as I was losing the baby. I called my home-birth midwives, who had attended several of my births and who I hadn’t even had time to see yet, and told them what was happening. They told me what my options were, and I opted to stay home and let things unfold naturally. I headed to bed and waited for the inevitable.

Only it never happened.

A few days passed, with more cramping and bleeding. Every time I went to the bathroom I was terrified that something would fall out of me into the toilet, that I wouldn’t recognize it as a very young fetus, and accidentally flush it. I wondered if I had caused this somehow with my strong feelings at the beginning of the pregnancy. I searched my memory. Was it the horseback riding on that camping trip a few weeks ago that did this? My oldest son stayed by my bedside playing his guitar for me, strumming a song he wrote for me and the sibling we thought he would never meet.

I went to the doctor to get an ultrasound, trying to figure out what was going on. I read that a natural miscarriage could take weeks to complete. Was this what was happening? I just wanted it to be over with, to grieve and get on with my life. I couldn’t have been more shocked when I saw a tiny baby with an obviously beating heart on it on the ultrasound screen. How could this be possible? How could such a young fetus survive this?

The doctor had no real answers for me, but his face was grave. He told me that pregnancies involving bleeding only ended well about half the time. He said to avoid too much activity (which was going to be interesting, considering I had six children already), and to observe strict pelvic rest.

The diagnosis was subchorionic hemorrhage (or hematoma), a fairly common pregnancy complication that causes blood to collect between the uterine wall and the chorionic membrane, which may then may leak through the cervix. Subchorionic hematoma may strip the developing placenta away from its attachment site, causing miscarriage, or placenta previa later on. Or, as in my case, a weakening of the membranes that hold the amniotic fluid intact.

This scenario, with bleeding, leaking of amniotic fluid, and panic, followed by a completely normal looking ultrasound, repeated itself several times, and yet my baby continued to grow and develop normally.

At about 18 weeks gestation, I had a particularly rough night with intense cramping, bleeding, and leaking that kept me awake. I wondered, Is this it? My family was on a camping trip, so we rushed home. But once again, the baby held on.

The only way I could cope with this emotional roller coaster was to avoid getting attached to my growing baby. I went numb, just going on with my routine, mostly forgetting I was pregnant, which is easy to do when you have several other children to care for and little time to think.

Three weeks later, at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I awoke in the middle of the night soaked with amniotic fluid. My water had broken.

I cleaned up, got dressed, put on makeup, and kissed my husband goodbye. I told him to stay with the kids, everything was okay, but that I was going to the hospital.

Once again, I found myself crying with relief and fear when I saw a live, wiggly, perfectly formed baby on the ultrasound screen. The doctors told me there was nothing they could do at this point. I was still at least three weeks away from viability, the point that medical teams will take action to save the life of a premature infant. They told me that they had no way of knowing whether my child could survive. The most likely outcome was that my water breaking would trigger labor within 24 hours, my worst nightmare at this point.

The perinatologist on staff at the hospital encouraged me to terminate, citing statistics about premature babies. He told me that even if my baby survived, he was likely to be deaf, blind, have Cerebral Palsy or other severe birth defects. He told me my own life was in danger. “I have five kids and love them to death, but there’s not one I would trade for my wife.”

I left the hospital not knowing how to feel or what to do, but knowing that I could never terminate my pregnancy as long as my baby’s heart was still beating. They recommended bed rest, though one doctor was honest enough to admit there was no evidence it worked, something I later researched and found to be true.

I got online and spent hours every day researching Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM), finding that there were several communities online full of women who had experienced this. I read their stories of both loss and premature births. I analyzed statistics. I discovered that, when my water broke at 21 weeks, my baby had less than a one percent chance of surviving. One percent!

Every day that I could stay pregnant increased his chances of survival. My goal was to make it to 24 weeks. Every day was a triumph as I managed to stay pregnant. Every night I prayed that I would wake up pregnant, and every morning I rejoiced that my baby had another day to grow in my womb.

I began taking a supplement regime that had been shown to improve outcomes for PPROM moms. I ate a LOT of food. I don’t know exactly why, but even though I was on bed rest, my appetite was monstrous. I drank over a gallon of water a day in an attempt to stay hydrated. Because, thankfully, the body constantly creates new amniotic fluid during pregnancy, mostly consisting of baby urine in the final months. I leaked constantly. It was terrifying to feel.

Being pregnant without amniotic fluid felt bizarre. The baby, although tiny, could hurt me with his movements because there was nothing to cushion those little elbows and knees from my organs. Yet I was thankful for every movement, because movement meant life. I would become terrified if I didn’t feel my baby move. I would awake in the mornings with a cramp in my wrist, due to the fact that I was subconsciously holding my hand pressed against my belly all night long, feeling for him.

I began seeing a high risk perinatologist weekly for high-level ultrasounds. Among other things, they looked for fluid in baby’s bladder. If it was there, it meant he was doing his job: finding small pockets of amniotic fluid and swallowing it, then peeing it out. This was a good sign.

When I was still pregnant at 24 weeks, I went back to the hospital for steroids, for which I am so grateful. Steroids help force preemie lungs to develop faster and are probably responsible for saving my son’s life. I received two rounds as an outpatient.

I told my story to everyone who would listen. I was still pregnant! I felt confident that I could handle whatever happened next. My baby was alive, and that was all that mattered. Meanwhile, I kept homeschooling the older kids — they would bring their books into my bedroom — and running my household as best I could from my bed. My husband came home from work every night to a messy house and warmed dinner for the family. Thankfully, my family and many of my friends were supplying us with dinners.

At 26 weeks, I checked myself into the hospital to stay until I went into labor. Since this was my seventh child, he was tiny, and I had no fluid, my labor would likely progress very fast. Still, the decision to go to the hospital was not easy. I was weighing life and death matters — my son’s (and my) survival — against the very real, practical difficulties my family would face in my absence. My two oldest sons became the caretakers for their young siblings.

I stayed in hospital for nine days, one of the most difficult periods of my life. Time seemed to stop. I missed my two-year old so intensely it felt like a very real pain in my chest. My husband brought the kids to see me, nearly a two-hour round trip, each night so I could deal with it. The weeks I spent on bed rest were exhausting, depressing, and difficult. I mostly distracted myself with Netflix, finding that even reading was too mentally taxing.

After I had been in the hospital for a week, I began experiencing what felt like early labor, and the bleeding returned. The placenta was beginning to separate from my uterus, a potentially life-threatening complication for both me and baby. As baby was so small that a vaginal delivery may injure him, my doctor performed a C-section, which surprisingly was no less painful to me than my non-medicated vaginal births.

My son Josiah — meaning “Jehovah God has strengthened” — was born weighing two pounds, five ounces, large for a baby of 27 weeks gestation. Perhaps all that extra food helped?! He had to be intubated briefly, but later on went to a C-PAP to keep his lungs inflated. He had to learn how to regulate his body temperature, how to breathe, and how to eat. He was the size of a sweet potato with tiny arms and legs. His diaper was folded down to the size of a debit card.

I both loved him and was terrified of him.

If I thought having a high-risk pregnancy with multiple threatened miscarriages was difficult, it was a walk in the park in comparison to the next three months my son spent in the NICU. Every day I rushed through my morning routine with my kids, then left them behind to go visit my newborn infant who lay in a plastic incubator, what I called my heart-shaped box, since my heart lay in it as well. In the beginning I had to ask permission to touch him or hold him, an ordeal that took nearly 45 minutes due to all the cords and wires coming out of his body. I pumped my breastmilk every three hours around the clock, something I found horribly difficult and had no experience with before despite years breastfeeding my other children.

Every emotion you can name — from intense love and protectiveness to anger, rage, depression, despair, sadness, and grief — I experienced them all as I watched my son grow outside my womb with the aid of intensive medical care. The NICU nurses became my entire social life, my therapists, my healers, my family. I had no time or energy for anyone else. Every day that I placed my son back into his incubator (and later, crib), I felt my heart splinter into a million pieces. And every day I put things back together to do it all over again.

While I felt intense feelings of love and protectiveness for my baby, he was also a trigger. He was the reminder of intense emotional pain, grief, and anxiety. I couldn’t feel happy despite the fact that everyone, including his doctors, kept telling me he was doing so well. I was so lost in my pain, it felt like drowning. My emotions threatened to overcome me and I was constantly treading water, beating them back down. I managed to keep myself together when I was with my children at home, but as soon as I got in the car to begin the commute to the hospital, everything would spill out. I would heave and cry great, ugly sobs. I began seeing a therapist.

All I wanted in the world during this time was to take my baby home, to hold him outside so the sun could shine on his face, and I thought that after my son came home from the hospital, things would be better for me, but that wasn’t exactly true. The NICU was safety, and despite my grief at having to be separated from my baby, I experienced sheer terror once he was home. Nothing about mothering a preemie felt familiar to me. It wasn’t just that he was attached to a heart monitor (that, in the early days, went off every few minutes all night long, rendering me a zombie during the day), it was that preemies just don’t act like term babies. Due to their immaturity, they make strange noises, have no active/alert phase, and lack normal feeding cues. I had spent the last 17 years breastfeeding my babies, six of those years as a La Leche League leader, but breastfeeding this baby was a nightmare. I struggled with low milk supply for the first time in my mothering life. It took me several months before anything began to feel normal about mothering this child.

My son is now 14 months old, 11 months adjusted. He laughs when he burps, eats two egg yolks for breakfast, has his big brother wrapped around his finger, and can pull himself up to cruise around the sofa. Yet he only weighs 15 pounds, barely fills out his nine-month size onesies, doesn’t put food (or anything else) in his mouth, doesn’t say mama or dada yet.

On the one hand, my family has been extremely fortunate. None of the dire predictions of that first perinatologist have come true. My son’s NICU experience was uneventful. He had no brain bleeds, no surgeries, and his vision and hearing are fine. He has no long-term issues from his prematurity that we can tell.

Yet I wonder if the stress and worry of mothering a preemie ever really goes away. My baby was back in the hospital twice in his first year, required a winter-long quarantine, two surgical procedures, has struggled with hypotonia (low muscle tone) and failure to thrive, and I’ve never spent so much time in doctors’ offices.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Inside Out. When Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, sacrifices himself to help Joy get out of the memory dump, he jumps out of the wagon so it’s light enough to escape. This is a bit what it has felt like healing from my son’s traumatic start.

I have had to sacrifice my imaginary ideal pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience. The one that begins with a normal, annoying but uneventful pregnancy, and ends with a chubby, wet infant in my arms, at home, moments after his delivery, where he immediately suckles on my breast and it’s smooth sailing from there — the one I had with my other babies.

But this is what love does. Love makes us willing to sacrifice ourselves for our beloved. Love also means sometimes grieving the fact that things aren’t perfect.

My story isn’t over. While most of the intense sadness and anger have subsided, I still have remnants of post-traumatic stress that rears its ugly head from time to time. I don’t think this experience has left me stronger, it’s just made me different. It’s changed me. I cry more often. I also no longer get irritated at my kids or husband when they leave messes around the house. I can put things in perspective better. I have drawn closer to my children and appreciate my husband more. My son’s premature birth gave me the strength to confront people who were hurting me, and to erect proper boundaries.

To quote another mother of a preemie, “Once you’ve held a miracle in your arms, nothing is ever the same again.”


I love your journey so much, Carrie. It’s joy and pain and a measured hope and a new definition of important and meaningless. It’s life, isn’t it?

Post-traumatic stress is quite the sneaky one, surprising us with bursts of intense, inexplicable emotions when we least expect them. Have any of you experienced this? It really resonated when Carrie says this entire ordeal hasn’t left her stronger — it’s just made her different. It’s a unique way of looking at it, and for some reason that thought made me feel better about things. And I’m really not sure why, even!

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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Recipe: Simple Baked Salmon with Kale Salad Wed, 20 Jan 2016 17:00:22 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

healthy baked salmon with kale salad

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

In the winter months, I’m all about soups, and chili, and slow cooked, hearty meals. They taste like cozy comfort and I find them so satisfying. But I’ve noticed that by mid-January, I’ll hit a saturation point on the heavy food, and then all of sudden, I’ll crave a meal that’s light and simple and fresh.

It’s like I need a clarifying break in the menu.

baked salmon with kale saladkale salad ingredients

I figured I’m not the only one that might be on winter-food overload, so I asked Lindsey to come up with a meal that would fit the fresh and light category, and she came up with this gorgeous salad, served alongside baked salmon.

Oh my goodness. I want a giant bowl of the salad right this minute! Don’t the ingredients look amazing?

blood orange and mintkale ribbons and ingredients for saladsalmon with garlic lemon pepper oil

I also want to say, I loved reading Lindsey’s thoughts on this meal (see below). She’s all about getting as much nutrition from her food as possible. I love that thinking and want to be more intentional about the nutrition I’m getting from my own food. This meal seems like a good place to start.

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear: Is anyone else out there ready for a break from soups and stews? Do you get fresh food cravings mid-winter? If yes, what do you like to eat when those cravings hit?

blueberries for kale salad

Here’s what Lindsey says:

It’s always good to bring a light, refreshing meal into regular rotation. Our favorite? Fish and a hearty salad. Simple Baked Salmon with Kale Salad just kinda hits the spot when I’m tired of soup.

Salmon tends to be our go-to because it’s pretty easy to find wild-caught frozen salmon year round. But if salmon isn’t your thing, you can totally still make this with your choice of protein — be it beef, chicken, pork, plant-based protein (tofu and tempeh), or other types of fish.

baked salmon with garlic lemon pepper oil

But forget about the salmon for a bit, because the real star here is the citrus. Winter is the season of citrus, and I welcome it with open arms. So many different types of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons, limes, and more! It’s glorious and I use every meal as an attempt to add more citrus into my day. This kale salad is full of good-for-you ingredients and drizzled with a bright and refreshing Blood Orange Mint Dressing.

You’ll feel so good after eating this! And it’s delicious. Eating the rainbow is never a bad thing. I added blueberries, the superfood darling. I know they’re not in season where I live, but oh my goodness, they are such sweet little gems! I couldn’t resist. I also love the fresh crunch of raw cucumber and pepitas, and the pungency of the red onion. There’s a whole lotta flavors going on — and then there’s the avocado! So creamy and decadent.

blood orange and fresh minthealthy dinner of salmon with kale salad and quinoa

This year I’m really focusing on getting as many nutrients from food as possible. It sounds trite, even a little trendy, but I really believe in eating real food whenever possible. All that citrus is full of vitamin C to help keep our immune systems in tip-top shape. During the cold weather when most of us are indoors, we still need to be getting our vitamin D that we aren’t making without spending some time in the sun. One 3-ounce serving of salmon contains over 100% of the recommended daily value of vitamin D. Eating it once a week can really help give you a boost.

Anyway, just know that if you’re trying to eat healthy, this meal is really going to help get you on your way.

I also believe simple food is the best kind of food. It’s not fussy. It relies on really good ingredients and easy, straight forward cooking. Salmon is so good seasoned with just a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon or splash of vinegar, if that’s more your thing. That’s really all it needs here. I prefer baking to frying, but if you don’t feel like turning on the stove, you can certainly cook the salmon (or your protein of choice) on the stovetop.

bite of baked salmon

As for the greens, I know some people are tired of kale, kale, kale. But I lived for so many years thinking of kale as a garnish for the local fast food condiment station, that I’m still catching up. So forgive me for being all about the kale. (I really do love it though!) You can pick your favorite leafy green as the base for the salad, whatever that is. I also love the peppery flavor of arugula, or mild spiciness of watercress with the sweet and tart flavors of the citrus and other ingredients. And you know what else? If it’s not salad to you unless there’s cheese in it, by all means add a sprinkle on top. A salty feta or creamy crumbled goat cheese would work really well here. I’m looking out for you dairy lovers!

heart healthy kale salad

Now let’s talk about this dressing because I predict it’s going to become one of your favorites. Fresh squeezed blood orange juice and mint are a perfect dressing combo. I love it so much, I drizzle it all over the salad and the salmon. And on the quinoa too. Totally acceptable.

By the way, because the blood orange juice is sweet and not very acidic, I add a little lemon juice to balance things out. But because it’s not as tart as vinegar, it doesn’t need quite as much oil to tame it. So I guess you say this is a little lighter than most dressings too. That adds even more to its charm.

light and fresh salmon with kale salad and quinoa

Simple Baked Salmon with Kale Salad

Serves 4-6


For Simple Baked Salmon:
Four  (4- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

For Kale Salad:
1 bunch kale (or 6 cups of your favorite salad greens), washed well and patted dry
1 cup fresh blueberries (can substitute another berry, or another fruit)
1 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

For Blood Orange Mint Dressing:
1/4 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh mint, thinly sliced or minced
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a casserole dish or line a baking sheet with parchment. Place salmon in casserole dish or on pan.
In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, sea salt, and pepper. Drizzle the mixture evenly over the salmon fillets. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. Fish should flake easily with a fork.
While salmon is baking, prepare salad.
Tear or cut the kale leaves from the fibrous stems. Discard the stems. Stack the leaves on a cutting board and cut crosswise into very thin ribbons. Place in a large bowl. Add the blueberries, cucumber, avocado, red onion, and pepitas. Gently toss and set aside until ready to eat.
To prepare dressing, place all of the dressing ingredients in an 8-ounce jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Chill until ready to use.
When salmon is finished baking, serve warm with kale salad on the side.

Other serving suggestions — serve with a side of quinoa, rice, baked sweet potato, or a steamed veggie.

baked salmon with healthy kale saladhealthy baked salmon dinner and salad


Thank you so much, Lindsey! I always love to see a recipe that features blood oranges. The first time I ate them — or even heard of them — was when we moved to Greece as newlyweds. They’re called sanguinis there, which is such a fun word to say. They’re gorgeous and delicious!

Tell me, Friends, have you ever eaten a blood orange? And what flavors get you through the dark, dreary winter days? (Or the beautiful, ethereal snowy ones?)

Credits: Images, styling & recipe by Lindsey Johnson. Assistance by Amy Christie.

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