Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 30 Mar 2015 18:51:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pipsticks Giveaway Mon, 30 Mar 2015 18:43:51 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

This is fun! I’ve got a new sidebar sponsor called Pipsticks, and today I’m hosting their first Design Mom Giveaway. The prize is a 6-Month Pipsticks Gift Subscription! I know you (and your kids!) will love it.

Pipsticks Sticker SubscriptionsPipsticks Sticker Subscriptions

Do you know Pipsticks? They’re a New York based company committed to bringing the awesomeness of stickers to everyone, in a fun, affordable, and gorgeous package. Remember collecting stickers as a kid? Did you have a sticker book? I sure did. Well, now you can bring that same sticker magic to your kids, through Pipsticks’ sticker subscriptions.

On the 1st of each month, a package full of awesomeness will be shipped to you. What’s in the package? At least 15 sheets of different stickers (puffy ones, sparkly ones, sniffy ones) as well as a few crafty additions to keep you inspired and keep the little subscribers from sticking where they’re not wanted.

Not ready to subscribe, and want to take Pipsticks for a test drive first? Then you can try their Taster Pack.

Pipsticks Sticker SubscriptionsPipsticks Sticker Subscriptions

I love the whole idea of this company. Stickers and kids are such a good fit together. Stickers are visual, tactile, and they keep little hands busy for hours. I think a sticker subscription would make the best gift!

And hey, even if you don’t win, here’s something fun for everyone: Pipsticks now offers adorable printables! They are simple and good-looking and the perfect backdrop for stickers. They’ve got printable incentive charts which are versatile and cute – appropriate for all ages and cute enough to hang on your fridge. Plus, placemats and sticker matchbooks as well.

To enter, visit Pipsticks and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear if you were a sticker collector as a kid! The winner will be announced on Thursday. Good luck!

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Planking Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:00:41 +0000 Design Mom


Image and text by Gabrielle.

I came across this article talking about how planks are the latest fad, and it caught my eye, because Ben Blair is a total planking advocate! He gets the whole family planking whenever we have a spare few minutes. That’s Betty, above, doing a little planking before school this morning. Planking is also part of Maude’s workouts for cross-country and track & field — she holds the planking record in the family.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a hard time embracing exercise routines, but planking seems to be a good fit for me. I like it for several reasons. First, because it goes fast. I can only do about a minute and half so far, and it feels brutal for that minute and a half! But, it’s only a minute and a half. So it’s endurable.

Second, I really like that you can feel the affects, even after just a minute or so. If I plank in the morning, my muscles remind me for the rest of the day.

Third, I’m amazed at how many different muscles get a workout from that one simple exercise!

Fourth, I love that the whole family can participate together. It doesn’t take any particular skill level or strength level or lessons, so everyone can get in on the fun, and no one feels left out. It’s one of those activities where the kids can best the adults (which is always a treat for kids!).

And lastly, I think I like it best because I don’t have to change into work out gear — which means I can participate spontaneously, whenever I think of it or have a break in my schedule.

I can’t pretend it’s a full workout, but I’m trying to pat myself on the back for at least attempting to work some strength-training into my day. : )

How about you? What are your latest exercise successes? Do you have a workout that’s working for you these days? Have you ever tried planking? (If not, go for it! Step away from your computer and give it a try. It’ll go fast, I promise!)

P.S. — Here are some tips to help you hold a plank longer.

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A Few Things Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:29:18 +0000 Design Mom

ben & gab designmom

By Gabrielle. Photo by Kristen Loken.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Was it a good week? For me, its been really, really fun, because advance copies of my book started to arrive at reviewers’ homes this week, and a whole bunch of really lovely mentions have popped up on Instagram. I’m tagging them #designmombook if you’d like to check them out.

The other big happenings at our house this weekend are that Oscar gets back from a school camp today (can not wait to give him a gigantic hug!), and Ben Blair flew to Colorado this morning for the wedding of our nephew Justin. Of course I’m super jealous that I’m missing out on hanging with the amazing Blair clan, but in happier news, it’s a quick trip and Ben will get home tomorrow (can not wait to give him a gigantic hug, too!). How about you? Anything fun going on?

Before I check out for the weekend, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Supertide at Mont St. Michel. I wish I was there! I love that place.

- Yes there are f-words, but it’s worth it I promise.

- Tom Hanks reenacts all his films.

- ”Yoga pants are ruining women.” Thoughts on this interview?

Gigantic bubbles! I never tire of these. Giant bubbles was one of the go-to science fair projects for my siblings. I don’t remember what sort of thesis was involved, but who cares, because GIANT BUBBLES.

- There’s a lot to be learned from Tim Gunn.

Sorry Babe, You’re a Feminist. Funny? Or Does it bug you? (Use headphones for this one around the kiddos.) Thanks, Sarah.

- Why the greatest minds take long walks.

- Blind spots and Woody Allen.

- Blog reviews of my book have started coming in! The first is from Cool Mom Picks, and the second is from Boston Mamas. Both are friends and their reviews are so kind. Thank you, Christine & Liz! Oh. And I just saw this one from Esther at Babyccinno Kids. It’s so sweet I teared up. : )

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


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Call It A Day: Kate Twitchell Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:00:29 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. All photos taken by Kate.

Kate’s first letter to me included three short and sweet sentences, one of which was “I’m a hippie mom in Oregon who’s blind.” And my immediate thought was how in the world does she get through her day with two little ones? To add that she’s hearing impaired seems more than a little unfair, but trust me: you will not feel a smidge of sorry for this upbeat doer of a parent. (You will, however, mist up at her last few sentences. You can trust me on that!) Her positivity is contagious. I admire her so, so much, and I know you will, too.

Friends, it is with such pride that I introduce you to Kate, my new hippie friend who taught me a thing or two today about life.

Q: Good morning! How did your family wake up?

A: Toby has school today; he is five and is in preschool every other weekday. Toby is curious, well-spoken and also a jabbermouth, and wonderfully intelligent; so much, that he seeks out and gathers only the brightest in his class around him. He’s also very decisive; when we offer him a decision, he rarely changes his mind.

I wake to a vibrating alarm clock. The vibrating part weaves under our fitted sheet and on top of the mattress on my side of the body pillow. My name is Kate. I’m a mom, and I’m also blind and hearing impaired. I can’t hear a radio or a buzzing or beeping noise, but I can hear a vibrating thing directly under my head. I also end up in the middle of the bed, right in between the two pillows, so for our entire married lives, we’ve used a body pillow for our heads. Just’In calls me a hippie: I have past-waist length hair, I use the no shampoo method to wash it, I am barefoot or in Vibram Five-Fingers very often, and I swish with coconut oil (inspired by Design Mom, of course!). I use Earthpaste on my teeth, aluminum-free deodorant, and a menstrual cup. If being a hippie is just personal product choice, then I’m perfectly fine with that label.

Just’In is an early riser. He sleeps in only when he allows himself to or when he’s sick. He even wakes early on vacation! He’s out the door to get to work before my alarm clock goes off. Just’In sews fireflowers, Triforce symbols, and Ghostbuster patches onto different-colored polo shirts, and teaches Toby how to play video games, but also how NOT to get addicted. The happiest I’ve seen him this year is when he came home from a D&D character building night. He’s also a brilliant actor; we’re both heavily involved in our awesome local community theatre. The most important part is that he loves me; even though he’s always been a better actor than me, he has declared this year the “Get Kate On Stage” year.

Toby wakes to a regular alarm clock that his dad sets for him and is usually dressed by himself. How long we take to get him ready for school depends on two things: whether he has turned off his alarm clock in his sleep, and whether I have to veto his clothing decisions. I’m slowly picking out which clothes battles are worth it: weather-appropriate and matching are more important than droopy sweats and an ugly cartoon-y shirt that was a gift from a grandparent. Oh, how I struggle with gifts.

Lottie is turning out to be an early riser, as well. More and more, she is waking up around the same time we do. Lottie is definitely into toddlerhood; she’s signing vigorously and tantrumming rarely. I can tell that she, like Toby, has excellent hearing and great intelligence. Lottie loves birds and dogs, and only chooses to smile at some people she meets and wave at even fewer people. We call Lottie “Baby Fearless” because she is much less cautious than her brother. Right now, she walks five or six steps at a time, but she’s still working on balance. I only hope it’s not connected with defective ears and eyes. The genetic degenerative disorder that affects my eyes and ears is also possibly passed on to my kids, so those first two years give us nervous spots as we evaluate eyesight and hearing.

Q: What are you having for breakfast?

A: Breakfast on a school day is very, very low key – bowls of cereal or poptarts. The fanciest I get is a bowl of Malt-O-Meal with brown sugar for me or a cup of homemade hot cocoa and toast on cold days. Food for us is normal because many other things in our lives are not. Food on school days also has to be quick; Toby and I love to sleep, but he also has to get to school. The only food restrictions we have are that Toby’s allergic to peanuts, but he’s well-adapted by now and that’s old news already. We’re teaching him how to be a self-advocate, and this was the first step.

Q: What’s next?

A: Toby gets to school via a ride from another school mom. Her oldest child goes to a middle school very near us, and her youngest attends the same school Toby does. When Toby first started preschool, I took him to school. Travel for me means walking, riding the city bus, or being a passenger in a car, and I chose a preschool that did not require us to transfer buses to get there. It was a rush to get me AND him ready in the morning, and Toby hated the five-minute jog to the bus stop in the cold. The stress of hurrying and thinking of missing the bus brought tears and sobs from him nearly every morning.

It took me two months to meet a friend at the school whom I liked and trusted well enough to take my child with her many mornings, drop him off safely to school, and not have it be a complication to her everyday schedule. Providence guided my timing; I connected with her right before I gave birth to Lottie. After the influx that gave Toby a ride from loving relatives had gone, all it took was a phone call, and my mornings were not-so-magically stress-free.

Before you ask – and everyone does – no, I can’t drive that car that sits in my garage all day. Just’In rides his bike to work every weekday, and we live on the opposite coast from New York City. We live in Salem, Oregon, on the edge of very normal suburbs in a town that struggles to be a capital smushed between two much larger cities, both with vibrant personalities. I ride the bus. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t even allowed to take the Driver’s Education classes with all my friends and peers because, even at 16, I couldn’t pass the vision test.

But, confound it, I can still be a mom. I’ll figure out how to do soccer carpools later.

Q: How is the early part of your day structured?

A: Once I get Toby out the door and waiting in the driveway for his ride, I feed Lottie and my me time begins. Usually, I use this time to try to tackle a specific project, whether it’s cutting and hemming tabletops for Toby’s school auction or posting a photo album on Facebook. Today, I took apart floral centerpieces that I made for a church dinner. Wednesdays are laundry day, and that starts in the morning, so I did that today, too. Some days have more successful me time than others, what with Lottie waking earlier on a more consistent basis.

My blindness means I can do lots of close-up activities normally. While using the computer, I don’t need a large-text program or a read-aloud program yet. I’ve always been a voracious reader of books; every room in our house has books in it, except the kitchen. Less than ten of them are Braille books. Sometimes, my me time is inhaling a book.

In the winter, I often go back to sleep. It takes me more energy than most to see and hear and compensate and process the world, and that means more sleep.

Being blind throws people off sometimes. Most people think of blindness as absolutely no sight at all. I will thankfully never reach that point. My left eye has always been bad; when I was a kid, I called it my grumpy eye. I’ve always only been able to see vague patches of color and light and very broad movements. My right eye does all the work, but I have very poor peripheral vision that degenerates slowly through time. Every few years, I notice I can see less than I used to. Lately, I’ve noticed that my head moves like a bird’s when searching for something all around the room – jerky and by sections, instead of fluid and sweeping. I haven’t always done this. I don’t know how bad my sight will get, and the degeneration could stop at any time. I had glasses from three to 15, and I’ve had hearing aids since I was five.

I don’t go to eye doctors anymore; the last time I did, the doctor looked for less than 30 seconds at my retinas and told me, “Yep, you’re definitely blind. What do you want me to do now?”

I was taught from 12 to 18 by a mobility specialist named George how to use a cane, how to use the bus, and how to use your ears at an intersection to figure out when to cross the street. I use a metal-tipped cane at night in unfamiliar locales because I have very poor night vision that is also deteriorating. It’s still good enough that it’s fascinating to watch how regular-seeing people respond to blind people with canes.

Right now, the hearing impairment affects more of my life than the blindness does. When Lottie wakes up and I don’t have my hearing aids in, the only way I can tell she’s awake is if she starts kicking the wall through her crib slats. When she slept in the same room as us as a newborn, I couldn’t hear her even if she was screaming her head off – a great advantage if I wasn’t the only food source. Every night, Just’In would get out of bed, pick up the screaming baby, stand on my side of the bed, and try to wake me up so I could breastfeed her. I’m a very sound sleeper, and I also talk and walk in my sleep. My subconscious is not a nice person, and occasionally, he would get her and not me!

I’m trying to teach Toby that if I’m sitting in the same room as he is and I’m doing something different while he’s playing video games, he should tap me if he needs to say something to me because my hearing aids are off. I’m also trying to teach him to look at me when he’s talking to me; not only have I always depended upon reading lips, it’s good social etiquette to look people in the face when conversing.

I get about two hours of partial me time before I have to concentrate on leaving the house. Toby’s at school for four hours, but the bus to get to his school only runs every hour. After dressing me and Lottie and heading out the door – Lottie in my Mei-Tai sling and me in my awesome navy trench coat – we hustle to the bus stop. If we miss the bus by one minute, we’re an hour late. At best, we can catch the bus going the other way on the same route, and we end up at the school right when they’re letting out. If we catch the bus we originally hustled for, we make it to the school an hour earlier than school lets out. This lets me feed Lottie breakfast in the teacher’s lounge. Today, she eats a Fig Bar and applesauce in a pouch.

I also have time to catch up with school happenings via the school’s heart. Her name is Carol, and she will be the main thing I miss when we have to switch schools next year. She is the school’s sole secretary, personal assistant to the principal, volunteer coordinator, and school nurse. She is short and round, with straight, ear-length silver hair and lovely cheeks. She is genuine and intelligent, understanding and accepting. I can always tell when she’s in good health because she has a sparkle in her eye, and she greets Lottie like she hasn’t seen the girl in months.

After we pick up Toby from school, we go back inside so he can go to the bathroom. We’ve had too many potty dances while waiting for the bus to get home. Lottie plays with the echoes in the basement of the school with the syllable “Gah!” Sometimes I let her out of my sling so she can climb up the stairs, but there are lots of staircases in Toby’s gorgeous school, so I quickly get tired of this. Then we walk to the bus stop. The neighborhood around the school is gorgeous: huge trees, well-kept and full-of-character houses, many with bright color and funny details.

Toby gets to pick which way we walk to the bus stop, and sometimes even which bus stop to take. If I’ve got an errand to run, now is the time to do it with snacks in backpacks to fend off lunch hunger. Taking Toby home IS the main errand of the day. While at the bus stop, Lottie crawls through the dirt. Dirt can’t hurt her, and it could be healthy for her. Because it’s Oregon, we have bushes and trees all around us, so sometimes she pulls the berries and leaves off a nearby bush. Sometimes Toby jumps over puddles or plays with sticks. Sometimes we sing songs; while waiting next to a road full of traffic and cars full of no one to hear you, one finds that one can sing at the top of one’s lungs with no cares. We play I Spy at the bus stop and we have races from one sidewalk crack to another. But sometimes, especially when it’s rainy, we just stand and stare, trying to stay as warm as possible. Traffic can also be mesmerizing.

Lottie’s behavior on the bus ride home is always very different than on the bus ride from home. The first ride has her standing on my lap, touching , tasting, seeing everything. Sometimes, it’s where we sit that makes all the difference. If we sit in the highest seat on the bus, and there is at least one person sitting next to or behind us, so she’s pretty much guaranteed to be well-behaved. If we’re sitting in a high place so she can see out the windows, but the entire back of the bus is empty and there’s no one to stare at or flirt with, then Lottie squirms and twists and stands up, then plops down, then tries to get off the seat I’m sitting on. There are no seat belts or carseats, so my lap is where she has to stay. Even at toddlerhood, teaching the Rules of The Bus is important. On the ride home, though, she nearly always falls asleep in my sling, against my chest or my shoulder. Until I let him pull the signal for us to stop, Toby falls asleep about half the time as well. Dang, it’s hard to wake a child while holding another sleeping child when the bus is stopped, waiting for just you to get off so it can keep schedule.

The walk home is almost always leisurely. This ramble, this mosey, is our talking time. Toby tells me about his morning at school. We had a neighbor who lived very near the bus stop, and we’d often stop in his yard and talk and talk. He died in January, and we miss him. Now, we hug the trees that he cared for. We’ve gotten to know many neighbors on this route home. They’re out in their yards or getting in or out of their cars or checking their mail. We like to recite their names as we walk by their houses to our own. It makes us feel like we have a community, like our neighborhood is alive and full of faces, not just rows of empty houses.

Q: Do you have lunch plans? 

A: Lunch is always at home. We usually have naan with cheese. It’s Tandoori naan that we buy from the store with colby jack cheese. Sometimes I’ll use cheddar or mozzarella, or sometimes I’ll put homemade sun dried tomatoes in my part. I put a row of grated cheese on the flat naan, zap it in the microwave for a minute, then fold the naan so it looks like a wrap. Then I bring a butter knife to Toby at the table and he picks which side he wants and where I should cut it for his portion. If we’re out of naan, we’ll eat bagels with cream cheese. If we’re out of cheese, we’ll cut the naan into strips and dip them into tomato sauce with garlic powder in it or ranch.

After lunch, Toby starts his screen time. Sometimes I’ll share it with him if he decides to watch a movie. Sometimes, I’ll continue to work on the project I was working on that morning. Lottie naps reliably, so the transfer from outside and sling to inside and crib is always effortless. She won’t always be this way, so sometimes I nap, too. I take showers on days we don’t have school, and they usually happen in the afternoon, when Lottie is asleep. After Lottie wakes up, we might go to the park. We live within walking distance of the worst park in the city. Apparently drug deals go on here, although the graffiti is certainly no higher here than it is anywhere else in the neighborhood. I have the graffiti hotline programmed as a contact in my phone, and I often call it when we’re running errands. It was scary to get phone calls from Salem Police Department, but now I know all the voices who report back on the calls I make.

My philosophy with the park is that if we, as moms, stop going to the playground, the park will get worse. Crime happens in empty places, in secret places, in places that aren’t cared for and aren’t frequented. If we keep going to the playground and keep going in the middle of the day, the crime won’t get worse than it already is.

Toby loves crafts. Sometimes, he remembers that he was crafting at school and he asks for crafts at home after lunch. This throws me because I can craft, but I only create when the creation has a purpose. I alter clothes, I make ATCs, but I despise craft creations that just sit on a surface. And Toby is rarely interested in the things I like to create. But very occasionally, we’ll create together after lunch and put off screen time for later in the afternoon or when Just’In gets home.

Q: How are you errand-ing today? And do you do anything to plan for the rest of the day, like prep dinner?

A: Tuesdays are grocery night. Before Just’In gets home from work, I prep a meal list for the week and a grocery list. We eat the meal I’ve planned for that day, then we get supplies for the next week of meals. We usually go as a family. In the store, he takes the cart and the kids, and I have the grocery list. The most important thing for me is that we load the groceries into the car; this process would be a lot harder if I had to carry the groceries home by hand. I’ve had to do that before, living in a college town with no roommates and terrible bus connection to anything, but also single and free to walk anywhere on my own, as fast as I wanted.

Since Wednesday is Laundry Day, Thursday usually ends up being Fold and Put Away Laundry Day, but I try not to let that take up the entire day. Some Saturdays we clean house and do yard work, and others we run errands. We go to the places I can’t get to with two kids or just at all, like the local post office store with packages to mail or the library which is too far across town for two buses connected by a transfer, time at the library, and the very long bus trip home.

Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family?

A: We usually eat dinner as a family: Lottie in her hook-on chair, Toby with a kiddie plate that was a gift from grandparents, and Just’In and I with adult-sized glasses, even when he consistently drinks only half the glass. When Just’In gets home, we do one of two routes: he tends kids while I make dinner, or we have dinner quickly and we go to various evening activities.

Just’In and I have a date monthly. I’ve determined over our ten years of marriage that the date activity has to be away from our home, and the kids cannot be with us. We need that date for rekindling of our friendship and a break from household responsibility, and I try really hard to make sure it happens. Sometimes, we go to a play. Sometimes, we go to dinner at a friend’s house. This month, I think we’ll try free dance lessons. Always, we hire a teenage babysitter from our congregation. Eliza is slowly becoming our regular. She is lightly sarcastic with a different body type than me, which is refreshing for Lottie because she loves to snuggle down on a body that’s heavier and a shoulder that’s not bony.

Q: Describe the evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?

A: When we’re not on a date, we’re not out doing other activities, and we don’t have any dinner guests over, Toby starts getting ready for bed at 8:30. Lately, Just’In times him because it was just taking him too dang long to change his clothes! Dawdling is fine every other part of the day because it encourages the imagination, but not when we’re waiting for him.

We wait for him so we can all say prayers as a family. Sometimes, this happens before Lottie goes to bed, and sometimes it happens after. Just’In puts Toby to bed. Lottie loves picking which board book we’ll read together right before I lay her down in her crib. I love this part the best about our evening routine – just the girls in the house, enjoying someone else’s work of art. Sometimes, we read it straight through. Other times, we read half of it before she decides to flip through it herself. The point is that she has time with just me to lay in my arms and listen to my voice. I always tell her I love her before I leave the room.

Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…

A: …amber waves of grain.

There’s just something about imagining fields of flowing wheat or prairie grass that reach all the way to the horizon like the ocean. It pushes thoughts of the next day and the feelings of the finished day right out of the conscience. It’s such a big image, expanding the entire view of the mind – wild, long grass as far as the eye can see, an ocean of flowing, rippling grain – and puts me right to sleep.

The mental picture of endless prairie grass also accompanies a dream to see it someday. It’s a positive and approachable dream to travel that also tints the conscience with hope. My dad once told me that he hoped to take me traveling as much as possible – so I could see as much of the world as possible before my sight degenerates so badly that I cannot. But even if I had to peer through a pinhole in the bottom of a cup, I think I’d be able to see and grasp the enormity of amber waves of grain.


Gulp. Kate, I can’t stop thinking of your dad’s wish to show you as much of the world as he could before you can’t see it anymore. Goodness, I want to drive you to the closest amber waves of grain filled field myself! Your work ethic and positive attitude is a day-changer for me and, I’ll bet, for most of my readers. Thank you so much for adding yourself to our day!

One of the sentences that really sticks with me is how, despite Kate’s difficulties, she maintains: “But, confound it, I can still be a mom. I’ll figure out how to do soccer carpools later.” We do what we can when we can, and we’ll worry about the next obstacle later. Pretty much sums up parenthood, right?

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

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Design Mom Goes Blonde Wed, 25 Mar 2015 16:00:37 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Video by Gusto at Life in DigitalPhotos by Matt Harrington.

If you’ve been following along on my hair saga, you may already know that right before Christmas this past December, I went blonde. Here’s a time lapse video that takes you from before to after. It was filmed on the first day I went lighter — an eight hour process that is condensed in this video to less than 2 minutes.

I had been wanting to try something totally new with my hair for months but had kind of stalled out, and when I found out my friend, the amazing hair stylist Rubi Jones, was coming to San Francisco, I jumped on the opportunity to make the change happen. Rubi knows the owner of the luxe Barrow Salon here in San Francisco, so she connected me with the salon and we set the whole thing up. In the video, you’ll see Barbara, the genius colorist, her lovely assistant Brigid, and hair guru Rubi Jones who cut and styled my hair at the end of the day.

Something else you’ll see in the video: me talking NON-STOP for a full 8 hours. Literally non-stop. They don’t call me Gabby for nothing. : )

I’ve been getting lots of questions about the blonde from neighbors, relatives and readers, so I thought it would be fun to answer some FAQs here.



In the video, you can see the first appointment. As I mentioned, it was long, like 8 hours. The bleach was applied on small sections, and foiled, and then my roots were bleached separately. And there were several toner sessions. My hair was remarkably undamaged at the end of it and Rubi only trimmed an inch or two.

Since this video was made, I’ve had two more color days, each with same colorist. At the second one, I was hoping for an all-over bleach that would take me platinum, but Barb’s expertise is focused on preserving hair quality as much as possible, and she really wanted to go more slowly to prevent damage, so she did highlights instead.

After trying out the highlights for several weeks, I decided they were definitely too subtle for me, so when I talked to Barb about the next appointment, I asked for no highlights, no foils, just all over bleach. And I wanted to let the bleach sit until I was platinum, even if that meant damage, and even if the damage required a big chop of my hair. So the third time I went in we got much closer to my goal. In fact, I would definitely describe my current color as platinum, though it’s still not quite the white-silver-blonde I’m aiming for. I think my roots are at the goal color, but my ends are still yellow gold. Those darn ends. They were filled with years of dark color and they are quite stubbornly holding on to the remains of it.

After the third appointment, my hair was definitely more damaged, (no surprise) and we cut off another few inches. But the hair quality still doesn’t feel bad, and after a blow-out looks much healthier and happier than I expected.

I think for the next appointment, I’ll do one of two things: 1) just get my roots done, add an all-over toner, and continue to enjoy this current color for awhile. Or 2) cut my hair closer to chin length, and do another all over bleaching session that hopefully takes me to the goal color of white-silver-blonde. We’ll see what happens!



As you know if you’ve been reading about my hair changes over the last year, I’ve never been obsessed with being blonde or even trying blonde. I’ve always been very happy as a brunette. So this color change was more of an intentional experiment. To see what it felt like trying on a physical identity that looked markedly different than what I’d normally tried before. I also like the idea of taking my hair to a color that acts as a blank slate. Meaning, once my hair is white, it’s easy to try other colors — maybe pink? lavender?

Boringly, I don’t feel like I behave differently at all. In fact I generally forget that I’m blonde. It’s not something I think about at all during an average day. And several months later, I’m still sometimes surprised when I see blonde in the mirror. Except for morning and evening routines, I really don’t see my reflection throughout the day, so perhaps I’m still just not used to it. But it also might be that I just don’t identify as blonde.

My mother-in-law was always a brunette until she let her hair go naturally white-grey with age. She’s been white-grey for many years now and still isn’t used to the new hair color. In her head, she still pictures herself as a brunette. I totally get that. I still totally picture myself as a brunette as well.

I can also say that as I’ve tried dramatic hair length changes over my lifetime, I have felt different. So maybe I’m someone that feels different with a new hair length, instead of hair color.


I wondered if I would dress differently, and mostly I don’t. Though for photos or videos, I notice I’m now drawn to lighter colors. My makeup colors haven’t changed as much as I expected.

But this is new: Once I reached platinum, one of the biggest changes for me, is that I suddenly feel comfortable going out with no eye makeup. That is really unusual for me. I’ve never worn a ton of eye make up on a daily basis, but when I had dark hair, and even the dark blonde hair, eyeliner and mascara were a given. But now, when my hair is platinum, I like how I look without eye makeup. Totally unexpected to me! And I now care more that I have color on my lips.

Last week in New York, the HomeGoods staff had hair and makeup artists available because we were all on camera a bunch. And the makeup artists would give me both heavy eye makeup with fake lashes, plus an intense lip color. I felt like it was a lot. Maybe too much. It’s kind of an intense look. Not sure. I was still getting used to it.


The “fakeness” of my hair color has been fun for me to discuss. My current natural color is basically halfway between white and black. It’s a salt-and-pepper mix that feels sort of metallic gray. So going dark like I was before, or going blonde like I am now, both feel equally fake to me. And I’m fine with that.

If you watch the video, there’s a part where the length of my hair has been bleached, but my roots haven’t yet, and you’ll see they are very white/grey!


Actually, yes. I do get more looks on the street, or maybe I’m just more aware of it. And once in awhile friends don’t recognize me. : )



That’s a good question. I really expected, assumed even, that I would have to chop off my hair because of color damage. So I was picturing a bold new haircut in addition to the new hair color. But really, my haircut has remained similar the whole time. Which is fine, but not the dramatic change I was imagining. So I’m thinking it will be fun to continue experimenting with my hair length and style.


Well, oddly, my curls seemed to really change when we moved here to the Bay Area. I don’t know if it was the move, or if it was going to happen anyway. Maybe an age thing? But I lost a ton of curl when I moved here. Which is part of why I started getting blowouts more regularly. I haven’t been able to figure out how to style my new, less-curly hair, and blowouts save the day. (Apparently, I’m not the only one to see a change in my curls. Mara mentioned having one too.)

Anyway, I haven’t tried to wear my hair naturally curly at all since the bleaching started. But when I have curls added at a blowout appointment, they stay remarkably well. So that’s nice.


Last summer I had bangs cut. And it turns out I love having bangs. I know getting regular trims with bangs can be a challenge, but I haven’t felt like the upkeep is too hard at all. Since I go in often (when I’m both dark or blonde) for root touchups and blowouts, working in a bang trim hasn’t been a big deal. I like that the bangs give me more coverage when I have a breakout, and I feel like it’s easier to make my hair look “done” with bangs.

But on one of the days at Alt Summit, when I wore the red velvet suit, Rubi styled my hair with my bangs pulled back and I realized I was ready to grow them out. So that’s what I’ve been doing. So far so good. I’m sure there are more awkward stages to come, but I’m willing to do it.


Yes. For sure. It’s been a really good reminder that I have permission to dress or style myself however I like. Sometimes I see someone that I feel like has a super modern, stylish look, with funky hair or unusual clothes and somehow feel like I’m not allowed. That I’m somehow required to look a certain way or dress a certain way. But that’s simply not true. If I want to look super modern and stylish, the only thing that’s stopping me is me.

I would say that if I was doing it again, I would have tried harder to speed things up. I think I would have talked the colorist into skipping the foils, and doing two overall bleach sessions in the same day. I was willing to let my hair get damaged, and I wonder if we could have reached the color I am now at the first appointment. But who knows? Hair can be unpredictable. I guess I just really like the idea of starting out really dark and then ending the day platinum — like Kim Kardashian’s recent hair color change.

Obviously, if you want to bleach your hair, and are concerned about damage, slow and steady is the way to go. If you’re looking for a dramatic change, damage is a part of the risk.


I don’t know. I still feel like I haven’t reached the picture in my head, which involves even lighter hair, and a shorter cut. If I am able to get there, I think I would want to stay there for quite awhile. I’m even wondering if going white now, will ease my hair into true white as I get older.

But maybe I’ll play with this for a year or so and then crave my dark hair again. We’ll see.

Okay you guys, now I’m dying to hear: have you ever made a dramatic hair color change? Do you know anyone with naturally dark hair, but who has lived for most of her life as a blonde? Or vice versa? Have you ever really wanted to change your hair color, but been too timid to go for it? Have you ever tried something new with your hair and hated it? Do you think you feel different or behave different when you change your look? Lastly, did you like the video?

P.S. — I’ve been asked, so I’m guessing you’re curious too: Neither the video, nor the hair color services were sponsored. I was a paying client like everyone else, and I hired the videographer because I wanted to make a time lapse video. I love time lapse videos and think it’s good content! But I did get a 10% discount on the hair color, because the salon owner is a friend of my friend Rubi.

Which reminds me, I’ve had so much fun going in to San Francisco for my hair appointments, but I’ve decided I really need to find a great colorist nearby in Oakland, because going into the city ends up adding way too much time to the appointments. Especially for something like a root touch up that happens once a month or so. If you know any awesome Oakland colorists, let me know!

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Family Dinner Tue, 24 Mar 2015 15:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get two meals free on your first order! See details below.

I wrote about Blue Apron a couple of times last year — I’m a total fan. And they’ve had a new development that I thought you’d love to hear about. They’re now offering a family plan! It’s designed to feed a family of four with full size portions, or a family of 5 or 6, with young kids who eat smaller portions. We had been ordering double boxes to get servings for four, and now everything comes in one box, which means less packaging and more simplicity. Thumbs up all around.

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Have you already heard of Blue Apron? If not, let me tell you, it is awesome. Essentially, it’s farm-fresh ingredients for chef-designed recipes, delivered to your door. No trips to the grocery store, and no extra ingredients, just the exact portions you need for each recipe. And speaking of recipes, an easy-t0-follow, photographic recipe card is included with each box.

Boxes arrive with three meals per week, and the price is $9.99 per person with always free shipping. Blue Apron is (hopefully!) available in your area, because it ships to over 80% of the country. They offer a large selection of recipes and they add new dishes to their menu every week — and you can access all the recipes online, even if you’re not a customer. I’ve been eyeing the Greek Sweet & Sour Stew and the Chicken & Drop Biscuit Casserole — I think my kids would love both.

If you’d like to give it a try, I’ve got an deal for you: The first 100 readers will get two meals off their first Blue Apron order FREE! Just click here.

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I also want to note, that I continue to be delighted by all the different ingredients that Blue Apron introduces to me. For the meal in these photos, Moroccan Root Vegetable Tagine, it was a new-to-me spice called Ras El Hanout. It smells sooooo good. Almost like a christmas-spice mix with some cumin. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was yum.

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Though it’s not necessarily the intention of Blue Apron, we always feel like their boxes include cooking lessons for the kids. When they help with Blue Apron dinner prep, they learn to cut different sorts of vegetables, and they learn how to prepare different sorts of grains than we might include in our standard family recipes.

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I also love that meatless options are part of their menus. You may have heard that California is in a big drought, and my kids learned at school that eating less meat — particularly beef — is a major way to conserve water.

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Anyway, like I said. I’m a big Blue Apron fan. New flavors. Lots of color. And the best part? I don’t have to figure out what’s for dinner. It feels like such a luxury to have someone else make that decision!

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Have you tried Blue Apron yet? Click here to get two free meals off of your first order! If you have tried them, did you feel like it was a good fit? I’ve mentioned this before, but we like a delivery every other week, or whenever we’re particularly busy. How about you? And have you ever tried Ras El Hanout?

P.S. — Know where the name comes from? I found out when I started using their service: chefs in training around the world wear blue aprons — it’s a symbol of lifelong learning in cooking.

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Living With Kids: Susan Hays Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is a happy interview; I can tell Susan smiled and laughed the entire time she answered my questions, and I know you’re going to enjoy her earnest candor. This is an around-the-world family that has most recently moved from Florida to South West France, so you know they’ve experienced their share of cultural changes and shocks. But France is where they hope to call home for a very long time, and I’m so pleased Susan invited us in to show us around!

Welcome, Susan!

Q: Please introduce us to your family.

A: Hi! We are a slightly unconventional British family of seven. My husband, Roddy, grew up in several different countries, his one constant being boarding school in England. I, on the other hand, had a terribly normal childhood, growing up on the Isle of Wight, a small island six miles off the south coast of England. I lived in the same house all my life and I went to the same school all my life, I rode ponies, and was the original tomboy!

My husband and I met on the Island of Madeira in the middle of the Atlantic where he ran two charter fishing boats. I was there on a fishing holiday, a break from London life with some friends. To cut a long story short, we met, some years later we married, and then we had five children over the course of ten years.

Our eldest Izzi is now 18, and has just started at University in the UK. She is incredibly academic – where she gets her study ethic from, I have no idea! Our next daughter, Millie, has just had her 15th birthday. She is very artistic and has an insatiable appetite for life, is passionate about her chickens, and a really good tennis player.

Jack is our 12 year old son, the only boy in a house of girls. Roddy always jokes that he may not like it at the moment, but when he is older and they all start bringing friends home he will be delighted! He should also make extremely good boyfriend material, understanding the way girls think! He is already taller than me, loves cycling, and is intent on winning the Tour de France at some stage in the future.

Hetty is ten. She is all or nothing – either extremely loud or very quiet minding her own business – and there is no halfway house with Hetty! She is a thinker, and she would rather be on her own than be friends with someone just for the sake of being friends. However, once she is your friend you will be her friend for life. Georgina is eight; we call her our little Kiwi as she was born in New Zealand. She is the only one in a blue-eyed family to have green eyes and olive skin. Roddy always jokes that he is sure the French pool man was involved somewhere along the way! She is also the only one that is fearless, so thank goodness she is number five! If the first four had had her fearless attitude, we would be a very small family, I am sure!

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

A: We live in South West France in the middle of a small village of 600 inhabitants; our nearest reasonably sized town of 25,000 people is about a ten minute drive away. We have lived here since last summer when we returned to France after living in Florida for four years.

Actually, Roddy bought the house without me! We have been married for 19 years and we know each other pretty well, so we decided last spring that it was impossible for both of us to leave Florida together and come to France on a house hunting trip. Izzi was taking her final exams for the International Baccalaureate and the others were all in school, too, and so armed with laptop, iPad, and cellphone, Roddy set off to buy us a house! After many Skype calls and many emails, I remember he called one morning and said, “You know how you wanted a house in the middle of a village, with a fig tree and grape vines and at least an acre of garden, and room for friends to stay and yet within striking distance of the coast? Well, I’ve found it.”

Three months later and we were all in France entering the village where the house was waiting. Roddy was unusually quiet – in short, he was terrified! What if I didn’t like it? We already owned it, we knew it needed a lot of renovation, but what if I took one look and hated it? He need not have worried! The minute I walked through the gates, I fell in love.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: It was not in the plans to move. Florida was meant to be our forever home. We arrived on a business visa and, despite what we had initially been told and subsequently spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours with immigration lawyers, we were advised that immigration policy had changed and we would never get the green card which we had understood was a formality when we arrived, and we would never be able to become permanent residents. We knew we had to return to Europe.

When I was a teenager I always remember thinking I had two choices. I had to go to school because it was the law – although I would far rather have been at home riding my ponies! – so I could either go and be miserable for several years of my life or I could make the most of it and enjoy it. Of course I chose the latter. I still use this thought process today.

So here we are, living in France, and it’s already 2015. Where did the time go? And I have to say we are all extremely happy. There is always a positive side and it is lovely to be close to family and in Europe again. Hetty and Georgina go to the local village school, attended by just 67 children, aged from five to 11. They love that they walk to school, and on Fridays we stop at the little village bakery on the way home and buy an end of week treat; they will each choose one thing and something for Millie and Jack, too, for when they return from school a little later.

The village is small and safe and at the weekends the children are able to walk to the bakery or take our dog for a walk on their own, and yet just ten minutes drive away is the much larger town of Rochefort. The centre of Rochefort has a large square bordered by cafes and restaurants and a beautiful fountain. During the winter holidays this square is turned into a giant open air ice skating rink, and becomes one of the highlights of our Christmas holidays. Small boutique shops in buildings several centuries old line the surrounding streets. Even in the cold winter months, the town is vibrant and buzzing and there is no better place to sit and take a coffee and watch the world go by than in one of the street-side cafes. And, as we are in France, I have to talk about the local markets! They’re an integral part of French life, the freshest of local fruits and vegetables. We really do live life according to the seasons, and it is a wonderful education for the children.

Q: You’ve lived a lot of places before this. What’s been the best part about moving that you carry in your memories?

A: Roddy’s business is fishing and the manufacturing of fishing tackle, and that has taken us to some far flung corners of the world for which I feel extremely fortunate. For someone who lived such a sheltered childhood, it has been a completely opposite adulthood! Although, I have to say that this is it: I am NOT moving again! I absolutely hate flying, I don’t mind the small planes that hop from here to England and take an hour, but I hate long transatlantic flights; I watch the screen count down the minutes and hours until we are safely on the ground, and I would gladly never get on a plane again.

The best part is always, undoubtedly, the people who have always been so open and friendly. We are the expat family with SO many children we have half a soccer team, and yet we have been welcomed into their homes and lives. We have been lucky to experience so many different cultures, but I do miss the amazing friends we have made around the world.

Q: You’ve got kids from 8 to 18; tell us about your wide range of house rules! How do you keep your little ones little while giving your older ones more freedom?

A: Now this is something I ponder often. We don’t seem to have hard and fast set rules, and if we did I am sure someone would tell me rules are meant to be broken…or maybe that is just my motto! I am not a strict rules sort of person. However, we all seem to muddle along rather well.

We always eat together, and everyone knows that they absolutely do not bring a mobile device or electronic to the table, so maybe that is the first rule. Whoever is around in the morning will empty the dishwasher. It’s not a set job – sometimes I do it, sometimes Roddy does, sometimes I’ll ask whichever child is in the kitchen at the time to do it – it is just a part of family life and amazingly no one complains and it all works out to be fair in the end. I think the fact that we are such an outdoor sporty family makes the age range so much easier. Whether boating, fishing, cycling, walking, there really is no age barrier and everyone has fun together.

However I do think one of the hardest parts of parenting is getting the balance right. How much leeway to give a teenager? How do you give them their own sense of responsibility whilst also letting go? We try and spend time with each of them individually, and I am extremely lucky to have such an amazingly supportive husband who works from home. He is such a hands-on father and that makes life very much easier. At other times we will all be together, which often means very noisy conversations! We are all strong willed and even the youngest girls have their own firm opinions, but I encourage debate and it is never dull. It is all about somehow getting the balance right. I am sure we could have done many things differently, but it all seems to be working out ok and, most importantly, everyone is happy.

Q: Tell us about your blog! Why did you start it and what are your hopes for it?

A: My blog, Our French Oasis, has quite taken me by surprise. I started it at the end of last year at the request of some of our friends in Florida; they wanted to hear all about our new life in France, and so I said I would write a blog. I still remember the very first post I wrote, my finger hovering over the publish button. It was a scary moment, I felt very vulnerable, and what if my friends thought it was awful and didn’t want to read what I had written?! So at first I kept it very simple and just tentatively felt my way with a few stories and photos of life here. This past January, I started receiving some incredibly positive feedback from total strangers who enjoyed escaping a little to France with me.

I have been amazed at how incredibly friendly the blogging world is. Other bloggers have given me so much advice and I have made some great new friends through the blog. However, the basis of the blog is still, and will remain, my love of sharing. If I can just make someone smile, then it is all worthwhile. Maybe, just maybe a few people will follow in my belief that a family bike ride and a picnic is just as much fun as a theme park and a Big Mac…and a great deal healthier!

Q: What’s your best advice for others moving around a lot?

Q: I do yearn to stay put, which is why I said I am NOT moving again! Yes, of course, my kids miss their friends, and it has been much harder on the older three than the two youngest who really have only known school in Florida and now here in France. But life is not perfect or easy all the time. I am not saying it is ideal moving a lot and there are one or two people who have criticized and been extremely hurtful about our big moves. Those are people who do not know our children, though, and I am sure if they met them they would see that – despite moving so much – they are extremely well adjusted balanced kids.

It has made us all extremely close as a family, and I hope that close bond will never be broken. The best advice I can give anyone moving is to stick together as a family. The kids may find it tough to be the outsider in a new school especially if they can’t even speak the language, but knowing that at home they have your complete support and understanding and pride is so valuable. Just encourage them, be there for them, and listen. That’s probably great to do whether you move or not!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Undoubtedly my favourite thing about being a Mom is being surrounded by five amazing children. They make me laugh, they make me cry, and at times I want to scream in frustration, but I love them with all my heart. I cannot stand mess and chaos, I like everything to be in its place, and so I have no idea why I ever had five children – because, trust me, with five children there is always mess!

I could live extremely happily with a fair degree of minimalism, but Roddy loves his books and hates to throw anything away, and I think all of the children have inherited his “hold onto everything just in case” gene. As someone who reads a novel and then gives it to the Goodwill store, this has taken quite some getting used to. One of my kids – and I am not going to tell you which one for fear they may just never forgive me – actually insists on keeping candy wrappers as a souvenir! A memory, as they put it. Now we do have candy, not daily, but it is not forbidden and not unusual so why keep an old wrapper? I have argued this until I am blue in the face, and I have even secretly taken a few out of the drawer where they are kept thinking I would throw them away and clear some of the clutter, only to put them back a minute later because I felt too guilty!

I will never win my war on clutter and I will never live in a perfect tidy mess free home, but I also wouldn’t change it for the world!We muddle along for the most part very happily. My kids keep me young, they keep me laughing, they keep me fit, and I love them to bits.

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

A: Well, having lived here for less than a year, that’s quite a difficult one to answer. But this takes me back to moving around and changing homes a fair amount. So when they are grown up and with their own families, I hope they look back and think of this as home. This is where I really want to settle and for them to feel they belong. Everywhere we have lived has had its special moments and plenty of fun and laughter, but I really want this to be their home.

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

A: …that it can be tough being an older parent.

I waited and did not have children until my thirties, and I wouldn’t change the fun I had in my twenties for anything. In fact, I wouldn’t have wanted children in my twenties because I was having far too much fun living on my own. I had an amazing job, an amazing lifestyle, and when Roddy and I met we had so much fun together living on the island of Madeira.

However, having a child once you reach 40 puts you in a completely different bracket. I always joke that at parent meetings at school for Izzi I am one of the younger ones, but for Georgina I am positively ancient! I mean, there are plenty of parents there who could easily be my daughter! Although this is far more the case in Florida than in Europe; European women tend to have their careers first and then their children. Having a first child at 40 is not even considered unusual, so maybe that’s another positive side to living back here!

But truthfully, I do think of how old I will be when Georgina is starting college, and how will it affect the younger ones having an older mother? Maybe I should have stopped living a little and started our family a few years earlier…who knows? However, there is always a positive side to everything and maybe that positive side is my children make me want to stay young. They keep me fit and active, I strive to lead a healthy lifestyle for them, to look the best I can. So I can truthfully say, although I wish someone had told me, I still wouldn’t have listened!


Susan, I love your honesty about being the youngest and oldest mom, depending on which child’s perspective! Your attitude is great – a no regrets philosophy is pretty liberating – and I’m sure everything and everyone came at the perfectly right moment. (Your time on Madeira sounds like it was a hoot! No wonder you wouldn’t want to give that up!)

I’m curious if anyone else has unique experiences being either the youngest parent or the oldest. I know someone who always gets asked if she’s her daughter’s sister, an occurrence that delights her and brings about a frown from her daughter! Ha!

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

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Book Tour Gift Bags Tue, 24 Mar 2015 00:55:11 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photo and styling by Seth & Kendra Smoot.

Hey, Friends. Do you run a small business and have a product you would love to share with Design Mom Readers? If yes, definitely let me know. I’m working on the gift bags for each book tour stop and I want to fill them with the most beautiful, wonderful goods out there!

Send me an email this week with a photo of what you’d like to add to the gift bag. If there’s any kind of label, or packaging, or note you want to include, make sure it’s in the photo too, so that I know exactly what you have in mind, then I’ll get in touch with details.

And just so you have an idea of what to expect for quantities, I’ll be prepping gift bags at nine different get togethers, and I’m planning on at least 75 bags for each stop. Depending on what sort of product you make, you might send enough for one book tour event, or for several. We can totally discuss options. As for timing, the first book tour stop is on April 7th (that’s coming up fast!), and they’ll go through May, and even into June.

I can’t wait to hear from you, and see what sort of awesome things you’re making these days!

P.S. — If you have a friend that you think would love to know about this opportunity, feel free to share!

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Kid-Friendly Family Room Mon, 23 Mar 2015 13:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Matt Harrington for HomeGoods.

Last week I was in New York for a HomeGoods event called #MakeHomeYours, and I’ve been so excited to tell you all about it. It was a really cool challenge! HomeGoods asked three bloggers to each design a room using only items from their stores, rooms that reflected our own personal styles. Claire from Fashion Bomb Daily designed her dream bedroom. Jen from IHeart Organizing designed an ideal home office. And I designed a colorful, kid-friendly family room.

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Designing a family room that is both totally welcoming to kids, but also appealing to adults, and that works, is right up my alley. I think about how to achieve that sort of thing in my own house all the time. So I LOVED this project. And of course, sourcing everything from HomeGoods was also super fun, because their stock changes frequently, and also changes from store to store, so I never know what surprises I’ll find when I stop by.

With the exception of a few small personal touches (which each blogger was asked to add to their room), every single thing in this space is from HomeGoods. Really, truly. The artwork. The chairs. The coffee table. The ceramics. The throw pillows. The geodes. Even the giant stuffed animals! I’m going to point out some of my favorite parts:

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First up, I love the industrial looking console for two reasons. One, because I’m instantly drawn to anything with a vintage industrial feel, and two, because I find pieces like this to be super family-friendly. If this table gets a scratch or dent, who cares? It just adds to the patina! (And hey, do you see my book there? It fit right into the room!)

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Another thing I loved in this space was the amazing floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves. I thought long and hard about how to style these and came up with this simple color-blocking plan. I get asked about how to deal with bookshelves frequently — they can be intimidating to fill.  So I wanted to come up with something that anyone could replicate. Even someone that doesn’t feel like she has design skills. And this solution totally fits the bill. It’s practically no-fail!

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Next, I want to point out the artwork. I’ve bought frames at HomeGoods for years, but can’t say the artwork had ever really caught my eye. That is, until I went shopping for this #MakeHomeYours challenge. Turns out they’ve really stepped it up in the art department. Both the oversize, navy blue modern piece over the fireplace, and the painting of the boats, are originals! As in, you can see the actual globs of paint on the canvas. And they both came with a certification too, guaranteeing them as original pieces created by a single artist. So good! And available at the super affordable prices you expect from HomeGoods.

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Next, I want to point out the dedicated kid areas of the room, including the little reading corner, and the giant stuffed giraffe and elephant — though I suppose they’re hard to miss! I loved seeing these at HomeGoods, partly because, who knew? And also because they’re the sort of item that a kid might see at FAO Schwartz while the parent looks on, knowing they are completely out of budget. But at HomeGoods, they’re available at a fraction of the expected price.

Can you imagine if you brought one of these guys home? Your kids would be completely wide-eyed in wonder! And your house would totally become known as the giraffe house. Hah!

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So the way it worked is that on Monday and Tuesday we put our rooms together, then on Wednesday, the spaces were opened to the press for visits. I hung out in my family room all day, and as magazine and newspaper editors would arrive, I’d give them a tour. I’d tell them why I chose certain pieces, what my goals were for the room, and how my own personal touches worked with the HomeGoods pieces. It was so much fun!

I’d love to hear your thoughts? Do you have a favorite part of the room? Or maybe a favorite piece of furniture or an accent? And how would you enjoy a challenge like this?

P.S. — The lovely ladies in the photo below are Claire and Jen, my fellow bloggers who each designed spaces for this event as well. It was really cool to see how different each of our rooms turned out. I thought it was cool that even though we all have distinctly different styles, we were able to find pieces we loved at HomeGoods.

HomeGoods Event NYC13

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A Few Things Fri, 20 Mar 2015 18:16:58 +0000 Design Mom

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 11.13.16 AM

By Gabrielle. Image of little me with my big sisters all dressed up for Easter!

Hello, Friends! How are you? Did you have a good week? Mine sped by like lighting. I flew to New York on Sunday, worked like crazy from early morning till late night on Monday, then flew home last evening. And as I mentioned, one of the most exciting parts was getting to hold an actual, real copy of my book for the first time. I didn’t know it was going to be such an emotional moment, but I completely teared up! I tell you, that new book smell is pretty darn magical.

And speaking about the book, thank you so much for all the enthusiasm about the book tour! I seriously can not wait!! As the details come together, I get more and more and more excited.

But I must say, it feels really good to be back home. This weekend will be a lot of fun — Betty and Oscar are performing in their school’s variety show this evening, and I’ve got a couple of cool photo shoots on the schedule. How about you? Are you doing anything to mark the arrival of Spring? And does it feel like spring at all where you live? I know New York is scheduled for snow today — I flew back home before the storm hit!

I’m off to tackle my to-do list, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- More men named John run big companies than all women.

- Eclipse chasers. If I had a life list, seeing a total eclipse would be on it.

- Warmer weather means it’s time for white Vans! There are 3 I’m favoring this spring — classic canvas, leather perforated, and white-on-white checkerboard.

- Foliage Easter Eggs.

- How good parents miss child sexual abuse and 5 questions to change that.

- 25 Maps that explain the English language.

- This is tragic and sobering but important article by Nick Kristof about Angola, the deadliest country for kids. #povertyissexist

- How reintroducing wolves helped save Yellowstone.

- Wow! New Alzheimer’s treatment fully restores memory function.

- Do you agree? Every woman in every Pixar movie has the exact same face.

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


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Growing A Family: Kipin Alexander Wed, 18 Mar 2015 17:00:17 +0000 Design Mom

toto knits crochet blanket

By Gabrielle. Crochet trim blanket from Toto Knits.

Kipin is my favorite kind of storyteller: she tells it like it was in a most honest and enjoyable manner, as though we were lifelong friends. I think that type of personality is a true courage giver to those of us who might need a play-by-play and it might be a little painful at times, but it’s going to turn out just fine reassurance. So if you’re a soon-to-be or someday mom, or if you just want a trip down memory lane, this one is for you. I hope you enjoy Kipin’s account as much as I did:

At 2:55 am on February 15th, I woke to a gush. Three days past my due date, my water broke. I was terrified and exhilarated all at once. I hobbled to the bathroom for a gigantic pad and sat wondering if I should wake up Jared? Call the midwife? Or wait for contractions before waking everyone up at this unholy hour.

It took me about two minutes before I decided I had to tell SOMEONE. I called the midwife and she told me to keep her posted, but until my contractions started and were regular I should try and get some sleep. Jared was next. It took a few moments to hit him, and we both lay back down to try and rest. I knew I would never fall asleep so I asked him for a blessing. I felt like I was ten years old the night before a trip to Disney, jittery with nerves and excitement, all while uncontrollably peeing my pants.

I laid awake for another hour and a half before getting up and going into the nursery. Being in the baby’s room calmed me down a little, and I felt a few aches in my low belly. I texted a few friends and relatives, letting them know what was going on, and finally fell asleep for three hours wondering whether my baby would be a girl or a boy and if I was actually ready for this.

I woke up to a steady stream of text messages – and no contractions.

Ten o’clock rolled around, and my midwife called to check in. She asked me to come into the birth center to be checked and to discuss my options. Jared and I drove in and stopped for a bagel. We took a few laps around the park. The day was gorgeous. It reminded us of the day after we were married when we took the same walk around the park. We watched some tightrope walkers balance just a few feet off the ground, and a bunch of kids and dogs run around in the field. Shea, my midwife, asked us to pick up some castor oil and we dutifully did so.

I was dilated to three and almost completely effaced, but the contractions just weren’t coming. A first time mom whose water breaks first often has this problem, she said.

The text messages asking where our baby was kept rolling in, and a castor oil shot with a milkshake chaser came next. We stopped for some lunch and about an hour later the castor oil hit me. Oh, did it hit me. Seriously, only do that if you are in the direst of circumstance. We watched Princess Bride, I felt at some point that I myself was hooked up to that life draining machine, I tried (and failed) to nap, I bargained with every known God from my seat in the bathroom, and yet still no contractions.

Shea checked in and asked me to bring out the big guns – the breast pump. Of course it was still boxed up, unused but we had to give it a go. As I struggled to put the pieces together, I started to cry. Would this baby ever come? At this point I was doubtful. Jared pulled up a YouTube video, we finished putting the pump together, and I gave it a go. After about 30 minutes, a contraction! Pump, pump, pump – another. Now we were getting somewhere.

For the next few hours my contractions came steadily. Jared checked in with his Bradley book and helped me try and relax through each one. At this point I was exhausted. I was running on fumes and still running to the bathroom every half hour or so. The text messages where’s the baby where’s the baby kept coming – I cursed them all. Jared and I walked down to the park and did a few laps. Each contraction felt so satisfying. We got back home and I began to fade. I was falling asleep and the contractions were slowing down. I sent Jared to bed, and I labored for a while on my own, falling asleep on the couch, waking up to contractions every few minutes. At 3:00 am Shea called us back to the birth center and checked me again. I had made some progress, so she sent us back home hopeful but we had a deadline now; I had to keep progressing or I would need to transfer to a hospital where they would give me Pitocin and get this show on the road.

A few people told me, as I approached and then passed my due date, that I wasn’t miserable enough. That’s why the baby hadn’t come yet. I had a fairly easy pregnancy, and I felt at peace with going over my due date. But this was misery. This labor limbo was misery. I was afraid of the Pitocin. I knew it would jeopardize the natural birth I was striving for, and I was afraid of infection now that my water was broken. I was exhausted. I was still pregnant. I was pooping my brains out thanks to the castor oil.

When we got home, Jared and I kneeled down and I prayed. I prayed for the safety of my baby, for peace of mind, and for some kind of miracle to get this thing going. I decided to pump again, as morning rolled around again. And this time it worked.

Jared and I headed back into the birth center, getting there at 11:00 am. These contractions were different. They were deeply intense and I had to stop and rest while walking in from the car. Shea was satisfied that I was finally out of the woods and on my way to having this baby. Give me two hours of strong steady contractions, she said, and you can get in the tub. Jared and I were laser focused now.

I had to pace the room or sit in a firm chair between contractions. When one would start, Jared would hold me up in a slow dance, rocking me through and rubbing my back. It didn’t make the pain go away, but it gave me such comfort just to be there in the crook of his neck as he reminded me to let the tension go. The time seemed to fly and to stretch. I have never felt so focused in my life. Finally, I climbed into the warm tub and floated there. Relaxation was instant and I savored the weightlessness that made my contractions just a fraction more bearable.

About 30 minutes after getting into the tub, my contractions intensified. I felt an insane amount of pressure and I felt my focus fracture. I felt feral. My body writhed with the contractions and all I could think of was running away. Running away from my body, from Jared, from the pain. But I couldn’t. There was a sign on the wall above my tub. You Are Brave. I stared at that sign and chanted it over and over in my head.

Jared was being so sweet and handing me cold washcloths for my face and neck, and I wanted to kill him when he handed them to me all wadded up. PLEASE FOLD THEM FLAT PLEASE. The washcloth incident finally clicked in with my psycho brain that I was in transition. I remember telling Jared it was so hard and I couldn’t do it before my midwife came in to check on me. She told me as soon as I was feeling heavy pressure even between contractions she would check me. That was now I told her. Right. Now. As I got out of the tub and walked to the bed, I knew this had to be it. And it was. I was at 9.5, so close. I got back into the tub and I couldn’t help myself, my body was pushing this baby out.

Shea had me swivel my body towards her and brace my legs against the side of the tub. I pushed hard during my contractions, and felt them change. There were wide expanses between each one. Later Shea would tell me I was falling asleep between each one, but really I was just deep inside myself. I could feel my breathing, and I thanked my body and God for letting me rest. Everyone kept telling me what a great job I was doing and how I was almost there. I reached down and felt the baby’s soft head. It was unreal. I pushed and pushed but that head didn’t seem to move. I wanted my baby! After about 40 minutes of pushing I gave it one more insane push and a scream and felt the baby slip out all at once – from crowning to birth in one push. Jared says he remembers it in slow motion, and all of a sudden there was a baby floating in the water. It was 1:55 pm.

She handed my my bright eyed baby. It’s a boy! No! It’s a girl! Sorry, Echo, but you were a bit swollen down there!

My girl’s eyes were wide open and her little tongue was going crazy. She barely cried. They tickled her back and she squawked a bit more. She had come out forehead first – occiput posterior – and I had pushed her out anyway. Head covered in black hair, gorgeous beyond belief even with a nice lump on her forehead from being squeezed. Jared cut her cord, and then held her while the midwives took care of me. Six pounds and four ounces of pure joy. Echo Marie, you were so worth it.


PLEASE FOLD THEM FLAT PLEASE! There is always that moment in any stressful situation where our inner tyrant makes an appearance, right? Thank you for your words and your humor, Kipin!

There is much to discuss here, I think. From castor oil shots and breast pumps as labor starters to soothing water births. Plus, that one moment when we all lose our composure; for Kipin, it was washcloths. What was it for you? Do tell!

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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Book Tour Dates! Tue, 17 Mar 2015 16:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

the first copy

Image and text by Gabrielle.

As you know, I’m in New York this week, and while I’m here, it just so happens that advance copies of my book have arrived at my publisher. Woo hoo! I can’t even believe it. In fact, an actual finished copy was just delivered to my hotel room. Oh my goodness. It’s quite the feeling to hold real live copy in my hands. Holy cow. I’m trying not to freak out. Hah!

In related news, I get to announce my Book Tour today! There are fourteen stops and counting. I’ve packed in as much travel as I’m able over the next couple of months, and I can’t wait to meet you guys! Pull out your calendars, this is where you can find me:

Tuesday, April 7th – Oakland, CA
Book Launch Party at Diesel, A Bookstore, beginning at 6:00 PM. Book Q&A, food, photos, goody bags! This event happens the day the book comes out and is the official kick off of the book tour. It’s going to be awesome!! I can’t wait.

Saturday, April 11th – Provo, UT
Book Party at Deseret Book, University Mall, from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM. The amazing Alison Faulkner of The Alison Show will be there to quiz me on all my motherhood secrets! We’re working on a photo booth, yummy treats, the coolest party favors, and a fun Q&A too! I hope to meet you at the event.

Saturday, April 11th – Salt Lake City, UT
Book Party at Deseret Book in Fort Union, 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM. The always lovely Small Fry Ladies will be there to grill me on all things motherhood. Plus gift bags, refreshments, and a fabulous photo backdrop! Will you be there?

Tuesday, April 21st – Boston, MA
Book Party at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street in the evening. The brilliant Christine Koh of Boston Mamas will be co-hosting, and is all prepped to interview me with some Design Mom Q&A. Expect the prettiest decor, something delicious to eat, and gifts for attendees! Crossing my fingers you can make it.

Wednesday, April 22nd – New York, NY
Book Party at DwellStudio, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM with the always fabulous Christiane Lemieux. Join us for cocktails, parenting discussions, and a book signing at DwellStudio SoHo. Something extra special about this event: A proceed of the book sales will benefit Every Mother Counts, a cause near and dear to my heart! If you can join us, please send an RSVP to

Wednesday, April 29th – Phoenix, AZ
Book Party at Changing Hands in Tempe, 7:00 PM. Another fun gathering with food and Q&A. Plus, the super talented Jenny Komenda of Little Green Notebook will be there to ask me about the book.

I’ll arrive in the Phoenix area that day to attend the Mom 2.0 Summit in Scottsdale. I’ll be speaking at the conference on Friday of that week! Maybe I’ll see you there. But even if you can’t attend the conference, you are definitely invited to the Book Party at Changing Hands.

Saturday, May 2nd to Saturday, May 10th, at Pottery Barn
During the week leading up to Mother’s Day, I’m working with Pottery Barn on some awesome in-store events that I’m crazy excited about. More details to come, but for now, I can tell you to plan on:

- Sunday, May 3rd – Seattle, WA
- Tuesday, May 5th – Chicago, IL
- Thursday, May 7th – Atlanta, GA
- Saturday, May 9th – San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Monday, May 18th – Houston, TX
Book Party at Blue Willow Bookshop, starting at 7:00 PM. I love everyone that I’ve ever met from Texas, so I already know I’m going to love this event. Food, discussion, pretty things, gifts. The beautiful Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks will be there to lead the discussion. You should totally come!

Tuesday, May 19th – Denver, CO
Book party at Tattered Cover Books in their new Aspen Grove store in Littleton, 7:00 PM. Join us for a Q&A about the book, plus food, gifts and so much fun! It will be terrific to be back in Colorado for a bit.

Where else?
We’re also looking to schedule a stop in Austin. As soon as I have a firm date and location, I will let you know. Then, in June, I’ll be at Alt Summit in Salt Lake City. And we may be adding one more June date as well.

The details for several of the events are still being worked out, so I’ll keep updating you as we add more info. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Will my tour be crossing paths with you at some point? I hope so!

P.S. — If you’re craving a signed book, but I’m not coming to your town, the way to get one is to pre-order it through Diesel Books by April 7th. And happily, even if you’re not an Oakland local, you can order a signed book through Diesel! I’ll sign them as soon as they’re in, and Diesel will ship them to you on the publish date (April 7th).

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Living With Kids: Emily Power Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:53 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

The more of Emily’s words I read, the more I’m reminded that the best lives are a little messy. And this is certainly true for childhoods, as well! As parents, we make the most of what we have and where we are at the moment to give our children the best we can give them. Yes, family life gets messy. But I think we would all trade pristine floors for ones with busy footprints in the shape of a racetrack from fridge to front door, and swap leisurely alone time with the clamor of a crowded playdate.

Life happens so fast, and it would be a shame to miss much of it worrying about dust and dirt. I can thank Emily for this reminder today, and I hope you will, too!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello, I am Emily. I really try to embrace life and all the crazy things life may throw my way. I love getting involved and trying to make a difference. I am a sucker for a good TV show…and realize that everyone does not share my definition of good! For a real rush, I love treasure hunting from the back woods of Arkansas to the Paris flea market; I just love finding things that tell a story and complement our home. I also believe that a cup of tea or a great glass of wine among friends can fix almost anything.

I have four little wonders. Piper is a horse-loving ten year old. I envy her determination and her connection with animals. She is just so in tune with nature and her surroundings. She is quietly confident in all she does. Polly is nine and has been my right hand helper since she could walk and talk. I don’t know what I would do with out her keeping me on top of everything we have going on. She always looks at the bright side and is full of smiles.

Harrison is seven and pure sweetness, and has always had a love of beautiful things. He is passionate about fashion and creating beautiful things. He has a fantastic eye and I often ask him for advice.

Hudson keeps us all on our toes. Literally! He is not content unless he is outside playing some form of sport. Because he is still home with me, we spend lots of quality time hiking together and searching for lost Indian artifacts. I love a good chat and he shares my passion!

Andrew, my husband, is extremely patient with all of us. He works very hard in commercial real estate, but when he is here there is nothing he loves more than spending time with us – thank the dear Lord – because when he is around things are always much smoother, I always relax when he walks through the door. One of the things I love most about him is his laid back Aussie personality; there is really not much that can stress him out, and he always helps me keep things in perspective.

We also have a host of creatures: our dogs, horse, chickens, canaries, budgies, and an occasional peacock that wanders into our always open door.

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

A: We live in Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles County, but it seriously feels like we live in the country. We were just randomly out driving one day and stumbled upon this house. We made an offer that day. The land is what totally sold us. At that point, we were living at the beach which we loved, but having land in LA seemed like a dream come true. We knew that being surrounded by such beautiful vistas, we could live in a hut on this land and be content.

We spent the next six months getting all the proper permits and then moved out for a year to build this home. Pulling onto our street is always a giant happy exhale for me.

Q: What makes you love the place you live? Persuade us to move!

A: Life on the Lanes, as far as my kids go, is everything I have ever dreamed for them and more. Complete with a general store, horse crossings, and peacocks galore. I realize with each passing day how fleeting childhood is and love that this is where they get to grow up. I feel a true sense of belonging and love this community. Our front door is always open and I love that kids come and go as they please; the more little voices that fill our home, the happier I am.


We spend most of our days outside. We are considered an equestrian community because almost every house can have a horse on their property. Because of all the horses there is a fantastic trail system, and walking on the trails provides hours of entertainment. We have a community riding ring and, while only my two oldest ride, there is something for everyone at the ring. They play in the mounds of dirt for hours and swing on the tree swings. The kids have lemonade/fresh egg stands on a regular basis. My oldest daughter often rides her horse to the general store with her friends and gets a sandwich for lunch from the sweet family that owns it and knows all the kids’ names by heart.

We have a few community events that I get really excited about, like an amazing 4th of July parade and celebration with a pie bake-off, and Christmas caroling on horseback followed by a special visit by Santa to each home. In the summer we do lots of outdoor movies under the stars and a chili cook-off. We do pumpkin carving in the Fall, and have the most magical Easter at the ring where everyone dresses up their animals for the occasion – think donkeys in Easter bonnets! One of my favorite neighbors has open door Fridays, and we head there almost every Friday night to let the kids frolic while we catch up on the weeks events. I know that everyone has a different idea of their ideal place to live, but living here is such a gift…although I do daydream at times about living in the French country side!

Q: LA County! Tell us about raising kids there; what are the perks and challenges?

A: I am from a small town in Pennsylvania. If you ever told me I would be living in LA, I could have never imagined it. I had so many preconceived notions, but LA has been so great for us.

My parents actually followed us out here after we started our family. Having them here and realizing they left their entire lives behind to come be with us is just incredible and makes LA feel like home. I always worried that one day they were going to wake up and hate it, but so far we have all embraced this crazy city. I have always been of the philosophy that it takes a village, and I love having them as part of my village.

The biggest perk living here is the weather. I have been hearing about what a harsh winter it has been back east, and try and never take for granted how consistently lovely it is here. I have to say, though, I miss Fall so much! I love the crisp cool air of Fall, but it is a small price to pay for the beautiful weather we have here.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are your favorite things about your home?

A: I’d describe my aesthetic as cheerfully chic. Truly, there is nothing precious in this house that is not meant to be used. I love things distressed because then I never have to worry about them! Baby Hudson took a hammer – his favorite toy – to many things around our home, and it always somehow blended in.

I have a super amazing friend who I constantly run ideas by about this space. If I cannot figure out what is bothering me or if I feel a space is not useful, she is always the first person I turn to for a second opinion. We are always on the same page and have a similar aesthetic so it works out perfectly. She totally gets me and we both have fun making suggestions and improving each other’s spaces. We also love finding old abandoned (think side-of-the-road!) treasures and re-imagining them.

I want family and friends and even strangers to walk in and feel welcome and comfortable, like if they wanted they could sit on the couch and throw their feet on the coffee table. Nothing stresses me out more then entering a space where I feel like my kids can’t touch things or explore.

I adore our red Dutch door; it makes me happy to walk through the front door. I adore the serenity of our master bathroom; while I had always dreamed of a claw foot tub, I have maybe used it twice and always joke that the one day when I actually get to sit in it and relax will be a bittersweet moment.

As far as objects in my home, I have this lamp that is the perfect blue. When the kids play ball in the house, they know that they cannot throw near that lamp – it just really speaks to me. I also love this guitar that I got at a studio lot sale where they sell off all the props from a movie; it cost $20 and has a beautiful painting on the back. I don’t play, but I beg anyone who can to please pick it up and play with it. I have this Collie TV Lamp from the 1950s that looks more like a big Collie sculpture than a light. It came from Max Factor’s personal collection; he had around 300 and I just love the look of it.

I also have this amazing horse painting that I dug out of the bottom of what looked like a pile of trash at the Paris flea market. I love everything about it including the old rusty nails you can see on the outside of the canvas. I also have a set of Fiesta Ware that I inherited from my aunt. And when I say nothing is precious, I really had to come to terms with that the hard way.  Accidentally, one of the girls broke a bowl in the collection. I was so upset and screamed so harshly – way too harshly, to be honest – and I felt so awful when I saw her little face and realized how angry I was. Once I calmed down and thought about it, I realized my aunt would have been so happy they were being used and not just being displayed. This helped me change my entire idea on the stuff I keep. I want everything to be used and enjoyed. If it is not, I give it away. Things are no fun unless you enjoy them.

Q: Is it important for you to give your kids spaces that are all their own?

A: I have been thinking a ton about our space vs. our kids’ space. I am very dyslexic, and keeping things in somewhat of an order is essential for my brain. When I feel overrun with toys or objects, I get very overwhelmed. I have been working with a friend who is a professional organizer and she has helped me understand the importance of keeping a little space for just my husband and myself, something I never had before. So, the space is just our closet, but baby steps!

Now when I feel like I am getting overrun by the rest of the house, I can just pop in our closet and it instantly calms me down. This really was a revelation, you know. It is okay for us to have a space that is kid-free.

My son has this amazing doll room. Before that room, though, we had dolls in every crevice of our home; now they have a special place. In that room they are all allowed to express themselves however they like, including drawing on the walls. This has been a great outlet for them and they all have so much fun in that room. This room changes frequently depending on what they are playing or what they are into that day, but it has been such a great little nook for them to express themselves.

Q: With the California climate, you must live outdoors most of the year or at least have your doors and windows open. How does the weather affect your home’s style?

A: I think having such wonderful weather and living outside so much of the time actually makes our home a little grittier! We are always tracking things on our shoes through the house. Thank goodness we decided on wide plank pine floors! They are really worn, but that only gives them more character.  I run the vacuum at least twice a day because anything that blows comes right into our home. Really, such a small price to pay for beautiful weather and the doors always being open!

Q: You mentioned in your email to me that no one uses their bedrooms! Talk about what you love about all sleeping in the same room.

A: We never intended to have a family bedroom, but it just evolved that way. Polly is the only one who often ventures out into her own room and spends the night there. Huddy sleeps in bed with us, and Piper and Harrison and sometimes Polly sleep on the floor in a fortress of blankets.

They are the world’s best sleepers. I swear, once they are asleep a ten-piece band could not stir them! Andrew and I always joke that we have had to become very creative, but for our family at this time, it works for us. We all get a good night’s sleep, and my mom constantly reminds me that they won’t be 16 and sleeping in our room! For now, we have lots of extra bedrooms for visitors!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Living with my kids is always an adventure. Truly, there are not many dull moments around here, and then you add our animals to the mix and it can get a little crazy. My favorite part of living with my kids is the energy they give me. Seeing all that goes on around here, I sometimes feel worn down, but truly embracing the things they love and trying to be present and see the world through their eyes is just really inspiring. I love all the happenings around our home and seeing them so happy in their surroundings feeds my soul…even if it is a tired soul!

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

A: When I close my eyes and think about favorite moments, they involve loud music and our kids dancing on tables.

I also love family walks. There is always someone who is not in the mood or does not want to go, but once we all get out and start talking and walking it is always so fun.

The other memory that I will always hold dear is how every night just before bed I read a book to them all. My mom was a child’s librarian, so she read to me way into my teens and I always loved it. The book we are currently reading is a historical account of Anastasia; this one was Harrison’s pick, and although it is a much more advanced book, because I read it to them they all get something different out of it. We all have been learning so much from this book, so it is really a win win and such a special time together.

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

A: I wish someone told me to be flexible in my expectations. We all have a vision of what a perfect child is and how we want to share them with the world. I always think of the Lion King when they hold the baby lion up for all the land to see!

I thought I was a failure if I was not the mom doing it all with a smile on my face. I quickly realized that if I tried to do it all, something somewhere in the chain suffered. Now, I live for the days when we can all be together. Sure, maybe only one of them is not wearing shoes, they all may look like little ragamuffins covered in dirt, someone may have been really cranky to me or I may have raised my voice, I maybe forgot to have someone brush their teeth or their dinner may have consisted of a bowl of ice cream…these are all things that, for the most part, I have learned to let go. Because at the end of the day, I know in my heart I am doing the very best I can and love them with all my heart, even on the nights I may have sent them to bed without brushing their teeth after eating a bowl of ice cream for dinner. Changing my expectations has allowed me to be more present and enjoy those precious moments that are going by way too quickly.


Emily, I love that you acknowledged the fact that you need your own space. And that we all do, in fact! It’s liberating not to feel selfish for stealing a nook and 15 minutes, and it’s even more freeing to have a space or two where your kids have creative control. Although I know some readers are going to see the graffiti in your kids’ space and die a thousand little deaths – I’m sure we all recognize the reward in offering that freedom to them, as well as the ability to close the door on the mess! Out of sight, out of mind! Whatever it takes, right?

I’m interested if anyone else has given their kids carte blanche in a room or two. How has it worked out for you? And if you wouldn’t dare to let them loose with markers and empty wall space, why not?

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

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Minted Giveaway Mon, 16 Mar 2015 19:02:29 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. You will LOVE today’s giveaway. It’s sponsored by fabulous Minted, and they’re offering a super generous $400 store credit!

You probably know Minted best for their holiday cards and stationery — all created and sourced by a community of independent artists. But over the last couple of years, Minted has moved beyond custom cards, and they now offer so gorgeous wares like art printstextiles, and party decor!

Minted Spring 2015

And every new product line that they launch is held up to the same stringent design and production values that Minted has always been known for.

At the moment, I’m in the middle of a room refresh project with Minted, and as I think about transforming the space, I’ve been scouring their wall prints in particular. Pictured here are some of the options I’m considering. In the top collection: Abstract TrianglesGestureAn Ode to AgnesCalculation, and Tangerine. In the lower collection: Golden CountryThe CommuteHexagon With Dot, and Under Water. So many terrific choices. It’s like you can’t go wrong!

Minted Spring Sale 2015

Extra fun: Minted has a big Spring Event going on on that ends today. Get 15% off all art!

To enter the giveaway, check out Minted’s Art Marketplace and leave a comment below letting me know which one you love best. The winner will be announced next Monday. Good luck!


Sarah is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Lake Tahoe Mon, 16 Mar 2015 17:15:51 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. The photos are of the home we stayed at, but they’re not mine. I took lots of photos, but it was overcast, and I like these shots from the rental description better. : )

Waving hello from New York! Gosh, I’ve got a lot of travel on my calendar at the moment. (Which reminds me, I’ll be announcing my book tour dates either shortly!) But this post isn’t about New York. It’s about last week’s last-minute trip to Lake Tahoe!

This was a ski trip, and it was the first ski trip we’ve had in over 4 years. We had visited Tahoe last year in the Spring, but this was our first time seeing it with snow. Really, we’re at the tail end of the ski season, and it feels like spring/summer in the rest of California, but in our minds, this was a winter trip. We built fires, hung out in the hot tub after skiing, and did a whole bunch of baking.


There were two big things that I’ve been thinking about from this trip. One, is that all of my kids now know how to ski. I feel like I’ve passed some sort parenting stage. Hah! Before this trip, June had never skied before, but we enrolled her in ski school and she really took to it. On the second day, they moved her up a class because she was doing so well. (Those are definitely not my genes!) Obviously, she’s still just a beginner, but she had a fantastic time. It won’t be long until she’s spending the day skiing with her older siblings.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, I grew up skiing, but I don’t enjoy it. I’m not sure what it is. I’ve spent many winters of my life skiing, and just have no interest. I think the last time I willingly skied was in college. So last week, while the rest of the family hit the slopes, I spent the days in the lodge catching up on work, and being a drop-off location when my kids wanted to shed their layers. I’d meet up with everyone for lunch and then get back to work.


But there was something about seeing June ski that made me think I might enjoy skiing in the future. I can picture the whole family on the slopes together, and I like that picture very much.

Anyway, the second thing I noted about the trip is that we felt like we really scored on the location. The house is a rental that we originally found on Kid & Coe. As it turns out, I ended up getting introduced to the owner, Domonique of The Simple Proof, who lives in the Bay Area. When she had a unscheduled week come up for her Tahoe place, she generously offered it to us, and we dropped everything and made the last-minute trip happen. And we’re so glad we did!


The house really was perfect (you can see more photos of it here). It was easily roomy enough for our big family. Every one had their own bed, with extra sleeping spaces to spare. There was a big gathering room where we could watch movies and play board games, and an oversize table that could seat everyone. The kitchen had every tool we could possibly need and except for one night of ordering out for pizza, we did all our cooking at the house.

But the best part, is that the stunning lake was just down the path. After skiing, it was still light enough that we would walk down to the lake to skip rocks, or explore, or just hang out on the dock. And it was so easy to picture how amazing this same house would be in the summer.


One of the biggest traveling challenges my family has is finding accommodations that really fit us — not just enough beds, but a place where we can all hang out together. So when we find a location that seems to solve the where-to-stay puzzle for us, it feels like we’ve found a treasure! After a couple of days at Domonique’s house, we were already talking about scheduling rental dates for the summer, and then again for next winter, and making it a regular thing. The idea of planning a vacation and not having to think about where to stay — to just already know! — seems like the most amazing thing ever.

Anyway, I’m curious about several things: Do you ski? Do your kids ski? Is there anyone else out there like me who has skied a bunch but isn’t a big fan? Have you ever been to Lake Tahoe? Do you have a favorite season there? And how do you handle vacation accommodations? Do you return to the same spot over and over? I really like that idea!

P.S. — I mentioned Kid & Coe on Instagram and received a few emails about them. I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you about their services, but we’ve become big fans. They offer airbnb-type rentals, but they focus only on family-friendly spaces, and they only list really good ones. No duds! 

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A Few Things Fri, 13 Mar 2015 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

Blairs on the dock at Lake Tahoe

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Did you have a good week? My family had a terrific time at Lake Tahoe! I promise to tell you all about it next week. We arrived home this afternoon, unpacked, and got right back to real life — track practice and scout assignments and errands and babysitting jobs. Real life is good.

This weekend will involve work catchup, plus some packing too. I’m headed to New York next week for a really cool event with HomeGoods. I always love a trip to New York. The weather apps are predicting temperatures in the 50s next week. The 50s are always a bit mysterious to me clothes-wise — I’m wondering if I should pack with Spring in mind, or Winter? How about you? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to?

I’m off to make a packing list, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Why being unable to stand noisy eaters might make you a genius.

- California has about one year of water left.

- Too early to talk about water-balloon fights? Then bookmark this awesomeness for later.

- The Stitch has my attention. Add an orange zigzag to an item of clothing, and let the stitches help reduce the stigma that surrounds talking about being abused as a child.

- An article from Motherlode – “My friend has a son who is autistic.”

- Ben Blair and I just started watching a new series called The Last Man on Earth. It was created by Will Forte. Have you seen it?

- My friend Cathleen Falsani, world-class author and reporter, is using a GoFundMe campaign to finance a reporting trip to Nepal. The trip is with an NGO which is working with at-risk women there. Check it out.

- The Foodnited States. Via Cool Mom Picks.

- Why are some people called expats and others immigrants? Thanks, Logan.

- Heartbreaking — a Stanford neurosurgeons’ parting words about life and time.

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


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Call It A Day: Erin Allan Wed, 11 Mar 2015 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Do you remember Erin Allan’s home tour? If you need a refresher, she was the one living in the outskirts of Nairobi, running a community-empowering company and…hmm, what else was I going to tell you about her? Oh, yes! Sometimes she chooses not to bike her kids to school because of lion sightings or a wayward bunch of baboons. Now do you remember?

I’m so happy to follow her through a random Thursday. It’s the similar yet so strikingly different things we all do that makes this so interesting to me. How we errand, how we balance work and play, how we stay home or venture out, and how we avoid the dangers in our path like it’s no big deal. It’s all fascinating, isn’t it? (I hope you are nodding your head.) Please enjoy Erin’s day!

Q: Good morning! How did your family wake up?

A: It’s Thursday, so the kids don’t have to be at school till eight, which means we all wake up pretty naturally at seven. As we are on the equator, it gets light the same time every day and the chickens outside are a natural alarm clock.

Tor wakes first. He’s eight and seems to have a large quota of words he has to say every day and starts right away. This morning it’s ‘You are not allowed to fly on the platypus plane!’ There’s no stipulation that the words he says have to make sense! He’s got a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humour, so he is able to get everyone laughing at an early hour.

Nina is next. She’s ten and needs a few more minutes to start her day, like her dad. She might have a few minutes on her tablet or play some piano before breakfast.

Jan is the slowest waker upper, but that’s allowed; many mornings he’s out of the house at 5:30 to go to a site. He designs and fabricates tents for luxury safari camps and lodges, and spends a lot of time in the bush. He’s just got his pilot’s license and can now fly himself to site, which means his days are far more productive. He has a workshop at home so he can get up later and still be in the office by eight today.

Q: What are you having for breakfast? What are you all discussing this morning? Anything in particular on your mind?

A: We are lucky to have house staff. It’s a kind of given here that people employ househelp; it’s almost considered rude not to, as there is very high unemployment and providing jobs is a way to give back. We have two house girls, which is admittedly extravagant. They’ve been with us for ten and nine years respectively and I am not sure how we will ever downsize. I really don’t like firing people.

So this morning it’s Berldin who comes in and starts the kids’ breakfast. The kids’ granny just found a huge beehive in her roof with 50 kilograms of honey in it and some relatively nice bees, so the kids are eating lots of that on yogurt and rice cakes. And of course fresh fruit – we are so lucky to have a lot of tropical fruit options. This morning the kids are having apple slices (which are considered exotic here as they are imported!), mango, and tiny bananas.

Jan and I went out to dinner last night, so the kids stayed with the ‘ayah’ (nanny in Kiswahili) and there was a bat in their room. This takes up most of the breakfast table conversation. I’m trying to play it cool but ewwww! Sort of glad I wasn’t there. It has happened before and I can’t say I handled it that well.

I get dressed quickly. It’s hot and dusty now as it’s our summer, so a sundress and flats will do nicely. I opt for my open toe shoes, knowing my toes will get covered in dust on my way to the car.

Q: What’s next? Do your kids go to school or have other plans?

A: The kids share a room and I’ve laid out their uniforms, and we begin the daily routine of putting all the clothes on in between chatter and goofing off. As if they’ve never done it before, every morning I have to nudge Tor to stop talking and put on each article of clothing. Lots of excitement today as he has a hockey match – I’m not allowed to call it field hockey as there is no other kind of hockey here – and will get to go on the school bus.

There’s very little consumerism here so the kids don’t know much about fashion; it’s all about practical stuff that is easy to wear for them and that I don’t mind them getting dirty. We pack up the science and English homework, art work from after-school art class, hockey sticks, gum guards, and sports kits.

We have way too much stuff to bike to school today, so we drive the seven minutes to school past a troop of baboons. I’m glad we didn’t bike today! We are between the Nairobi National Park and the Giraffe Sanctuary so there is a lot of wildlife. We had lions around the neighbourhood for a while and you can still hear hyenas at night, so it’s always something to consider when biking to school.

They go to the same school their dad went to and even have some of the same teachers. It’s a tight knit community and most parents walk their kids to their classrooms, so the drop off is a very social event. It’s a British school so there are many expats there, mostly European and British, but quite a few from other countries in Africa as well as Asia. And bonus! My kids have cute little British accents.

There are also lots of European Kenyans; my husband is fourth generation Kenyan. I straddle the two groups and love the  range of friends I’ve made through the school. It took a while to become accepted amongst the ‘settler’ population here; they are wary of two year wonders who come to change Kenya and leave a few years later, so had to prove I was going to become a permanent resident. I think I’ve done so now and as my contribution, I host a big Halloween party every year for the 80 kids in our neighbourhood!

Q: How is the early part of your day structured?

A: If I am not exercising right after school drop off, I rush home to make use of the seemingly few hours I have to work. My office and our small workshop are twenty foot shipping containers about thirty feet from our house. I love the space and love that I don’t have to drive anywhere for work. I started Toto Knits to create a flexible working opportunity for single mothers, and I also benefit from the flexibility. I have five knitters who to come this workshop, but the other workshop is in the village where the women live so they too don’t have to spend time and money on transport and can work as and when they like.

Kathy, my assistant, is taking the morning off to study as she’s a student at night at the Nairobi University. So I’ve got to organize deliveries for local shops, print out web shop orders, and answer emails. I chat with some of the knitters about some new pieces we are working on. I’m involved in a scholarship for my high school in America which gives out an amazing scholarship for Kenyan students to study there, and have to help register them for the SSATs. Our tenant is moving out of the guest house so she comes by to collect a few bits and show me things that need fixing in the house; it’s the first straw bale house built in Kenya so it has lots of quirks and little things that need fixing before the new tenant moves in. Eliza has been there for six years so it’s sad to see her go! I take a few photos of our knit Easter Eggs but not sure I’m happy with them and might have to call in the professionals.

Q: Do you have lunch plans? Do you talk to anyone that really makes your day better?

A: Normally I eat lunch with Jan on the veranda, but Tor has a hockey match on the other side of town so I meet up with some friends to drive together. The Chinese have come to Kenya in a big way. They are building roads to accommodate the new Nairobi, and a burgeoning middle class means there are 5000 new cars on the roads every month. They’ve been using road plans from 1955 till now and it’s a mess! This is when you really feel you are living in the developing world; the roads literally change every day with so much construction going on, and there is building everywhere.

We take the new bypass road and I feel like I am in Europe; there are no potholes, the lanes are demarcated, and it’s smooth sailing with no traffic! Until a huge building truck comes barreling down the road the wrong way, that is! I remember my husband’s admonishments to watch out as many drivers aren’t sure how to use these new roads!

It’s a real treat to go out for lunch on the other side of town, especially as it’s Asian cuisine. We have a few restaurants within twenty minutes of us, so the options are slim and we are all excited to eat somewhere different, and especially in the middle of a work day. Ten of us meet up for a bite before the game. As a born and bred San Franciscan, I miss Asian food the most (Mexican second!) here.

The game is such fun and I kind of understand it. I struggle with Cricket, rugby, rounders, and netball as I’m still getting used to the terminology and rules. Tor’s team loses but he got to play the whole game and played well, so he’s in good spirits!

Q: How are you errand-ing today? 

A: Nairobi was just voted one of the worst cities to drive in – in the world! So it’s all very strategic. Both my husband and I are so lucky to work at home. And while so many things are tricky here, there is one thing that has made life exponentially easier: Mpesa, which is basically mobile banking. I can sit in my office and pay bills, people, and more through my phone. It’s fantastic and makes a big difference to me.

I’ll do anything to avoid the traffic, which sometimes means I live in an insular bubble, but I’ll take that over exhaust fumes, wild drivers, and corrupt police any day!

We have our veggies delivered once a week from a farm. Big fresh eggs, live herbs, and homemade jams and chutneys, too. The other days I go to the local grocery store where we have an account. I always feel like it’s Little House on the Prairie! I can get in and out in less than 15 minutes, and that’s with saying hi to everyone. I’ve been going there for 13 years and know all the shop clerks, the butchers, the (surly) baker, and the veggie lady. I try to go once a week but people keep eating the food I buy so it’s usually twice. The little shopping centre is 20 minutes away so I have to strategize and only go if I have two or more things to do.

Then there’s the bulletin board, where you can find a house, a pet, or find out about local goings on. An old fashioned Craig’s List! The chemist is across the parking lot, and they know us as well so I can often skip the doctor and just tell her what ails me or my husband or the kids. Of course the downside is that it’s inevitable that someone else you know will be in there so they will also know what ails you or the husband or the kids!

My one errand today is going to buy a parka for our ski trip in April. I’m sure they are not even called parkas anymore but I’ve not been skiing in 15 years so I’m desperate for something to keep me warm. As you can imagine, there isn’t really anywhere to buy ski clothes here, but someone sent me an email about a lady selling a ski parka so I drive to her house and go up to her bedroom – even though she has guests for drinks at noon! This is shopping Kenyan style. I buy it even though it’s probably 20 years out of date. There are some fantastic markets called mitumba which get all the charity shops cast-offs from the UK. I will get the rest of our stuff there; it’s used goods but you can find some real gems in the stacks and piles. I have a bit of a reputation for being an amazing mitumba shopper.

Q: Did you carve out any personal time during your day? Do anything to recharge a little?

A: I have a hot bath every evening once the kids are asleep. I read a lot and it’s my little luxury to read in the bath for 20 to 30 minutes. Books are expensive here and I go through a lot of them, but it’s something I’ve learned to allow myself! I consider getting my hair done a real treat, so I very much look forward to that indulgence paired with a manicure/pedicure.

Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family? What are you talking about tonight?

A: Nina has gone to a friend’s house and Tor’s mates want to come to ours, so I head back to the office for a bit more work while they play football in the garden. We live on a five acre plot which we share with Jan’s brother, his wife, and their three kids. The three year old twins come up to our house many times a day, and it’s such a treat to have all the cousins playing together. Four o’clock is usually tea time, a sanctioned break which is such a nice tradition, but I’m skipping it today for the precious extra time in the office.

I go collect Nina and a neighbour’s kid who is playing at the same house and head back home. We take this whole ‘it takes a village’ thing seriously! Berldin calls the kids in for dinner. I usually sit with them for the daily round-up, but another neighbor is coming for a glass of wine and to collect her kid. And because our husbands work together, her husband is coming, too. So Jan joins us on the veranda while the kids play in the garden and the sun starts to set. We are planning a singing routine for a friend who is leaving the country – so many expats mean life is full of leaving parties, and this will be a sad one. Jan’s brother joins us for a bit and then it’s time to get the kids bathed and get their homework done. My kids are the kind that need a lot of sleep so I really like them in bed at eight, and tonight we just make it. They read for a bit but it’s relatively quiet without a lot of the giggles and usual shenanigans. Thankfully!

Q: Describe the evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?

A: Normally it’s bath and homework. The kids spend so much time outside that they are usually pretty grotty by the end of the day. While water is an issue here, they have separate baths because Tor’s is often too mucky to share! If it’s not too late, Tor will convince one or two of us to play in the garden; anything with a ball will suit him just fine, thanks. Nina prefers board games, cards, and puzzles. We just got Netflix so the kids might watch a bit of TV or play on their tablets which they just bought with their pocket money. I let them have 30 minutes a day of screen time, but many days are so full we don’t even get to that. Tor loves someone to sit in the bathroom while he natters away, and Nina will practice piano or work on a school project. Jan and I eat later so often the kids will come join us just before bed for a few sneaky bites of our dinner. Luckily they aren’t too old to be tucked in, and this is when a lot of the good conversations happen.

Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…

A: I’m usually shattered by ten, and fall asleep while reading. Often, I will stand back and look at things and wonder ‘Hey! How the heck did I get here?’

I went from the West Village in New York to a British influenced village in Africa. And then I laugh at how I’ve become Erin Blixen, suburban African field hockey mum with bats in my house. Never would have imagined it, but I feel very lucky indeed.


Erin, you’re so adventuresome! I think if someone put up a sign that there are rumors of a lion sighting, nothing my kids could ever say would persuade me to play outside after dinner! If ever. I’m so happy that – bats and all – you’ve fallen for Nairobi and your days seem quite sweet. Bravo.

Friends, what are your baboons during your day? Is there something that pops up so unexpectedly that you’re forced to regroup pretty quickly? I always love your stories.

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

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Finally, An Air Filter Solution — Plus a Giveaway! Tue, 10 Mar 2015 16:51:56 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photography by Kirsten Wiemer. This post is brought to you by FilterEasy — the first hundred people who check them out will receive a free order of filters! Oh. And you could win a $300 Gift Card to Amazon!! Find details below.

Making spring cleaning plans? Then this post is just for you. I got a an email a few weeks ago about FilterEasy and when I read it, I had one of those cartoon-esque moments where my jaw dropped and I slapped my forehead — I keep forgetting to change our air filters! To really keep up good air quality in our house, in an ideal world, we would change the filters every other month. But we’ve been in this house for a year and a half and up until last week, we had changed the air filters exactly once. So gross!


And I’m not even a little embarrassed to admit it, because I’ll bet many of you reading are like, air filters? Do I have them in my house? Where? How do I check? Has my landlord been changing them? Is it my responsibility? What are air filters? Then, once you know what they are, you have to figure out sizes and which allergen level you need or prefer. It can feel intimidating. If you are highly organized, or super sensitive to dirty air, then you’re likely on top of switching out your filters, but for the rest of us, air filter knowledge just doesn’t seem to be one of those things that is automatically acquired with adulthood or homeownership.

In fact, since we married, we’ve lived in 8 homes, and the only one where we changed a filter (besides this house) was the first home we owned, and we only knew to change that filter because we had a new HVAC system installed and the installer showed us how. In every other home we were either clueless, or assumed the landlord was taking care of it. And now that I think back, I don’t think I ever saw our landlords change the filters. Hah!


Anyway, back to that email about FilterEasy, I signed up immediately, because I think it’s so smart. FilterEasy is a subscription air filter delivery service so that you can get clean air without hassle. Depending on how dirty the air quality in your area is, filters should be changed every 1, 2, or 3 months. And with a FilterEasy subscription, the filters are delivered to your door, right when you need them. It’s this perfect reminder.

You don’t have to go to the hardware store, or try and remember what size you need. You put your info in FilterEasy once — number of filters in your house, sizes, how often you want to change them, and allergen protection — and then your subscription is on autopilot. And if you’re worried about price, don’t be, because FilterEasy offers filters for lower than competitor rates at a home improvement store.


And we all SHOULD be changing our air filters, because the benefits are significant. First, the air in your house will be cleaner, with less allergens, pet dander, dust and bacteria. Second, because not changing filters is the leading cause of expensive HVAC repairs. Third, you’ll save energy, since HVAC uses more energy than any other appliance, and clean filters make for efficient air flow. Hard to argue with lowering your carbon footprint and saving on energy costs!

My first delivery arrived last week, and thank goodness, because as you can see in the photos, our filters were so dirty! I’m now a devoted FilterEasy fan. Have I convinced you how awesome it is? Good. Now let’s get to the Giveaway for the $300 Amazon Giftcard!


To enter, click this link and enter your email address. You’ll automatically be entered to win a $300 Amazon gift card! There is no purchase necessary, you just need to input your email address to be entered and eligible. Good luck! I hope you win. The winner will be announced on Monday the 23rd.

Oh. And even if you don’t win, I’ve got a GREAT FilterEasy discount for you: The first hundred people who enter their email address will receive their first order of filters of any size for free!! Click this link and enter your email to automatically redeem the offer. For real! Input the info for the filters in your home, and the entire first month’s order is free. Once you enter your email address, the discount will automatically apply to your order.


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Living With Kids: Raffaella Cova Tue, 10 Mar 2015 14:00:49 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’m not sure if it’s the sunlight sliding through this tour or the overwhelming vibe that this house wasn’t built yesterday or the sheer uniqueness of this home, but I am hooked on it. I’ve lost many minutes zooming in on Raffaella’s kitchen shelves and dreaming of a nap in one of those beds. It looks like such a good life. You’ll see. Welcome, Raffaella!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Marco and I met during a night out with friends in Milan, and neither of us had the least idea that we’d be starting a family shortly after. We were both very busy with our jobs; he was working as an architect in Milan, and I was in TV and film production.

On a whim, he invited me to spend a weekend with him in Tuscany. Marco studied architecture in Florence and moved to Rome and Milan afterwards, but his family originates from Montalcino in the south of Siena. In fact, his mom says that their family’s presence in the Val d’Orcia can be traced back all the way into the early 15th century. We must be on the way to continue the family tradition since the prominent wine town in southern Tuscany is where we live now together with our two sons!

Dante is nine years old and thrives in the wilderness that surrounds our house. He is great at mushroom hunting in autumn, fishing at the Tuscan coast in summer, and manages to find huge bunches of wild asparagus in spring. He also loves looking after the chicken. Quite to the contrary of his brother. Indro just turned six and could easily live in a city. He doesn’t care too much about his surroundings as long as he has time to draw and paint, but most of all he loves lying on the sofa to meditate about who knows what.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: I fell pregnant early on in our relationship, and knowing that our life was due to change we weighed up the options we ha: keeping our jobs in Milan or starting afresh in Tuscany? Unable to decide. we literally flipped a coin and have been living on this Tuscan hill ever since. To start with, we stayed in Marco’s grandmother’s apartment in Montalcino’s historic town center. One Sunday we went for a walk and came across our house tucked away in the forest. It felt like a page out of a fairy tale: overgrown and uninhabited for decades, it looked like hunters might have used it as a base from time to time. Asking around, we discovered that it was owned by family friends. Quite a bit younger back then and with little money but much more energy and enthusiasm, we decided to restore all of it by ourselves! I’ve learnt how to mix cement and what it means to put stone on stone, and above all how long everything takes with do-it-yourself! But in return, I think we managed to renovate it without overdoing it or scraping out its soul.

As usual with Tuscan farm houses, the lower floor had been used as a stable for centuries. These stables are beautiful open spaces, which are hard to come by in the living quarters of historic Tuscan countryside houses. The living spaces were traditionally situated on the first floor above the stables; shared by large or several families they had to be divided into smaller rooms with each new generation.

Once renovated, Marco used the ex-stable as his studio. However, with the family growing we decided to turn it into our living room, whilst Marco returned to Nonna’s flat in town to install his Tuscan architect studio there. This also meant I finally got a bigger kitchen, which was truly needed for my new activity.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Val d’Orcia is known for its cypress lined hills and natural beauty. It is, in fact, a Unesco World Heritage site. But what I love so much about living here is simply what most people might treasure about living in the countryside, no matter where you are: having my own vegetable garden, being able to have breakfast with fresh eggs, or to fire up the old pizza oven to throw a party at our home without ever having to worry that we may disturb the neighbours – a fact our kids obviously take advantage of when they’re having friends over!

Q: You lived in the city before this. Compare and contrast the best and least-best parts of living in each.

A: A guest at our wedding said it looked like we were getting the best of both worlds. I didn’t hire a caterer, but cooked with the old ladies from Sant’Angelo in Colle, a gorgeous hill town close to Montalcino, for days before our wedding. There was every thinkable Tuscan starter, handmade pasta, and wild boar stew for a regiment on the buffet in the olive grove, but also a DJ from Milan and American friends who had put up the most amazing cocktail bar.

Of course, one good party won’t get you through the rest of the year. And whilst I’m very happy to raise my kids in the countryside, there were also things that became more complicated when moving to the Italian outback. Marco had quite a smooth transition as an architect; he nowadays restores Tuscan villas and farmhouses, and is happy to design wineries or swimming pools instead of office buildings. But I had to find a new career for myself and felt rather disoriented with having lost my professional identity. I’m happy we did it and love what I created during the last years, but it hasn’t always been easy.

Q: Are there new traditions for your family now that you’ve moved to the countryside?

A: The biggest change is, no doubt, Sunday lunch. Whilst our single lives in the city just included a strong coffee in the late morning or maybe a very late brunch, family life means we’re at last back to the traditional Italian Sunday lunch.

It doesn’t just have to be the four of us. Often, friends or family will be joining the table, which was another reason why we moved the living room downstairs. I wanted to have enough space for people to pop in and stay on, be it friends visiting from Milan and abroad, new acquaintances from the village, or our children’s buddies.

When I don’t have much time a plate of spaghetti, some fresh greens, and a glass of wine will do. But whenever I can, I love to prepare a proper four course meal as any Italian Nonna would: antipasti, primo, secondo, and obviously a dolce to finish off. Although we’re all in need of a digestive walk through the woods afterwards!

Q: You love to cook and have made a gorgeous business from this love! Tell us all about it!

A: I’ve always loved to cook. In fact, at some point my mom had to ask me to give it a break, since all the elaborate recipes I was trying out were overtaxing the family budget! Later on, I spent my free days cooking in Milan and loved hosting diners for friends and friends of friends, but I would never have dreamed of turning my passion for Italian food into a proper job.

It really only was when sitting in Montalcino with two small kids and realizing that TV production wasn’t an option in Val d’Orcia that I started to consider it. The rest kind of just happened; friends started to ask me to cater for birthdays or celebrations, then came the harvest lunches in wineries, and one day a small group of American tourists was referred to me for a Tuscan cooking class.

Once I got my head around it and got over the first panic attacks, I realized that I’d be able to bring together all the things I love most. Italy’s regional cooking is endlessly varied, and much of it depends on the raw ingredients, which – be it cheese, meat or vegetables – have to be fresh and of prime quality. Finding and visiting the producers in Val d’Orcia and Tuscany is one of the most exciting parts. Last but not least, there is the Tuscan wine. Marco’s grandfather was one of the first in Montalcino to produce the town’s famous Brunello wine, and so there will be no cooking class without a glass of it!

Q: How do you balance your cooking classes and catering with feeding your own family?

A: I really don’t want to impose my passions on my kids, but no doubt what I do influences them. Both our sons love to lend a hand in the kitchen, and sometimes even prepare a meal on their own. Obviously, making pizza and preparing fresh pasta are favourites, which are always fun for kids and adults alike.

One of the biggest surprises I had was how much fun cooking lessons can be for teenagers. When whole families book the classes, the iPhone addicted 15- and 16-year olds turn out to be less afraid to get their hands into the pasta dough than their much more kitchen smart parents. I hope this will hold true once my kids are of that age!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Maybe the incredible love for them…unconditional even when they drive you crazy? And realizing that there is part of me in them still manages to surprise me.

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

A: The freedom to move, to explore, to be out in nature without having an adult supervisor around all the time, which is what I cherish most from my childhood even though I grew up in a much more suburban area in northern Italy.

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

A: That there is light after the tunnel. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but you know what I mean.

Life gets more complicated and intense and, at times, rather challenging with kids. But it’s not like I would have quite gotten it if somebody had told me in advance. Some things have to be experienced to be understood. At least in my case.

It’s a bit like trying out a new recipe. Cookbooks are great guides, but you have to get your hands dirty to properly figure it out.


Thank you, Raffaella! Your words and sun-streaked photos brought on such a calm in my office, and there are parts of your home that remind me of our life in France. All that to say, this tour put me in a happy place!

I really love how Raffaella described the early days of her business: “Once I got my head around it and got over the first panic attacks…” It’s reassuring that we all feel like that before jumping into a new endeavor. Anyone having one right now? If so, here are some words for you: You can do it! Go get your hands dirty!

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

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Last Minute Trip to Lake Tahoe! Tue, 10 Mar 2015 02:22:23 +0000 Design Mom

Lake Tahoe

Image and text by Gabrielle.

I’m so late posting today because we have been on the road all day. We had a last-minute opportunity come up and we’re spending a few days at Lake Tahoe!!! We’re so excited. We are going to ski our hearts out before the (minimal) snow the resorts received this year disappears. : )

With the exception of Olive, who spent a ski week with her school class in the French Alps when we lived in Normandy, we haven’t been skiing since we lived in Colorado! That seems like a really long time ago. It was a really long time ago.

So, I’m late with my posts today, but I won’t be skipping out on work — I’ve got great stuff scheduled for the rest of the week. Plus, I’ll be Instagramming our trip if you’d like to follow along. Lake Tahoe is gorgeous! I snapped the photo at top last spring when we visited for the first time. We all feel super lucky that we get to be here this week.

P.S. — We’re staying at a really cool place that belongs to a Bay Area local friend, Domonique of The Simple Proof. You can see photos of it on Kid & Coe. It’s fantastic! I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

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