Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:34:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Baby Cravings Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:30:47 +0000 Design Mom

Image and text by Gabrielle.

I realize the title of this post implies otherwise, but I’m not pregnant. I promise. And I have zero plans to have another baby. I really, truly feel like our little family is complete.

So what’s with all the baby cravings I’ve been having lately?

I see babies and have to stop myself from picking them up without permission. I see pregnant friends and my hand instinctively goes to my belly to acknowledge my own (non-existent) pregnancy. I find myself listening in on conversations about the latest baby gear and making mental notes for future purchases that aren’t going to happen.

All that, and yet I assure you with complete confidence that I don’t actually want to have another baby. I am 100% uninterested in being pregnant.

It occurs to me that it might be my biological clock. These baby cravings may be a simple reminder from my body: Hey. Want to have a baby? You should go for it asap. This offer won’t last forever!

And if that’s true, it has caught me off guard. I guess it never occurred to me that after six babies, my biological clock would still be nagging me. Or perhaps my assumptions are wrong, and it has nothing to do with my biology. Maybe there’s just something in the air.

Tell me, friends, has this ever happened to you? Are you done growing your family (or maybe content not growing a family at all), but still having baby pangs? If yes, does it go away at some point, or does it continue until grandkids arrive? Hah! I’d love to hear your experiences.

P.S. — Remember Baby June?

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DIY: Flavored Sugar Valentines Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:00:32 +0000 Amy Christie

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!

By Gabrielle. Photos & styling by Amy Christie.

Hey Sugar! Here’s something to sweeten your day. As you know, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so I’m trying to share a few projects while you still have time to make use of them. : ) This one is a good one! Flavored sugar recipes are popping up everywhere and since they are so simple to make, I thought they would make sweet gifts for neighbors and friends (pun intended). Sugars infused with flavors help elevate the taste of the recipes they are added to.

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!

I’m not kidding about how easy these flavored sugars are to make. All it takes to make citrusy sugars is sugar and zest. Amounts can be adjusted so you can make just the right amount.

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!

I even made a tag (free printable!) for you to tie on so this treat is as adorable as it is easy to make.

Let’s make something sweet!

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods!


- sugar
- citrus fruit – I used oranges, lemons & limes
- zester
- chopping blade or food processor
- jars – newly purchased or recycled
- printable tags
- string

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods!

Below is the basic recipe used to create these citrus sugars, however, zest amounts can be adjusted depending on the size of your produce.

2 cups of sugar + the zest of 1 orange = orange sugar

2 cups of sugar + the zest of 2 lemons = lemon sugar

2 cups of sugar + the zest of 2-3 limes = lime sugar

To begin, use a zester to peel off the zest or outer colored part of the citrus fruit. Collect in a bowl. Use a chopping blade to cut the zest pieces smaller and stir into sugar. Or, if you have access to a food processor, toss the zest and half of the sugar into the bowl and pulse a few times until the larger zest pieces are cut down. Add the rest of the sugar and pulse until combined.

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods!

Lay the zested sugar out on a baking sheet for a few hours until it has dried out.

Collect in a jar or other lidded container and tie on a tag one of the printable tags.

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!

You could also add a recipe with the sugar gift.  I thought these sugars would work well in these recipes:


California Orange Cake

Vanilla Orange Scones

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!


Lemon Cake

Lemon Lime Bars

EASY Citrus Sugar Recipe. Make Lemon, Lime, or Orange sugar and add some flavor to your baked goods. Free printable!


Brazilian Limeade

Lime Meltaways

Any hey. These make great gifts even after Valentine’s Day has come and gone. For the holidays, for a new neighbor, as a hostess gift or party favors — I’m sure you’ll think of a dozen ways to gift them.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever used flavored sugars? Do you have a particular recipe where flavored sugars make a great addition? I hope you’ll share!

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Recipe: Almond Feta Dip That You Will Want to Eat With Everything Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:00:06 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom. // This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds

We’ve been making a wholesome walnut feta dip from The Moosewood Cookbook for almost two decades. It’s one of the Blair Family favorites! But the last few times we made it, I could see we needed to change it up a bit — its popularity was waining.

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

So I switched out the walnuts for something spicier — I used Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds instead.

Results? Holy cow. This dip is SO GOOD! I mean it. You are going to want to skip the veggies and the crackers and just spoon this in your mouth like it’s porridge. You will love it.

And if you have any game day gatherings on your schedule, this dip would be perfect!

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

It’s a super easy recipe, and I’m betting it will become one of your family favorites as well. Let’s get started.

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

Almond Feta Dip
adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

As you may be able to tell from the photos, the consistency you’re going for is like a thick hummus — though it doesn’t taste like hummus at all. We like to serve it with fresh veggies, crackers, and even on a crusty loaf of bread. Feta can be a strong tasting cheese, but in this recipe, the feta seems to be liked by all. Even our little kids love this healthy dip.

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

One 6 ounce can Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds (about 1 cup)
Handful fresh parsley
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup water or milk
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small garlic clove
Pinch cayenne pepper
A drizzle of olive oil
Fresh oregano, for garnish

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

Place almonds and parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until nuts are ground. Add the feta, milk, paprika, garlic, and cayenne. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with fresh oregano. Serve with fresh veggies, crackers, and/or pita chips.

Yield: about 1 3/4 cups

Almond Feta Dip - Healthy + Yummy. You will want to eat it on EVERYTHING!

The dip itself is sort of bland looking, so having something colorful to eat it with is a good idea. I hope you try it! And if you do, I hope you’ll let me know if your family likes it as much as mine.

P.S. — For more Game Changing Snacks, visit Blue Diamond Almonds on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We caught Meghann just before her family moves from Amsterdam to the island of Saba. (So that you don’t have to disappear to look up Saba, it is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Thank you, Wikipedia!) I was instantly intrigued when she described her life in her 700 sq. ft. home, using terms like “micro dwelling” and “huge bathroom to fit even tall Dutch men” and “big love” during our correspondence.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. And I hope it’s the best thing you catch all day. Welcome, Meghann!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: I live in this cosy home with my husband Koen, my six year old son Tipp, and my four year old daughter Loula.

Tipp and Loula are only 20 months apart. For the most part, they are super sweet and loving with each other. They are both quite sensitive little creatures, but at the same time very tough. Tipp says he wants to marry Loula when they grow up. That always melts my heart. They often walk to school hand-in-hand, and are a force to be reckoned with at the playground – which does not always bode well for the other kids, much to my embarrassment!

Tipp is a sweet little boy who is super excited about learning to read and write. He calls me mooie mama, which means beautiful mama, and asks me for one extra big kiss as I walk out of his bedroom at night. Tipp’s favourite band is Kiss, he break-dances, plays a mean air guitar, and loves running and playing soccer. He is nearly certain that he is the real Spiderman, which is something he can discuss at some length. Tipp wants to be a flying doctor who knits when he gets older. He says this does not conflict at all with being the real Spiderman.

Loula is my big-eyed, independent little lady. She wants to try and do everything herself! Loula is analytical and asks amazing questions. She dances ballet, and prefers dresses “because you can’t skip as well in pants.” She makes up her own songs and sometimes sings them with a sort of soprano opera voice, which is hilarious! She calls children “kids” and adults “people” and often asks, “When will I become a person?” I love this question because, when trying to reason with momentarily unreasonable children, I sometimes wonder when these little monsters will become people!

My husband, Koen, is a public health doctor specialized in infectious disease control. Think CDC…but in the Netherlands. He works four days a week with the public health department in Utrecht province and has a side job working as a primary care doctor with street prostitutes. I think I might be the only woman who gives her husband a kiss and says “Have a nice evening, babe” as he walks out the door to go to the prostitutes!

And then there’s me. I’m Meghann. I am a maker. I design, create, photograph, and package my leather and textile products from my in-home atelier. This is a huge change from my past life in which I wrote project proposals to fund projects in developing countries, mainly from EU funding, and where the logical framework was one of my best friends.

I think I’m quite pure, in the sense that what you see is what you get. I think I am also quite honest about who I am, including my shortfalls. My husband calls me one of the most open and honest people he knows. He says I’m an adventurer. I love to laugh out loud, and when I’m sad I cry big tears. I love to cook and try new-to-me recipes with forgotten vegetables. I don’t wear make-up, and never really have. And I believe that bike-riding together with your partner is possibly the key to a good relationship.

Q: You’re an American (now Dutch!) living in Amsterdam! Please tell us how you got here, and how you found your home.

A: Well, the road to Amsterdam was a long one! I met my husband, who is from the Netherlands, while studying abroad in Nantes, France, in Fall 2000, but we only started dating in early 2003. A couple of countries and a couple of years later, we married after both graduating from the University of Maastricht in July 2005. And after a couple years in Antwerp, Belgium, we moved to Amsterdam in January 2008.

Moving to the Netherlands, in the legal sense, was really quite easy for me as my husband is Dutch. We have this amazing housing site here where you can see nearly any home available for sale in the country. We bought our home at the very peak of the market in 2008, when I was about five months pregnant. Which, in hindsight, was not an optimal moment to be home shopping. While I would probably do things a bit differently if I could go back in time, I LOVE our neighbourhood and am so happy we ended up here.

That my husband is Dutch was definitely a help when searching out mortgages, energy suppliers, internet, etc. Even though it was a first home-buying experience for both of us, reading the details of the fine print and working with the banks for a mortgage is always easiest in your own native language. Although, thanks to the high level of English most people speak here, most things can almost always be discussed in English.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I can hardly think of a better location to live! I am absolutely head over heels for Amsterdam! This must be one of the best cities in the world in which to raise children. But I may be super biased!

Amsterdam is very easy to get around by bike, public transport, or even on foot. The canals in the center are gorgeous, particularly when lit up at night. And the different neighbourhoods all have their special feel. Amsterdam is also very green for such a dense and compact city, particularly in the area where we live.

My neighbourhood is in the southwest of the city, within the city ring. We are sandwiched between the two biggest parks – the Vondelpark and the Rembrandpark – and spend a huge amount of time in these parks, at any time of year. We go everywhere in town by bike…even in the snow!

Amsterdam has tons to offer for children. On cold or rainy days we spend time at the museums or the children’s cooking cafe where they get to choose what they’d like to cook that day; everything is at their level. It’s run by volunteers and so is very affordable. Nearly all the museums have activities for children, like an orphanage at the Amsterdam City Museum, a Sesame Street tour at the Rijksmuseum, dress up and theatre at the Shipping Museum, and Lego art at the Stedelijk Contemporary Art museum. On warmer days we head out on our bikes to the zoo or to some of the nature parks around town, where the kids get to build huts, bake bread on a fire, pull themselves across the water by rope, or just run around all day.

Prices for many activities can be very high in Amsterdam. For our family, as we live on quite a tight budget, it makes sense to have annual passes. We all have a “museumjaarkaart” which costs about €50 per adult and €25 per child and allows us to enter nearly all the museums in the country for free. We also have annual passes to Artis, the zoo, which is about €140 all together. These are big upfront investments, but we spend very little money the rest of the year apart from this. We pack our lunches everywhere we go, and even bring a thermos of coffee or beer and wine, depending on the season and time of day. We tend not to go to theatre productions, as these can be very costly, but we spend nearly every weekend in the summer at the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, which is free and offers fabulous theatre, music, dance, and comedy.

While our home is tiny (only 700 sq. ft!) and on the second floor (considered the third floor by US standards), we have a great square out front with a playground for the neighbourhood kids. Kids of all ages play out here and, on warmer days, we often bring out juice and wine and snacks and all hang out with each other. The location on a square and the fact that we have no yard has been a huge plus factor in our social life! It means that my young kids can play outside without me being there because we know a great deal of our neighbours very well. I would say there’s just enough of the “social control” to create a warm, safe, cosy feeling here, without people being nosy.

In a couple of months we’ll be leaving our wonderful life here in Amsterdam for a new adventure on the island of Saba, where we’re pretty sure that, if fairies do exist – and we think they do! – they are likely to live on Saba. While we’re all very excited about our move, I know we’ll miss our home and life here as well. That’s why we’ve decided to rent out our home instead of selling it. I just can’t bear to completely let go of this slice of our life. I like knowing that it’ll be here waiting for us if and when we’re ready to come back.

Q: You describe your space as small but big enough. What are the must haves that make your home fit your family perfectly?

A: This is a small home with big love! Rather than must haves, I think I’d say it’s most important to realize how little you really need. Not to say that I wouldn’t love more space! But I can’t honestly think of any item I’m missing. Sure, a KitchenAid mixer is beautiful and I think it would be really fun to have one someday. But do I miss it? No. In fact, when I bake cookies and cakes with my kids, I use a fork and my arm. It builds great muscles.

I think the most important aspect to living in a small space is layout. Our home is laid out so that we have a living room and dining room in the front of the apartment, and two bedrooms and kitchen in the back of the apartment, and which all lead out to the balcony. I’ve usurped one wall of our dining room to create my atelier. It works amazingly well! While not conducive to work-life balance, I can finish up some work while my kids are snacking after school or playing on the floor in the living room.

We also recently renovated our bathroom, separate toilet, and hallway. Hooray! What was once a hallway closet that offered little space, a toilet that didn’t fit tall Dutch men, and an awful bathroom that housed a tiny shower and our washer and dryer stacked upon each other, is now a spacious hallway closet with space for the washer and dryer next to each other, a toilet fit for tall people, and roomy bathroom with a huge bathtub! Not to mention the penny tiles covering the floor!

And the big love really is important! My parents visit us from the US about twice per year, two weeks each time. The only way they can do this is if they don’t have hotel costs. So, they stay with us! We put them up in our bedroom (it’s nice to be able to shut the door on suitcases), and Koen and I sleep in the living room. When they left us this past November, my husband actually said, “I wish they could stay another week.” Not many husbands out there who would say that about their mother- and father-in-law!

Q: How do you handle clutter? Are you a natural editor, or does it take pure chaos to get you to purge items that are taking up space?

A: Ha! Clutter! The nice thing about “la vie en petit” means that there’s no space for junk or filler furniture. So in that sense, I’m a natural editor. We only buy what we really like. I’d much rather spend more money on a nice piece or item than less money on something that’s just good enough. And, as we have such little space, that’s okay to do!

We also try to have multi-purpose furniture. Our larger couch, for example, is a hide-a-bed. Our smaller couch fits so perfectly in the bay window that it actually makes the room look and feel bigger. The blue bench in our dining room stores my rolled up leather. And we use boxes under our bed to store things that we do need and use, but are more seasonal, like picnic blankets, or an extra comforter for when my parents come visit.

Our home certainly gets cluttered at times! But all houses do. The nice thing about a small home is that, even though it gets cluttered much more quickly and you can’t simply shut the door on it, it also is much quicker to pick up. We just have less stuff.

Q: You’re a talented leather and textile artist. How did you begin this business? What are your goals and biggest accomplishments so far?

A: Thank you so much! As a child, I was very creative. I took nearly every art class possible in school, from painting to pottery to jewellery to photography. At home, my mom and I would bring out our beads after dinner and make bracelets in the evenings. She also taught me how to sew, even from my own designs. I used to dream of living in Paris and being a fashion designer. That all seemed so far away at that age. We didn’t travel as a family, nobody spoke a foreign language, and pretty much every adult in my family was a teacher.

While my parents have always been very supportive of me, they also found practicality to be the most important when going to college. Studying fashion wasn’t really a possibility. So I went to the University of Washington and graduated in 2001 with a BA in Business. And a few years later, I did my Masters in European Public Affairs in Maastricht. Painting was the creative outlet that was most present in my life. But once I had kids, the time for that dwindled.

In 2012, I became emotionally and psychologically ill. I had built up this amazing career in international development, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so depressed. At some point I realized that I needed to create again. And also that this amazing job I had simply didn’t fit me anymore. So, I started to create again. And with warm support of my colleagues, I left my job.

While ill, I had posted some photos of things I’d made on Facebook and a friend of mine kept chanting, “ETSY!” So I looked into it and, after a few months, opened my shop. My first sale was a blouse. It was exhilarating and terrifying! But my customer loved it! (I hope she still does!) Anyway, I thought, “If all these other people on Etsy can do it, why not me?”

I’ve been a true business for just over a year now! I would say my biggest accomplishment is simply that I have sales and that, up until now, all of my reviews are glowing! My customers are looking for simple, minimalist essentials, made from high quality and responsible materials, that are versatile in where and when they can be used. They want that understated beauty that comes with age and usage and that stands out because of its simple beauty rather than from flashiness. I would say my leather Tote No.1 epitomizes that.

Another accomplishment, even though I’ve not launched the textile side of my label yet, is a collaboration with Leah Duncan! While I design and will be making the clothing for my label, I don’t design the fabric. I love Leah’s work, so I contacted her some months back and she said she’d love to work with me! We both have Native American background, so we used that a bit as inspiration for the fabric design for the shirt and scarf I’ll be making. (I’ll give you a hint: Tumbleweeds!)

At this point, particularly because we’ll be moving abroad right at the moment that I am meant to launch my Spring/Summer 2015 clothing collection, my goal is to keep myself as structured as possible so that I can keep my business running through the move. And, of course, a huge goal is to sell products from my collection:) Really, more than the money, each and every sale feels like such amazing recognition for the time and love I put into my business.

To be honest, writing about this brings tears to my eyes. I’m still in a very early stage in this new career of mine and it’s been a long and winding road to get here. It might sound silly, but I’m so thankful to my husband for his support, and also very proud of myself for daring to dive off the deep end and just go for it.

Q: Describe a typical day in your world.

A: I’m slowly getting better at balance. Both of my kids are in school now, which gives me from 8:35 to 2:55 to work. I start my day with a nice warm cup of coffee, and sit behind the computer for about a half hour to answer e-mails, check Facebook, Pinterest, and a few blogs. Then I get to work. This can be designing and putting together prototypes of new products, to making a bag that has just been ordered, and getting these out the door. I feel like the orders come and go in waves, which is nice because I have moments where I’m working hard on products that I’m already familiar with, and sometimes a full week to design and try out new products! And the beauty of selling on Etsy is that I don’t have to list anything that I don’t feel I can reasonably make within the shipping time that I’ve defined.

At five minutes to 3:00, I whip on my shoes and jacket and rush out the door to pick up my kids. From then until evening I’m just mommy. Lately I’ve been trying to not work in the evenings anymore. But, when I do, I usually use that time to search for suppliers or other types of info online. I don’t like to sew in the evenings because the lighting is not optimal, and being tired leads to mistakes.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget!

A: I hope they remember the warmth and love in this house. I honestly can’t think of anything I hope they forget. Well…maybe the fact that they’re not allowed to jump loudly and bang on the floor. We’re not against this in principle, but living on the second floor of a 1930s house means that floor insulation is not at its best.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What has surprised you the most about motherhood?

A: One of my very favourite things is being woken up in the morning (just preferably not before 6:45!) by a warm little body coming to snuggle with me. I love this feeling! Sometimes we just lay there and fall in and out of sleep. Other times we talk and giggle about different things. Those moments are so precious.

What has surprised me most about motherhood is the intense feelings you can have: of success and blissful happiness during the good moments, but also of guilt and failure at difficult moments. It’s that deep awareness of being responsible for somebody else’s life. Luckily, the good outweigh the bad so far!

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

A: I feel like my mom warned me for everything! But I don’t know if any of it really hit home until I became a mom myself. There is just no way to explain exactly how that will feel: from the sheer joy to the utter pain.

I never understood why my parents worried so much. And they would say, “You’ll understand when you have your own kids.” I didn’t know it then, but they were right!

I’m trying hard not to parent through fear. I really don’t want my kids to fall or hurt, but it is all part of growing up. So I’m working on letting go.

Also with marriage. I used to ask my mom how you can love somebody for so long, through thick and thin. And she would say, “It’s a choice. There are times where you’re in love, and times where you stick by because you have deep respect and you love the person, even if you’re not in love at the moment.” I really took that to heart.


Thank you, Meghann! I can’t wait to hear about your new life in Saba, so please let us know if you spot a faerie or two!

I’m so inspired by your small space and how well the entire family – and houseguests – live in it. From experience, it is all about the big love! And I had to laugh about you finding your destined creative career even though your parents prodded you in a more practical direction. I hope in some way you’ve inspired other parents to be open to the paths their children are forging. Love always finds a way, right?

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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A Few Things Fri, 23 Jan 2015 16:00:00 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Image by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I’m writing from Alt Summit in Salt Lake City. It’s been a great conference so far — Lisa Congdon’s opening keynote yesterday was standing-ovation amazing. And I’m equally excited about today. At noon, I’ll be moderating the Keynote Session about Entrepreneurship with Susan Petersen of Freshly Picked and Jess Lee of Polyvore. I’m reviewing questions and I think it’s going to be a terrific discussion. Plus, all 3 of the keynote sessions are being videoed, so I can share links once the videos are ready, in case you want to see them, but couldn’t make it to Alt.

I have to tell you about the outfit I’m wearing today. Last May, when I was in Atlanta for the Mom 2.0 conference, I went shopping at these vintage stores called Labels with Rachel of Handmade Charlotte and Rebecca of Girls Gone Child. They are both fashionistas and helped me pick out some really amazing pieces. One of the things I bought was a vintage red velvet Gucci tuxedo! I’ve been waiting and waiting for a good winter-y event I could wear it to. And today’s the day! I have to say, all that red is really confidence bringing and I’m feeling awesome!! I’ll be sure to have some photos snapped so I can do a “what I wore to Alt Summit” post in the next week or so.

Speaking of which, if you’d like to follow along with the conference, the #altsummit hashtag on Instagram has tons of great photos. I’m off to prep some more for the day, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- So cool! Warka Water collected useable water from thin air and provides it villages with no current water access.

- Before there were cell phones, there was boredom. (And that was a good thing!)

-  I didn’t know there were paragliding competitions. This photo is WOW!

Benevolent sexism — when someone tells you you are too special to do something.

100 Years of Beauty.

- Have you read this? Do you agree? — To fall in love with anyone, do this.

- I’m sure I’m the last person to see this Nicole Kidman interview on Jimmy Fallon, but so funny!

- Gigapixels of Andromeda. This made me cry in wonder. Thanks, Jared.

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


P.S. — I fly home tomorrow evening with Maude & Olive (Ralph was going to come, but had some deadlines he needed to attend to instead). It’s been so fun to have them here! But we’re all excited to go back to California and to be altogether as a family. What a full month it’s been!

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Bombas Socks! Thu, 22 Jan 2015 17:00:24 +0000 Design Mom

Bombas Socks + Design Mom2

Images and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Bombas Socks. Get 20% off your purchase with code DESIGNMOM20.

Ever since Maude became serious about running, socks have become a frequent topic of conversation at our house. Mostly the conversation goes like: Mom, I need more socks! : )

She runs miles each day and goes through socks at lightning speed, and she has strong opinions on sock features, colors, lengths, and thicknesses. Somewhere along the lines, she also discovered she loves socks in general, and the one thing on her Christmas wish list was socks. Not kidding! She received 18 pairs. Hah!

Bombas Socks + Design Mom3

Anyway, my friends at Bombas emailed me about their brand new socks and swore they are revolutionary. So of course, I was curious and did a little research. Conclusion: I’m impressed! The history of the company is really fantastic. When the founders heard that socks are the #1 requested clothing item at shelters here in the U.S., they knew they could do something about that.

Bombas Socks + Design Mom4Bombas Socks + Design Mom5

They decided they wanted to make the world’s best socks and create a business based on a buy-one-give-one model — every time a pair is purchased, another pair goes to a shelter (they’ve donated over 300,000 pairs already!). And they weren’t kidding about developing the best possible socks. They spent two years and created socks with features that the other socks in your drawer only dream about.

Features like: Stay up technology. Y-stitched heel. Blister tab (this one is my favorite feature — it’s a little cushion on their ankle socks that prevents chafing). Invisitoe. And the honeycomb support system (this is Maude’s favorite feature — it gives extra support and tightness in the arch). Wondering what all those are? I learned about each one in this video (if you want to skip the video, you can read about the features too):

I was impressed enough that I ordered a pair for everyone in the family. And it is pretty dang adorable to see the kids padding around the house in their Bombas. Maude loves them for running. Ben Blair uses his at the gym. Ralph likes his for everyday casual wear. I use my almost like slippers. If your family members wear sneakers as a default, I’m betting they’d love Bombas socks. They’re cool looking, comfortable and really high quality.

Want to give them a try? You can get 20% off your purchase using code DESIGNMOM20. If you don’t like them, no stress — they have a 100% happiness guarantee.

Bombas Socks + Design Mom6

Hooray for Bombas! Hooray for companies that give back!

P.S. — In case you’re curious, the Bombas donation socks are just like the ones you and I order, but with the addition of a few key details: they receive an antimicrobial treatment, reinforced seams, and they come in darker neutral colors to prevent visible wear.

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DIY: Kid-Size Tissue Paper Pom Poms Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:00:57 +0000 Amy Christie

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

By Gabrielle. Photos & styling by Amy Christie.


Over the holidays, Amy Christie sent me the sweetest little care package, and instead of using packing peanuts to cushion the goodies in the box, she used homemade kid-size pom poms instead. Such a fantastic idea! My 3 youngest went nuts for them immediately. Cheers were chanted. High kicks were attempted. Imaginary teams rallied for the win!

My kids loved the little pom poms so much, that I begged Amy for instructions so I could make some more. My kids played with them for hours and hours that first day, and the pom poms practically disintegrated. : ) I thought you might like to make some for your kids as well. And if you’re hosting a Superbowl party this year, these would make a fun addition to the gathering.

So Amy whipped up a quick DIY. Made with tissue paper and a line of stitching, these pom poms are one of the simplest projects I’ve shared here. They might be made with children in mind but I dare you not to smile while you shake them.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

The good thing is, you probably already have tissue paper — which is the key supply for this project — in the house. In fact, if you aren’t particular about team colors, then any color will do (rainbow ones would be fantastic!). Scissors and either a sewing machine, thread and needle, or stapler round out your supplies.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

Ready to make something super easy? Let’s go!


- tissue paper – the tissue packs used here had 8 pieces each
- scissors
- sewing machine, thread and needle, or stapler
- straight edge
- rolling cutter, optional

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

With the tissue paper folded in half the long way (the fold is at the top of each section in the photos below), cut the whole stack in half.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

Fold the halved tissue stack into thirds. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

With a sewing machine, sew a line of stitching near the top (the folded edge) to connect all the layers. Don’t have a sewing machine? You can also hand-sew or staple it together.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

Use scissors to cut up the folded sides to the line of stitching. Then cut the corners off the top section to make them more handle-like.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

The easiest way to cut strips is to use a straight edge and rolling blade. The width is up to you. Here, they are about 3/4 inch wide. However, if you don’t have a rolling blade, you can use scissors to cut strips, doing a couple layers at a time.

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

Next: scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, and fluff, fluff, fluff!!

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

Then shake ‘em and shake ‘em good. GO! FIGHT! WIN!

Cutest, Easiest DIY: Make these Kid-Size Paper Pom Poms for Game Day!

P.S. — Love to make things? Find lots more really fun projects here.


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Living With Kids: Barbara Rucci Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Barbara Rucci’s house is full of lovely clutter. I look over the scenes she’s shared with us, and I can’t help but think that all her keepsakes on display are nowhere near a haphazard situation, and way more of an ever-changing collection of memories made…as well as those still in the making. Yes, Barbara does clutter right!

Also, if any of you are in the throes of comparing your parenting styles or values or incomes to those families around you, please read on. It seems that living in an affluent community brings with it a wonderful yet problematic set of challenges – maybe you’ve experienced the same dilemmas that Barbara worries over while printing out gratitude quotes from Pinterest! (Barbara, I giggled at the realization of how Pinterest can save us at our most frantic parenting moments!)

All this to tell you that you’re going to love more than the gorgeous photos this week; there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge well-earned over time in this one. Please enjoy it.

Q: Tell us about the family who lives here!

A: We are a family of five. My husband and I have two daughters who are 15 and 12, and an eight-year old son. My kids are very fun, but really loud. My son plays hockey in a room that was originally the formal dining room. Now we call it the hockey room. It has hardwood floors and is in the center of the house. He commentates every move and shot on goal. His imaginary hockey games are literally the soundtrack to our lives.

The girls love to sing and act, so they usually have something loud going on upstairs. When they were little, they would put on nightly shows. I have hours of video footage that we actually dig up and watch from time to time. It is amazing to see that their passions when they were really young are the same as they are now.

My kids are in three different schools with three different start times this year. It’s quite a long morning. My oldest is in high school, which is hard to believe. I feel like she was just standing on a stool in the kitchen singing Annie in her footie pajamas. It’s actually pretty cool because my husband and I both went to the same public high school she’s in now. No, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Now that would be a great story!

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We sold our beloved first home a year ago. Picture a renovated cape, sort of beachy-modern, on a cul-de-sac teeming with little kids. We lived there for 13 years and had all three kids there. When we sold it, my kids were pretty devastated. Our reasons for selling were varied, but part of it was looking ahead to the future and saving for college. It was also just time for a change.

Since we sold our house quickly, we didn’t have time to find a new purchase. We decided to rent. We heard about this one house that our friends had rented before. It was an old colonial owned by the Historical Society. In fact, it was on the Historical Society property.

We loved the location, about 200 yards from the center of town, but the house was very run down. It was falling apart, mostly because it hadn’t been taken care of from years of turnover. There were broken floorboards, cracked fixtures and plumbing, crumbling plaster walls, and worst of all almost no light switches or lights. We kept walking through the house, over and over again. I could picture us there, but nobody else could. My oldest said “No way.” We had some work to do, but it wasn’t our house so it was hard to justify spending the money.

Then my husband, who is a real estate attorney in town and my hero, talked to the owners and worked out a deal. Whatever money we put into the house, they would take off of our rent over the first year. Can you believe how nice this was? I went to work finding the cheapest ways to fix my problems. We painted floors instead of sanding, we painted walls but not molding, we bought bath fixtures from Home Depot and an electric oven on sale from Best Buy. I was in problem-solving mode, which is one of my best modes.

The challenge was rewiring for the light fixtures and switches. My electrician was not too happy to have to deal with plaster walls. But he did it, and we moved in and I set out to make it as homey and cozy as possible so my kids would be happy. I believe the key ingredient into making a house a home is creating a space that feels loved. I put up all of their artwork, made sure their beds were made with their soft, old sheets, and cooked the food they loved most so the house would smell like theirs again.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: Our town is beautiful. I would say that it is the ultimate dreamy New England suburb with all the charm of a picture postcard. We are in the heart of Fairfield County, in a community that is about 40 miles north of New York City. It’s a commuter town that started out in the 1800s as a village of shoemakers. In the 1940s, the “Harvard Five” began creating homes here in a style nobody had ever seen before. So nestled amongst the old colonials and new McMansions are a group of historic modern houses. The most famous being Philip Johnson’s glass house. I love this about our town – that it has such a deep history of makers.

We live here because our parents raised us here and we wanted our kids to grow us with their grandparents close by. They come to all of the recitals, plays, games, and birthdays, giving the gift of extra unconditional love and attention. We also love being close to New York City where we can go to the MoMa or see the penguins at the Central Park Zoo on a whim. Our public school system is exceptional, so it’s nice to take advantage of a top-notch free education. It’s a real community with struggles and triumphs like any other. Our roots here run deep, just like the trees.

But it can be challenging at times, raising our children in such a wealthy town. There is an intensity and competitiveness that permeates the schools and social scenes. The drive for over-achievement sometimes makes me feel like my good-enough parenting style is way out of place. My kids have asked me more times than I can admit if we are poor. We are not, I tell them, and then I go on Pinterest and print out lots of quotes about being grateful and tape them to the walls. Some parents in affluent communities value success more than kindness and decency.

So the task lies in raising our kids to be okay with failure and imperfection, and to encourage them to explore who they are and to nurture their talents rather than be fixated on money and popularity. I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far because our kids are kind of great

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I would describe my aesthetic as artsy. I have something homemade in every room. Whether it’s garland or paintings or notes that my kids have written, I hang up anything that I love. People who come over to my house always comment on all of the interesting stuff to look at. Sometimes I think maybe that is a nice way of saying that my house resembles a tag sale, and I do get into modes where I need to just throw out because it’s too much even for me. I consider myself a collector, but it can border on cluttered. The key to keeping my home looking fun and artistic is cleaning and organizing.

I have boxes for each of my kids. Big boxes for their artwork, and smaller boxes for their schoolwork. I have a cleaning lady who comes every two weeks which forces me to spend three hours before she comes throwing out and organizing. I moan about it every time, but then at the end of that day of cleansing I have rotated art, found lost items, filed away all of the papers on the floor of my office, and I’m ready to start collecting again for two more weeks! It feels good.

I teach my kids to do the same. They purge often, and are in charge of their own rooms. They decorate them, clean them, and make their beds. I’m starting to teach them to do their own laundry, which will be a game changer for me!

I sometimes envy other homes that are so pristine and uncluttered. Such discipline! I do dream about a fresh, modern space from time to time. But then how could I live in it for very long without draping a pom-pom garland over the doorway, or hanging up that drawing my son made with the penguins that says how much he loves me?

I could not live a happy life without being surrounded by all of the things that my kids have made.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: When I move into a new space, I always draw a floor plan to scale before moving in. I measure every room, I measure all of the furniture that I have, and then I see how I can make it work so that it best suits the needs of my family. Utilizing the space efficiently is very important to me.

There is nothing that bothers me more than non-functional rooms or spaces. That’s why I don’t have a formal living room. I don’t understand the concept of having a room just for occasional fancy guests. First of all, I don’t have fancy guests. And second of all, rooms that aren’t used feel sad and lonely to me.

Nothing in my home is too precious. My hockey player son has shot many pucks into lamps and vases. I try not to be too uptight about my stuff. With that said, I do love beautiful things. I have a few pieces that I cherish and they just make me happy every time I look at them. My dad is an artist and I’m lucky to have a few of his paintings. They are just so stunning and colorful, they make me happy.

And I love my quilts. I have made one for each of my kids from their old clothes. We use them every day. They are perfect for snuggling by the fire.

Q: Tell us about your work, and how it has informed your parenting style.

A: Before I got married, I had my own line of children’s clothes called Saskia that I made by hand and sold in New York boutiques. After I found out I was going to have my first baby, I decided that I wanted to work from home but with an easier job. Working in the garment industry was too stressful. I took some classes in Illustrator and Photoshop and I became a graphic designer. I was a textile design major in college, so being a graphic designer was just another path along the same road.

I did this for 15 years, during all of those long baby and toddler days. I worked during naps, at night, and on weekends. I feel so lucky that I could be there when they were growing up and still build a life for myself.

One day I read an article about blogging. My oldest was around 11 at the time, so this was about four years ago. I was intrigued. I started looking at blogs, Design Mom being one of the first. True story! I decided to try writing so I started a Tumblr blog. After about a year, I took it up a notch and started Art Bar, my current blog and now my life’s work.

When the kids were little, before blogging, I always had an art area or an art room. I would leave out “invitations,” like some play dough and rollers, or watercolors and different shaped paper. They always had an option to be creative. I would hang everything on clotheslines draped around the kitchen and in their rooms.

Now that they are older, they don’t choose to do art that much anymore. My girls love performance art and spend most of their free time playing the guitar, trying to harmonize, and just generally being dramatic. My son plays hockey night and day, but he will draw me a picture if I ask him to. Usually hockey logos or penguins, so not the best blogging material, but I still love them. About a year ago I began to realize that if my kids weren’t doing art, what was I going to blog about? That’s when I decided it was time to teach.

I started teaching four-year olds in my living room. Remember that I said nothing is too precious in my house? Turns out, I’m even okay with paint on my living room sofas. And thankfully, I have a very patient husband who understands me completely and almost never complains. I teach two times a week and it’s something that I find both incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time.

My teaching philosophy stems from my years of leaving out creative invitations for my own three kids: Expose my students to new materials, teach them new skills, but let them explore their own creativity as much as possible by setting up open-ended art experiences.

Q: Describe a typical work/blog day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your family’s life easier within that day?

A: I get up at 6:30 so that I can wake up the first one and get her off to school. I have about 20 minutes in between the first and second to quickly check and reply to emails. Or, more likely, get sucked into the social media vortex. Pinterest is my weakness. By the time they are all off to school, it is 9:15.

My office is my sanctuary. I just love that place. On days when I don’t have art class, I usually make lots of tea and work at the computer until lunchtime. My husband works a block away and often comes home for lunch. We check in about the afternoon of driving ahead and what to do for dinner. It’s really nice to have a partner in crime.

After lunch I try and get away from the computer. I’ll either make something, photograph stuff, exercise, or get new ideas going for art class. This house has such great light, so capturing part of each day on film is very rewarding for me.

Art class days are very different because they basically take up the whole day. The morning is prep, class is at 1:00 for an hour, and then it’s clean up.

By 3:00 I am done working for a few hours. It’s time to pick up kids, drive them places, host play dates, grocery shop, and cook dinner. But I’m so close to my office, it’s hard to stay away! Usually I’m back and forth to the computer throughout the night. I have an extra desk in the office so my kids will come and do homework with me. And honestly, most of the time everyone is huddled around me and my desk anyway. It’s just the way it is!

When you work at home, it’s hard to ever really put work aside. As a blogger, my life and my work are sometimes one and the same. My kids and my husband love my blog, and they are very proud of me. They know I am in work mode all of the time, but they also know that I love it and it makes me happy.

I involve them as much as I can so they don’t feel separated from me ever. It’s why I think blogging is the coolest job because what I’m ultimately doing is documenting my life with my kids, so there is a very deep connection between work and family.

At the actual end of my day, I turn everything off and read books. I love to read. I have to read. Reading is my favorite.

Q: What do you hope your children will remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? 

A: I really hope they look back at their time in this house and feel like it was a happy, cozy, fun place to live. It may not be everything that they want but at the same time, they are learning such a valuable life lesson. When you make a big change, try not to look back at what you’ve lost, but rather live in the present and be open to creating new experiences. Something beautiful is on the horizon!

My daughter started high school in this house. School is tough; there is a ton of homework and she misses her childhood. But in another year, she’ll get into her groove and I hope someday she thinks of this house in a nostalgic way. As the place where she got her license, went to her first dance, grew from a girl to a young woman. (Sniff sniff.)

My other daughter will live here most of her middle school years. Actually, she hates school right now. I am working really hard to cultivate her talents and gifts so that maybe, just maybe, her memories will not be of those horrible middle school years, but instead will be of the time she got her first video camera and started her own YouTube channel and made her first movies. I will let you know how that goes in about ten or 20 years.

My youngest, the eight-year old, misses his friends from the old neighborhood. But in this house he gets to have a hockey room! And a huge yard. He gets to walk to town with his sister and buy gum at CVS. I drive him to school every day instead of taking the bus, so I hope that he will remember our funny questions game and the ridiculous car clock that never says the correct time.

This home is the place where I started teaching. My family is so much a part of this new adventure. They always ask me about art class, they know all the names of my students, and we laugh together about funny four-year old questions and sayings. My kids have a cool art space in their living room that they can use whenever they want. Usually it’s to write thank-you notes or work on school projects, but making stuff is part of their lives and I believe it will help them become creative thinkers and problem-solvers. I hope they remember this quirky, original, artsy house as a place where their minds grew and their hearts opened.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your children? What is the one thing that has surprised you most about being a mom?

A: My children have allowed me to live my childhood over again. It sounds cliché but it’s how I really feel about being a mom. I’m creating memories of a home filled with music, books, games, baking, singing, dancing, movie night, cartwheels, fireflies, smoothies, tooth fairies, and lots and lots of arts and crafts. It’s magical for me so I will assume that it is for them, too!

What has surprised me most about being a mom is how culture and where you live play such a huge role in how you parent. My family immigrated to the US when I was five. My parents are Dutch and I was raised in a very simple way. Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.

Now that I’m a mom, I really look to my own mom sometimes and value that simple way of parenting. But it’s almost impossible to pull off when you live in a place where everything is over-the-top and huge. I’ve learned to find a happy medium and I try and practice what I preach to my kids: Comparison is the thief of joy. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.)

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

A: I wish someone had told me that my children would be nothing like me. I think I would have adjusted to parenting that much sooner.

For years, with my first, I kept trying to raise a mini-me and it was kind of frustrating because she wasn’t cooperating. It wasn’t until she was about five and my second one was becoming a toddler that I finally got it.

We were actually all growing up together.

I was growing as much as they were, and we were all becoming our own unique selves.


Thank you, Barbara. This was pure sunshine. I especially loved your description of your own childhood: “Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.” May all of our children enjoy the same.

I wonder how many of you are living in a situation where those around you are unknowingly competing with your style of parenting? Does that make sense? I guess I’m asking if your community adds to the ease with which you live, or somehow makes it all the more difficult? I always love your stories.

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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The Family Dinner Project Mon, 19 Jan 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Last week, my friend, Christine of Boston Mamas, told me about The Family Dinner Project. I loved (still love!) the idea and am excited to share it with you. Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this post is especially timely.

The idea behind the Family Dinner Project is to get families — parents and their kids — talking about challenging issues facing the world, like race, civil rights, and current events. They want families to enjoy food, fun and conversation together, and they know that dinnertime is a great place for good conversations to happen. Everyone is relaxed at the end of the day. Hunger pangs have died down as the mashed potatoes are passed around. The pressure is off.

At our house, we put a ton of value on these types of conversations. Two weeks ago, I shared a photo of our family prepping for dinner, and when I think of these discussions, an image like that comes to mind. Instead of gathering everyone on the couch and making the situation feel formal or serious, we like tackling topics while we set the table, chop vegetables, and eat. When everyone is working together, the conversation doesn’t come across as a lecture. It feels casual. It gets interrupted. It lets people think about what they’re hearing, and gives them time to process without having to come up with a response on demand.

If you’ve had discussions about race or sexism or poverty or inequality with your kids, you already know how impactful they can be. But if you haven’t tackled some of the tricky topics yet, you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s really hard for families to bring up negative stuff — not everyone knows how to start the conversation, at what ages they should share certain details, or what words are the most effective. But don’t despair! The Family Dinner Project has all sorts of excellent resources (including the infographics I’m sharing in this post) designed to help.


For example, for families with older kids, at dinner tonight you could share and discuss this article called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Or during dinner preparation or cleanup , these videos from Frederick Goodall and Denene Millner could start the conversation and prompt questions.

And it’s not just about discussing the world’s problems, it’s really about figuring out how to help solve them. These sorts of conversations tend to get kids excited about getting involved and serving in their communities. Perhaps they can collect canned food for a food drive, or serve dinner at a homeless shelter. Ask your kids what kind of service projects they’d most like to participate in and why. It’s a good conversation topic that gives kids agency in making philanthropic decisions.

Tonight’s dinner is the perfect time to start! You could talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. and why there’s a day we celebrate in his honor. You could share some of his quotes and see if they’ve been learning about him at school. You could use this MLK Toolkit for Kids. It’s specifically designed for school-aged kids to engage them in the topic of service. And if you do have a good conversation at dinner tonight, let your friends and family know with the #familydinnerforward hashtag. In January, The Family Dinner Project is using the hashtag to encourage people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their communities, to increase racial and cultural understanding, and promote unity.

If it’s a great conversation tonight, why not make a habit of it? You’ve heard of Taco Tuesday. How about Current Events Monday? On Monday nights over dinner, you could make it a regular thing to go over some of the big headlines and how they are affecting your family’s world.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear if you’ve ever discussed challenging topics with your kids. Did you discuss the verdicts that came out of Ferguson and New York? Did you talk about #likeagirl or #yesallwomen? Do you teach your kids about race and racism? Chime in with what has worked best!


Official Disclosure: I partnered with The Family Dinner Project to share this post.

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An Exciting Week + The First Design Mom Haul Mon, 19 Jan 2015 18:17:53 +0000 Design Mom

Video and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Are your kids out of school? Are you doing anything good or fun to commemorate the day?

Hey. I know I never published my Friday links post. I fully intended to! But this has been an unusually busy January. I mean, January is Alt Summit, so it’s always quite full schedule-wise. But this month, there is Alt plus a whole bunch more. For example, on Friday, I was touring around D.C. with Maude for #action15, my book went to the printer (HOLY COW!!), all the Alt Summit printed materials went to the printer as well, and we flew back to Oakland that evening. It was a little nuts. But good nuts!

This week will likely be a little nuts too. Ben Blair and Ralph returned from Haiti on Saturday night. We enjoyed the loveliest of Sunday mornings altogether as a family, and then I flew to Salt Lake City Sunday afternoon.

Yep. I’m writing this from Salt Lake City! I arrived last night, and I’ll be here all week for Alt Summit. And this year, my oldest three — Ralph, Maude & Olive — will be coming to the conference too! They’ll join me on Wednesday afternoon. When I unpacked last night, it hit me that maybe this month has been a little too busy, when I realized I forgot to pack my coat, my hat, and my glasses. Hah!

Despite the full schedule, I’ve got some really good posts ready to go this week. In one of my first posts of the year, I mentioned I wanted to do more with video, and this is my first attempt! Years ago I was speaking at the Mom 2.0 Summit and I talked about an idea I had to make videos of shopping at Target. I would share my shopping list, then walk through the aisles and talk about why I chose one product over another — sort of shopping through a graphic designer’s eyes. But I never made the videos happen.

Design Mom Target Accordian Folder

Then, my daughter Olive introduced me to “haul” videos. It’s the same idea, but filmed at home instead of in store. Essentially, vloggers will go shopping at whatever store (or multiple stores) they like, and then share their finds on video. Pretty straightforward. So I thought I’d try one. Olive coached me, and Ralph filmed+edited. Take a look and let me know what you think!

I realize some of you are not into video, so feel free to skip it. But if you do watch it, and want to see more, I’d love feedback! Are there stores you’d like to me to shop? Should I stick to a regular series of Target hauls? Or maybe go with a theme (like natural beauty products, or pre-conference wardrobe shopping). How often would you like to see something like this?

P.S. — Though I work with Target regularly, this is not a sponsored post. It’s just me as a regular Target shopper. I promise, I will always make it clear when I’m sharing a sponsored post.

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#Action2015 Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:19:00 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by godgrrl, cc_chapmansavethechildren.

Such a BIG day! I’m waving hello from Washington D.C.!! My daughter Maude was invited to come here with a group of fellow 15-year-olds to take part in #action2015. That’s right. 15-year-olds, meeting up on January 15th, 2015 to discuss policy that will affect the world for the next 15 years.


The movement is called action/2015, and there are groups meeting all over the world. Here in D.C., this group started the day early with a photo in front of The White House, then they heard from Tom Hart, Executive Director of the ONE Campaign, and Mark Shriver, President of Save the Children‘s Action Network over breakfast.

Maude White House

Next was a trip to The State Department where the met with Heather Higgenbottom, Deputy Secretary of State, and Dr. RAj Shah, from USAID. Many of the kids also got a chance to be interviewed by NBC!

Maude interview NBC

During lunch, the kids heard from Michael Elliot, CEO of the ONE Campaign, and Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children. Then it was off to The World Bank to meet with Cyril Muller, Vice President of External and Corporate Relations. And right this minute, they are on a bus tour of the Washington Monuments.

I’m writing this from the hotel room, waiting for Maude to get back and knowing she’ll be happily exhausted. : )

With my work, I get to attend special events frequently, but this one wasn’t about me, or any of the grownups, we’re just here as chaperones. Action/2015 is focused on the kids, and what a treat it was for us as parents to get to see our children shine, and to use their words for good. If you’d like to get involved with action/2015, you can sign the pledge here — ONE never asks for your money, they just need your voice.

P.S. — With Maude advocating in D.C., and Ralph volunteering in Haiti this week, you can imagine I’m feeling like a very proud mother!

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DIY: Lacey Clay Containers Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:51:01 +0000 Amy Christie

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos & styling by Amy Christie.

I could tell you that this project came about because I wanted to organize my makeup drawer (and I do need to organize that drawer), but the truth is, I got the idea to imprint lace into clay, and wanted good excuse to try it. Hah!

A few months ago, I came across a plate that had a crocheted doily imprinted onto it, and I wondered if lace would work just as well. So I combined some lace samples from the fabric store with air-dry clay, and tada!, now I have the cutest little set of containers in world. I’m using them here for makeup brushes, cotton balls, and jewelry, but I’m sure they would work fabulously on a desk as well.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Air-dry clay is so easy to work with. Just sculpt and allow to fully dry. It is easy to manipulate and holds texture well. Oh. And did you know air-dry clay can be tinted any color you like? I’m kind of into the ceramic look of the plain white, but if you’re craving color, the skies the limit with this project.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Let’s begin!

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom


-air-dry clay
-rolling pin or brayer (I used sizing rings to make thickness uniformity easier)
-lace (the thicker the better)
-cutting blade
-damp towel, optional
-smooth surface or parchment paper
-containers to act as molds

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Roll out the clay. Cut a circle for the base. Set it aside. (You might want to store it in a plastic baggie just to keep it from drying out.) Cut out a rectangle to the height you want and wide enough to wrap around the container you’re using for a mold.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

On the rectangle, lay out the lace and roll with a rolling pin to make an impression.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Then remove the lace.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Wrap the rectangle around the container mold and use your fingers to connect the seam. The damp towel might be handy right now. Because the clay gets a little dried out while you work, use the towel to dampen the edges before connecting them. They will stick together better and more easily when if they are a little damp.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

Then place the base circle onto the cylinder. Again, use your fingers to connect the seam all the way around. The damp towel is good here too. For the circle dish, cut a circle and then lay in a dish of your desired shape. Use your fingers to gently press the clay circle into the dish form.

Allow to dry according to the manufacturer’s directions. I found it best to leave the mold container in place until it’s dry, to make sure it doesn’t slump.

Remove the jars from the molds and then fill as you wish.

Gorgeous DIY containers with lace imprints. Made with air-dry clay they are easy as can be!  |  Design Mom

This is such a fun project — it can be used in so many ways. I think it would be cute to do in a classroom — maybe have the kids make these as mother’s day gifts. Or it would be a fun activity at a girly birthday party. Or you could even make these as little planters to decorate a table at a wedding feast, fill them with mini succulents and then give them to guests as a party favor.

As usual, if you try this project, I’d love to hear. Feel free to send pics!

P.S. — Like to make things? Find all sorts of wonderful projects here.

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The Treehouse: Simple Bathroom Refresh Tue, 13 Jan 2015 17:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

Bathroom Refresh2

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Home Décor for modern luxury made easy.

Target reached out about working on a “refresh” project to celebrate the new year, something simple that I could do in a day. I thought and thought about different projects and was narrowing down my ideas, but then I saw my sister’s bathroom refresh and I had one of the OF COURSE! moments. Outside of cleaning them, I have systematically ignored our bathrooms since we moved in, and they definitely need attention.

Oh the bathrooms! They are truly due for a full overhaul. If you’ve been following along on our Treehouse renovations, you know we’ve been going room by room, moving walls, updating flooring and electricity, and giving the walls a fresh coat of paint. But we’ve been here for a year and a half, and until this little refresh, we hadn’t touched the bathrooms at all! I’m totally intimidated by the bathrooms. I feel like there are a million options, and that the budget for a project like a bathroom overhaul can skyrocket super fast. Plus, knowing our big family will be without access to one of the bathrooms while it’s being renovated is not something I’m looking forward to.

So it’s no surprise the bathrooms keep falling to the bottom of my list of home projects. Who knows, it probably won’t be that big of a deal, but as you can see, I’ve built it up in my head as a super hard project, and I’ve completely put it off.

That said, when I saw my sister’s mini-update, I knew I wanted to do something to improve the kids’ bathroom as it stands right now. So I gave myself a budget of $100, and I made a trip to Target. It was fast and easy and the little changes made a big difference. I wish I had done it the week we moved in!

The biggest thing I did was go all-white with anything I had control of, meaning anything not permanently installed. It went a long way in making the bathroom feel more intentional. The kids’ bathroom has white counter tile, a cream colored ceramic sink, an off-white bathtub, and bath tile leaning toward light tan. Nothing about the surfaces is unified at all. So my goal was to use white to make the space feel a little less hodge podge. And it worked!

Bathroom Refresh1

We started with fresh towels in all-white. This made the biggest difference by far. With six kids sharing the bathroom, we use a whole bunch of towels, and whether they’re stacked or hanging on hooks, they take up a lot of visual space. The kids had been using a random set of towels that came with the house in various colors and patterns, so switching them out for all-matching, all-white made a big impact. Plus, fresh, fluffy towels are wonderful no matter what — I would say switching out towels is for sure the easiest way to refresh a bathroom.

Bathroom Refresh6

Next, I updated the soap dispenser. I went with this good-looking “oil-can” version. Our soap dispensers get used so frequently that they tend to get grimy — old soap residue gets caked on the spout and the label starts to flake off. Even after a good-scrubbing, they can look tired and a bit depressing. So replacing the soap dispenser was an instant refresh for sure. Plus, because the dispenser is clear and label-less, it keeps the bathroom visually simpler — which was my goal.

Bathroom Refresh7

I also added some handsome glass containers — this short one, and this tall one. These did a good job of adding something pretty to the room, plus they’re practical. They opened up precious drawer space by moving the cotton rounds and q-tips to the counter.

Bathroom Refresh3

Then, I added a basket to hold the towels. This one is lined with canvas, and the inside of the canvas has a wax-like coating that makes it ideal for dealing with wet stuff. So smart for the bathroom! Though I intended this basket to hold fresh towels, I think I might turn it into a bathroom hamper instead — a place to throw used washcloths and hand towels. We’ll see. Whatever we end up using it for, it makes a good-looking addition to the space.

Lastly, I got rid of the horrible, grimy wastebasket which was in the room since we moved in, and which I had been meaning to replace from the first day we arrived! I chose this simple frosted version.

Bathroom Refresh5

Much better! I feel like the bathroom is so much more civilized now, and that it’s much more livable while we consider a full bathroom renovation.

Have you ever renovated a bathroom? Am I right to be intimidated, or did you find it to be easier than expected? And what’s the state of your bathroom? Is it already awesome? Would a simple refresh like this improve it? Or does it need a major overhaul? I’d love to hear!


This post is sponsored by Target.

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Living With Kids: Shira Gill Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:00:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Vivian Johnson.

I promise I’ve got some wonderful homes sitting in chillier locales in the queue, but I’m giving you another California home and sunny interview to warm us all up today. Meet Shira Gill, a sweet mom and wife who turned her 25 house moves into a thriving and much-needed business that edits pretty much an entire life.

Are you hanging on tightly to too much? Do you dread opening your closet in the mornings, not to mention – shudder – your child’s over-crammed wardrobe? Do your afternoons careen into crazy town no matter how well you think you’ve prepared for the chaos? Call Shira. I bet she’s either experienced or seen and solved much worse!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi there! My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in the SF Bay area a mere ten minutes from each other. Although we had several friends in common, we never met. We met working at Camp Tawonga, a children’s environmental education summer camp near Yosemite, when we were 20 years old. It took several years for him to convince me to date him, probably because I was balancing a busy schedule of dating the wrong people and traveling as much as possible. He works as the director of development for a non-profit in San Francisco, and I run my own business helping busy families streamline their homes and simplify their lives.

I’m so relieved I came to my senses and married him because it was the best decision I ever made. Jordan and I are opposites in many ways, but truly compatible and complimentary. I am creative, energetic, and impatient, while Jordan is grounded, practical, and calm. I help to motivate him when he is feeling a little bit lazy, and he is one of the only people that can calm me down when my mind gets racing. I often get restless and crave adventure and, luckily for me, he is always happy to be along for the ride…

We have two beautiful, funny, strong-willed, rambunctious girls: Chloe is five and Emilie is three. Chloe started talking at nine months and has never stopped. Like, literally. Never. Stopped. She has a mind that runs a mile a minute and a strong sense of herself and how she wants things, so she keeps us on our toes. Emilie is an incredible artist, adventurer, and climber. She is heartbreakingly earnest, so sweet and affectionate, and never stops moving. They are a lively crew that loves singing and dancing around the dining room table, doing art, cooking, and building forts. A typical portrait of our family would include Jordan relaxing on the couch while the girls run in circles playing instruments and I rearrange the furniture.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: It’s a crazy story, actually. We had been living in a rental in Oakland, which we loved but had outgrown. Emilie had a makeshift nursery in a large utility closet, and we had been pounding the pavement for almost two years trying to purchase our first home. The Bay Area is where we both grew up, and we wanted to stay close to our families, but it became increasingly frustrating to see how impossible it is to buy a home here!

We would drive around with the girls every Sunday, taking turns hopping out of the car to view houses and keeping the girls out of trouble. Every spot we considered received at least ten offers, all well over the asking price. Just when we were starting to give up hope, we got a call from my good friend, Mahnee. It went a little something like this:

Mahnee: “Hey, want to buy my house?”

Me: “Um, yes.”

It turned out that Mahnee and her family were being relocated abroad for a work opportunity and needed to sell their home right away. She didn’t want to work with agents or deal with the drama of stagers, painters, and people traipsing through her house, so they offered to sell the home as a private sale at a price we could afford. We signed papers a few weeks later over wine and cheese and salami.

Life can be full of surprises and unexpected good fortune. We bought the home shortly after my father died, and at the time I wasn’t feeling very hopeful about anything, much less ever finding a house to call our own after our fruitless searching. We closed escrow on my birthday and had a big party to celebrate a few months later. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend for changing the course of my life with her incredible act of generosity.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live right in the heart of sunny Berkeley, California not far from where we both grew up. We are in a very central area, surrounded by amazing galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, yoga studios, and parks. We can walk a few blocks and be at a library, an ice cream parlor, a cafe, or even a climbing gym!

While it is sometimes challenging to confront living in a dense urban setting, I also feel proud that my children are growing up surrounded by so much grit, culture, and diversity. The Bay Area also offers the best weather year round and proximity to the ocean, the mountains, the forest, and the city…really there is something for everyone!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? 

A: I would say streamlined, airy, and relaxed. I aspire towards the beauty and simplicity of Scandinavian style, and a real less is more approach. I love to create spaces that feel really comfortable and inviting, but also stylish.

My philosophy is to buy less, and to invest in high quality, thoughtful pieces that we will enjoy for years to come. Although we keep our home fairly minimal, I do love to shop at our amazing local boutiques and indulge in accessories for our space. We recently splurged on a set of Heath Ceramics, which look great in our open cabinets and make me happy every time I eat. (Little tip: we bought “seconds” from the factory in Sausalito and saved a boatload of money).

We also splurged on lighting, which I think is very important, dreamy bedding from Erica Tanov in Berkeley, and Turkish towels and cute dish clothes from Atomic Garden in Oakland. I like to invest in items like beautiful dinnerware, bedding, and towels because you’ll use and enjoy them every single day!

I also think constraints like time and money can be helpful when it comes to creative design. The house we bought was a challenge for me initially because it is a 1916 Craftsman with a ton of dark wood throughout; while certainly beautiful, it just didn’t feel like my style. Also, since we bought our home from a friend we needed to reinvent it to make it feel like our own.

We moved in ten days after we closed escrow and, in that time, we changed all of the lighting, painted the entire interior, and did a fast and furious kitchen remodel. We saved money by buying our own fixtures and hardware, and by removing all of the cabinet doors and spray-painting everything white instead of buying new cabinetry. We also replaced the black and green granite with inexpensive white subway tile, which brightened the room right up!

Q: You’ve moved over 25 times! Tell us what you’ve learned about making a new house a home.

A: Yes! Between being a child of multiple moves and divorces, and a former life working as an actress, I have become an expert mover. Whenever I move, I bring a moving kit stocked with the essentials: bottled water, energy bars and snacks, paper towels, a sponge, and cleaning supplies. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new space is make the bed and set up fresh towels and toiletries so I can collapse at the end of the day. Then, I unpack completely, breakdown boxes, and even hang art if I have energy. I also love to add a few personal touches like fresh flowers, framed pictures, favorite music, and a candle to feel instantly at home and cozy.

The real key to being able to relocate with ease is being fairly well edited to begin with. Of course it’s more challenging to be a minimalist with kids, but I do my best and make it a habit to edit and donate whenever new things come in.

A little trick is that I hang a tote in my closet and do little sweeps of the house that take no more than five minutes. I toss things in the bag like clothing my kids have outgrown and toys that are seldom touched. When the tote is full of donations, I drop off the goods at a local charity. Having less stuff has actually added a sense of great abundance, flexibility, and freedom to our lives. When we want to take a trip, we can just hop in the car and drive to LA with nothing more than a few bags of clothes and essentials!

Q: What inspires you in your career?

A: My difficult childhood probably fueled my desire to create calm, organized spaces. When I was eight, my parents had a bitter divorce and custody battle which triggered my Dad to become severely depressed, an illness he would struggle with on and off until his untimely death a few years ago. There has always been a great deal of heartache in my family, and I think having control over my environment has been a saving grace for me.

As a mother, I also feel there is a tremendous amount of consumer pressure to keep up with trends and buy all of the latest gear and gadgets. I like to provide an alternative, and firmly believe that what helps children thrive has everything to do with feeling loved and nurtured…and nothing to do with physical things. In my own life, I have seen my children play for hours with a cardboard box or a fort made out of pillows from the living room. I think having less inspires great creativity and imaginative play!

Additionally, I find inspiration from the wisdom, insights, and companionship from my close circle of friends, each of whom is figuring it out as they go in their own brilliant and colorful way, and from the stories and images of other mothers who share their lives and style on their blogs and websites. It can be far too easy to get competitive or judgmental, so I have recently launched a new series on my blog where women can share tips from their tool kits with other moms.  We’re all trying to accomplish a bit of sanity and calm amid the chaos of kids and work and life, so why not support each other on the way?

Q: Tell us about Shira Gill Home.

A: I started my company to help women who were feeling overwhelmed in their homes and stressed in their lives. What sets me apart from traditional home organizers is that I really coach my clients to create a space that represents who they are and what they care about. We examine what they use and love, and clear out all of the excess clutter before organizing and styling. I’ve turned offices into nurseries and closets into offices and everything in between! Over the years, my business has grown to include spatial planning and design, project management, and style makeovers.

I love having an opportunity to help my clients transform their spaces, sometimes in as little as a single morning. It’s a terrific fit for me because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always full of interesting new people and locations. Clutter holds people back in all aspects of their lives, from finding a new job to finding love and interpersonal connection. In the past year, I have helped several people purge the remnants of past marriages and remake their spaces to meet their needs as single parents and as single people. I have helped people go from being ashamed of their spaces to hosting holiday meals for their extended families. I have worked with teenagers and their parents to create more functional rooms and study spaces. It has been hugely gratifying to witness personal transformations in my clients once the clutter is gone.

On a typical day, I drop my kids at school and work for three or four hours on site editing, organizing, and styling. I usually bring lunch back to my home office where I do my accounting, blogging, design research, and client calls. My office used to be a porch, and it’s the sunniest room in our house. I always keep it furnished with my favorite design books, fresh flowers, and a glass jug of water. It’s the only room in our house that feels like it’s just mine, so even though it’s where I work, it feels like a relaxing retreat.

I pick my kids up in the afternoon and we usually play for a bit or grab a treat, and then get right to cooking dinner since they go to bed super early. Sometimes the girls tag along with me when I go on donation runs or pick up supplies, and I’ll often head back to the office while my husband reads the girls their books before bed, but mainly I keep a nice separation between work and family time. I prefer it that way!

Q: What do you hope your daughters remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget?

A: I hope they remember feeling super safe and loved and free to be exactly who they are. I hope they remember being surrounded by an extended family of so many people who love and support them. I hope they remember holidays celebrations, family dinners, birthday parties, doing art on the patio, and running around singing and dancing their little heads off.

I hope they’ll remember their father’s raspberry pancake breakfasts on weekends and my homemade macaroni and cheese, and forget how exhausted we are right now and how often we give up and order Chinese take-out.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own girls?

A: How fun it is! My girls make me laugh harder than anyone, and they are truly my favorite companions. Someone told me when I was pregnant that motherhood would be harder than I ever could have imagined but also more rewarding, and I have found this to be true. Being a mother to girls also feels like a huge responsibility, and motivates me to be as brave, strong, and confident as possible so I can teach them by example. I also love the opportunity to eat ice cream cones and chicken tenders on a regular basis!

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

A: That I would be able to create this little family of my dreams! Growing up as a child surrounded with a lot of struggle and brokenness, I sometimes wondered if that was destined to be my legacy, as well. I have to pinch myself now when I look around at my life, our sunny home, and our beautiful, happy children.

Being an adult has given me the freedom and opportunity to create the kind of home for my children that I always wanted for myself; one filled with love, beauty, warmth, joy, and humor.


Thank you, Shira! I happen to really love being around people who are great life editors – I always learn something just by being next to them! – so feel free to pop by and sit in my living room. I also adore how you overcame a tough childhood and turned it into the basis for a solution for yourself and for others. Well done. I mean that.

Friends, it’s a great point to splurge on the things we use every single day. Do you remember to do that, too? Sometimes I find myself hesitating because of a price tag or a pang about whether we really, really need such a lovely item…but usually I remember that life is too short to be surrounded by things that make you frown!

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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Olive Us: Cracks Mon, 12 Jan 2015 21:19:55 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I guarantee you will LOVE this month’s new Olive Us episode. It’s sure to capture your child’s imagination — and your imagination too! After you watch it, I hope you and your kids will picture the world a little differently next to time you take a walk together through your neighborhood — or even across a parking lot!

Olive Us - Cracks - Behind the Scenes

We first showcased this episode in the Olive Us newsletter last week and it’s getting shared like crazy. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. Enjoy!

P.S. — Fun fact, since Olive Us launched, we’ve made 46 episodes total. You can find them all here. Subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to see upcoming episodes!

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Haiti Partners Mon, 12 Jan 2015 20:08:14 +0000 Design Mom

Haiti Partner School 4

By Gabrielle. Images by Haiti Partners.

Did you know today marks five years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti? You can go here and scroll down to refresh your memory of what happened that day. So many people lost their lives, that we’ll never know the true number.

Ben Blair and Ralph are arriving in Haiti as I type, and I am looking forward to hearing from them and getting a report. What are they doing there, you ask? Great question. I’m excited to tell you.

Haiti Partner School 1

We have a good friend named Jesse Engle, who I met years ago at the very first BlogHer I attended. Jesse and his family live here in the Bay Area and he works in the tech and startup sector. Jesse’s brother John lives in Haiti and started Haiti Partners, an organization that is dedicated to helping Haitians help Haiti through education. You can read about their approach here, and their work here. Jesse is also very involved with Haiti Partners, and we’ve been getting involved with the organization through him.

Haiti Partners School 3

Broadband internet has recently come to Haiti, and Haiti Partners is figuring out how to make the most of it. One of the things better internet makes available is video chat. So one of the big ideas Haiti Partners is considering is to create a community of English speakers who can have conversations, via online video chats, with Haitians who are trying to learn English.

The new program is going launching this week, and that’s why Ben & Ralph are there. First, to help with the launch in general. Second, because Ben Blair’s education and professional experience is heavy on language learning techniques and he’s very excited about the possibilities of this program. And third, because Haiti Partners would love to have a video made so they can show people what the program is about, and Ralph is going to capture the footage and create the video. French is one of Haiti’s national languages, so Ralph’s French is going to help as well.

Haiti Partners School 2

We’re so impressed with Haiti Partners — it’s a really top notch team doing important work. And as a family, we’re over the moon that we can be involved and use our skills to help in even a small way. I’m sure many of you would love to get involved as well — if you have an internet connection and a computer, you could be a video chat volunteer! The program is so brand new and experimental, that they’re not ready to sign up volunteers yet, but as soon as they are, I will let you know. I think it would be a really cool thing to get your kids involved in, and could open their eyes to how big (and small!) the world is.

Tell me, Friends, have you ever been to Haiti? Or maybe followed updates about the country since the earthquake? As you’re picturing it, imagine warm, warm warm — the weather is supposed to be 90 degrees there this week! If you’re curious to know more about the status of Haiti right now, the links and videos here and here are informative and helpful. Is there a cause or organization or program you or your kids is working with this year? I’d love to hear!

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A Few Things Fri, 09 Jan 2015 19:35:12 +0000 Design Mom

Blair Family Dinner Prep

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Is your new year getting off to a good start? Any good stuff going on this weekend? Today is Oscar’s birthday so we’ve got celebration plans! We started the day with breakfast in bed, we’ll have cake and open presents tonight, and tomorrow we’re picking up the cousins for a day trip to the Monterrey Aquarium. Oscar could not be more excited if he tried.

We’ll also be packing up Ben & Ralph for their big trip to Haiti — they leave Sunday, and I have my next hair bleaching appointment tomorrow morning. Should be a big full weekend at the Blair house. But before I sign off to get Oscar’s birthday stuff prepped, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Oh so heartsick about France. I’m watching the news and following the #charliehebdo hashtag on Instagram, and talking with the kids about freedom of expression. I’m sure you are too.

- This morning, I was feeling particularly tenderhearted about the gloomy news, and I saw this sweet and funny little photo and was surprised to find it comforted me a bit. I suppose, I’ll take any bit of sweetness I can get!

- On a more light-hearted note this article made me laugh: Today I learned something about my boyfriend that no girl should ever have to discover.

New Year’s Resolutions by Myer’s-Briggs personality type. Is your description accurate?

- Skip the mall ear piercing booth and take your kids to the tattoo parlor instead. Thanks, Wendy.

- Hah! A note to post when you leave on vacation.

Good dads will change the world.

- Why women need more sleep than menThanks, Sarah.

- Half the country is freezing right now, but these guys have figured out how to make the most of a polar vortex. Thanks, Beccah.

- If you’ve followed the media outrage over Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s preference to be called John, this call for acceptance might hit home. Thanks, Mary Ann.

- An interesting idea: Why we need to change how we use the word “blessed.” Thanks, Erin.

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


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Growing A Family: Am I Still A Mom? Thu, 08 Jan 2015 18:30:23 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Pendant found via Forget Me Not on Etsy.

Oh, goodness. This story left me with such an ache in my heart. Although the writer requested anonymity, I still want to shower her with so much support and hope that it empowers her to truly believe that she is a mom. The bravest, most courageous, kindest mom I could imagine.

And so, wherever you are, K., know that we are with you. A group deep and diverse, from all walks of life, who want nothing more than to hold your hand and give you a squeeze. I hope you find peace.

I don’t often get the chance to tell my birth story. It doesn’t have a happy ending, and I’m too scared of burdening or terrifying others with the details. How I wish there were times I could share the story of my daughter’s short life, although most people wouldn’t even consider it a life at all, I suppose. I wish I could talk about the happy and hilarious parts of my pregnancy, the parts of my labour I am proud of, and the tender and heartbreaking moments shared between my husband and I and our skinny little baby who didn’t have a chance at making it.

I am a midwife, surrounded by other women’s birth stories. I know how important it is to be able to share and delight in – and sometimes grieve – over the tiny details of this life-changing event. None of my clients know I had a daughter this year. They may not have even guessed I was pregnant.

I got pregnant easily and was thrilled. I felt great and was relatively relaxed about the whole thing. After getting to the second trimester, my biggest concern was my husband’s large head and a theoretical C-section. But one Monday morning, just shy of 23 weeks, I woke up feeling a great deal of pressure and a nagging feeling that something was wrong. My husband was out of town, about 2500 km away, but scheduled to fly home that morning. I wrote it off as first time mom nerves since I wasn’t in any pain. I drove to work, but could feel the worry bubbling up into my throat, so I asked my colleague to examine me. She could see my bag of waters pressing through my cervix.  Not good…not good.

We immediately went to the hospital. My husband’s plane landed and I had to tell him to come immediately. I shudder to think of what things would have been like without him there. I was sent for an ultrasound and the technician started weeping.

The baby was perfect, she said, but my cervix was open.

Over the course of the day, it became clear that she would be born soon. Too soon to survive, too soon to resuscitate. All I felt was pressure, but none of it was physically painful. For some of the labour, I could still feel her kicking.

Even now I wonder, was she scared?

We don’t know exactly when in the labour that she died. I pushed her out breech with a cord around her neck, and stillborn, weighing one pound and three ounces. She was long and skinny, but she looked like the two of us. I hadn’t even realized how attached I was, and I continue to be surprised at the ache I have for this little creature…and the tears shed and the howls emitted by both of us.

Now I am back at work. I still love my job, and I love catching other women’s babies. But I no longer know how to answer the question, “Do you have kids?”

In some ways, I have learned so much from her birth. I like to think I’m more patient and empathetic. More grateful for the good and the beautiful parts of life. And hoping for another birth story in the future. Maybe one I can share more freely.


I replied to the reader who submitted her story, and told her I would be honored to share her with you. And I just received her response: “The happy addendum is that I’m currently pregnant again (25 weeks) and everything is looking good so far!” Believe me when I tell you, K., that we will all be here waiting for your next birth story!

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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2015: Thoughts & Goals Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:07:37 +0000 Design Mom

Sonoma Coast

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Ready for a rambling post? Things I am feeling and thinking today:

- I love my life! I can’t believe how lucky I am. This marriage, these kids, this work, this house — so much joy to be found in this life I’m living. I’m feeling a huge dose of gratitude at the moment, and I’ve been feeling it ever since we’ve had our family back together again. I’ve got this sort of non-stop awareness going on of how precious this time in my life is. Feeling good!

- Related, holy moly I’m excited for 2015! Our family calendar is filling up with really good stuff. And so is my editorial calendar. I have lots of ambitious goals, possibly overly ambitious. But I don’t mind. It gives me something to shoot for.

- As I went through my inbox this morning, it struck me how amazing it is to be the receiver of stories. My inbox holds treasures. Treasures written by YOU. I read your emails filled with stories of encouragement and sadness and frustration and discovery and questions and excitement and laughter, and I’m moved at the strength and compassion of human beings. And I want MORE! One of my 2015 goals is to make some video interviews of the amazing women in this community.

I’m picturing the experiences shared in the house tours and birth stories, but in person, from the mouth of the storyteller. I’ve had the chance to interview some truly outstanding people in my life, and I find it so satisfying. I really love talking to people! My vision for these interview videos is only partly formed, so I look forward to seeing what comes to fruition.

- Speaking of video, I also like the idea of more casual vlogging interspersed with the more produced videos (read: Olive Us) that we make. Like one of my discussion blog posts, but in video form. Speaking conversationally in front of camera would be very new to me, and perhaps it won’t be a good fit, but I’ve been thinking about this long enough that at this point, I’m like, why not give it a try? So I’m definitely working on video in 2015.

- As I was making goals, I also thought a lot about contributors for this site. You may remember that one of my first posts in 2014 announced that I was no longer going to have contributors on Design Mom, and that decision was well received. The conversations over the last year have been terrific and I loved feeling like the blog was my own again!

But I can’t help feeling like I’m missing some big potential for this website by remaining the sole author. The name of the site, Design Mom, is bigger than me. It’s a big enough idea that I don’t think it should belong to only one voice. Over the years, I’ve used this platform to build the careers of talented women, and offer opportunities to all sorts of people. And I’ve missed that this past year. So I’m thinking and thinking and trying to figure out a solution that would allow more voices here, without alienating the readers who come here to hear from me specifically. I don’t have this figured out at all. But it’s on my mind for 2015. Isn’t there a way? I think yes.

- Related, I’m committing to redesign the site this year. It’s time for a refresh. I would love to have a new site design that launches at the same time my book comes out. It’s a goal I’m shooting for.

- We did a ton in The Treehouse in 2014. There was a front porch makeover including a new front door. We finished the living room. We created a colorful reading loft with DIY crate shelves. The boys’ room was totally redone — we even had to move a wall. A fresh canvas was created in the girls’ room and I’m almost done with the details in there. In the yard, we made the swing installation and a Mother’s Day hideaway. We created a music nook in the family room, and added new flooring in the office and family room. But I’ve only shared finished photos of about half of what we’ve done. So this year, I want to post some room tours. I’m thinking of the girls bedroom (that will happen this month!), the family room, and the home office. I’m working on a little bathroom refresh to share next week as well.

- Beyond sharing these, I’d love to “finish” this house. I laugh as I type this, because I know our home as an ever changing work-in-progress, so I’m not sure what I even mean by “finished”. But probably I mean a few big projects — the things I sort of apologize for when I showing friends the house. The master bedroom and bath needs some big work. The yard needs a jump start. And I would love to finish some overall details like interior door knobs. That would leave the kitchen as the last big remodel, and it’s working well enough as is, that I think it can wait until 2016. Though who knows. Maybe I’ll have a big burst of remodeling energy and get it all done this year!

- We love to travel and did a bunch in 2014. We did some nearby trips like Big Sur and Sequoia National Park. There were a couple of trips to L.A., and work trips to D.C., New York, and Salt Lake City. We took a three week epic road trip in the summer. Olive went to France with her school. And later, Ralph and Olive went to France as exchange students! Lastly, Ben Blair and I took a fantastic trip to Sweden as well. I’m definitely excited for more travel in 2015! We are still trying to figure out our travel calendar, but we re-watched Walter Mitty on Christmas Day, and it always gets me looking up plane tickets and craving an adventure. Let’s pack our bags!

- Happily, we already have some amazing trips happening this very month. On Sunday, Ralph and Ben Blair are headed to Haiti to help Haiti Partners launch their English-teaching program. We’re hugely excited about this! And I’m working up a separate post with more details.

- And next week, Maude and I will travel to Washington D.C.. Maude is one of 15 fifteen-year-olds to come to D.C. on the January 15th, 2015 for the ACTION/2015 event. Such an honor to be invited! I’ll write about more about this in a separate post as well.

- There will also be a trip to Salt Lake City for Alt Summit this month (of course!). Ralph, Maude & Olive will be traveling with me. Such a treat to have kids that are old enough to help out at the conference.

- One of the biggest events for me in 2015 is that my book will be published. What a project his has been! In fact, today is a big book day for me. I receive the “third pass” today and will be sending in any changes/edits by tomorrow. So the book is on my mind like crazy. I’m also shaking my head at myself because somehow my final book deadlines and my Alt Summit deadlines have ended up happening at the same time. Which makes this month quite ridiculous. Hah!

My publisher is discussing a book tour with me and I’m so excited! I will for sure be sharing updates when I know more.

- This goal is more personal, but I want to put my financial life in order in 2015. There have been lots of years where I felt organized and on top of things on the financial front, but in 2013 and 2014 I kept ignoring my basic budgeting tasks and book keeping tasks and now things are messier than they should be. So it’s time to get serious about tidying up.

I get lots of questions about this sort of thing — readers wanting to have discussions about financial organization and budgeting strategies. So perhaps I can create some helpful content as I put things in order.

- This last goal scares me the most, because I’m unsure how to accomplish it, but if I share it publicly, maybe it will be the spark I need to figure it out. The goal: I want to get the French Cottage livable. And that’s no small thing. There is currently no bathroom or kitchen! Can you see why I’m intimidated? We’ll see what I can figure out.

With all this looking forward, I’m also thinking fondly about 2014. It was a good, big year for us. As I mentioned above, we completed lots of house renovations. We hosted 3 exchange students, and sent two of our kids off as exchange students. We traveled. We worked. We went to school. We made ourselves at home in Oakland.

I talked about feeling gratitude at the beginning of this post, and it’s true — I have been bursting with gratitude lately. And I have to say, a major chunk of that gratitude is directed toward you, and to this community as a whole. This is a remarkable group of people! The conversations that happen here are good and important. I can’t thank you enough for joining in the way you do. Thank you.

Here’s to another great year!

Now it’s your turn. (And if you made through all of those ramblings, you deserve a gold sticker!) I’d love to hear what’s on your mind today. Any projects you are working on this year? What are you most looking forward to? What are you most intimidated by? And is there anything in particular you’d like to see happen on Design Mom this year? I hope you chime in!

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Living With Kids: Janette Crawford Tue, 06 Jan 2015 15:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s so much more to Janette than just a pretty home. Sure, she’s Head of Expansion for Homepolish in San Francisco and so we expect her to have a lovely aesthetic. But there’s a reason I’ve saved her to share with you until the first week in January and the month of fresh starts, especially for those of you in the midst of a change that threatens to shake up your life as you know it. Her advice from the other side of her own struggle is pretty wonderful.

So let’s get it started once again, shall we? Welcome, Janette!

Q: Tell us all about the ones who make this house a home.

A: Viv loves singing, coloring with Crayola Pip-Squeaks, dancing, pink, Frozen, leotards, kitties, and definitely not pants or egg salad. She was born in San Francisco (her middle name is Sunshine!), goes to HolaKids Spanish immersion preschool, and wants to be a sister.

I love textiles, fog on the San Francisco landscape, Big Sur, asymmetry, playing guitar, good friends, and heartfelt conversation. I grew up on a wheat farm in the middle of Kansas, studied at the University of Kansas, and now work with the interior design startup Homepolish as Head of SF Expansion. In any extra time I can find, I keep up Lovemade, an events series for families, and Sun + Dotter, a styling service.

Until last year, Viv’s dad lived with us as well, but he chose to leave our marriage. To say the least, it’s been a year of adjustments. But in a true act of redemption, I’ve learned and grown so much from the experience and am now a better role model for Viv than I ever was before. I thank God for the community and support I’ve been surrounded by…including two amazing girls who have moved into our home as roommates since these photos were taken!

(That, and joining my parents’ cell phone plan at age 32 wasn’t what I’d ever expected. But when life hands you lemons…you might as well get two live-in best friends slash babysitters.)

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: In SF, finding a good rental can be a full-time job! I’d had a flexible move-out date from my last place before this, so apartment-hunting was a bit flexible. After six weeks of looking, I knew this place was special as soon as I saw the Craigslist post for it: garage, backyard, fireplace, view of the Full House houses on Alamo Square Park. So I told the owners that I had plans during the open house, and could I possibly come earlier? They said yes, and I was the first to see it, and that’s why they offered it to me first!

I’ve now been here for four years and have become super close to my landlords, a couple who lives above us and really cares for me and Viv.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: San Francisco is a beautiful, magical place. Amidst all my favorite city exploits of great food, coffee and shopping, there are stunning surprise views at the top of every hill. And when I need to get away, a short drive north, east, or south is full of endlessly soul-quenching outdoor spaces.

Especially with Viv, I love taking advantage of all the beaches, hiking, backpacking, and camping that I didn’t grow up with in the Midwest.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your daughter, of course!)

A: I have such a hard time putting my own style into words. But my priority is for the space to be inviting, cozy, meaningful, and not too precious. I love my collection of plants, my varied assortment of textiles from around the world, and how I’ve balanced the Craftsman/Victorian interior with both a freshness and a timelessness.

One of my favorite spots in the house is the rug in front of the fireplace. My front room has enough space for two living areas. On one side is my sofa and sectional with lots of seating, for talking with friends or gathering around a movie.

On the fireplace side I’ve left the area open, which is a perfect play spot for Viv, for dancing or building towers or a tickle fight. The openness has proven great for hosting parties too, with or without kids.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: I land precisely in the middle! Versatility and durability are so important for livability – even if you don’t have kids, in my opinion –but not at the cost of good style.

I get really excited about products that accomplish both, like beautiful flat-weave rugs that never stain, sofas with washable cushion covers, and toys that double as decor. Things that both kids and adults can love. This is the premise of my styling work with Sun + Dotter, and the events we host with Lovemade!

Q: Homepolish sounds like an amazing company! If you could tell us only one favorite thing about the company, what would it be? What is your role in the company? Tell us what your professional life adds to your personal life.

A: Homepolish is democratizing interior design, making it attainable not just for wealthy home-owners, but for anyone who values living or working in a beautiful space, on any budget. That’s my favorite thing about it!

But a close second is how we’re able to catapult the careers of some incredible up-and-coming designers, who would otherwise not be able to work full-time on their own.

My role is Head of San Francisco Expansion, building brand awareness throughout the Bay Area. I get to work on everything from publicity to startup partnerships to interior design. It entertains every part of my brain, which suits me well!

Q: Describe a typical work day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your daughter’s life easier within that day?

A: I am fortunate to be able to work from home, because my team is based in New York. I used to have a desk in my bedroom but never used it, always opting to sit in the front of the house instead. So I work from either my dining room table or a vintage school desk-chair that I can place anywhere if I need a change of scenery. Without a set workspace, it keeps me tidier, because I don’t let piles add up!

When Viv comes home from full-time preschool, I do my best to be all about her and stay off my computer until her bedtime. We cook dinner and hang out, with roommates and often other friends around.

After she goes to sleep is when either the wine or the laptop come out – depends on the day!

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope she remembers how much she loves to make art, to decorate, to sing, and to dance. And the love, care, and intention I have for her, which is my number one priority these days.

I read once, “Your words become your child’s inner voice,” which I take to heart every day.

I hope she forgets how little I cook!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: With a three-year-old, every day is a new laugh and a new surprise. That’s the best part. Lately Viv has been singing Elsa’s “Let It Go” and Edward Sharp’s “Home” with ridiculous accuracy, and then launching into Charlie Chaplain-like dance moves. That, and how she loves me so much and never lets me forget it. Her cuddles are irresistible.

Every bit of being a mom has been a beautiful surprise, because I actually dreaded it, fearful of losing myself. It’s hard now to believe how wrong I was. Being a mom has been the most natural and empowering thing I’ve ever done.

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

A: What comes to mind isn’t so much about what I wish I’d heard, as what I’m so glad I did hear. In facing my divorce, some friends told me early on to use the experience to become the kind of woman I want to be, and – maybe even more powerful – the kind of role model I want to be for Viv.

That framed my entire past year, being able to face grief with my chin up, learning to constantly process and grow. To lean into my true identity, not the ones I’d manufactured for myself.

So if there were one thing I wish someone had told me, it would be to be a student, and to be patient with myself. And that in a year…it will all pay off.


Be a student, and be patient. Priceless wisdom, Janette, and much appreciated. I know your words have impact. I sincerely wish we had met you sooner so we could’ve cheered for you through the past year, but we’re here now to root you on!

How is everyone doing on your 2015 goals? Or maybe I should ask how everyone is doing with your lives? Are you using your experiences to become the kind of person you want to be? I hope so. It’s been said that a lot can happen in a year, and it’s my wish that your lot in 2015 is nothing short of remarkable.

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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