Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 03 Jul 2015 11:00:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 03 Jul 2015 11:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

Betty and Flags

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. Happy Independence Day Weekend! Any fun plans? We’re heading to an Oakland A’s game tonight. After the game they invite everyone down on the field to watch fireworks. It’s pretty magical! It always happens on July 3rd and it’s an Oakland tradition.

On Saturday, we’ve got a hike in the redwoods and a family picnic back at our house. Then on Sunday, I hope we get to sing a bunch of the patriotic hymns. They’re some of my favorites! Don’t you feel like America the Beautiful has some truly epic lyrics? I mean verse 2 and verse 3? So good!

I’m signing off early this morning, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- I met the author of this essay, Clementine Wamariya, at the AYA summit last year. She is young and remarkable. The article is long form, so set aside a little time, because it will blow you away.

- The trailer for the cyber-seniors documentary looks super sweet.

- Feeling like you want to give up? I found this self-care printable really calming.

- My friend, Jane, sent me these Soludos slip-ons in gold and I’m in love! I’ve been wearing them like crazy.

- If you’re still feeling troubled by last week’s ruling on marriage, you may find these two links helpful. 1) A talk from an orthodox Rabbi on moving forward. And 2) this sincere offer from my friend Laurie. (I think it’s a public post, but if you can’t see it, let me know.)

- A world of languages (embarrassingly, I hadn’t even heard of several in the Top 23).

- The keynote presentation videos from Alt Summer are live!

- I keep thinking about this essay — ”Something I Wrote Once About Dating When You’re Plus-Sized.”

- A new contract made for writers/bloggers/designers/illustrators or anyone else who gets asked to work for free.

- Summer reading recommendations from an author.

- A conversation with white people on race (part of a series of mini-docs made by the NYT). If you’re feeling like it’s awkward to talk about race you might relate to this. Thanks, Jessie.

Father daughter beatbox battle. (I love how happy the dad is when she clearly outdoes him.)

- Will you be grilling tomorrow? Here are some awesome tips!

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


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Personality Tests Thu, 02 Jul 2015 21:29:24 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Yesterday, a friend shared this link to a free 10-minute Meyers-Briggs personality test. Do you know your Meyers-Briggs classification? Apparently there are 16 options. And until I took the test yesterday, I didn’t know mine. I remember taking a similar test years ago — it must have been when we lived in New York — though I wasn’t paying much attention to the results and don’t recall what they were. But I come across Meyers-Briggs references frequently, and sometimes wish I had a better understanding of the whole thing, so when I saw the 10 minute test link, I thought, why not?

Well, I took the test and the image above is a screengrab of the results. Turns out I’m an ENFJ. Immediately upon reading the results, I had about a million questions. Here are a few:

1) How accurate do these tests tend to be? Meaning, if people take a test like this once a year, do they always get the same result? Does it tend to be a permanent designation, or do personalities change over time?

2) Of course, it’s a total vanity feeder to find yourself sharing a personality with Bono, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Sheryl Sandburg. But obviously, admirable people are included with every personality designation. If you’ve taken the test, did you like the people listed who shared your personality? (I can’t imagine they ever list someone that is historically hated — like, hey, you share a personality with Stalin!)

3) If you’re someone who has taken the test, have you studied the description of your personality type? Do you know the personality types of your spouse or kids?

4) Do you consider yourself an advocate or fan of Meyers-Briggs tests? Do you take your results seriously? If yes, have you ever figured out how to improve a relationship based on what you learned from Meyers-Briggs descriptions? Has it ever helped you as a spouse or parent?

5) If you do counseling professionally, what’s your take on Meyers-Briggs? Do you find the tests accurate or valuable?

6) According to the test website, ENFJs “are a rare personality type and make up only 2% of the population”. But I was discussing my results on Facebook and there were a whole bunch of commenters that were also ENFJs. Certainly more than 2%! Does that mean I’m drawn to fellow ENFJs and have a higher percentage among my Facebook Friends?

So many questions! I would love to hear your Meyers-Briggs stories. I’m super curious. If you already know your personality type, I hope you’ll jump right in to the discussion. And if you don’t know your personality type, feel free to take the test, it’s super fast, I promise.

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The Trick to Stopping Poison Oak & Poison Ivy Thu, 02 Jul 2015 01:18:07 +0000 Design Mom

The (FREE) trick to stopping poison oak and poison ivy rash before it starts!

By Gabrielle. Poison Ivy botanical print found here.

Oh my goodness. At the moment, there is a major portion of my brain fixated on poison oak and poison ivy. Turns out I’m highly allergic! And I’ve been battling some intense poison oak rashes for months. I’ve had shots, used up dozens of tubes of prescription cream, and taken one million showers to ease the itch. (Oh the drama! Hah!) Remember the red dress I wore to the Iris Awards? It was chosen because it covered my poison oak rash all over my arms and legs.

Happily I think I’ve finally got it under control. So three cheers for that! But while it’s still on my mind, I thought I’d jot down the most helpful things I’ve learned about it in case anyone else out there is dealing with it too. Here are 10 things I’ve learned about poison oak and poison ivy since we moved to California:

1) Poison Ivy is found in the East. Poison Oak is found in the West. There’s Poison Sumac too, but I don’t know where it’s found.

2) Not everyone is allergic to these plants, but most people are — 85% of people have some sort of reaction. I seem to be on the highly allergic end. I swear, even if I don’t touch any plants at all, if it’s nearby I seem to break out in a poison oak rash. Luckily, no one else in the family (Ben Blair or the kids) seems to be quite as affected as I am.

3) The rash is intense. It goes deep and gets these nasty weeping blisters. So gross! For me, it doesn’t seem to improve at all on it’s own. I have to get medical help before I see improvement.

4) To ease the pain, someone recommended taking a super hot shower and putting the rash under the shower stream. She said to hold it there until it’s like a “good” pain. I followed the advice and found it totally works for me. Doing this can relieve my pain and itching for up to an hour. Though I should also note, no doctor has ever mentioned this to me, so I don’t claim it’s an official treatment. : )

5) Once it clears, you can see the scars of the rash for months and months — I had some on my leg that lasted a full year.

6) The thing that causes the rash (and that both poison oak and poison ivy have in common) is urushiol oil. It’s invisible, but it can rub off from the plant onto clothes or shoes or skin, or onto gardening tools or pretty much any surface.

7) Apparently, the urushiol oil stays toxic indefinitely. So if your garden rake comes in contact with poison oak, and then you put the rake away for the winter and don’t touch it again for 6 months, the oil would still give you a rash when you pick up the rake again.

8) Washing with soap and water doesn’t necessarily remove the oil. It’s intense stuff!

9) The rash doesn’t show up instantly. It can take 8 hours or more. So again, you may not even know you’ve come into contact with any of the plants or oil until the next day — at which point it’s too late to wash the oil off before it does damage.

10) Because you can’t see the oil, it can come into your life without you knowing it. Perhaps on your kids’ shoes, or on something like bike tires. Which means, it’s possible to get the rash even if you haven’t left the house!

Turns out number 10 is real the nightmare part for me. Our yard is like a bit of forest, and in the wild parts, poison oak thrives. We’ve removed as much of it as we can — and hired professionals to help too — but sometimes it grows back faster then we can keep up with it. So when the kids go exploring (which we want to encourage), they might run into some by accident, and then bring it home on their clothes or shoes. Or maybe the soccer ball gets kicked through a patch, and then picked up so the oil transfers to hands, and then the hands pick up the mail as they come inside, and then I open the mail, and then I end up covered in a rash.

But yesterday, I feel like I had a breakthrough in my poison oak battle. My friend Laurie shared this video on Facebook and I found it so helpful! Apparently the trick to getting the oil off is using a washcloth instead of plain soap and water. Take a peek:

Pretty awesome, right? I feel so much more confident about keeping the rash at bay now. Hopefully, some of you find it helpful too!

Tell me, friends: Have you ever had a poison ivy/oak rash? How about your kids? Do you have any tips that worked for you? Or any other pieces of info you’d add to my list? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — I hear there is a scientist working on a specific light bulb that will make urushiol oil visible. That would be amazing!

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The Treehouse: Entry Refresh + a Minted Giveaway! Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:52:22 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Minted. Don’t miss the $700 Minted Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

I’m super excited to show you today what we’ve done in the entry! Let’s start with some background: When we first moved in, the area right inside the front door was floored with tile, which transitioned to rug. (You can see a peek of the tile in this post.)

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The entry is an open area, with no front closet or storage, and it’s separated from the living room by the brick fireplace. To the left, as you enter the home, there is a hallway — and you may remember, that we transformed that hallway with cubbies and hooks to help with the non-storage in the entry. We also replaced/refinished the floors in the whole area, and whitewashed the brick fireplace with milk paint.

At that point the entry was bright and clean and simple and we’ve kept it that way pretty much ever since. But it’s a big enough space that I knew I wanted to do something more with it. So from time to time I’ve experimented. At one point, I tried a little love seat in front of the bricks, and when I wanted a holiday display in the entry, I would roll the hallway cubbies in and cover them with a tablecloth to act as a temporary console table. Though, really, it’s mostly been empty and waiting patiently for some attention.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

So over the last couple of weeks, I tackled the space and I’m delighted with how it turned out. Here’s a description of my design process:

First, I added a rug. It’s a rug that my sister Jordan picked up on a trip to Morocco and used in her apartment in Paris. I’ve tried the rug in the girls room too. I don’t know if it’s quite the right thing for this space, but I’m testing it out. I like the look here, but may need something more durable with all the foot traffic — I’m thinking I might want to go with a Dash & Albert indoor/outdoor rope rug — they can be scrubbed and hosed down!

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

For a table, I wanted something versatile that could display holiday or seasonal decor sometimes, but also function as a desk when needed. I chose this one from West Elm. It has a marble top, but you can also get it with a wood top or a glass top. I though the marble would be a nice mirror of the marble coffee table that resides on the other side of the fireplace.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Once the table and rug were in place, I turned my attention to artwork. I wanted something neutral that would fit well with the other pale surfaces we have going on in this space, and that I could put other colors nearby or in front of without causing problems.

I love using Minted for artwork, because they source all their prints from independent artists! (In fact, if you’re an artist, you can totally try one of their design challenges.) Many of the prints they offer are limited edition, and everything is available in lots of sizes — so you can go BIG or small. You can also choose a frame right when you’re ordering, which means your artwork will arrive ready to hang in about a week.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The Minted artwork collection is quite big. There are so many good options, it can be hard to choose! So this is how I did it. I first started favoriting everything I liked that was in a neutral palette. If it spoke to me at all, I favorited it. After awhile, I took a look at my collection of favorites and realized I had saved several circles. That gave me an idea — I thought it would be fun to do six prints, two rows of three. And I decided to use circles as a theme. I measured the space and determined what size artwork would work best (I chose the 11″ option).

At that point, I started using search filters (Minted has tons of filters — you can search by editors’ picks, by color, by shape, by artist, etc.) and found all the possible neutral-colored artwork that featured a circle shape in a square. There were 15!

Next, I narrowed down those to my favorite 6 — I had the kids voice their opinions too so that everyone felt invested. We ended up choosing Natural, Mineral 03, Surround Me, Moon Rock, Fox Shadow, and Under The Microscope (in gold foil!). To finish things off, I chose a natural wood frame to mesh with our “treehouse” vibe.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways — Here's the "Before" photo.

Here’s a shot of the “before” entry, taken from the front porch. You can see new floors and the whitewashed brick fireplace.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways! Here's the "before" photo.

Here’s another before shot so you can see how the fireplace fits in to the overall space.

Once the basics were in place — the rug, table, and artwork — I started experimenting. I styled the area three different ways with objects from around the house to see if it was as flexible as I’d hoped. And it was!

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

First, I tried it with Maude’s typewriter to see how it worked as a desk. I really liked how this turned out and I think this is the default styling I’ll use for now.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Next, I tried it with some golden yellows. I wanted to see if it was easy to refresh if I’m in the mood for a change. I love how the yellows warm it up.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Last, I tried it with some flags to see how seasonal decor might work. Charming, right?

Here’s a before photo, plus 3 different styled shots, all from the same angle, so you can compare:

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways. This is the "before" photo.Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

What do you think? Do you like how it turned out? Do you have a favorite of the 3 looks? And do you have a favorite artwork print of the six I picked? I’m also curious: Decor-wise, do you like to mix things up in your house seasonally or for the holidays? Or do you prefer to put everything in place and then call it good?

Oh. And how about that giveaway! Now’s your chance to bring amazing framed art into your space. TWO WINNERS will each receive a $350 gift credit to Minted!! To enter, go to the giveaway page on Minted and enter your email address on the form. Easy peasy. Good luck. I hope you win!

P.S. — You can find all the Treehouse posts here.

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Living With Kids: Jane Rhodes, Part Two Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:00:09 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Becky Kimball.

When Jane Rhodes invited us to take a fresh peek into her family’s Utah home, I recalled how much we all enjoyed the 2012 tour of their Boston home. Remember? The kids’ bedroom decor reflected their unique personalities and interests at the time, there was enough space carved out for everyone even if it meant a reading nook took residence under the staircase or a craft table was stuffed perfectly in a tight window space, and there were those cute extra beds in the master bedroom waiting patiently for nighttime visitors of the small kind!

It was all so thoughtful and refreshing.

Fast forward a few years to a new residence in Utah. It’s a treat to see how the family’s needs have changed as the kids have grown, and how their decor style has simplified. There’s now a fresh emphasis on how they’re using their spaces – not just how they’re decorating them. I love when that happens, don’t you?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home quite like this one, and I thought you’d be interested in seeing it, too! (Oh! And for those of you with teens, Jane needs your advice on curfews!) Welcome, Rhodes family!

Our introduction might take a while – there are six of us plus a puppy!

I am a lifestyle blogger, artist, graphic designer, and mom of four. After completing my art degree this December, I plan to attend grad school. I love creating movies, photography, planning events, traveling, reading, gardening, running with our puppy, spending lazy days at home with our family, getting involved in humanitarian projects, and riding out a pretty big Wayne Dyer kick.

My husband, Dusty, and I live in the beautiful mountains of Orem, Utah. Neither of us thought to claim Utah as our home state, but we’ve now been here longer than our own native states, so we’re claiming it! And our children really like it here, so we’re staying put for now.

My husband is my dreamy college love who planned on going to med school after playing football and in the process founded a sports wear company. Dusty Rhodes (I like to call him by his full name – I like the ring to it!) decided to ditch med school and spend his days submersed in sports-related projects. Yet, he still claims to know more than anyone else in our home about medical issues. I feel it necessary to tell you he’s a Red Sox fan. That detail alone occupies a big part of our life. We claim it a miracle that we’ve stayed together for 20 years this year and haven’t killed each other.

What is it like to have four children? In Jim Gaffigan’s words: “Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.” We constantly function in survival mode.

Kiana is 17 and will be a senior in high school in the fall. She’s non-stop fun, and her ability to work out a later and later curfew might be giving Dusty and me grey hair. If you have a teenager: how late do you allow them to stay out? I’m really asking. Kiana is a prodigy at braiding hair and she loves scary movies. As in the really freaky ones.

Myla is 15 and all over computer science. She hopes to lead her generation of young women into the tech industry and balance the genders a bit. She plays tennis, softball, golf, and is experiencing the joy of raising a puppy. Technically, that furry beast is hers. Best ever lesson in responsibility for a teenager.

Our only son, KJ, is 12. He also loves everything tech. When he’s not begging for more time on his gadgets, he plays baseball, rides his bike, and likes long boarding. I mean, lets just be honest, this generation has a lot of tech options. It’s a battle for him to not be on it 24/7. It’s also common to catch him playing Beatles songs on the piano or his ukulele. The dude has great taste in music.

Our baby, Sela, is eight. I truly believe the acronym “FOMO” was created for her. This girl has a genuine heart of gold, and does not want to miss out on anything – including her parents’ date nights. She still gets teary when we try to go anywhere without her. Yeah, I’d say at least half of our dates include her.

Wellesley Baloo. Our seven-month-old Australian Labradoodle. We actually signed up for this madness. Lucky for our puppy, her big brown eyes and endless amounts of cuteness have allowed her to stay after all of the indoor potty accidents and the chewing. Oh the chewing.

I am guessing the house in which we live is a late-1960s rambler. I’m not exactly sure about the year. I first saw the interior during a public Parade of Homes in 2011, and I was completely smitten with the unique design and architectural work. A local family had purchased the home from the original owners and had remodeled the entire structure. The variety of natural elements that were chosen to create a style that mixes a traditional Utah look with industrial, steam punk, modern, mid-century modern, and rustic touches work so well together. It’s almost impossible to name all of the styles used to inspire the finished design. As soon as I saw it, I’m fairly certain at that moment I was thinking, “I want this house one day.”

We moved to Boston for two years, then decided in spring of 2013 to return to Utah, and were extremely pressed for time to find a home. And that house was for sale! Within a few weeks we packed up, drove across the country, and moved in! Each time I’ve since walked through the door, I’ve been amazed at our home. Our whole family adores this home.

But the unique design creates some unique challenges. Not everything was remodeled following code. For example, the entire huge kitchen cabinet that hangs above our stovetop and holds our microwave came crashing down when we had been there for only about ten days. We felt like we were living in the movie The Money Pit! We had a section of the roof that wasn’t finished and was leaking, we had plumbing issues, and we underwent nonstop projects to repair things and to make the home a bit more us. We went into bedrooms and bathrooms and whitewashed the walls to cover some unique murals, and added a wood planked wall in our son’s room. Now, after nearly replacing or fixing everything to some degree, it feels like ours.

My favorite part of the home is unquestionably the architectural elements that eliminate the need for a lot of interior design. Minimalist at heart – especially after Marie Kondo’ing – I prefer an uncomplicated backdrop. I love the floors, walls, doors, and every light switch, timber, steel baseboard, and I try not to cover the details and distract with decorating.

I easily become exhausted when I’m too focused too long on decorating my home. I feel self-absorbed and over-privileged. I don’t want my life to be too focused on how I decorate. I find it mandatory in the age of social media overstimulation curation to find your style, stick with it, get settled, then live your life. It’s important to me that people come into a clean, cozy, and comfortable environment. Once I have a room to where I like it, I just move on and leave it that way for as long as I can so real life can be lived.

The more pervasive social media has become, the more I have craved personal interaction, so I started Little Retreats to encourage choosing the real over the virtual. I love art in all forms, I love learning about almost anything, and I crave good food and good company. I like to bring in a local artist to share a skill with us, and help us create something tactile that brings a deeper meaning to our lives beyond our daily tasks, to-dos, errands, extravagant checklists, and worries. I help create a moment in time where we come together, enjoy simple pleasures, and relax. So far it’s been a huge success and I look forward to planning more.

Hosting the retreats in my home is just something in my comfort zone. I like to keep details simple but good. Earthy, organic. I put a lot of effort into helping the guests to arrive and instantly feel welcome, to feel that the atmosphere is inviting and cozy. If your heart is in the right place, your guests will feel it.

My husband and one of his friends made a set of tables for the retreats. They have interchangeable legs so guests can sit traditionally on chairs and benches one time, or sheepskins on the floor with a shorter table the next. I limit the number of guests to keep the event intimate.

My advice for keeping pre-event anxiety manageable? Have a glass of wine before your guests arrive!

I was born in Juneau, Alaska and raised on the Washington State coast. My husband is from Nevada. We spent a couple of our early years teaching English in South Korea, and traveling  around Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. We frequently go to the Philippines and Mexico.  And we all just spent two years living in Boston. I have loved all of those places, but Utah feels like home. And it’s hard to beat when it comes to raising kids.

Kids, tweens and teens here really know how to have fun without complication; it’s just simple, crazy fun. There are so many year-round outdoor activities here, and things like neighborhood night games, high school football, and dances are really big deals in these parts. Kids still face the pressures of drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, but the majority choose not to indulge in these things and get to have a childhood with a bit less danger and more nostalgic memories. That is priceless to us.

To be really vulnerable here, the intense teenage focus on chilling out with alcohol was the number one reason we left Boston. It was an unusually difficult battle to get teenagers to make plans to do anything but drink. Yes, I would hope my kids could learn to say no regardless of where we choose to live. But we were so aware of the youth culture in Utah, and it was something we wanted but couldn’t replicate without living there. We made it a family priority and chose to move back.

We really miss Red Sox games at Fenway, the beauty of New England, weekend trips to NYC, and of course the good friends we collected while we lived there.

I think our entire family would agree that my favorite part is actually how much fun we have in our yard. We regularly utilize every area: we play lots of catch, kick ball, volleyball, basketball, swim, and ride bikes, scooters, and skateboards. Our home has a concrete pathway that runs around the entire perimeter of our two-acre lot – a perfect 1/5 of a mile. We can run laps around our home! Myla and KJ rode 50 laps around it one time so they could say they’d biked ten miles. Stuff like this makes me smile for days, and not just because of our yard – it’s the time we’re spending together that we love, and that can take place anywhere.

In 2011, I went to a routine annual health checkup and found a thyroid nodule just over 1” in diameter that I had never noticed. It blew my mind. I’ve always focused on eating well, exercising, and thought something like this would be avoidable. I suddenly required extra doctor appointments in the midst of moving, helping kids adjust to new schools, and all that comes with that. So, I chose to take a year off of blogging to focus on other priorities.

Some bloggers might use this kind of situation for more blog material, but I learned that I was a bit more private. I wanted to focus my time on my family and my health. It turns out, I had Follicular Variant of Papillary Thyroid Cancer. I went through two routine surgeries to have the nodule and my thyroid fully removed. I did iodine radiation therapy, and have been in remission for one year now. It’s still a journey to live with synthetic hormones, but I’m learning and am forever grateful for my current good health.

The break from blogging was good for me. Social media in all forms consumes a lot of time, and it was a great year for me to refocus on living more intentionally.

It’s funny. If I really think about it, I don’t have any preference over what my kids remember from this home. As for me being their mom, I hope they know and believe in how much they’re fiercely loved. Isn’t love all that matters?

I wish someone had told me that what others think doesn’t matter. I wish I could have believed that sooner. It took me far too long to be honest about how I feel and have the courage to share who I really am.

Life is too short to not be authentic.


Your final sentence says it all. Authenticity is more than a social media and blogging trend: it’s the freest feeling around, online and especially off! Thanks for the reminder, Jane! Also, your table of varying heights is genius. And while I’m at it, how about this as yummy food for thought: “I don’t want my life to be too focused on how I decorate. I find it mandatory in the age of social media overstimulation curation to find your style, stick with it, get settled, then live your life.”

I’m wondering if any of you are living in a home with so much built-in personality that your own decorating becomes unnecessary. For me, I enjoy The Treehouse’s never-ending windows that give us ever-changing scenes depending on the time of day and season. Sure, it would also be lovely to have a massive gallery wall on which to hang artwork and photos of our favorite memories, but Mother Nature is hard to beat as an interior designer!

(And for those of you with teens, please weigh-in on Jane’s curfew query! I think she’d like some back-up! And if you have teens, what are your thoughts about the family moving back to Utah to allow their kids to experience the teenage years in a more edited setting? If you could do the same, would you?)

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Do You Paint Your Nails? Mon, 29 Jun 2015 23:01:49 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Adorable manicure found on The Glitter Guide.

So many heavy topics lately! I don’t really mind — I like a good, serious conversation. But today I woke up needing something a little lighter. So how’s this for light: Have you ever taken your kids for mani-pedis?

On Friday, I took Betty and June for their first professional manicure and pedicure. They’ve both had their nails painted by their older sisters many times over the years, but they’ve never been to a nail salon. We went on Friday when June was finished with her last day of school. June has been asking to have her nails painted for months, but her current school doesn’t allow nail polish, so I promised her that we could get a mani-pedi when summer vacation arrived.

It was really adorable. Both Betty and June took a loooong time deciding on a color. I don’t blame them, it feels like a very important decision once you’re there. Betty chose royal blue for her fingers and a slightly lighter blue for her toes. June chose glittery purple for her fingers and glittery orange for her toes — she had a particular dress in mind, which she was planning to wear to a party that evening, and she wanted to match the nail polish colors to the dress. : )

Every time a new step in the process would happen, they would look to me in wonder, like is this really happening? You could practically see the exclamation points on their faces:  The water has lights that change color! There is tissue between my toes! There are funny sandals to wear while your nails dry!

I told them they could say no thank you if there was a part they didn’t like — if their foot felt too ticklish when the heels were scrubbed, or if they weren’t in the mood for a hand massage. But they seemed to enjoy every single second. In fact, as soon as we’d finished and were back in the car, June said, “I want to go again!”

When Maude and Olive got back from Girls Camp on Saturday, I asked them how many times I’d taken them for mani-pedis and they both said only once! Apparently, I have been really stingy with the nail appointments. : )

And it made me wonder: Not counting a basic trim with nail clippers, how often do you do mani-pedis with your kids? Do you do them at home? Or go to a nail salon? And how about for your own nails? Do you paint them or keep them natural? Do you do it yourself or hire it out? And is there anyone reading that has never had painted nails?

I’ve had natural nails most of my adult life, because my hands are so busy that I can’t keep my painted nails from chipping in less than 24 hours. Ugh! But when we got home from France I tried shellac/gel nails (the kind you put under the blue light) and on me, they remain chip-free for a week. Sometimes even a bit longer! The downside is both gel and shellac totally weaken my nails. I’ve also tried a polish called Vinylux that is my current favorite. It doesn’t weaken my nails, but it lasts much longer for me than regular polish. I can usually go 4 or 5 days without a chip. With the new-to-me polish discoveries, these days, my hands almost always have polish. Quite a shift for me!

How about you?

P.S. — Don’t waste your old nail polish. Use it to marble everything in sight!

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A Few Things Fri, 26 Jun 2015 18:35:06 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle.

WHAT A WEEK! This is a pretty dang exciting time to be alive. So much change and discussion is happening that the air feels electric! I hope everyone, no matter what their personal opinions are on current events, can take joy from the excitement of seeing history happen before our eyes.

balloon banner DIY

I’m feeling nothing but LOVE today! There are rainbows in my social media feeds, we’ve got cousins and friends in town, and the weather is gorgeous.

Oh. And we’re all going to a fun party tonight — if you’re in the Bay Area, you can come too! It’s a BrightLab Lights Pop-up Party at the darling shop, Mapamundi Kids in San Francisco. 5:00 this evening (Friday), details here. I’ll see you there!

balloon banner DIY

And now, a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- From the NYT: Why I defaulted on my students loans.

- John Oliver’s piece about online harassment.

- Why airplane tickets never get cheaper.

- “Stop asking me how I afford to travel.”

- What’s killing the babies in Vernal, Utah? (So alarming. Fracking!!! It’s been on my mind since I read the novel Bone Hollow — I was on a panel at Mom 2.0 with the author, Bill Braine.)

- What if we treated all consent like society treats sexual consent?

- “The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans.” — What this cruel war was over.

- Hah! Every state flag is wrong and here is why.

- I support the Humane Cosmetics Act.

- A tribute to a father.

- Love this.  Touch the pickle!

- A black man and white woman switch places.

- Make a rainbow balloon banner to celebrate.

I hope you have an amazing weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


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One Easy Trick for a Magical Summer Thu, 25 Jun 2015 21:00:20 +0000 Design Mom

One EASY trick for a magical SUMMER!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. Sponsored by Blue Diamond.

This week, I’ve only had half the family at home. Maude and Olive are at Girls Camp — Ben Blair is there too, helping with river rafting and hikes. And June is still in school! (Can you believe that? Her last day is tomorrow.) So at the start of the week, I had Oscar and Betty make a “summer list”. I feel like we haven’t made one for years! But it was one of our favorite things to do when we lived in New York. The concept is simple: you take an oversize sheet of paper, or a poster board, or piece of recycled cardboard, or whatever you’ve got on hand. Then have your kids help you make a list of everything they want to do during the summer vacation.

Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.

It can be anything. Big things like an already scheduled camping trip to Yosemite that everyone is looking forward to. Or little things like visiting the library, trying a new recipe, climbing a tree, making a movie, or building a blanket fort. Really, the more “small things” on the list, the better it is. Once the list is made, we put the stuff that needs planning — like any overnight trips, or a day at the beach — on the calendar. But the rest of it, the small stuff, makes for daily spontaneous adventures.

Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.

When the kids get bored, they can look at the list and easily come up with something to do. In New York, we only had little kids, so all the activities were little kid activities. But these days, some of the activities appeal more to the older kids, some to the younger kids, and some are for the whole family.

We make our list long. We know we probably won’t be able to fit in everything. But that’s okay, because having a long list, full of so many ideas, helps us do more than we would if we didn’t have the list at all. And whether we make it through most of the list, or barely half, the result is the same: by the end of the summer, everyone can look at the list and see the proof that summer vacation was absolutely magical.

This bucket bag is perfect for summer outings. Throw everything in and go!

One of the first things we did after we made the list? We went on a Secret Stairs hike. What’s that you ask? Well, it’s from this book, called Secret Stairs — it’s full of self-guided hikes that take you all over the hills of Oakland and Berkeley. With the rest of the kids gone this week, those of us at home were needing an adventure, so we thought this would be perfect. And it was. We quickly packed up snacks — our favorite Blue Diamond almonds — and off we went.

Have you ever taken a "Secret Stairs" hike? Click through for the how to.

The hike we picked was the first in the book, because it’s not too far away and we hadn’t tried it yet. It took us through a neighborhood called The Uplands.

Bored kids? Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.

Our kids love these Secret Stairs hikes, and so do I! Really, they are more like neighborhood walks than hikes, and the guide book is packed with trivia, historical tidbits, and architectural details to watch for.

Spotted on an urban hike.Bored kids? Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.

The hike ended at a leafy little walkway where we stopped for snacks. It was lovely and laid back.

Have you ever been on an urban hike? Click for details.The key to successful summer fun? Bring snacks and stay hydrated.

The highlights were the pretty houses, getting a peek of the Claremont Creek, beautiful gardens, and the perfect weather. Simple, easy, and the whole adventure took less than two hours, but everyone felt like we’d done something wonderful and memorable.

Bored kids? Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.I'm starting to like purple again.

How do you do summer at your house? Have you ever made a list like this? If you’re struggling with bored kids, I HIGHLY recommend it. To get you started, here are the top simple/doable (and low-cost or FREE!) activities on our list:

- Visit the Library
- Letterboxing
- Make Fairy Houses
- Homemade Ice Cream
- Walk Around Lake Merritt
- Movie Party
- Bike Riding
- Tree Climbing
- Make Lime Freezes
- Color Sidewalk Cracks (see here)
- Family Music Recital

Do this one EASY thing and your kids are practically guaranteed to have a magical summer.

Now your turn: what would you add? What makes your summers magical?


I’m always delighted when I get to work with Blue Diamond, because we’re big almond fans at the Blair house. In fact it’s rare that we make it through a week without picking up several kinds at the grocery store — the new Sriracha ones are so dang good! What are you snacking on these days?

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Call It A Day: Anonymous Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Glowing log lamps (next summer project?!) by Duncan Meerding, shot by Jan Dallas, via This is Colossal.

I wonder how many of you spend your days unable to tell anyone how it’s really going? Whether due to privacy, a fear for job security, or even shame, it must be one of the loneliest feelings in the world to keep all the struggles inside.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read through this day. At least four or five. Every time, it hits me a different way, my emotional responses fluctuating between heartbreak and pride and sympathy pangs of loneliness and a strong urge to hug this mom holding it all together. It’s different from the others in a few ways, but one you’ll notice immediately is its anonymity. Due to a need to protect the privacy this family, we’ll call the narrator of this day JG. I’ll let her tell you their story.

It is Wednesday. My day begins around 6:45 when I hear my five year old son open the door to his bedroom and dash up the stairs to his older sister’s room. I know she’ll go turn on the television for him, and the two of them will watch maybe an hour’s worth of TV. We’ve got the kids hooked on one our old favorites, Gilligan’s Island.

My middle child who is ten is now awake. I know this even though she doesn’t make a sound. I say a quick prayer for strength and patience to help me through this day. Then I check Facebook, Instagram, and my email because I enjoy being lost in the moment of make believe, if even for just 20 minutes. My son pops into my room to say that he’s hungry and asks permission to eat a chocolate-covered granola bar. That’s my cue. I leave my bed and start my work in the kitchen.

Luckily, I did most of the dishes last night. I am happy with myself for doing extra work yesterday so that today could begin with a lighter load. I then gather laundry from everyone’s bedroom and start a load in the washroom. I cruise through the house to find out what everyone wants for breakfast. The requests are easy today. Everyone wants cold cereal.

After breakfast, the girls take turns practicing piano before the piano teacher arrives.

Piano lessons are over. It’s ten o’clock.

My husband is awake and probably has been for about an hour. I saw him on the couch upstairs when I was taking breakfast requests. I ask what his schedule is today. He indicates that he has an appointment and some paperwork to turn in. Then he’ll be back at 3:00 to take our middle child to her eye appointment.

I head downstairs to encourage the kids to get dressed, brush hair and teeth, and make their beds. They kind of do some of those things.

They head out to the back yard to play. I field a phone call from my mother. We talk about the fact that my family is still in limbo. I prepare her for a bombardment of four family members in July. I don’t know if it will be for a few weeks for for more like four months. I remind her that this family does not transition well; having moved about six times now I consider myself an expert on this subject. In fact I tell her, “It will be Hell. Get ready.”

I hang up with my mom and switch the laundry loads. I drag a dusty box to the backyard and sort through it, preparing for a move that may occur after the kids and I leave this house. The kids are hungry again.

It’s lunch time. I have my eye on the clock. We’re supposed to meet friends at the pool by one o’clock. I scurry about in the kitchen, attempting to come up with three non-boring lunches plus whatever will fill my gluten-free gut.

My middle child asks, “Mom, if Dad is here, why does it feel like he isn’t?” I ask her what she means, hoping that she’ll rephrase and say something I can answer because I honestly don’t know what to say. My son saves me from my bewilderment when he replies, “He’s probably upstairs on the couch playing on the iPad.” The answer satisfies her. I quickly eat some turkey and sugar-snap peas. Bellies are filled.

I happily direct the kids to change into their swim clothes. My husband has come downstairs and changed into his BDUs – Battle Dress Uniform, also known as camos). He’s heading to his appointment. The kids are donning swimsuits and goggles. We head to the pool.

Everyone has a great time at the pool. The mountains provide a gorgeous backdrop. I begin to mourn the loss of living in my favorite location. Out of the seven states I’ve lived in, this one has been my favorite. The mountains bring such peace, even during this…our roughest phase in life.

At 2:45 we leave the pool and head home so my middle child can make it to her eye appointment. My husband meets us in the garage. The two of them take off. I take my other two kids to the library to return books that are due and to check out new ones. Bonus, today they get their first reward from the summer reading program. They happily hold on to their coupon sheets. My son holds his up to ask what all of the coupons are for. I read them to him while getting out my library card so my oldest child can put another book on hold. She’s reading the Lemony Snicket series, and our library is out of copies of book 11 in the series.

We return home. My oldest goes upstairs to read on her floor. She doesn’t choose her soft, queen-size bed or her bean bag. She sits on the carpet in a ball and reads. My son heads to his room to play with his toys. He makes noises for cars and trains. I smile. I love how he entertains himself. A rain storm comes up suddenly. No hail falls from the sky this time. My husband and daughter return. There’s just a couple of things to report from the eye appointment. My husband retreats to our bedroom. He’s done for the day. He had one appointment for himself, some papers to turn in, and the eye appointment for our daughter. He turns on the classical music and lies on our bed.

It’s four o’clock. I fold laundry and put it all away. The kids each clean up one room in the house. Then they play for the next hour or so, starting out together but then forced apart by me. The contention irritates me, so I require them to all find separate spaces and places. I can tell they’re all hungry, so I get to work on dinner in the kitchen. I remember during its preparation that the girls have an activity at the church tonight. Except, it’s actually at someone’s house this time, instead of at the church. They’re watching a movie for tonight’s activity in their pajama bottoms that they sewed at a previous activity. If the girls want to watch the entire movie, they have to start 15 minutes early. I glance at the clock and rush the kids along with their meal. I make a mental note of the things I need to buy at the grocery store while the girls are at their activity. We all hop in the car. The girls are dropped off, a little late. Oh well.

It’s seven o’clock. My son and I grab some groceries and then head home to place them in the refrigerator and freezer with just enough time to hop back in the car and get the girls from their activity. We bring an extra child home to her house, and then head back to ours.

It’s 8:30. I encourage the kids to get ready for bed quickly. My son is spent. He requires hand-over-hand dressing and teeth brushing tonight. I’m reminded to gather the children in my middle child’s room once they’re ready for bed. I open the scriptures. We read a chapter and discuss it along the way. We say a family prayer. I’m happy that we accomplished this gathering at the end of our day. I know that small things such as this are sustaining us at this terribly difficult time for our family.

It’s almost 9 o’clock. It’s time to tuck my kids into bed. I start with my middle child because, hey, I’m already in her room. I send my youngest to his room to choose a book. I hear him pick up his toys instead. I quickly decide it’s a battle not worth fighting. Kisses and hugs are administered. I shut my middle’s door and enter through another one. My son has a hard time settling down. I read to him from the chapter book he chose at the library. He sees his sisters reading them and wants to read one, too. I’m surprisingly engaged by the book, so I don’t mind that he falls asleep after two pages. I read another two before I stop. I close his bedroom door and open another one upstairs. My oldest is in bed reading. She’s now taller than I am. When did she become a young lady? Life has been difficult. Have I missed an entire chunk of it? I turn out her light and scratch her back. We talk about how another fun summer day has come and gone. We’re both satisfied with our efforts today.

I close her door and open another one. I wake my husband. I remind him that he needs to get up so that he can get some sleep tonight. They added another med to his regimen. His sleep is still off. Two months later, his sleep is still off. I get ready for bed. It’s 9:30. I ask him to head upstairs so I can go to bed. I know my son will be up at 6:45 tomorrow morning. I’m tired. I’m so very tired.

My husband has PTSD. I noticed a change in him when he returned from his deployment five years ago. Each year, it got progressively worse. This year, he finally decided to get some help. We’re still waiting for things to improve. So tomorrow, we’ll do another day all over again and hope that one day soon, improvement will come.


JG, I know I’m not alone in fervently wishing that tomorrow will be better for you all. And I’m hoping that you’re wrong about your time at your mother’s house; may it be only a few weeks, may it be wonderful, and may it be exactly the separation you need to rewrite your tomorrows. We are all pulling for you.

This is the part that moved me to tears: “My oldest is in bed reading. She’s now taller than I am. When did she become a young lady? Life has been difficult. Have I missed an entire chunk of it?” It happens, doesn’t it? Life sometimes gets so loud, we miss the beautiful little moments that whisper. I’m going to listen harder today for those quiet ones. Thank you, JG.

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

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Let’s Talk Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:59:52 +0000 Design Mom

by Sarah James

By Gabrielle. Illustration by Sarah James.

Last Friday, on my weekend link list post, I mentioned that I wanted to talk about the horrific Charleston shooting with you this week. As I stated then, I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know what to say either. There are deeply smart, endlessly eloquent people that have written, and continue to write, thousands of good, moving words on the subject of race in America, and specifically the brutal killings in Charleston. What can I add to the conversation? Well, probably nothing.

But that’s not the point.

The point is to have the conversation. To talk about this. To not just read and click “like” and move on. But to actually talk about this, to discuss it, to communicate about it. To share an opinion, and to be open to having that opinion change if necessary.

I can read something or follow a hashtag and shake my head in disbelief and shame, but if I don’t speak up and talk about this with everyone that falls within the sound of my voice (or the reach of my blog), then I’m adding to the problem, not helping.

If you have a platform, small or large — a website, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, an email list, a group of friends at church or on the playground, a family — do you use your platform to help improve things? To discuss our world? To learn? To teach?

If not, why not?

Are you worried that you won’t say the right things? That you won’t be eloquent? Or worse, that you’ll say something offensive without even realizing it? Or maybe you fear you will be attacked? That people will argue with you, or tell you you’re wrong, or call you names?

Well. In this case, your fears and worries are not unfounded. When having these discussions, you’ll very likely say something offensive, sometimes without meaning to. It happens to lots of people. It has certainly happened to me. In fact, there’s a very high likelihood I’ll unknowingly say something offensive in this very post! And when I do mess up, I have to step back, apologize, humble myself, and shut my mouth for awhile while I just listen. But I’ve learned it’s better to take that risk and at least try.

Or perhaps you don’t speak up, because you think you’re above this, and that you’re not racist? Well if you’re white like me, then you very likely are racist. It’s so ingrained in white culture that we don’t even recognize it, and we emotionally collapse when it’s pointed out. The term “white fragility” is new to me, but in my experience it fits. Quoting from this article :

Racism is the norm rather than an aberration. Feedback is key to our ability to recognize and repair our inevitable and often unaware collusion.

In recognition of this, I follow these guidelines:

1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.
2. Thank you.

Or perhaps you don’t talk about racism around your kids because you want to protect them from the bad things that happen in the world? Well, I do understand the instinct there, but the reality is, if you’re not talking to your kids about race in America, it’s because you enjoy a privilege that many don’t.

If you’re raising children of color, you have to talk about race. It’s not a choice. You need to tell your kids what they can wear, what they can say, and how to behave so that they’ll hopefully be treated “normally”. You talk to them in the hopes that you’ll lessen the risk of your unarmed child being shot by someone like George Zimmerman, or by a police officer.

Or perhaps you read about these topics, but find the whole thing too depressing, so you ignore it or turn away? You’re not the only. It is depressing. It is exhausting. And how much are we as individuals bound to engage with it before we get a break? I noticed both Kelly Wickham and Luvvie Ajayi addressing this emotional overwhelm with calls for happy links and happy news. Talking about this doesn’t mean it has to be a non-stop discussion, but ignoring it isn’t an option.

Whatever our hesitation is about having these conversations, we simply can not let our worries and fears about being called names, or being argued with, or being put down, silence us. Our friends, our community members, our fellow citizens are being harrassed, marginalized, and killed. Simply because they are not white. The fear of being called a name is not much of a fear compared to the fear of being shot when pulled over for a traffic violation.

So what do you do? Well, as I’ve said, I don’t know what to do. Sometimes there is an action we can take. People signed petitions to have the confederate flag removed from the South Carolina state capitol. And hooray!, the governor responded. And we can always share an article or repost something. There are probably foundations we can donate to. All good things. But really, if we truly want to help, we can’t avoid the hard work of speaking up.

So let’s have a conversation. Let’s discuss. We can discuss it from any angle you like, and here are some questions that might help prompt the discussion:

- How often does a headline like Charleston or the topic of race come up in your home? Or in your day-to-day conversations?

- What have you read or seen lately that helped you think of the issue in a new light? Please share the link!

- Do you “un-friend” the people in your feed that disagree with you or say racist things, instead of trying to talk to them? I’ve done it. But I probably shouldn’t.

- Have you ever come up with a good example of something like white privilege, and been able to explain it effectively to someone who typically disagrees with you?

- Do your schools have programs that seem to be helping? If yes, what’s working?

- Do you disagree with the premise that we need to talk about this? Are there good reasons not to talk about it?

- Are you trying to figure out how to be an ally to the black community?

- What lines do you draw for yourself? If you’re interacting with someone and they say something casually racist, do you say something about it, or ignore it? What about if you heard someone say something blatantly racist, like the n word. Would you say something? Or ignore it because you don’t want to make trouble?

- Where does the issue of racism overlap with the issue of violence and poverty for you? Do you see the Charleston shooting as more of a gun control issue?

What’s on your mind? I look forward to discussing all of this with you and more. Let’s talk.

P.S. — This #CharlestonSyllabus is a great resource for anyone wanting to read more on the topic of race and the role it plays, and has played, in America.

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Design Mom Book Report Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:29:30 +0000 Design Mom

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_3

By Gabrielle. Photos from the Corte Madera Book Event courtesy of Pottery Barn.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written about my book, but I have several fun things to report. First of all, last week, I got a text from my publisher telling me that Design Mom: How to Live With Kids made the New York Times Bestseller list for May and June.

Whaaaat??? That’s such fantastic and unexpected news. I can’t even believe it!

I know that the book literally could not have made any list without the support that you, the Design Mom community, have so freely given. THANK YOU! Thank you for coming to the book tour events. Thank you for buying the book. Thank you for the Amazon reviews. (You are so awesome to keep them coming! I sincerely appreciate the feedback.) Thank you for the Instagrams, the Tweets, and the Facebook updates about the book — I know I’ve missed some of them, but if you tag your posts with #designmombook, I’ll do my best to find them : ) And thank you for telling your friends about the book. You guys are the best!

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_5Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_10

Other fun book coverage:

An article with my tips in the Washington Post.

A great review in Book Page.

Another one in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

And I think I already mentioned it, but the SF Chronicle dedicated two full pages to my book!

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_4Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_12

For those of you wondering about future Book Tour stops, I can tell you that nothing is officially on the calendar…  yet. My publicist had a stop scheduled in Austin for June and another stop in Salt Lake City for June (while I was there for Alt Summit), but I’ve been pretty worn out from all the travel, and asked her to put a pause on the book tour. I’m thinking this fall maybe I could do a bit more.

That said, the book tour stops have each been fantastic! Here are some mini reports:

The four Pottery Barn store events made me super happy. The staff at each location was helpful and welcoming. And the stores looked so fresh and cheerful! They had yellow displays that coordinated with the book, yummy refreshments, plus the cutest custom cookies — decorated with a handprint! — to give as party favors.

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_9Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_2

My co-hosts in each spot — Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt in Seattle, Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely in Chicago, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte in Atlanta and my sister Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day in Corte Madera — were perfect. So gracious and enthusiastic and supportive!

The photos on this post were taken at the Corte Madera Pottery Barn here in the Bay area. Five of my kids, plus Ben Blair, were able to attend and it was such a memorable day!

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_7Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_6

It was fabulous to see the stacks of Design Mom books on display. I loved signing books while chatting with attendees one-on-one. And it was such a treat to teach the custom plate DIY from the book as well. Pottery Barn is the BEST! They did a terrific job putting the store events together, and I’m so grateful to them for supporting the book tour.

Pottery Barn Corte Madera Design Mom_1

In addition to the Pottery Barn events, there are 3 other book tour stops I wanted to tell you about — Phoenix and Houston and Denver.

In Arizona, we had a book party at Changing Hands in Tempe, and Jenny Komenda of Little Green Notebook did a fantastic job with the Q&A. Plus, Peilan Chen, and my sister Rachel Rodgers, both came to help decorate and prep gift bags. I was so grateful to both of them. And the crowd! What an energetic turn out — and I adored the extended Q&A from the attendees. So many good questions and such a fun discussion!

Book Tour Photos1

In Houston, the book party took place at Blue Willow Bookshop, with Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks doing the Q&A. I always love chatting with Karen and this was no exception! Catherine Haskew volunteered in Houston — she completely handled the gift bags, brought a friend to help with decorations, and even brought her husband Mike to take photos! I couldn’t thank her enough. It was such a fun event. Blue Willow Bookshop is a really special place and they have an awesome tradition of inviting authors to sign their walls.

Then, in Denver, the book party was held at Tattered Cover Books in their new Aspen Grove location. Aimee Giese of Greeblehaus was my Q&A partner and she did a marvelous job. Jill Langley was my local contact there. She met me at the store to decorate, and had the the gift bags all prepped and ready to go. And then she came to Alt Summer, and I was able to connect with her there as well! It was a full house and I loved being in Colorado! I know I didn’t live there very long, but I still feel right at home when I visit.

Book Tour Photos2Book Tour Photos3

When I think about the book tour, I feel waves of gratitude come over me. I’m just stunned at the kindnesses that were extended to me — from attendees, from co-hosts, from volunteers and from each store location. I’m a lucky girl. And again, I can’t thank this community enough!

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Living With Kids: Rebecca Barry Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:00:51 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photographs by Robyn Wishna and also Emily Rothenbucher.

Rebecca Barry is the sweetheart storyteller behind the can’t-put-it-down book Recipes for a Beautiful Life. It’s a memoir that almost didn’t happen — more on that, just ahead! — overflowing with a hilarious, often touching, and always authentic recounting of living a creative life while raising a family and translating the pressure-filled reality that most of us face on the daily. An even shorter review? It’s a joy.

Her home and interview are unsurprisingly inviting — unsurprising to me because I was hooked from our very first correspondence, when she sent me this: “We live in a  brick Italianate house built in 1865 that we bought and have been working on since our first child was born. The house is beautiful and unruly, with original hardwood floors and pocket doors, old sun porches, and hand hewn moldings. We live in half of it, and the rest is filled with wonderful tenants: artists, musicians, beekeepers and barristas. It is on Main Street in a tiny rural town. I’ve attached some pictures of little moments in our house.” Yes, I was hooked. It sounded to me like a haven of sorts. A messy and creative refuge where creativity holidays and beautiful moments simply exist.

I’m inspired every time I re-read Rebecca’s words. And I really hope you are, as well! Welcome, Rebecca!

I live with my husband Tommy and our two sons, Liam and Dawson, who are 11 and nine. Tommy and I met in 1999 when we were both working in NYC for CosmoGirl! Magazine. On our first date in October, Tommy asked me if I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in Bermuda with him and his friend – a trip he’d been saving up for for five years. I said yes, and by New Year’s Eve I knew I would marry him. Neither of us proposed until months later – eventually we both did – but that night we were all asked to write down New Year’s resolutions that we would all read at the next reunion. The resolutions were written in private and sealed, and five years later when we opened them, Tommy had written, “I will marry Rebecca Barry” and I had written, “I will marry Tommy Dunne.” So the feeling was mutual.

Both Tommy and I work at home. I’m a writer — I write for magazines and I write books; my most recent one, Recipes for a Beautiful Life, just came out from Simon and Schuster in April. Tommy does copyediting for Glamour magazine, and a few years ago we started our own magazine, a local publication called Fresh Dirt Ithaca. It’s a profile-driven magazine about green living. This is a perfect place to write about that lifestyle, as we’re surrounded by organic farms and farm-to-table restaurants and people who keep coming up with innovative and delicious ways to live in harmony with the planet.

Tommy and the boys love hockey, soccer, skiing, Magic the Gathering, and music. They’re all in the community theater’s production of The Music Man this year, and last year Dawson was Oliver. When I’m not writing, I love making ornaments and cake toppers out of clay (Fimo is my medium of choice), something I started with the kids when I was stuck on a novel. It turned into an Etsy shop called Mermaid to Order. Those are cats from my shop on the bookcase in the pictures, as are the mermaids hanging on the wall.

“This is what my writer’s block looks like,” I say to people when they ask me about them. I don’t know why all my creatures look so happy, because writer’s block is horrible. But they all seem very cheerful about it.

We are a very emotional family (especially me and the boys; Tommy is a little more even-keeled), which makes for more quarreling than I think any of us would like, but there’s a lot of humor and love in the mix too, so that kind of balances it out. We are also surrounded by family; my sister and her husband live down the street, and my parents live 30 minutes from us in the house we grew up in, which really helps. I’ve often felt that the nuclear family, while wonderful, can be a lonely unit all by itself. I really love having extended family and good friends nearby. It’s deepened my life immensely and made me a much better mother.

We live in a small town outside of Ithaca, New York, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. I love it for so many reasons. First of all, the landscape is just — I don’t know, it’s more than beautiful, it’s moving. There’s water everywhere — deep, old lakes and waterfalls — and miles of farmland and wooded hills. There’s something about the lakes that makes the hills in the distance look blue, so we’re surrounded by all these gradations of bright greens and blues and flowering trees in the spring. And songbirds! Bluebirds and chickadees and red-winged blackbirds. Once I was riding my bike past a forest of pine with a swath of deep yellow goldenrod in front of it, and perched on top of the goldenrod was a bright red cardinal. It was such a colorful sight I had to stop and just stare for a minute. I have experiences like that all the time here and it makes me so grateful and awed by the natural world. I guess that’s what I mean about the landscape being moving.

I also love the town because I can walk everywhere. Every morning I go to the coffee shop on the corner, where I sit with the same group and swap gossip, and we have great restaurants on our street and a new bowling alley that looks like it dropped out of Brooklyn into our village, and there’s a farmer’s market on Wednesday we go to where our kids can run around with all of their friends for hours. I guess the main thing I love about it here is that it’s a place where people come to live out their dreams. My friend Kate has her own custom clothing company that she runs out of a studio in her house, my friend Sarah makes a living selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. My friend Evangeline runs her own farm and feeds half the community with the fruits and vegetables she grows, as do my friends Nathaniel and Emily. People are building houses that run entirely on geothermal and solar energy, insulating with straw or wool, farming with horses, and my friend Maria just started a carpentry school for women. It’s just a really cool, imaginative place to live.

And maybe because so many people are starting their own businesses, money sometimes feels a bit tight. You can get by on about $30,000-$50,000 a year here. (The median income in Ithaca is about $30,000.) You can live well on $80,000-$100,000. You can buy a decent three- to four-bedroom house here for between $200,000 and $300,000, which might seem reasonable except that property taxes are pretty high. But overall the quality of life is really wonderful.

I kind of feel like our home found us. At first we intended to move to a bigger city nearby, and as we were driving through town on our way home from looking at houses, this one just jumped out at us. We fell for it for completely romantic reasons. The roof needed work and the floors slanted, but it had beautiful bones and original pocket doors and the people who had lived there before us had taken good care of it, and so we just bought it.

It was definitely a wake-up call when we realized how much work an old building is, especially one with four other apartments in it, all with bathrooms and kitchens that need maintenance. I guess the first lesson we learned was to live in a space before you start renovating. That way you can get a feel for what it wants and you want. I really see houses as living, organic spaces. I can’t help it. I’ve always been that way. Our house is 150 years old. It has been through a lot, seen a lot, and definitely has its own ideas about the way things should be.

I’m not sure if I have a lot of other tips for others renovating their own homes because we are still learning, but one thing that has helped us immensely is finding a contractor we trust to work with us. It just helps to have a third person who knows a lot about old buildings to help us make decisions. Tommy and I can come up with a lot of ideas, and then a millions reasons that they might or might not work, but a contractor can make a big difference in terms of talking out the true cost and whether or not an idea makes sense. Case in point, Tommy wanted to put a new bathroom in the front of the house to increase the value of one of the apartments. I thought that was going to be too much work. We went back and forth and back and forth until finally, Julie, our contractor, mapped out for us exactly what the cost would be and how long it would take and we decided against it. Without her, we’d probably still be arguing.

The biggest and most successful improvement was definitely the roof. It cost close to $40,000, and meant tearing off the original tin roof, then putting on a new metal one. The nightmarish part, besides the huge expense, was trying to come up with the money for it, which took a long time, and dealing with the repercussions of not replacing it. I spent too many nights lying in bed dreading rain, or upstairs with Tommy bailing out the attic during a storm. I remember once, when things were really kind of down, we were low on money, I was stuck on my novel, the kids were sick, and I went into my study and listened to an anti-stress CD full of guided meditations to alleviate negative thinking. I was doing pretty well, and then one of them went something like, “Repeat after me: I have my health. I am warm. I have love in my life. I have a good roof over my head,” and I just started laughing, because even at that moment Tommy was trekking up and down the attic stairs emptying rain buckets.

But I love the tin ceilings we’ve restored, and the kitchen we put together in one of the apartments, as well as the soft blue walls and white floor that we painted in the apartment that used to be an old apothecary, which make the upstairs bedroom look like a clear sky in winter. And I love living in a building where so much of it – the plaster walls, the moldings, woodwork around the windows, and the brick walls themselves – were crafted by human hands. Every day, looking at the windows or the sun porches on the back of the house, or even the details on the old coal fireplaces makes me happy.

We live in a portion of our home…and share the rest! I LOVE sharing the house. I love going to sleep at night and hearing other people moving around, dishes clattering in the sink, the rise and fall of their conversations. We have several musicians living in the building, so sometimes I can hear someone playing their guitar or banjo, or singing. Being a landlady is a really great job for someone like me who loves other people’s business!

Our tenants have really enriched our lives, and I often stay in touch with them after they go. Pam, our tenant who lived next door for years, has become an important and dear family friend. And I like to keep up with Bri, who lived in the apartment attached to ours and gave my children art lessons. I just pulled out the paintings they did with her the other day and they are magical. I hear people complain about being landlords, but for me it has been a lovely experience. In nearly 11 years of having tenants, we’ve only had one unpleasant situation, and that one I chalk up to miscommunication and inexperience on our parts as much as anything else.

My book, Recipes for a Beautiful Life, was recently published. You would think that as the person who wrote the book I would be excellent at describing it, but I always have a hard time saying what it’s about! I think because I’m so close to it. Basically, it’s the nonfiction book I wrote while I was supposed to be writing fiction. I was under contract for a novel I’d proposed, and it just wouldn’t come. In the meantime every day, I would write in my journal or put a post up on a blog I had about the kids and making a life here, and finally, when it was clear that I had to put the novel aside (and by that I mean both my editor and I agreed it was unpublishable and I got depressed for three months), I started looking for something new to write and I could see that all of the energy and light and love I’d been trying to get into the novel was in these little vignettes I’d been writing about our day-to-day life. So I put them all together and made this book, which is really about trying to build a life that is connected to things you love, following your dreams and surviving when they get unruly, and how tricky and wonderful and soul-enriching that is. But it’s also about living near your family and trying to get along with them, and small, very funny children, who are also a handful, and not getting what you thought you wanted but finding something else. Or, as Redbook said when they included it in their “5 fabulous, even life-changing, new reads” in their April 2015 issue, “finding the magic in the mess.”

To be perfectly honest, one way I managed to write the book was that I have a really messy house. You can’t tell from the pictures because I cleaned up a bit, but if you moved the camera to the right in that picture of our magazine pages up on our magazine wall you would see stacks of papers and general detritus. So having clean space was one thing I really let go of. I was also lucky in that I had very close, good friends living nearby, as well as my sister.

But it was hard to be doing so many things, and when I look back, all I can say is that I wish I had spent a lot less time working on something I didn’t like. It was draining, and I missed my children when I was working on my novel and they missed me. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t work when you have small children, because that wouldn’t have been possible for me, but if it’s at all possible, enjoy the work you’re doing. Once I got to the book I wanted to be writing, things got much easier.

I just think the more you can take care of yourself and keep yourself in a place where you’re doing things you like, the more you’ll enjoy your children. Which is kind of the opposite of the way we’re trained to work: to make everyone else happy, and then take care of yourself.

Now whenever I look at a project, the first thing I ask myself is “How do I feel about it?” not “How much money will it bring in?” Because if I feel drained or unsupported at the thought of it, it might end up costing more than it’s worth. If that’s the case, I either say no, or try to find a role in the project for me that might be more fun. I’m a big fan of, “No to that, but what about yes to this?” I just think in general, that makes for a happier family.

I hope my children remember how much fun it was to be living in a house full of creative people – the musicians, artists, midwives, and teachers who came and went while they’ve lived here. I hope they remember the spontaneous meals we had with friends and neighbors, playing in the back yard and the creek. I hope they remember walking home from school and going to their aunt’s house for dinner every week, and climbing trees at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. And I hope they remember laughing. I am sure they will also remember me getting mad at them for being on the computer when it’s a beautiful day outside, or standing over them saying, “Listen! I picked those sugar snap peas with my own hands, so eat them!”  But hopefully those memories won’t eclipse the other ones.

The thing that has surprised me most about being a mom is how amazing it is. And I use that in the fullest sense of the word. I am amazed at the love I feel for my children. How deep it is and how much it has split open my heart. I am amazed at how angry I can get at someone who is so much smaller than me. I am amazed at how much noise four people in one house can make. I am amazed at how much my anxiety level has increased now that I am responsible for them.

And I am amazed how grateful I am sometimes when we’re all in the same room and getting along and everyone is healthy and safe and the trees in the backyard are swaying gently as if to say, “See? We told you. Everything is fine.”

I was also surprised at what this has done to my writing/art. When I got pregnant with Liam I worried that as soon as I had children I’d become boring and never have anything to write again. But what really happened was they brought me closer to my own voice. People always told me how cute children are, but as soon as they started to talk I was surprised at how brilliant they are. All of them, not just mine. They’re just that much closer to spirit, I think, so they come up with funny, true things all the time, but they don’t have the harsh judgment adults often do. I just loved listening to them and talking to them and that started to inform my work.

I’ve written about this before, but I remember once I was working on a book review and was reading Charles Bukowski, and Dawson who was then three, came in and picked up “The Women,” and said, “Can you read this to me?” I said, “I don’t think you’d like it, it doesn’t have any pictures.” And he said, “Okay, I’ll read it to you, then.” And he opened the book and said, “Banana face, banana face, I got naughty songs in my head.” I don’t know if you’ve ever read Bukowski, but that summarizes most of his work. I didn’t even know what to say. I nearly called my editor to say, “Listen, you might want to hire my kid to write these, not me.”

So instead of limiting my art, I feel like they’ve expanded it. They’ve inspired a book and an Etsy shop full of playful creatures I don’t think I would have made if I wasn’t living with children, and I’m now working on a YA novel. In many ways I feel like being with them lifted a veil for me between my work and my heart.

Now that they’re nine and 11, I miss that connection to magical thinking I feel like they had when they were four and five. It was such an incredible thing to be around. I wish I hadn’t been so sleep-deprived. But I love the sweetness and humor and perspective they still bring to our family.

I wish someone had told me how to keep things simple. I recently saw a friend of mine who has a seven week old baby who hardly sleeps and she said, “You know, as long as I take care of the most important things: we’re all getting food, we’re all getting rest, we’re all drinking water, I’m okay.” And I thought, That is so reasonable. I’m sure people told me that, but I didn’t listen, I was too busy trying to work and make my own baby food and I don’t even know what else.

I also wish someone had told me that so many of the things I worry about  – Will we be all right? Do my children get enough nutrients? Did I scar them for life by screaming at them? – are just noise. Actually, people did tell me that, but I wish I’d been able to believe them.

But maybe that’s the point: we don’t listen to what people tell us when we’re in that stage because it’s so new and intense, and everyone is trying be good at it when it’s so hard to know what you’re doing. So I guess I wish I’d also known it was okay to feel all of it when it comes to having children – the joy and the love and the rage and heartache, the loneliness and the bliss. That you are going to love them and you are going to hurt them even when it’s the last thing you want to do, and you are going to wish you’d done better, and you are going to be so, so tired. But you can always, always come back to love and saying “I’m sorry.” Even after the worst fights. And you are going to find romance and beauty in your life in new ways you never imagined. And that most other mothers are feeling that way, and it isn’t easy, so just let’s just all give ourselves a break and stop trying to do everything alone.

And I also wish someone had said that it’s okay to feel sad, even if it’s sometimes for no apparent reason. We have all of this shame in our culture around sadness and struggle, and I keep thinking why? No life is untouched by grief or rage, and it’s our struggle, our darker feelings that help deepen our lighter feelings and make our lives more fully rich. I also think trying to avoid them just makes them darker and bigger, so you might as well just meet them and say, Okay. Here we are again. I’m so angry, or I’m just depressed, I don’t know why, I just am. That’s what kids are so great at doing. They feel everything, and then they have a good cry and get over it, and they wake up the next morning and say things like, “It’s a beautiful day outside! It’s just raining.”  I love that.


Thank you, Rebecca! This is pretty priceless advice: “When I look back, all I can say is that I wish I had spent a lot less time working on something I didn’t like. The more you can take care of yourself and keep yourself in a place where you’re doing things you like, the more you’ll enjoy your children. Which is kind of the opposite of the way we’re trained to work: to make everyone else happy, and then take care of yourself.” Game-changing, right?

And this on dark feelings that pop up in the night: “Trying to avoid them just makes them darker and bigger, so you might as well just meet them and say, Okay. Here we are again. I’m so angry, or I’m just depressed, I don’t know why, I just am.”

Oh, man! I could just continue to copy and paste all the goodness of Rebecca’s interview! I guess I’ll do what I’ve been doing since she sent it to me, though: read it one more time. If you’ve got a favorite part, tell me which one it is so I’m not alone at my Rebecca Barry Appreciation Society meeting!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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First Film Festival Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:52:51 +0000 Design Mom

First Film Festival

By Gabrielle.

I’m super excited to announce FIRST FILM FESTIVAL today!

It’s a brand new film festival for kids 18 years or younger, brought to you by Olive Us. Entries are accepted from now through the end of the summer — August 22nd. The festival will be online, so no need for participants to travel, and the prizes are fantastic:

Grand Prize: (valued at $2000+)
Canon Rebel T5i DSLR camera
Canon 50mm 1.4 lens
Professional tripod
Professional audio recorder and lapel microphone
Adobe Premiere
A year’s worth of movie tickets

1st Prize (valued at $1000+)
Professional audio recorder and lapel microphone
Adobe Premiere
A year’s worth of movie tickets

2nd Prize
A year’s worth of movie tickets

All participants receive a movie theater ticket, a festival t-shirt, and a certificate of participation.

Do your kids want to join in? They can enter here. The entry fee is $25 per film (and requires parental permission), and as I mentioned, entries are due by August 22, 2015.

So. That’s most of the pertinent info. But I’m betting some of you are curious: What is this all about? Why are we launching this new film festival? Good questions! And I can tell you that it all started with our Olive Us video series.

As you probably already know, we LOVE making short videos with our family. And our kids love making movies on their own as well! Because of this, we get emails from parents weekly, asking for tips on how they can help their kids make movies. What equipment do they need? What editing program do we recommend? What props do we keep around?

We love these emails and try to offer answers and tips in the Olive Us newsletter. And hopefully our answers are helping. We think they might be, because over the last couple of years, we’ve received additional emails from parents — but these don’t have questions. Instead, they have links to the awesome videos their kids have made!

As we were discussing how we could best celebrate those kid-made videos, it occurred to us that a film festival just for kids could be the perfect solution. So we explored ideas, came up with a name, bought a url, and now we’re launching First Film Festival!

Of course, as with everything we’ve tried with Olive Us (and really, with Design Mom too), this is an experiment. And we can assume we’ll adapt and change it over the years, or drop it if there’s no interest. But happily, we announced it in the Olive Us Newsletter last week, and sent the announcement to film camps across the country, and there has already been a TON of interest! We’re amazed and delighted at the response.

We envision this as a summer project for kids — a way for kids to focus their energy on a particular project and fight summer boredom, while creating something they can be proud of. And even if they don’t win, every participant will receive a t-shirt, a movie ticket and certificate of participation! For more information, you can check out the First Film Festival about page, or email Ben Blair.

So what do you think? Do you know any kids that would enjoy something like this? I’d love to hear! Oh. And feel free to tell your friends!

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A Few Things Fri, 19 Jun 2015 15:56:00 +0000 Design Mom

Chinatown Olive Blair

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are holding up? It was an awfully emotional week, right? Like you, I have felt like my head is on pause since I heard the terrible news from South Carolina. I keep searching out essays and blog posts to read about it because it’s like my brain somehow can’t comprehend it. It’s just awful. And it keeps happening. And it’s not getting better. And I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I want to discuss this in its own blog post — the shooting in Charleston, and the deeply embedded racism in our country, because we need to keep talking about this. So watch for a post next week. And for those of you catching up, here are some of the links I’ve been thinking about:

Jon Stewart

Soula Scriptura

Brené Brown


Latoya Peterson

Ah. And then there’s that conflicted feeling of moving on with life as I run errands and chauffeur the kids. Especially today, because it’s a super celebration day in Oakland. Today was the big Warriors parade and Oakland pride was at an all-time high! Of course, we went down to the parade, and LOVED seeing our city so happy.

Even with my brain on pause, I have high hopes that it’s going to be a good weekend. We have family in town and can’t wait to take them to our favorite spots in the area — and explore some new ones too. In fact, I think we’re going to try and visit Muir Woods this afternoon. We’ve never been there before — I hope it’s not too busy!

How about you? How are you holding up? In case you’d like some more links this weekend, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- It’s not just about bad choices.

- Did you see this teen’s anonymous Instagram account?

- Food as art installation. Thanks, Johanna.

- Aleah Chapin’s Naked Old Women (NSFW).

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Busy summer is here! Maude has been interning this week at the amazing Floracultural Society. Olive is on a school campout. Ralph is on a scout campout. And the younger ones have swim lessons. How’s your summer schedule shaping up? 

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Growing A Family: A Perfectly Imperfect Baby Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:34:45 +0000 Design Mom

Solly Baby Wrap

By Gabrielle. Photo by Solly Baby — have you seen their beautiful baby wraps?

Emily Lundie was expecting Seamus’ birth to follow the same sweet path as the one on which her firstborn arrived. That would sure be perfect, wouldn’t it? But as we all know, life has a way of messing up our perfect plans in such a dizzying way that all we can do is ride along the best way we know how. Yes, we lose our balance. Yes, things don’t look the exact way we imagined. But perfect doesn’t ever mean the same thing for every baby. And that’s the greatest lesson Emily has to share with us today.

She is honest. So honest that your heart may fall when you read the first thought in her final paragraph. But it’s this shared truthfulness that helps another parent out there who may be experiencing the same emotion. It will get better. Please join me in welcoming Emily. I hope her words are just the thing you need to hear today. Hello, Emily!

This wasn’t our first rodeo. We already had a two and a half year old daughter, Madeleine, and were pretty sure we were awesome parents. She nursed like a champ, started sleeping through the night at seven weeks, still napped, and loved her vegetables. We were doing everything right, and it was working really well. I didn’t have a lot of worry about adding another one to the mix. Sure, I knew it was going to present some challenges, but I had every reason to be confident. Little did I know we were about to be knocked down a few pegs by one tiny little boy.

I had been in bed for a few hours, sleeping as well as can be expected when you’re eight months pregnant. In my sleepy haze, I rolled from my back to my side and felt that familiar gush of liquid between my legs. Instantly awake, my initial thought was, “It’s too early!” I wasn’t due for another month. I went to the bathroom to see what was up, trying to convince myself that I had somehow just peed myself, but I knew. Still, I clenched my muscles, locked my thighs together, and shuffled back to bed like a penguin hoping it wasn’t true. I lay there acutely monitoring every involuntary movement of my body – no pains and still felt the baby moving. Everything seemed normal, but…the water trickled out again. It was time.

I was surprisingly calm. It was 12:30 am on a Thursday, and my husband Bill was sound asleep. I got up, changed clothes, and took care of all my lady business. When there was nothing left I could do in the darkness of night, I woke Bill. He was also surprisingly calm, too. We had a laugh because we had just talked about putting together the hospital bag the day before. Now here we were trying to do it from memory in the middle of the night. We finished packing (hoping we didn’t forget anything), took care of the dog, I ate something (as I remembered they wouldn’t let me eat after I had checked in last time), and then we woke up little Madeleine. We packed a few things for her too, and then all headed to the hospital around 1:30 am. Along the way, we called Bill’s sister. I’m so thankful she answered her phone in the middle of the night, and she agreed to meet us at the hospital and take Madeleine home with her. We were excited to soon meet our son, but deep down, I was still a little worried with it being so early.

We arrived at the hospital, waited for an orderly to bring a wheel chair despite my protests that I could walk, and then headed up to the maternity ward. By this point, Madeleine was wide awake and enjoying the adventure. They set us up in a room where I answered a lot of questions and was hooked up to a bunch of machines for monitoring. And then we waited. My sister-in-law picked up Madeleine, and Bill and I were left alone. I was hardly dilated and hadn’t had a single contraction yet, but when that water breaks they like to get things moving. One thing I knew from my daughter’s birth: I was definitely getting an epidural. So when they suggested starting me on Pitocin, I wasn’t thrilled, but agreed knowing I would get an epidural and not have to endure the added pain.

They moved me to the birthing room, and got things started. We tried to rest and, really, not much happened until the daylight hours. My contractions finally started and I got the epidural, but I was still only a few centimeters dilated. I had called my mom earlier so she could make the two hour drive up. Despite the occasional dip in blood pressure, which they said was within the normal range, the baby’s stats were all good. Other than being early, everything was fine. I was informed my normal OB was on vacation, and that another doctor from the practice would deliver for me. Oh well, I thought, at least I had met the guy at least once. Everything is just so out of your hands. We waited some more, but my worries were definitely subsiding.

Around 12:15 pm I started to feel a lot of pressure and some pain on my right side. When the nurse came in, she explained that sometimes the epidural starts to wear off a little. Great, I thought. Almost as an afterthought, though, she asked me if it felt like I had to push. I thought about it for a moment, and answered yes…that’s exactly what it feels like. She decided to check me just in case, and gave an audible happy gasp. Not only was I fully dilated, but she could even see his head! I had gone from three to ten centimeters in under an hour. Suddenly there was a swarm of activity, and I was instructed not to push. My mom suddenly showed up. It was pretty much, “Hi Mom! Thanks for coming, please get out because he’s coming right now.” The doctor was literally in the midst of delivering another birth down the hall, but luckily was just finishing. He was in my room in minutes, and so were a herd of other people. There was the doctor, the nurse, a student, the NICU doctor, a NICU nurse, and of course, Bill. I was told multiple times it was all precautionary just because he was early.

Fifteen minutes and two pushes later, Seamus, was born.

“He’s big,” they all exclaimed. They cleaned him up and weighed him: 6 lbs 3 oz.  That was bigger than my daughter was at birth! He’ll be fine because he’s big enough, I thought to myself. They let me hold him for a quick minute, and it was as sweet as expected. I was surprised how much he looked like his sister, Madeleine. They told me they wanted to take him to the NICU to double check him, but that he really looked fine. He was big, after all. I let them take him from me, not knowing it would be days before I would hold him again.

A little while later, you know, after all that afterbirth fun, Bill, my mom, and I went up to the NICU to check on Seamus. I was in a wheelchair and I remember entering the NICU for the first time. There was a bright red light flashing above one of the rooms, beeping alarms going off, and a bunch of doctors and nurses surrounding a clear box that shielded the infant within from our view.  Then, I suddenly realized that was Seamus’ room! That was my baby they were all frantically working on. A nurse came out and said everything was fine, but that we should come back later. They were having some trouble hooking up a few lines. WHAT LINES?! She said the doctor would be down later to brief us. I don’t think any of us really knew what to do, so we just did as instructed. We went back to my room and waited.

When the doctor came in, he told us that when they got Seamus up to the NICU, he had started grunting while breathing, and that his breaths seemed very labored and rapid. They decided to intubate him. They did a chest x-ray and noted a small tear in his lungs. He had a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) in the left one. He explained that air had escaped his lungs and created a pocket in his chest cavity. His blood gas showed he was not expelling carbon dioxide as he should. In addition to intubating him, they were giving him oxygen through his nose, and antibiotics and food by IV. He told us none of it was life threatening, but it meant he was going to have to stay in the NICU for a while until his lungs were functioning normally.

After he left, I started to cry.

It was a lot to process and I was obviously highly hormonal. I was relieved he was going to be fine, but sad that it was all happening at all. I felt like I had given birth, but didn’t have a baby. I had only held Seamus a minute before he was whisked away from me. Bill hadn’t even held him at all!

A little while later we went back up to the NICU. It was a lot calmer scene, but not really any happier. We went in Seamus’ room and he was just lying there limp, hooked up to what seemed like a million machines. It was very eerie. We couldn’t hold him, but we were able to touch him by putting our hand through a little hole on the side of his acrylic bassinet. We stayed there for a long time; gazing at him, touching him, talking to him, talking to each other, and making phone calls. But really, there wasn’t much to do. He felt like a stranger to me.

We went back to my room. Bill and my mom went back to the house. She was going to stay there and watch Madeleine and the dog until I was discharged. I ate, tried to pump, and napped. When Bill came back we went through the motions again, and then watched TV for a while. I remember feeling sad and concerned, but also very bored.

On Friday morning, we eagerly went upstairs to Seamus’ room to get the first of our nightly reports. They said he was doing really well, and that the chest x-ray showed improvement. We still couldn’t hold him, but I did get to change his diaper! I don’t think I was ever so thrilled to change a poopy diaper. It was really awkward doing it through the little arm holes, but we’d quickly get the hang of it.

Earlier that day, my catheter had been removed, and after that I bounced back really fast. Physically, I felt great. I was cleaned and dressed and ready to be discharged, which seemed to take forever. To this day, I am amazed how fast my body recovered from his birth.

Again, though, there wasn’t much to do. I got really frustrated dealing with work emails. My maternity leave was unexpectedly early, and they weren’t prepared. I knew I was not supposed to working, but what else was there to do? Thankfully, Bill made me stop, and I tried to just be present. We watched a lot of TV.

The NICU is such a strange place. It’s very quiet. Each room you pass has a usually sleeping baby in it, and sometimes a parent keeping vigil. Everyone just kept to themselves. If you happened to meet another parents’ eyes we’d just exchange smiles. It was how we acknowledged what the other was going through, while respecting that we were all too worried and exhausted to socialize.

Saturday morning came, and we waited for the nightly report. There was no change in his x-ray, but they said we could finally hold him! It was a full three days after he was born. I tried nursing him. t didn’t go great, but I was hopeful we’d get there eventually. I also hoped he would stop feeling like a stranger to me and start feeling like my son. I thought the moment I held him again, the love would instantly wash over us. It didn’t, but I wasn’t deterred. Bill finally got to hold him too, and I was really, really happy.

I was finally discharged, and ready to go home. Seamus wasn’t, though. They were still monitoring his lungs, and now he was jaundiced. I added Bilirubin to my ever growing medical vocabulary. This day was better. It was great to finally hold him, but it was also still just more of the same. I decided to go home without Seamus and sleep at home. I missed Madeleine, and wanted to feel like a mom again. I felt so useless at the hospital. I also figured it was best for me to get as much sleep as possible before Seamus was discharged.  My bed seemed the smarter option than the small, vinyl couch in Seamus’ room. So, I went home…without my baby. Everything at home felt strangely normal and right. It was like any other Saturday for us. We ran some errands and played together. Then, every once in a while it would hit me that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I had Seamus. We were a family of four now. He just wasn’t with us. I didn’t miss him. How can you miss someone you don’t know yet?

Back at the hospital on Sunday, they told us they didn’t do an x-ray overnight. His Bilirubin had increased from 9 to 12, which was bad. However, they had lowered the amount of oxygen they were giving him. They were also able to increase how much breast milk/formula he was getting and he dropped one of his IVs. It was another long, boring day, but at least we could hold him now, and with one less tube, too. It was so hard trying to hold and maneuver him when he was hooked up to all those wires and tubes.

By Monday, my mom had gone back home. We decided to treat it like a regular Monday morning. Madeleine went to daycare, but instead of us going to work, Bill and I headed to the hospital. I’m so thankful that our hospital was only 15 minutes from our house. The whole ordeal would have been so much harder if we had to travel far each day. Seamus was off oxygen and his last IV, so no more tubes! His Bilirubin level had increased to 13.9, though, so they decided to put him under a BiliBlanket. We stayed at the hospital until what would have been the end of our work day, picked up Madeleine, and headed home. Then, we were back in our normal nightly routine with her, except after Madeleine went to bed I would always go back to the hospital. I’d stay for one more nursing and/or pumping session, and then return home around 11:00 pm to sleep.  This became our routine for the final three days of his NICU stay.

Tuesday, his Bilirubin level spiked to 15. They laid him on his stomach on top of the blanket and shined a high intensity light on his back.

Wednesday, his Bilirubin level dropped to 13.  They took him off the blanket, but kept him under the lights.

Thursday, his Bilirubin level was at 10 – normal! He could finally go home, but not before we had one more surprise. The doctor asked if we would come with him to review Seamus’ x-rays. I remember, as he led us to another room, he oddly told us we were much more nicely dressed and groomed than most of the other NICU parents. Uh, thank you? We sat down in a small room with a computer and he pulled all Seamus’ x-rays up from the past week. Since they x-rayed his lungs so many times, they were able to pick up an irregularity. His left diaphragm was always in the exact same position each x-ray; it never moved. He explained that Seamus had Unilateral Diaphragm Paralysis. He explained that it was nothing serious, and wouldn’t affect his day-to-day life at all. It just meant his right side would have to work a little harder to compensate. Apparently there are many, many people walking around with this exact condition that never get diagnosed and never know the difference. Unless you’re getting multiple chest x-rays, there’s no way to spot it. Would he have any breathing issues? Would he have asthma? Will he have trouble running and playing sports? Does it need to be fixed? Should we be concerned in any way? The answer to all our questions was no.  Since they found it, though, they needed to tell us. Okay, can we go home now?  Finally a yes!

Seamus was in the NICU for one week, and it was the hardest week of our lives. My heart goes out to all the parents and babies whose NICU stays are much longer than ours was. It is not easy.

I wish I could say that it was smooth sailing after we were at home, but Seamus and life continued to throw us some curves. He was a difficult nurser and never got the hang of it. I gave up trying after a month full of difficulties. He had reflux. He developed torticollis, which caused a flat head on one side. He went to physical therapy and had to wear a helmet for months to round his head back out. We moved twice before he was nine months old, one of which was cross country. He didn’t truly start sleeping through the night until he was ten months old and we were finally settled in our new house.

Now, he’s two. He’s a picky eater, is extremely loud, gets frustrated easily, and throws one heck of a tantrum. We often joke that had Seamus been our first child, he’d have been our only child. Except that it’s not really a joke! He’s the best birth control we could have asked for, and we know for sure our family is complete now. There’s no way I’m going through this all again.

It took me a long, long time to fall in love with Seamus. Almost a year or so. He felt like a stranger in our family for so long. Now, I love him to death and can’t imagine our life without him. Yes, he’s a challenge, but when he’s good, he’s so good! Cuddly, funny, and sweet. The day-to-day is hard sometimes, but I know it will get easier as he grows. It has to, right? If Madeleine was our perfect baby, then Seamus was our perfectly imperfect baby. And if it was the only way for us to have our little Seamus, then I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Heartbreaking, right? Emily, I want to thank you for your blunt honesty. And though I felt heartbroken for you when I read that it took you a long time to fall in love with Seamus, I whispered a little Hooray when I read your final sentence: “And if it was the only way for us to have our little Seamus, then I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Friends, I’d love to hear your response to Emily’s story. Did any of you experience your own version of the difficult birth and beginning affecting your relationship in the early days? How did you finally connect? Any help for others who may be walking down that same perfectly imperfect path is always a wonderful thing!

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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Four Picture Books You’ll Love Wed, 17 Jun 2015 17:39:31 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Yay! It’s time for another roundup of fabulous picture books that I think you’ll love. All four picks are really, really beautiful and I’m delighted to add them in our family collection.

First up, let’s talk about Locomotive by Brian Floca. Ben Blair gave me this book for Mother’s Day (did I tell you I collect Caldecott books?) and I love it.

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Readers get to follow along with a family heading west, and on the way, we get to learn all about the history of trains in the U.S., and how they’ve affected our country. Plus it’s big and it has big impact!

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Next up, A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alamagna. This is another BIG book — it fills up your whole lap in a sideways format, as if the illustrations want to be studied.

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In this book, we meet a bored lion, who leaves his grasslands for an adventure in the city of lights. If you’ve ever been to Paris, or are planning a trip there, this book is especially delightful because it hits many of the major tourist highlights — and the illustrations are fantastic! But even if Paris isn’t on your travel list, this book is also universally appealing because the story is about what it’s like to be a stranger in a new place and figuring out how you fit in.

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What Do You Do With An Idea is by Kobi Kamada, with illustrations by Mae Besom. This lovely volume was a gift from my dear friend, Audrey, and it’s another gem!

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What do you do when you have an idea that seems too big or unwieldy? Well, this book has the answer. You nuture it and care for it and as you get more confident about the idea, the idea will get better as well. This book is one of those life-lesson stories that appeals to people of all ages.

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And last but not least, we have Pool by JiHyeon Lee. This is a book with no words! It’s all about a shy boy and his visit to the busy public pool.

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So many sweet little surprises in this story! And the message is clear: don’t remain on the surface, dive deep to find the best adventures and the best friendships!

And there you have it. Some fun books to check out on your next trip to the library. Now it’s your turn! Any books that have caught your eye lately? I always love your recommendations!

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Brick-Press Cooking Tue, 16 Jun 2015 18:30:25 +0000 Design Mom

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Text and photos by Gabrielle (a few by Ben Blair too!). This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get two meals free on your first order! See details below.

More Blue Apron love! I’m working with Blue Apron through 2015, and I’ll be posting about them once each quarter. This is my second post this year (and I wrote about them twice last year as well). I know that’s a lot of Blue Apron, but I’m a BIG fan. Their particular offerings might not be a good fit for every family, but they have been a total godsend for mine! Especially these last few months when I’ve had an unusually packed travel schedule.

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It’s a comfort knowing that ingredients for a healthy, nutrient-packed dinner will be arriving on my family’s doorstep, even when I’m not there to do the grocery shopping.

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If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you probably already know this, but if not, let me tell you about Blue Apron. It is awesome! Essentially, it’s farm-fresh ingredients for chef-designed recipes, delivered to your door. No trips to the grocery store, and no extra ingredients, just the exact portions you need for each recipe. And speaking of recipes, an easy-t0-follow, photographic recipe card is included with each box.

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Boxes arrive with three meals per week, and the price is $9.99 per person with always free shipping. Blue Apron has just launched in Texas and now delivers to most of the country. They offer a large selection of recipes and they add new dishes to their menu every week — and you can access all the recipes online, even if you’re not a customer.

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

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But it’s not just about convenience. Blue Apron has really expanded the ingredients and styles of cuisine we make at home, and it’s been like a cooking course as well — I keep learning new techniques via their recipe cards! Last week, I learned about brick-press cooking. But instead of using an actual brick, they instructed us to put the chicken in the pan, add a sheet of tin foil, and then add a heavy pot full of water on top, to act as the “brick”.

It worked wonderfully! The chicken turned out delicious, and gorgeous too (see below!). If you want to give it a try, you can find the full instructions for the Chicken Under a Brick recipe here.

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Anyway, like I said. I’m a big Blue Apron fan. New flavors. Lots of color. And the best part? I don’t have to figure out what’s for dinner. When my head is full-to-the-brim with duties and tasks on my to-do list, it feels like such a luxury to have someone else make that decision!

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

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

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Living With Kids: Rachael Bailey Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:00:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Rachael Bailey has the cutest kitchen table that would match my piano perfectly, and her canning jars remind me of my childhood, canning fruit in the kitchen with mom. Also, we all need a striped wall or two. And maybe a closet bed for a tiny one.

The mental list I made as I slotted photos in this tour and read Rachael’s words made me hopeful and more than a little grateful about these tours. I wonder if they’ve pushed you to make changes, big and little, in your own homes? I sure hope you can think of at least two things our homeowners have shared that are now on your own lists!

As for my ever-growing list, it may now include a cute chicken coop, too. And maybe five Gertrudes. Or at the very least, one small dragon reading on my couch! Welcome, Rachael!

There are a lot of us! My husband Neil is a talented whizzbang of a mechanical engineer finishing up the last year of his doctoral degree. I describe myself as a career mother, but I teach tech and business writing classes part-time at the university and run my own editorial consulting business on the side. I work when the children are asleep and spend my days building Lego rocket ships, snuggling up to read picture books, running through the woods, and experimenting in the kitchen.

We have two sweet girls: Abigail is nine and Juliet is seven. Then we have three adorable boys right in a row: Isaac is five, Luke is three, and Nathan is a keeps-us-all-on-our-toes two. Last but not least, we share our space with Hermes, our orange tabby cat, and ten friendly backyard hens (Yoda, Speckle, Apple, Gloria, Bok-Bok, and five Gertrudes!) As you may or may not have guessed, my children have named all of our animal friends.

We moved here just when the housing market was bottoming out and our area was absolutely flooded with foreclosures. We were lucky enough to both have parents and grandparents who had turned over to us sizable funds for our college educations that we’d never ended up using, thanks to scholarships, so we decided to put that money towards a down payment.

The home that we live in now is actually the very first one we looked at. Our realtor told us that it was way out of our price range, but was certainly the nicest one on the market, and she wanted to give us an idea of what a really lovely foreclosure could look like before she took us to look at all of the ones we could actually afford – and oh, they were awful! I remember crying as we left one listing that smelled like animal urine and had a random wall built through the living room so that if you turned on the ceiling fan it would collide with the wall, and I couldn’t help comparing it with the first dreamy listing we’d seen! Of course, that home had sold within days, but then our realtor called a week later to let us know that it was back on the market with a substantially lower asking price; apparently the bank was desperate to unload it. We finally made an offer that was far below the already-lowered asking price, and we got it! The whole process was so fast, and we moved in just three weeks after we’d begun looking at homes.

We live in north-central Indiana. Our proximity to Chicago allows us to spend weekends in amazing museums, but our community is the perfect mix of hip college town and down-to-earth farming community. I can hit an organic farmers’ market nearly any day of the week on my way home from taking my kids to the free ceramics classes funded by our local arts federation, and my kids are always going on field trips to the age-appropriate plays at the university. Our landscape was molded by glaciers, so there are beautiful wooded ravines in between the miles of rustling cornfields.

Every season here is more beautiful than the last, and the people here are amazing! It’s a wonderful mix of famously friendly Midwesterners who are incredibly committed to higher education. I really see this in our schools; my older children are in dedicated high-ability classes, which begin in second grade, and their teachers are really big into parental involvement, so it’s not uncommon for my kids to come home and talk about so-and-so’s mom who talked to the class today about what it’s like to be a structural engineer…which just happens to mesh perfectly with the giant igloo they’ve been building out of milk jugs in the corner of their classroom!

My husband jokes that he was sold on our home the moment he saw the giant garden tub in the master bathroom; he is 6’5″ and has lived with years of folding himself up to fit in bathtubs or crouching under shower heads! There were some pretty terrible decorating decisions in our home, but they were all superficial: outdated wallpaper borders, bizarrely bright wall colors, and hideous tile surrounding the kitchen sink, which I happily took a sledgehammer to ASAP, but the house had great bones for a builder-basic starter home!

I only had eyes for the brick fireplace, the soaring vaulted ceiling in the living room, the open floor plan, and all of the natural light. I loved the fact that we were able to look at our home when it was vacant so that I could actually see the shape of the rooms without someone else’s furniture and knickknacks overlaying my vision.

We’ve lived here for eight years now, and we’ve added four more children to our family – certainly not what we were expecting when we first bought it! But one thing that I have loved about this is that our changing family dynamic has helped me to be creative in how we use our home; I think about what we need rather than what the house is designed to do.

For instance, when we moved in the home had a formal carpeted dining room, quite a walk from the kitchen, which we never seemed to use with food-flinging toddlers. So I moved our dining table back to the eat-in kitchen and transformed the dining room into a library where we keep most of our children’s books, games, our computer, and a giant cosy couch. As a dining room, it sat neglected. As a library, we spend 99% of our time in this one room!

Similarly, what was once a spacious walk-in closet in my sons’ room now houses a baby crib and a happy little baby! In previous incarnations it held a built-to-fit toddler bed and was such a popular sleep spot that we had to rotate kids through on a weekly basis.

We have done so much work on our home that it’s hard for me to pinpoint my favorite spots, but my current favorite is probably the striped wall in my sons’ room. We affixed our DIY papier-mâché rhino to the wall and then I painted their bookcase and dresser my favorite shade of red to complement the navy stripes, then painted a piece of leftover lumber to mimic a cute sign I’d seen in Hobby Lobby for some artwork to hang above the bookcase!

I also smile whenever I pass the map of imaginary lands that hangs in our library and combines all of our favorite fantasy lands into one plausible whole. My children will probably grow up thinking that if you cross the mountains in Narnia you’ll wind up in Middle Earth, but that if you head south by way of Hogwarts you’ll strike the Hundred Acre Wood – and if you want to visit Treasure Island, just go left when you reach Neverland!

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after my fifth baby was born, but it had been ongoing for several years. I’d been living in this limbo world where my husband had been in grad school for eight years and I felt so helpless to do anything to move us forward and on to real life. It was a very dark time for me; I cried myself to sleep most nights while my husband was at the lab working until 2:00 or 3:00 am. Having a new baby after a nightmarish delivery and being in a state where my medical team was specifically asking me about emotions and recommending that I see a therapist specializing in birth trauma made me feel safe enough to finally acknowledge that no, things were absolutely not okay with my mental state. For some reason, I felt like I finally had a socially acceptable reason to be depressed because postpartum depression is more normal than “I’m wearing myself out raising my kids and working part-time while my husband is in a seemingly unendingly graduate program!” Looking back on it, it makes me so sad that I felt this way.

What was most helpful for me was a low-level dose of Zoloft, for two main reasons. First, Zoloft gave me the mental clarity to distance myself from my emotions and got me to the point where I could look at a situation rationally and come up with a logical response rather than one driven by emotions and anxiety. I saw a therapist a few times, but I was not fortunate in finding a good fit. While I was on Zoloft, I was able to train myself to different response patterns that were much more healthy, and practice those when I felt like it was safe to wean myself off the antidepressants.

Secondly, anti-depressants helped me to retain the energy and enthusiasm that I’d had previously – it literally felt like going back in time. I woke up one morning after about a week on the medication and felt like I’d traveled back in time, and I thought, “This is ridiculous. There is always going to be something else that you could be looking forward to. Get over it and live the life now that you want to be living, and quit waiting for graduation!”

And so I spent the next year doing everything I’d been putting off until that nebulous graduation day: I repainted every wall in our house, all of the baseboards and trim, and all of the cabinetry! My long-suffering husband built me a beautiful chicken coop and I finally had the hens I’d been dreaming about for ages, and the kids and I spent one summer bringing Pinterest boards to life as we redid everyone’s rooms on a shoestring budget. And I ran a marathon two weeks before my fifth baby’s first birthday! I’d been running half-marathons for years but never thought I’d have time for a full until my kids were older. Thanks to lots of treadmill time after the kids were in bed and my husband was at his lab, I made it work!

I’ve been off medication for about six months now. The challenges and the stresses are still there, but I feel better equipped to deal with them after a year where I was able to look at things and say, okay, let’s take a step back and look at this logically, and figure out how we are going to get through it.

In a weird way, I’ve really come to appreciate the decorating favors that student life has brought me! If I see something for sale that I love, I immediately try to figure out how I can make it myself. I’ve realized that I enjoy the process of creation so much. It’s very therapeutic for me to create these types of things. For instance, I fell in love with those trendy papier-mâché animal heads, but knew the price point was out of the question. So my little son and I decided to try our hands at making one ourselves, and it was absolutely my favorite DIY ever!

I love looking around a room where all of the little touches that make it homey are principally the work of my hands: the quilts, the curtains, the pillows, the artwork. And I love the opportunity to experiment with different trends and techniques. If I try something and it doesn’t work with my aesthetic, I don’t feel bad about moving on because it wasn’t a significant investment. Case in point: One day I decided to paint our ancient red papasan chairs to see if I would hate them any less if they were gray…then blue! (I didn’t.) I’m also more gutsy because I feel safer in a more temporary stage of our lives, so I know that I’m not committing to the apple-green kitchen table for the next few decades!  Nothing we own is very expensive – lots of thrift stores or hand-me-downs from friends – so I don’t feel awful about reconfiguring, repainting, or reupholstering. I’ve been able to experiment so much and learn a lot along the way not just about different techniques, but also about what aesthetic I really love and find most soothing and functional in my home.

My husband has done quite a few larger and more permanent projects: fencing our backyard, building a swing set and pergola, digging a vegetable garden, and building that chicken coop! He has wired all of the bedrooms for ceiling lights, built custom shelves in all our closets and the garage, built our beautiful king-sized bed frame after I emailed him a photo of the Pottery Barn bed I loved, and tiled and dry walled until our grubby dark little kitchen became the airy and light space of my dreams. I suppose you could say that I get to do all of the fun and easy DIY projects like painting or sewing while he does all of the heavy lifting. Good thing he finds that sort of thing restorative!

I hope our kids remember the long lazy mornings that we’ve spent snuggled up in a giant pile of pillows on the library floor with the most enormous pile of books next to us when read to them until I’m hoarse, and then they run and get me some water and beg for more stories, and who could say no to that? Before we had children, we decided not to have a TV in our home. While it’s not for everyone, my husband and I feel that this is the single best parenting decision we’ve made, as it has shaped so much of our family culture.

Many of our best family moments are spent reading together; I am particularly fond of our wintertime fireplace nights, where we all gather around the fire in our pajamas and take turns reading aloud from classic novels. For a few blissful minutes it’s very Norman Rockwell-esque…at least until the baby takes off with someone’s lovey!

I hope they remember that as much as I’ve tried to make our home a peaceful refuge, sometimes I suddenly realize that we’ve been inside too much and I pack everyone up and drag them, moaning and complaining the whole way, to the woods, and within 30 seconds they’re running down the trails screaming with joy. Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.

I hope they remember that we are constantly creating and changing our home just as we should do with our very selves – that nothing is ever absolutely perfect forever, and that it’s always an upward climb. I want them to feel that change is not something to dread, but it’s something to embrace, because that’s when you really get to learn and experiment and grow, and it’s so much fun, even if there are moments where the sewing machine jams up! I hope that this attitude is something they can extrapolate to the entirety of their lives: change is good. Onwards and upwards!

And I certainly hope they don’t remember the way Nice Mommy turns into Monster Mommy when they are finally all tucked away for  the night and then the bedroom doors start opening up again! Yikes!

I love the slow pace of life with young children and how easy it is to meet their needs. It is an absolute delight to watch my children getting older and to see their personalities blossom and develop, but this also means that they are getting to the point where I can’t protect them from all of the hurtful and hard things out there in the world. I’m clinging to those slow-paced days much more fiercely than I used to; I know that all too soon there will be a time where I am not my daughters’ favorite confidante and friend, and where my sons will not kiss me twice on each cheek before they fall asleep at night.

I wish someone had told me that I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but that I was a career mother, and that being a good mother takes a lot of planning, preparation, and hard work. When I had my first baby, I was 21 and had just finished my first year of graduate school. I didn’t have the remotest idea about what I was getting into; I just sort of thought I would instinctively know what to do! Ha! It took me a few years to realize that the same type of planning, research, and perseverance that were so necessary to me in academia were even more vital as a mother. I learned that if I wanted magical moments with my family, then I had to plan and create an opportunity for those moments to occur! (Making “bucket lists” as a family for each season is my favorite way to do this.)

I had a very difficult time adjusting to motherhood because I was so used to external validation – and you don’t get that from children! One day I just decided that if I was going to be a mother then I was going to be the best darn mother I could be, and that I was going to quit worrying about what people thought about my choices. For some reason, this was a huge paradigm shift for me and helped to resolve a lot of the worries I had about how I was choosing to spend my time, talents, and intellect.

This is a career. It’s the career I’ve chosen, and I am doing everything I can to excel in my career as a mother. (And I can take a nap if I want to, because I’m the boss!)


Oh, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one, isn’t there? From turning her dining room into a library (Page 134 in my book!) to approaching decor changes as a metaphor for life (Brilliant!), and the moment she stopped looking for external validation as a mother. Also, this: “Nature works magic that I can never replicate indoors.” So true. I see it whenever my kids are swinging from the trees!

Thank you for it all, Rachael!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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The French Cottage: A Room-by-Room Tour Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:47:06 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. The Cottage! If you’re new here, you may not even know this, but right before we left France, we bought a little cottage. It’s essentially the shell of a very old farmhouse. No electricity. No bathrooms. But we have BIG plans for it. I haven’t written a ton about the cottage, but there are a few posts. If you’re curious, you can find them all here.

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About a year ago, I realized I hadn’t given you a tour of the property yet, and it’s been on my list ever since. In fact, I mentioned it again on my New Year’s post. Well, it’s JUNE! And I’m finally getting around to the tour. Related, I’m still quite baffled at how quickly these last two years have disappeared. I suppose the first year was mostly taken up with my mental health issues (dang, that was rough), and I realize the second year back in the States has been all about my book. And of course throughout both of those years there were a million other projects going on — including improvements to The Cottage! But still, I feel like I haven’t had brain space for this project in ages. And suddenly, I do.

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Two years! Has it really been two years since I’ve been back to France? I think it feels shorter because Ben Blair has been back, and because Ralph & Olive both spent last fall there. But all the same, I’m aching for a return trip. Plane ticket prices look decent in the fall, so I’m thinking about how to make something work — but that’s a topic for another post.

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Anyway, I have dozens of cottage photos to share with you. And I can already tell you that some of you will see these images and feel overwhelmed at all the work that is required. While others will see the photos and feel itchy to tackle a similar project!

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When I look at these photos, I feel nothing but excitement! Especially when I see the work we did last year — we replaced the roof and repaired the walls so that they are structurally sound (and by we, I mean we hired it out, under the supervision of our amazing architect).

The difference is so striking! And now, I can’t wait to transform the rest of the house!

Here’s a room by room tour, starting with the door on the far left:

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Heres’ the open door:

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This space was apparently used for animals. Note the cement trough:

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Here’s a shot from the back of the room looking toward the door wall:

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And now, here’s a tour of space #2, with the second door from the left — this one has an attic access door above:

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One wall of the interior in this space is brick instead of stone. I feel like brick is unusual for this part of France (at least, I didn’t see much of it in my town):

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Like the first room, this space was also apparently used for animals:

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Here’s the view of the back fields from the little window:

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There isn’t much of a ceiling in this space to separate the room from the attic:

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Next up, the center door — I would call this one the front door. I have the most photos of this space. The front door has a window to the left and a 4th door to the right:

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Here’s the view peeking in from the front door:

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Straight ahead, you see a small window with some built-in wall compartments below. To the left you see a fireplace that takes up most of the wall, and a small door leading to an ante-room:

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To the right is an armoire:

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Here’s the massive fireplace:

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Here are two shots standing at the back of the room looking toward the front door:

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Here’s the armoire/cabinet:

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And a shot of the floor:

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Here’s a peek at the small, sunny ante-room off the main room:

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Moving on to door number 4 (second from the right):

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The first 3 spaces we had mostly cleared out and swept before these images were taken. But not this room. It’s still full of general rubble:

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Here’s a photos from the back of the room, looking toward the door:

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This space is especially dark, so the photos are quite blurry (sorry!):

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Next (and last) is door number five. This is the space on the far right of the house. This space has barn doors. Here are two shots with closed and open doors:

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Based on the hay inside, I assumed this space was also for animals, but there are no troughs here, so maybe it was more for farm equipment and storage. Who knows?

The thing I like best about this space is that it doesn’t have a low ceiling like the rest of the house. Instead, you can see right up to the roof:

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And the roof is pretty cool:

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Also, all those holes in the roof? They’re gone. The roof is new and happy.

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In the stone work in this room, there is also a column intended for a fireplace:

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This particular space really gets my imagination going — it’s the space where I started imagining how our family might use this house and create bedrooms and living spaces.

Here’s the room from the back, looking toward the door:

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And a detail shot of the window:

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These photos were taken in July two years ago — on the day before we moved back to the U.S.. But here are some shots taken a few months prior (when it was still snowy) that show the overall property a bit better (can you see all 5 entrances?):

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Here you can see our small outbuilding to the right. It has a rounded brick oven on one end and we were told that it used to be the neighborhood bread oven (I’ll give you a tour of that outbuilding in another post, because this one already has so many photos!):

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A few overall shots:

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And here’s another one looking from the front gate toward the front of the house:The Cottage Snow10

There it is. The Cottage tour!

Something you may have noticed: there is no bathroom or kitchen. Or really any proper rooms at this point. Hah! I’m actually still not sure what the final layout or floorplan will look like. As I’ve noted, from the front of the house there are 5 entrances going to 5 spaces — and none of those spaces are connected! So figuring out how to connect and use these spaces (or some of these spaces) is definitely one of the biggest challenges for this home.

As I think back, I can tell you that I assumed we’d tackle the cottage in the first year after purchasing it, so that we could start furnishing and decorating and using it right away. Obviously, that didn’t happen. (Understatement of the year.) I’m trying not to feel guilt about it. Life happens. What can you do? I suppose in this case, it’s also been an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation. But happily, I’m ready to keep it top of mind once again. I can’t wait to see it transform!

I can’t wait to hear what you think. Does seeing how rustic this building is stress you out, or get you excited? Have you ever taken on a project like this? Have you ever been to Normandy? If yes, does this sort of dwelling look familiar to you? Chime in!

P.S. — When we first purchased the house, one end was covered in ivy, but it’s really damaging to the stone work, so we had to pull it down:

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A Few Things Fri, 12 Jun 2015 17:22:45 +0000 Design Mom

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello there, Friends! How are you? What a fun week this has been! I traveled to Salt Lake City on Sunday and have been here for Alt Summer all week. It was a really, really good conference! I can’t wait to tell you more about it, but if you’d like a sneak peek, I’ve been posting on Instagram — you can see that I went lighter with my hair (a big thanks to Aubrey Nelson, the master or platinum), and I also tried a pink wig for last night’s party!

I should tell you that I totally had plans to post daily on Design Mom this week — I typically do during Alt Summit. In fact, this is the 11th Alt Summit conference I’ve put on, and I’ve always continued to post while I’m at the conference. But this time, my schedule was simply more packed than usual and I just couldn’t make it happen. Thanks for your patience with my radio silence! I’m heading home today, and I’ll be back to regular posting on Monday.

Of course, I can’t wait to get home! I miss Ben Blair and the kids like crazy. Before I go pack up, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- Did you see the #distractinglysexy hashtag? The responses are making me laugh like crazy! Here’s the back story.

- Missed Connections for jerks.

- A single dad discovers maxi pads. Thoughts on this one? Thanks, Tracy.

- Liquid 3D printer. Wow!

- Whoa. Scientists just found out how to cut-and-paste DNA for less than the price of a pair of sneakers.

- Overloaded vehicles from around the world.

- A good read on gratitude: My father has Alzheimer’s, but it’s far from the nightmare you probably think it is.

- Kevin Spacey impersonating Christopher Walken auditioning for Han Solo.

- Our we tuning our instruments wrong, and can we blame the Nazis?

- Hah! Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are making a Lifetime movie?

- Hair printing sounds fascinating.

- Thinking of summer. Let’s all make tricycle car washes.

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


P.S. — My birthday is on Sunday, but so far, I have zero plans to celebrate. I need to think of something fun to do!

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