Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Thu, 25 Aug 2016 17:55:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Late Summer Entertaining: 3 Fabulous No-Prep Menus Thu, 25 Aug 2016 17:46:12 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

Scandinavian Style Summer Entertaining Menu-6

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

Our summer schedule is all but forgotten as we get back to the regular programming of school days, but the summer weather still lingers, along with the gorgeous late summer light. Which makes the end of August and early September a pretty lovely time to gather friends around an outdoor table and enjoy an evening meal together.

French Style Summer Entertaining Menu-9Blue Diamond Almonds

The tricky thing for me is, once school is back in session, it’s hard to make time to prep a meal for guests. So I thought it would be fun to come up with a few menus that are entirely store bought, requiring no prep, plus totally gorgeous and majorly delicious.

The idea is that you can swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, or after school (or you could even use a grocery delivery service), and pick up an instant meal that tastes amazing, is fun to eat and serve, and requires no apology.

American Style Summer Entertaining Menu-7

Does a no-prep, grocery store menu sound right up your alley? Then you’re in luck! I’ve got 3 for you today. One French-themed, one Scandinavian themed, and one filled with All-American flavors. A stop at the store, a few minutes opening bottles and packages, and boom, you’re hosting a stress-free dinner party.

French Style Summer Entertaining Menu-5

MENU ONE: Paris Picnic

The first menu loosely follows a French theme featuring some favorite, easy-to-find classics. The great thing about this menu is that it’s really satisfying to your tastebuds and it’s filling too. Bon Appetit!

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Menu One Grocery List:

Cured Black Olives with Herbs
Blue Diamond Lightly Salted Almonds + Honey Roasted Almonds
Soft Cheese (such as Brie, Camembert, or similar ripened soft cheese)
Herbed Goat Cheese

To drink: Sparkling French Lemonade

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Doesn’t that look amazing? Sophisticated but simple and full of satisfying flavor combinations. The perfect mix of savory and sweet.

Scandinavian Style Summer Entertaining Menu-2

MENU TWO: Summer Smorgasbord

The second menu is based on several classic flavors and items from Scandinavia. Think of it as a lighter version of the beloved smorgasbord. It’s something you could imagine yourself eating on a warm night in the Swedish countryside as you enjoy the late sunset. This menu includes a few types of pickles in addition to salt n’ vinegar almonds, which help cut the richness of the cheeses and salmon.

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Menu Two Grocery List:

Flatbread Crackers (these are whole grain rye)
Pickled Beets
Capers (rinsed well and drained)
Whole Grain Mustard
Blue Diamond Salt n’ Vinegar Almonds
Hot Smoked Salmon
Jarlsberg Cheese
Soft, Spreadable Fresh Cheese (such as cream cheese)
Assorted Fresh Berries
(And if you don’t mind a little prep, add these Quick Pickled Cucumbers to the menu.)

To drink: Cherry juice + Sparkling water + Sparkling apple cider

Scandinavian Style Summer Entertaining Menu-3

Oh my. This one tastes as fresh as it looks. Yes to picked everything!

American Style Summer Entertaining Menu-2

MENU THREE: All-American Flavor

The third menu is based on American BBQ or picnic flavors. Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds are so addictive! They go splendidly with the cheeses, ham and turkey, apples, pears, and cherries, and other items. This is totally a meal to put together when you’re in the mood for something a little spicy — like pickled jalapenos and habanero cheddar — to go along with sandwich fixings.

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Menu Three Grocery List:

Potato Rolls
Whole Wheat Crackers
Dill Pickles
Black and Green Olives
Blue Diamond Smokehouse BBQ Almonds
Aged Cheddar Cheese
Habanero Cheddar
Sliced Maple Ham
Smoked Turkey
Muenster Cheese Slices

To drink: rootbeer

American Style Summer Entertaining Menu-18

Is this one my favorite? I’m not sure, but I LOVE these flavors. In fact I might have to serve this combo for dinner tonight. Doesn’t it look festive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these no-prep dinner party menu ideas. Have you ever served a casual meal like this to guests? Or prepared something like this for your own family? I’m a big fan, because it comes together so quickly and there’s something for every kind of taste bud. Do you have a favorite among the 3 options featured here? And one last question: If there was a future post with more of these no-prep dinner menus, what sort of themes would you want to see?

BD Almonds Logo

This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond

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Growing A Family: Emily Rose Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Owen’s sweet letter board series via Emily’s Instagram.

Infertility, an early delivery, and a husband more than 24-hours away is just the beginning of Emily’s story. Oh! And there’s also a second delivery much different than the first. Come see. It’s a really good one.

Starting my family was easy. My husband Nick and I met in high school and became a pair in college. Inseparable almost immediately, we had an effortless romance from the get-go and were married in 2009 on the shores of Lake Tahoe close to our hometown. Like I said, it was easy; we were a family just like that.

Baby-making on the other hand, did not come easily.

We decided to start trying for a baby about a year after we were married. I remember the feeling of hope I had in that first month of trying, and I remember the feeling of disappointment that followed. The hope would return each month, but its intensity tapered until nothing remained but desperation. The disappointment climbed, peaked and eventually turned to numbness.

After one year of ovulation tracking and timed intercourse, my gynecologist ordered lots of tests and referred us to a reproductive endocrinologist. We both started weekly acupuncture and an herbal regimen while we prepped for fertility treatments. Four rounds of Intrauterine Insemination ended in heartache and exhaustion and left us with a feeling of defeat. I felt like my young and supposedly healthy body was betraying me. We questioned whether more intervention was the right choice. Were we messing with nature? What if we weren’t meant to be parents?

Talking about pregnancy was hard for me. Seeing pregnant women was harder. But the hardest part was feeling like my situation was changing me in a negative way. Friends and colleagues who seemed to be reproducing at an alarming rate surrounded me and I literally couldn’t stand to be around them. I could not be happy for them, and I hated that. I have since come to terms with that time and those feelings and know that it is only a small piece of my story, but I have not forgotten how that intense feeling of both jealousy and sadness at feeling so jealous felt. In a nutshell: “Yuck.”

We decided to pursue In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and had a relatively easy course (if you consider 133 injections easy, that is). Or perhaps I’m in denial at how crappy it actually was because…it worked! Pregnancy was everything I had hoped it would be and more and literally left me in state of bliss. It was amazing how suddenly all of those years of sadness vanished with one positive pee stick. Okay, if I’m being honest there were about 400 positive pee sticks! Seeing two lines never gets old, friends. The nightly progesterone in oil injections in the butt were nothing compared to the wonder of feeling a little one poking and kicking me from the inside and watching my belly grow. Looking back now, I am able to see the positives that came out of all of that waiting and wanting. Nick and I grew together and formed strong bonds of trust that were tested many times. If you ever want to know if you really trust your partner, try handling him a giant needle filled with viscous oil and ask him to stab you in the butt.  This was not easy for me, a maybe-a-little control freak nurse who is used to being on the other side of the needle!

At 35 weeks pregnant, I woke up feeling exhausted and could hardly schlep my body to work that day. After a night of tossing and turning and a very sore back, I had hardly gotten any sleep and was pooped. I was determined to make it to work for the baby shower my co-workers were throwing that day, so there I was. The first thing my friend at work said when she saw me that morning was, “You look different. Are you okay?” Then another later in the day, “You are walking different today!” I suppose I should have taken that as a hint of what was to come, but I think I was too exhausted.

Mid-baby shower I got up to use the restroom and suddenly felt like I had to go REALLY badly, so I started running to the nearest toilet. That’s when it started gushing. At that point I was still oblivious to the fact that my water was breaking and thought that I was living the pregnant lady peeing her pants scenario. My first thought was how thankful I was that I was wearing black pants and could potentially hide the fact that I had just emptied my bladder for long enough to grab a pair of scrubs (a perk of working in a hospital!) When the fluid didn’t stop, I knew. And then time started moving very slowly (but quickly at the same time) as I worked through the numerous possibilities of how this would go down in my scattered head.

Thirty-five weeks was an extremely inconvenient time for the wee one to arrive for many reasons, but the most important and obvious was that my husband was more than a hop, skip, and a jump away in Brazil. Also on that list was: my Mom was also across the country, the nursery was a just-painted heap of boxes and unwashed baby clothes, and I had a hair appointment and pedicure scheduled for the next week! And we had definitely not had enough date nights! And I hadn’t gotten to enjoy any pre-baby maternity leave! I was clearly NOT ready.

When I called Nick to tell him my water broke, he laughed and said, “Not funny, Em.” I think my silence cued him and he then started panicking that he was more than 24 hours away and needed to get on a plane NOW.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, my friends came to the rescue. I had two of my friends by my side within the hour, one a labor and delivery nurse ready to act as my doula, the other my best friend since second grade armed with washed baby clothes and blankets and an iPhone ready to document everything.

My mind was both chaotic and blank, but the one point of clarity was that I was going to keep my baby in until Nick arrived from Brazil. I had twenty-four hours to hang upside down and cross my legs and that was just fine with me.

Quite quickly I went from feeling nothing to feeling very regular contractions that I tried my best to ignore. My friend finally tenderly but firmly told me, “Emily, you are going to meet your baby today no matter what you do. Nick is not going to be here. Your mom is not going to be here.”  There were tears, but it was what I needed to hear so that I could throw my sense of control out the fifteenth floor window and get excited about meeting our baby. At that point things started moving very quickly and the contractions became much more intense. My friend was wonderful at moving me from position to position just as I felt like it was too much. I remember thinking how I just couldn’t get into a comfortable position, so I just kept moving and bouncing and twisting and turning in an effort to find comfort. It’s funny to think of that now…did I really think I was going to find comfort with a watermelon-sized human trying to exit my body? Ha!

My birth plan was: do what feels right. Deliver a healthy baby.

I had never been in a lot of pain before, so I really didn’t know how I would react to it and I wanted to leave my options open. I knew that I at least wanted to give natural labor a try, so having a trained labor nurse with a passion for natural birth as my support person was such a wonderful gift. She knew all of the tricks and trickled them out one by one. Birth ball, position changes to ease the back labor, massage, some perfect music playlist that I’m still not sure how she whipped out, lavender oil, and then the big one…the bathtub. Game. Changer. I got in and immediately melted into a much happier Mama. I later found out that the tub stopper was not working, so my friend plugged the drain with a MacGyver-like mix of washcloths and saran wrap!

I think the bathtub was just what I needed to relax enough to let my body open up because shortly after, I started pushing uncontrollably. It was the strangest feeling to suddenly feel like I could not control my actions. It took all of my strength to NOT push as the doctor came to check my progress. I had gone from 1cm at last checking to 9 cm, which explained the sudden urge to push that baby out! I moved to the bed between contractions and was deemed complete and ready to start pushing. My dad had arrived and with my two friends was at my side, something I had never envisioned being comfortable with, but at that point most inhibition was gone and I felt like I wanted someone in my family to be present at this epic moment!

Pushing was a surreal experience for me because all pain was gone. The contractions were no longer uncomfortable, but more just signals that it was time for me to push. Between contractions I was able to rest totally, which I had not expected. And before I knew it, six hours after my water broke, I was holding my baby on my chest, surrounded by two of my best friends, my dad, some of my co-workers (ready to monitor the baby since she was a preemie), and my mom and husband via video. Not how I envisioned meeting her, but beyond amazing despite that. I felt relieved and shocked and empowered all at once. Her birth was such an experience of redemption for me, one that more than made up for the infertility-related feeling that my body was broken. My body had done this; I had done this.

I remember thinking that she looked familiar. I didn’t necessarily think she looked like anyone, but she looked like ours and like her. (Even as I write this, I know I am not explaining it well!) I also remember feeling like I had not truly met her until Nick arrived a little over 24 hours later. When he stormed in the door at 2 in the morning and wrapped her in his arms for the first time, I finally took it all in and saw my family for the first time, and it was magical.

It has been almost two and a half years since that day, yet I can feel it like it was yesterday. Since then: an embryo transfer that resulted in my second pregnancy. At exactly 35 weeks (just like my daughter!) our son Owen was welcomed into our family. The pregnancy was 100% as magical despite it being peppered with preterm contractions, four (!!!) stomach bugs, and pure exhaustion as I chased our two-year-old Piper around. He was delivered by Cesarean Section due to a transverse lie, which was not how I would have preferred him to arrive, but it was filled with so much greatness of its own.

As my husband entered the operating room his voice boomed, “Hey, hey, party people, it’s baby time!” and all was right in my world. He was there. And, yes, it was baby time. And Just like that, we were a family of four.

Our story is not how I would have written it. I wish that my husband could have been by my side through the birthing of our first baby. (Although, the text messages and videos that were exchanged were priceless to review later, let me tell you! “I made THAT sound?! What was I doing with my legs?!”) I wish that I could have experienced a natural labor with our second.

Similarly, I would never have chosen infertility for myself, but my babies make the entire journey, good and trying, worthwhile. I would not have wanted baby making to be so high tech and such a lengthy process, but I wouldn’t change it. Because they are perfection. These babes were meant to be ours.


So wonderful, Emily! Thank you for sharing. And it’s interesting to hear your recounting of your daughter’s delivery sans husband, and your son’s birth with your partner right there with you. Has anyone else found themselves in a situation where they had to give birth without a partner? Tell us about it. Who stepped in to be your teammate?

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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Food Insecurity in America Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:00:48 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. This post is brought to you by Outshine®.

[ UPDATE: You can watch my Facebook Live interview on this topic here. ]

Fact: 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. And further, food insecurity exists in virtually every community in the United States.

Reading about hunger statistics in America is always a punch to the gut. I live in California which grows 1/3 of America’s vegetables, and 2/3 of the country’s fruit, and sometimes, as I’m walking around the city, or running errands in the suburbs, I’m struck by the abundance I see. Farmer’s markets and grocery stores piled high with good, healthy food. All that abundance almost makes it hard to imagine that those hunger numbers are real. But they are indeed real.


And the profile of a family who struggles with hunger in America is different than what you might think. These are people who have jobs and are seeking education, but who also struggle with medical hardships and low-wages. They sometimes have to choose between buying food for their family and paying for transportation to get to their job, or choose between buying food and medicine. Sometimes they have to buy the cheapest, nutrition-lacking options, just to have enough food to feed their family (and that poor quality food can cause or exacerbate health problems.)

They are your neighbors. They are senior citizens in your community that you say hello to as you go about your day. They are kids at your school.


Summer is especially hard on kids in need (or kids who struggle with hunger), because without a regular school schedule, they don’t have access to daily school meals — free or reduced breakfasts or lunches. And there are issues of food deserts too — whole neighborhoods that don’t have real access to fresh, healthy produce.


In happier news, there are good people and good programs working to combat hunger in this country. Have you ever heard of Feeding America? Their nationwide network of food banks is leading the fight against hunger in communities nationwide. (You can learn more about hunger and Feeding America programs in this video.)

And this month, to support Feeding America programs, Outshine is donating 1 million pounds of fresh produce!


Today, I’m visiting the Outshine office in Berkeley and I’ll be interviewing a member of their team about this partnership. You can watch the video on the Design Mom Facebook page. We’ll be going live at 11:00 in the morning (that’s California time, or 2:00 PM on the East Coast). The interview will be live, but you can also view the recording after the fact on the same page. I hope you’ll come and join the conversation! [ UPDATE: You can watch the interview here. It was such a good conversation! Let me know if you get a chance to watch it. (And you can also get a glimpse of my hair which hasn't been cut since the beginning of the summer. I'm dying for cut! My appointment is this Friday. Hah!) ]

Tell me, Friends, have you ever had the chance to learn about hunger in America? Do you feel like hunger is something you see in your community, or does it seem to be a hidden problem where you live?

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Comment on This Post to Save a Life! Tue, 23 Aug 2016 16:41:37 +0000 Design Mom

gabby stanley easter bonnet

By Gabrielle.

This is me. Age two and three quarters. Eyes closed and a big grin. I’m wearing a new dress and a bonnet for Easter. Clearly I am looking and feeling fabulous! As you might guess, this will become my favorite dress, and a couple months after this picture was taken, I’ll wear it on my 3rd birthday too. In fact, this dress shows up quite a bit in my baby book. This photo was taken in my backyard on Gibson Street in Riverside, California (did I tell I was born in California and spent my first 5 years there?). My first Easter bonnet. Such a sweet little milestone.

Why am I sharing this memory? So I can highlight the fact that some families in developing countries unfortunately don’t get to experience this sort of milestone, because children lack access to life-saving vaccines. In fact, one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could be prevented with a vaccine, many of them before age five. Totally preventable deaths. Easily preventable deaths. Which absolutely breaks my heart to think about. And it’s the reason I’m participating in Blogust.

What is Blogust? It’s a month-long digital dialogue, bringing together online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions to change the world through inspirational imagery and storytelling. This year marks the fifth year of Blogust helping kids around the world reach their fifth birthday thanks to the power of global vaccines.

The Blogust 2016 digital relay participants will be sharing the story behind #TBT baby photos or videos of themselves, their kid(s) or a side-by- side comparison at important milestones — from first steps or first smile to fifth birthday.

Every parent everywhere should be able to experience these milestones, which is why every like, comment and social media share their posts receive (up to 30,000 throughout the month of August 2016) will trigger a donation by MAM to help provide a vaccine for a child in need around the world.

So I have a favor to ask: Will you please comment on this post? Every comment equals a donated vaccine to a child in need. So awesome! What should you comment? Whatever you like. How about a memory from your first five years, or what it was like to watch your kids hit a milestone, or even something simple like “I heart keeping children healthy!”

I can’t wait to read your comments. Let’s save some lives!

P.S. — If you’re not much for commenting, you could instead share this post on Twitter or Facebook with the #blogust hashtag. Any like, share or comment works! Also, you can find links to all the Blogust posts here.

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Living With Kids: Sara Laurel Tue, 23 Aug 2016 16:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

While I devoured Sara’s words, I underlined a few poignant lines to remember forever. She’s a psychologist! Of course! Of course she would possess all the answers to life’s — and parenting’s — burning questions.

But here’s what I enjoyed so much about Sara: She’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. She watches people she thinks are wise. She asks questions. And she says things like “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ve never been the parent of a six year old before.” I love it all.

So please come share in this goodness, will you? It’s so lovely to have Sara — and her fabulous hot pink dining room chairs! — here with us today. Welcome, Sara.

We live in a historic neighborhood in Wooster Ohio, two blocks over from the College of Wooster. Our street is lined with hundred year-old trees and joined by a red brick road. Growing up, I lived on a brick road in another town and have fond memories of hot sticky summers that began with bare feet on warm pavement and ended enjoying fireflies and crickets through the screens. I wanted the same for my future kids.

When we moved here for my job as a psychologist, I spent my lunch break canvasing this neighborhood for a For Sale sign. I loved that all of the houses were unique and when I spotted a sign in the yard, I made an appointment for a viewing that day.

At the time, my husband Jason was finishing up his duty as a Captain in the Air Force. He was still in North Dakota and I moved here six months ahead of his out-processing to start my job. My dad went with me to the showing and afterwards asked, “You’re buying it, right?” He said the house was just so very me. His assurance gave me the confidence to draw up the initial paperwork without Jason seeing the property. Truly, they had me at the pink bathroom. I asked if the owners would consent to rent the house to me until my husband would be home to see it and they agreed.

I’m always amazed at what historic homes cost in contrast with new construction. Most of the houses in our neighborhood cost in the mid to upper $100,000 range, ours included. In the next county over or with newer homes, the price doubles or triples. But properties in our area have always been a steal.

This is surprising to me because of the diversity and offerings of the town. We have three colleges locally and the loveliest town square. Smucker’s Headquarters is just a drive from us and in the summer, we host the Ohio Light Opera. There are a handful of really cool Bed and Breakfasts to support all of the parents who come for college visitation and we have some really quirky stores and restaurants. Our Downtown is booming with new businesses lately including a favorite new dress shop that is Anthropologie meets Magnolia Market and a CSA-supported Green Market.

When Jason and I would take long late night walks in North Dakota we would make lists of what kind of place we wanted to live next. He wanted rural, I wanted urban, and somehow Wooster ticks off amenities for both. My dream was to live somewhere that I could paint outdoors, get to a big city in an hour, and walk from my house to buy bread, all of which we now do weekly.

What is funny is that, as a high schooler, I dreamed of attending the College of Wooster. I loved the architecture of the school and was so excited when I was accepted. My heart broke when I couldn’t afford the tuition. I went to another college instead, where I met Jason. I didn’t give Wooster much thought after that. All of these years later, when we were moving back to Ohio, I was about to accept a position in Southern Ohio, further from our families, when I got a call out of the blue from an agency in Wooster. It’s funny how things work out sometimes!

We lived in this house for four years prior to having our babies. When our son was born, we quarantined ourselves for several months while we found our sea legs. It was during that period of pacing the walls, clad in my husband’s bathrobe, with squeezy peanut butter as my sustenance, that I hit my decorating stride.

Our decorating formula includes a lot of graphic black and white as well as punches of color. Our mainstays are hidden nooks like personal mailboxes outside the kids’ bedrooms, a dog kennel out of kitchen cabinets, and a secret super hero lair. We recently renovated the pink bathroom, which gives me the happy screams.

Being closer to our families made raising kids so much easier. Jason and I are fortunate to have my mom (a retired teacher) and his mom (a retired nanny) split childcare for us during the week. We are really utilizing that “It takes a village” mentality. I am so grateful that each grandparent brings their own lovely way with our children.

My mom is constantly taking them on nature walks and creating recycled art. My mother-in-law plays with the kids at their pace with consummate patience. All of us together give them so much more than I could alone. Without support, I don’t know how people survive.

It was unexpected to me to I feel that I need my mom more now than I did at any other time. Her opinion and advice on what our kids are up to is a lifeline to me. Realistically, I’ve needed her all along, but I appreciate it more now that I can empathize with her sacrifice. One night when I was complaining about the drudgery of my life and the strangling affect that motherhood was having on me, she reminded me of our bond and about how I was laying the foundation for that same intimacy with my own children.

“Would you want it to be anyone else?” she asked. “To put them to sleep each night, and to assuage their fears, and to listen to their chatter?”

Although the weight of parenthood is sometimes stifling, I try to remember that this is the season for my children. That I will someday have time to read, and paint, and travel, and be silent, but that this is the season for them.

In the early days, I wish someone would have told me, “Calm down, sister.” As a new mom, I tried really hard to nail parenting. I may or may not have created a Power Point of masterpiece art with developmentally appropriate talking points for my infant. At the time I thought, “I’m not good at small talk. And you are supposed to constantly talk to infants to stimulate their vocabulary, right?” I didn’t want to miss opportunities for enrichment or growth.

If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.

I tell new mom friends that having kids feels like Groundhog’s Day. You do the same chores, tell the same stories, and make never ending meals repetitively, but each day something changes in a granular way. And then, one day you look up to find the scenery completely changed. You have drifted out to sea to a view beyond potty-training or 3:00 am feedings.

And the journey in the new place you are is equally rigorous, but you notice progress. Then sometimes, you see a sunset or a cluster of clouds that stop your breath. And at that moment you are grateful for the voyage, and for the difficulty, and for all of the things that raising another human entails.

When my best friend had her daughter, we were on sabbatical from conversing on the phone since all calls resulted in a cacophony of screams from our littles. Instead, I started a blog to her intending to map out life formulas for busy bags to save her time and five ingredient dinners to ease her burden. What I found instead was a way to organize my own thoughts about how I wanted to parent and the means to be intentional with the process.

I find motherhood to be especially difficult for achievement-oriented women. There is no trophy for the most crisply folded laundry or for the longest marathon without sleep. People parent so differently that there isn’t even a mutually agreed upon pinnacle of best practice.

Perhaps here is how being a psychologist and a mother is challenging as well. You know the research related to developmental psychology and you know the pitfalls for poor attachment, but there is no perfect formula for child rearing that considers the variables of each child. How can I possibly weave all of this social science into a tapestry of confident parenting practice?

Of course, it’s impossible.

And so I watch and model after people I think are wise. I ask a lot of questions of my kids. I say things like, “I’ll have to think about that, I’ve never been the parent of a six year-old before.”

One of the things that we try to do in our family now that the kids are older is to create a sense of team mindedness. We have work chores (for pay) and family chores (without pay), family meetings, and group reinforcers that we all work towards.

Recently, to reduce sibling rivalry, I instituted a game called Best Friend Challenge. This is a task or problem that I give to them both to work out. If they can solve it together diplomatically, they both earn a privilege or treat. The other day Gabriel made a Best Friend Challenge for my husband and I. I love that he saw the challenges as communal and worthy of grown-ups, too.

Gabriel is my kind-hearted and creative six year old. He loves people with every atom he possesses. Once in preschool, he accidentally popped a button off of the teacher’s puppet during class. After school, I found him in my sewing basket looking for thread and he sobbed out the story to me. He was so grieved that he had damaged the property of someone he loved so dearly. He wanted to go back to the school immediately to mend it. I hope that he never loses his sweetness or desire to help others.

Ella is four years old and a total spitfire. Sometimes when she thinks Gabriel is being too shy at the playground, she marches up to a group of older kids and points Gabriel out to them, regaling them with why he would be a good friend to them and why they should initiate play with him. Ella knows exactly what she wants and is tough as nails. She runs faster than all of the boys in her class and has the best sense of humor ever. Parenting her makes me want to figure this whole girl boss thing out. I’ve got to make sure that she has a compass to channel her strength.

I hope that my kids remember that we had fun here. That we worked together on the garden, that we ate summer breakfasts in the playhouse, and had Monster Hat parties on a Tuesday night.

We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated. I try really hard to be a good steward of our memories. We have a family time capsule made out of a library card catalog that we open each New Year’s Eve to recall the year. Traditions and celebrations are pretty much where it is at for us.

Through it all, my favorite thing so far about living with kids is the community that we have created with each other, our extended family, and with others. I relish having another family over to watch an outdoor movie with us or to walk down to the farmer’s market together on Saturdays. I also appreciate the reminder to enjoy things: a bug, dandelions, a puddle. The impetus to be slow and to notice my surroundings is not innate in me, but rather is something that my children inspire.

What is more, I appreciate that parenting makes you a part of kind of a club. Albeit one that ends up being more of a dark humor cult. I, myself, never before enjoyed club membership.

But I find that I now appreciate the shared experience of another inmate: the nod that I get from another knowing parental veteran when my child is melting down in the check out line. That nod tells me that I am not crazy and that someone else recognizes that this small person I have raised is being both unreasonable and unproductive. That nod tells me that were my child and I in a platonic relationship rather than one of genetics, I would be justified in terminating this hellish grocery experience. And just knowing that, from a nod, I feel better.


Oh, Sara. I melted at this: “If I were parenting anew, I would know to lean in. Be brave in the silence, love is enough. Just light up when they enter the room. That is all.” Thank you.

Also, this is a genius reminder: “We have been trying lately not to just live for the weekend. To participate in experiences throughout the week that make life feel rich and anticipated.” I know this is the trap, isn’t it? The whole Thank God It’s Friday thing makes it hard to recognize the great potential of a Tuesday! Do you think we are all still affected by the “It’s a school night” curfew way of thinking? Who’s in for making Wednesday and Thursday just as awesome as Friday and Saturday? Tell me your plans and let’s do this, shall we?

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

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The Act of Birth Mon, 22 Aug 2016 21:06:21 +0000 Design Mom

uterus poster

By Gabrielle. Uterus print by Mathilde Cinq Mars.

I read an essay, called Monstrous Births, over the weekend and can’t stop thinking about it. The author, Sarah Blackwood, talks about the history of child birth and how it has often been moralized — like Eve being cursed and told that childbirth would be difficult because of her actions. Ms. Blackwood compares that with the modern ways we moralize birth — putting pressure on women to have a natural birth or even talking about birth as an empowering act. The author then describes the births of her own 2 children, which were very difficult, and suggests that maybe we should think of birth as an amoral (not immoral, but amoral) action instead of a moral one.

The essay really resonated with me. Unlike the author, I’ve experienced child birth six different times, and yet all of them fell in the “typical birth experience” range and didn’t require much intervention. For me the resonation came from the description of birth as amoral. I totally related to that idea, though I’ve never thought to use that word.

Child birth didn’t feel empowering to me. It didn’t feel un-empowering either. Instead it felt to me mostly like a biological process — a difficult one, but one that my body was designed to go through. I didn’t necessarily feel pride at what my body did because I didn’t feel like I could even take credit for it. (In fact, if I did take credit for it, then would that mean that women who couldn’t experience the relatively easy kind of births I had should feel the opposite of pride? Shame or guilt?) I remember thinking that in theory even if I had been passed out, my body could have birthed the baby. So why would I be proud of something that could happen when I wasn’t even aware of it?

Now I say all that, but I completely understand that other women experience birth, and think about birth, very differently than I did. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are women who feel very empowered by birth. I don’t doubt this, because I know many of these women and absolutely trust the experiences they’ve had. I simply think this is one of those cases where people are different and experience things in different ways. And of course, we all use different narratives to help our brains understand the world.

In the essay, the author mentions that sometimes we dismiss the hardships of childbirth and say something like, “Well, as long as the baby is healthy.” But she suggests that is actually a really misogynistic thing to say. I’d never thought of it that way, but I see her point. Why would the baby always have more value than the woman giving birth (especially considering some of the women giving birth are practically children themselves)?

What about you? How do you feel about thinking of birth as an amoral action, as more of a biological process than a moral one? Did you feel empowered by birth? Did you feel pressured to have a certain kind of birth (natural, home, water, epidural)? Or certain kind of birth experience (empowering, spiritual, wholesome, calm, dramatic)? For anyone who is expecting at the moment, are you looking forward to the birth experience, or dreading it? If you get a chance to read the essay, I would love to discuss this topic with you.

P.S. — I’m well aware that talking about child birth can bring out the judgey-ness in anyone. So I ask you now to please refrain from telling someone else how they should experience birth. Instead, feel free to share your own experiences and how you think about them.

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A Few Things Fri, 19 Aug 2016 16:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

gabrielle benjamin blair

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ralph Blair.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I am writing from Paris. We fly to Oakland first thing tomorrow morning (with a short layover in Oslo, Norway on the way). The bags are packed, the souvenirs are purchased, our summer in France is really coming to an end. I can hardly believe it.

Something fun: today is our 21st wedding anniversary — and we’re feeling so lucky that we get to spend it in Paris! I was newly 21 when I married, so I’ve officially been married for half of my life. So strange to think about. Happily, I can easily say that marrying Ben Blair was the best decision of my life. No doubt about it!

Our weekend plans consist of 3 things: fly home, deal with jet lag, and make sure we’re ready for the first day of school on Monday. How about you? Anything you’re excited about?

I’m off to spend our last evening in France, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Such a compelling interview. Consider the kitchen-less home. Thanks, Heidi.

- For back to school season, an NPR program about discipline in schools. What’s actually working?

- Please tell me you’re reading R. Eric Thomas’ olympic reports on Elle. Belly laughs for days.

- Also olympics related, I love Fu Yaunhui! She’s the Chinese swimmer who is breaking taboos right and left.

- My sister Jordan has been sharing posts about her amazing new studio. Here’s the craft area. I’m obsessed with the custom pegboard.

- This story is a good one. You could tell me it was completely made up and I wouldn’t even care.

- I behind on the news, and still learning more about what’s happening with the flooding in Louisiana, but I saw this article with helpful links.

- Anyone up for booking a vacation to Greece? Let’s go! (NYT)

- A fascinating study about white social media users and posts about race.

- “Is it really that hard, being a First World woman?” Powerful writing.

- Earthworms could be the new superfood.

- Related, teff could be the new super grain.

- 91-year-old Flossie Lewis says, “Getting old is a state of mind.”

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


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Call It A Day: Nora Gomez-Strauss Thu, 18 Aug 2016 16:00:58 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Nora makes me miss New York even more than I already do! A born and bred Queens gal, her love for her city is contagious. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live on Sesame Street?

I can’t wait to follow her around her jam-packed day. Let’s do this, Nora!

Hi there! I’m Nora Gomez-Strauss, a working mom in NYC. I am a born and bred Queens, NY gal and live in my native borough with my born and bred Queens guys: my husband and two year old son. By day, I get to work at Public Art Fund.

This year, we sold our beloved apartment and decided to make a dramatic move…down the hallway. We love our neighborhood and especially our building, and couldn’t let a three-bedroom in NYC slip away while knowing we were outgrowing our space. It should have been the easiest move ever, but things never quite work out that way.

Our new home is still under renovation, so in the mean time, we are staying at my in-laws’, who happen to live three floors down from us! Before you get any sitcom-like ideas in your mind: they are away for summer. It is not the most convenient to have to essentially move twice, but we are very lucky to have somewhere to stay. Beyond that, we are lucky to have them in the same building as us. I won the in-law lottery and could not love them any more. Especially now with a little one, it’s wonderful to have them so close. My own parents are only a 15-minute drive away, so it’s safe to say we are all pretty close, figuratively and literally.

But let’s get on with the day. My alarm goes off at 5:45 am, which, in the dead of winter seems inhumane. I usually check emails, some news, and Instagram for a few minutes before hearing a pitter-patter of footsteps and “Mama!” My toddler, Santiago, will run up to the bed, where we have the same conversation every morning. I explain I have to get up and shower, but he can stay in bed with dad.

Before Santiago (Santi, for short) was born, I found the time to go to the gym or a yoga class. That has since mostly gone out the window. When he was about two months old I began doing these ten-minute Pilates videos every morning, which I found was a helpful habit for me. A friend also introduced me to this great app called YogaGlo, that lets you select online classes based on what you would like to focus on or how much time you have. I usually do a 15-minute class by my favorite instructor. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a small thing that helps me start my day.*

We are in the midst of casual potty training and around 7:00 am I say to Santi, “Time to brush teeth and use the potty!” with the kind of excitement usually reserved for Christmas morning. Then I’ll get him dressed and get his breakfast ready, which is usually yogurt, fruit, and either eggs or cereal during the week. Weekends are reserved for bagel-donut-pancake bonanzas.

My own breakfast is usually hot lemon water and some toast, or if I feel like treating myself, Greek yogurt with granola. Yes, I realize that makes me sound super boring. We listen to NPR every morning, so my husband and I often discuss whatever we are listening to as he gets his morning going. These days, we tend to get really worked up by the news we hear and I recently had to take a step back when Santi repeated a non-baby-friendly word I used. Whoops.

My husband, David, is the Deputy Director of the Queens Museum**, which is only a few minutes away by car, so his morning is not always as time-sensitive as mine. My favorite morning ritual is David and Santi walking me to the subway. We say good morning to the wonderful people who work in our building and our neighbors along the way and often joke it’s like we live on Sesame Street. Our neighborhood, Forest Hills, can feel like a little town, which is a nice feeling living in a big city. I say, “I love you, have a great day!” to each of my boys and head off.

Going back to living so close to family, we also see them often because both grandmothers help look after Santi. The week is split up between them and a nanny. I love knowing that he has special relationships with both grandmothers — aka Gamma and Nana. They are invaluable. If I had a squad, they would definitely be in it. (And for the record, they are as gorgeous as super models).

I count my just about 30-minute subway ride as alone time, which I use to listen to music and read. Currently, I am reading Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and I must look crazy trying to hold my laughter in as I read. Every once in a while, a chuckle will escape. I have also unknowingly danced like nobody is watching with my headphones on, so comparatively, a chuckle is not so bad.

By the time I get to work, sometimes I feel like a whole day has happened. Before stepping into the office, I usually grab sweet nectar from above…I mean, iced coffee. I am one of those very lucky people that do not dread coming to work every day. It is a very special feeling knowing that I get to be part of something that touches people’s lives every day — whether it’s getting someone to smile on their way to work, making someone stop in their tracks and have a quiet moment, or inspiring a child to make their own art. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware we’re not saving lives, but we might be changing lives. I know this because Public Art Fund changed my own life.

When I was home from college one summer and working at the 92nd Street Y Arts camp, we were with the kids at City Hall Park, where Public Art Fund had an exhibition on view. The kids were going wild, both interacting with the art and drawing in their sketchbooks. At the time, I thought I wanted to become an art teacher but wasn’t completely sure. I remember thinking how great it must be to work somewhere like Public Art Fund. It was that thought that led me to pursue Arts & Cultural Management for graduate school, and I eventually made my way here years later.

At Public Art Fund, I’m the Director of Digital Strategies, so I spend a lot of time at the computer. It’s a mix of new media, marketing, website management, and graphic design. First thing in the morning, I check email and write a to do list for the day. The to do list dictates the rest of the day.

We are gearing up to open an exhibition next month, so today I talk with my boss, Kellie Honeycutt, our Director of Communications, about some of the elements surrounding the show. I have worked with Kellie for almost five years, and for most of them, we were a department of just two. She is the best colleague anyone could ask for. I don’t think I know anyone who laughs as often at work as I do. We work very well together, and even when things get hectic, it’s reassuring to be on a team with her. This is the first week for our new Communications Associate, Sandrine Milet, so it’s been a extra exciting to have another set of hands join us.

We have a new exhibition being announced in the next couple days, so Kellie and I discuss some details, including the online strategy. Posting the announcement of a new exhibition is always really thrilling. These shows have often been in the works for two years or three years and finally being able to share them with the public is exhilarating. In addition to posting to our various social media accounts, I also monitor our activity all day. I can’t be at every exhibition we have across the city on a daily basis, so we value our online interactions in a different way than brick and mortar organizations do. We often say social media operates as our Visitor Services department. I spend a lot of time answering questions, commenting on images, and engaging in conversation. Tools like Hootsuite help me keep my sanity!

While so much of that is exciting, you know what is not? Lunch in Midtown Manhattan. It’s kind of all the same. I will usually step out with Kellie to quickly get a salad or soup to bring back to the office. Don Draper would not approve. However, today I want to get a few Instagram-worthy images of our current work at Rockefeller Center, so Kellie and Sandrine volunteer to walk over with me if we can grab something tasty from near that area. Kellie’s daughter is about three months younger than Santi, so we often spend our walks to getting lunch discussing very chic things like how to remove poop stains and what latest baby clothes sale we have shopped.

In the afternoon, our department meets with Rachel Nawi, our Director of Development, to discuss this year’s Public Art Fund magazine. Even though it will not drop until December, it takes months to organize and create the content, edit, and finally send to print. One of my happiest work moments of the year is getting the magazine in my hands for the first time. The rest of the afternoon is spent checking things off of the to-do list like making sure the webpages for our Talks series are ready to go, developing a graphic identity for another upcoming show, and working with our super star summer intern to organize the images for the magazine. At the end of the day, if I’ve checked off most of my list, I feel like the day was productive.

When I first came back to work after having Santi, I had this internal pressure to have it all. Once I realized that was impossible, I felt so much better. My number one job before everything else is always mom, but some days I am better at being mom and some days I am better at work, and that’s ok.

When I get home, I say the same thing to Santi every day: “I am so happy to see you!” I have been saying that since getting home from work my first day after maternity leave, and I really mean it every day. I also still feel the same way about David. When I am walking home from the subway, I keep thinking how excited I am to see both of them.

Today, the boys and I go on our daily visit three floors up to check on the progress of the new apartment. It’s wonderful that we have a place to stay during this process, and we are incredibly fortunate to be able to move to a bigger space, but at the same time I have this homesickness for a home we are not in yet. Much to our delight, it’s starting to look like an actual apartment and not a cube of cement chaos. We then decide to step out for dinner to get away from packed boxes and toy cars scattered on the floor.

Dirty Pierre’s is a restaurant and bar in the neighborhood that David and I have been going to for years (I even threw him a surprise fortieth birthday party there). Pre-Santi, it was more bar than restaurant to us, but now that we go at a more family friendly hour, it’s the reverse. Everyone that works there has known Santi since he was in my belly and it’s a comfortable place to get dinner and listen to some music; they have a great jukebox. In our old apartment, we constantly had records on, and although we can play anything on our iPhones, choosing tunes on a jukebox feels closer to home. We head back in time to get the little guy ready for bed around 8:00 pm. I sing him “Sweet Child of Mine” every night, and lately he has started to sing along, which makes my heart burst into a million pieces.

Once his bedtime rituals are over and he’s asleep, I still have half of my night left. I make Santi’s lunch and snack for the following day, which is an activity I weirdly take a lot of joy in. We lucked out with an adventurous eater and it’s fun to make him new things to try. Tonight, I make him teriyaki salmon and orzo with tomatoes and a pepper he very specifically picked out at a farm stand over the weekend.

After that, David and I often sit together and talk about our day. Since we both work in the arts, we can’t escape work talk! One of our favorite activities is zoning out and watching Netflix until we fall sleep, but these days, the Olympics have us captivated (and so do all of the teary commercials). We watch the TV and scream at it while I also edit some photos on my laptop. Last year I became a Getty contributor and I’m currently working on some images from our trip to Colombia earlier this summer.

I am usually ready to pass out by 11:00 pm. When Santi was a newborn, one of our neighbors said to me, “The days are long and the years are short.” Those words could not have been truer. The past two years have flown by and I can’t believe how big he is. Since he was an infant, every month I would say “This stage is the best! He’s doing…” But I really do feel this age is magical. I love hearing what he has to say and seeing his personality come out. David and I lie in bed and comment to each other about the funny things he is saying. In my last awake moments, I make a mental list of what needs to get done the next day.

Lately, the very last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is “I can’t wait to be in our new home.”

*I promise I was not compensated for saying that.

**Fun fact: David and I met and fell in love while we were both working at the museum! We lived and worked together for four years. Queens is for lovers.


Nora, I loved your day, and I loved your enthusiasm even more. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

And, really, there’s not much that’s better than when someone tells you, “I am so happy to see you!” Is there a phrase you share with your special people on the regular? Tell us, will you please?

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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Random Thoughts Wed, 17 Aug 2016 23:31:03 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Welcome to August’s installment of my random thoughts. Also, Hello from Paris! Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

- Today we left Normandy. It was a teary goodbye. I think it might be my favorite place ever. We are spending a few days in Paris before we catch our flight home on Saturday morning. Except for me, Betty & June, no one else in our family has been to Paris this summer, so everyone is excited to get a little time here. We’ll do some school shopping, see a museum or two, and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. I asked each kid to decide what their top priorities are for our few days here, and we’re working hard to see how many we can accommodate.

My pick is to visit Les Puces, the famed Paris Flea Market — which I’ve never done! But if I understand correctly it’s only held on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we leave early Saturday, which means we’ll miss it. Bummer! Have you ever been?

- School starts on Monday. Which seems almost unfathomable to me because this summer has gone so fast. But happily, we have lots of new school experiences to look forward to. Maude is starting her senior year, Olive is starting high school, Oscar is starting middle school. And Betty and June will return to our elementary school as 5th and 1st graders. (And you can bet we’ve picked up a bunch of adorable French school supplies to put in their back packs.)

- As for Ralph, he’s also got a big new experience happening. Ralph is heading to Bogota, Colombia on a mission! He leaves in about 3 weeks. As you can imagine, he’s super excited. He can’t wait to learn Spanish and he’s already falling in love with Colombia — mostly because he’s reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Such an amazing book! Have you read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez?)

When we get back to The States, we’ll be in serious mission prep mode, including a wisdom teeth appointment and tackling the packing list. Ralph will be giving a talk at church — it’s a missionary tradition — on Sunday the 11th, a couple of days before he heads out. (To our friends in the Bay Area, you are all invited! I’ll share details on Facebook.)

- Next week we have two birthdays. Olive on the 25th and Ralph on the 26th. We’re guessing that re-entry, and the new school year, may leave us feeling overwhelmed next week, so we’ll be keeping the celebrations simple, and pushing back friend gatherings by a week or two. Have you ever hosted a delayed birthday party?

- Remember the Treehouse master bedroom and bathroom renovation that has been happening while we’re in France? Well, it’s not all the way done yet, but we’re down to the finishing surfaces. So that’s awesome! As awesome as it is, I realize it still means we’re coming home to a not-wholly-useable house. Not ideal, but what can you do? These things happen.

I’m super excited to see the new spaces in person, and I’m over-the-moon-grateful that most of the work — and all the really dusty stuff — is already done. Woo hoo! Of course, I’ll be sharing lots of updates once I’m there and can take some photos.

- Related, we’ll be coming home to a little more added chaos, because it turns out our washing machine developed a leak while we’ve been gone, warping the wood floors it sits on. Dang! The washing machine and dryer came with the house, and they were already old when we moved in, so we knew they would need to be replaced eventually. And it looks like eventually has turned into now. : ) Has anyone reading researched washer and dryer sets recently? Is Consumer Reports the way to go? I’m thinking back, and I can’t remember the last time we had to buy a set. I welcome any and all advice about shopping for a new pair. Do you love your washer and dryer?

- Over the last couple of weeks, I was surprised to realize that I was slowing down and posting less on social media. I was thinking about why that might be and I’m not quite sure. But I think it’s something about this particular summer. It’s been really wonderful. Incredible and magical in so many ways, with a delicious concentrated dose of family time. There were dinner parties and old friends and gorgeous views and so many adventures, and yet I’m feeling hesitant about sharing it. It’s like I find myself almost hoarding the summer, or protecting it and wanting to keep it all for myself. Does that even make sense?

Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few weeks and write all about it. Or maybe I’ll end up just keeping some of these memories in my head. We’ll see. Have any of you ever felt like that?

- We’ve got a few big weeks ahead of us and I can feel myself mentally preparing. As I’ve mentioned, I really enjoy a full schedule, but I can always tell I’ve overdone it when I find myself looking at a future date on the calendar and thinking about how I just need to make it to that future date and then I can relax, instead of enjoying what’s actually happening. This morning, I realized I’m doing that now — looking ahead to sometime in September. So I’m trying to figure out what I can cut out or simplify or say no to. (I say that while being fully aware I’m not very good at saying no to things.)

- Even though I know the weeks ahead are going to be challenging, I can still say with ease and enthusiasm: I can’t wait to get home! Coming home is just the best. It feels so good. My own bed. My own dishes. My own desk. I’m really looking forward to getting on a good fall schedule. I really do enjoy back-to-school season. It’s such a great time for making a fresh start.

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

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

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Living With Kids: Jen CK Jacobs Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:00:40 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love it when favorite guests from my Living With Kids tours come back for a revisit. Even better? When their stories take on a happily-ever-after element and we can all cheer them on while we peek in on their new home and their new life that’s changed for the beautiful in so many different ways. Even better than that? When they’re excited to share it all with the rest of us. It’s nice when that happens.

This is one of those stories. I’m so happy to welcome back Jen and the newest additions to her life. You’re going to enjoy this one. Promise.

I’m Jen CK Jacobs (perhaps better known by my old name, Jen Altman). I’m a mother to six beautiful children — my own three daughters, Adie (12), Aela (10) and Ari (9) — and my three step-children, Charlotte (11), Barrett (8) and Genevieve (5). My husband and I are truly outnumbered! We are a house divided by fire and water — three fire signs, three water signs — all female; and our boys make up the air that fuels us…

I started blogging about eight years ago. Both Nectar & Light (a predominately Polaroid blog) and Nectar (a lifestyle and cooking blog) earned a fair readership in their day…but life turned upside down and maintaining a blog became a bit cumbersome. My ex-husband and I separated in the summer of 2014, and my father died unexpectedly shortly there after.

Still reeling from an impending divorce — I truly — for the first time in my life, allowed myself to fall apart when my dad died. He was the greatest man I knew. His shared love story with my mother is what everyone wishes upon the stars at night to experience; his quiet strength, unconditional love and the core of his character helped shape the woman I’m still in process of becoming. The loss was so great that the gaping wound in my chest will likely never heal. It becomes a little easier to live with as the days pass, but a photograph, a scent, a song can send a gust of cold air through that space and it feels as if we lost him yesterday.

My focus became my mother and my family. My ex-husband and I made the life-altering decision to continue to work on our relationship outside of our marriage and we now have more love, patience, more gratitude and understanding for each other than we ever did when we were married. Healing was complex as it was intertwined with multiple layers of grieving and watching my mother try to function without the other half of her soul.

And then I met a man who changed everything.

A mutual friend introduced us and within weeks our children were meeting, within months we were looking at houses together. Koli and I kept taking careful steps back questioning the authenticity of what was happening to us and wanting to ensure that our strong feelings for not only each other — but our children — were not filling voids or in attempt to replace losses.

But they were not.

We found in each other something that we never thought possible…the ability to communicate so openly and safely, the absolute absence of ego, and unconditional love for each other and our children.

So we blended. We purchased a house together and that beautiful friend who introduced us, officiated our intimate wedding on the one year anniversary of my father’s passing.

We were renting a home in a lovely area of Asheville (that was featured on the last tour) and simply could not afford to stay. Asheville is growing quickly and the housing market has begun to reflect this growth. We needed something that could accommodate all of us, was a bit outside the city and had a lot of area for the kids to run around.

We purchased this home last summer and it will be a work in progress for some time. For the first time in my life, I’m sort of enjoying that.

My husband has been in construction for many years and has his own business, Odyssey Construction. We make a great team. He has an incredible eye so we really conceptualize together and he can execute. When we purchased our home, it had not been updated since the 80s.

Our first project was to rip out all the flooring. He laid a driftwood plank down that still makes my heart skip, I seriously love it. We removed wallpaper and did a lot of painting and changing of fixtures and hardware. We were not in a situation where we could just throw a ton of money into a full renovation before we moved in. But I appreciate the time in the space to decide what’s important.

We have plans to knock out both walls in our small dining room, one to open to the stairs and the other will open up to the kitchen. We want to build a proper entry on the front of the house and of course, like most renovators, finishing the kitchen is at the top of our list! We painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the floors and all the appliances, but we still have tiling and countertops to go!

Absolutely there are challenges to merging. I think that one thing that has helped our situation is the age of our children. They met when they were 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and 3.

Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much. Every day is a lesson to be better and Koli and I speak often and openly about how we continue to evolve with our children. We continue to be awed about how quickly the kids took to each other — how their dynamic seems effortless and as if they’ve been together their whole lives. They fight and love like siblings.

When we lived in the other house, at first we had my youngest and my husband’s youngest sharing a room. We realized that was a mistake. Ari is a creature of habit and when we asked her to share a room with a four-year-old who likes to sing herself to sleep — problems ensued.

We moved shortly there after and asked our oldest, Adie, who is now 12, if she would like to share the room with Genevieve. She wasn’t sure she wanted to start her pre-teen years that way. But we pointed out that the nights Genevieve spent with her mother, Adie would have her own room. That changed everything. And it’s such a great situation; Adie has always been a camp director — she’s a mini-adult in so many ways and she helps a great deal with her younger siblings. Bear has his own room, which is a blessing; sometimes he needs space from all the girls. Our other three girls share a room and it truly feels like a slumber party down there every night.

The challenge in parenting (and blessing in disguise, really) is that they all possess incredibly strong personalities. I was raised by a Navy Commander and served seven years in the USN myself. Needless to say, we run a tight ship! Everyone has chores, everyone is expected to help and support one another — whether that means helping the youngest pour her cereal milk — or gently checking each other’s behavior so it doesn’t elevate to our attention.

We really discourage tattling and encourage sibling affection. We remind them that they are a team and everything they do affects every one of them.

I have so many lovely, personal odds and ends in my office — it feels like a sacred space. And the light in there is amazing. But I truly love our time together in our dining room. It’s not a large space, especially for a family our size. But our dining room table was built by hand by my husband and our dishes were handcrafted by one of our closest friends, Melissa Weiss. That feels incredibly sacred.

It took me some time to adjust to doubling the children in the house. Not the chaos of it — it’s strange how seamlessly that seemed to slip into our lives; but time management. My girls and I spent a lot of time on our own because of the work out of state that their father does, and I used the casualness of our unusual situation as an excuse not to make a sit down meal every night.

But when merging two families with this many children, excuses don’t fly. We absolutely still have nights that we are unable to eat together — whether it be my husband working late or the kids’ sports schedules — but we make every effort to take advantage of the times we can come together at the table. Like so many aspects of my life, time management is a work in progress. What works right now, may not work in a few months. And I’ve learned to be flexible and accommodating to that; it’s been one of the most difficult lessons of my life.

And carving out time for myself is so important. If I don’t get my lap swim in several times a week, I sort of start losing my mind. I’ve always said the water helps balance my triple-fire sign! But creating a work schedule is the hardest challenge I face in terms of time management.

A few years ago, I launched what ended up to be a very successful online jewelry store called CISTHENE. At the time, there was really nothing else like it in terms of the artisans and apothecary brands that I brought together. The store had a wonderful following and was featured on Refinery29, Vogue online, and Lucky Magazine, among others. But that aforementioned “life turned upside down thing” happened and something had to give.

I was inspired by my parent’s love story to re-conceptualize the store into Roberts + Gene. We’ve started very small and will grow slowly, but it’s a passion project of mine. Ramble + Wolf soon became the sort of lifestyle companion to Roberts + Gene. After so many years of not blogging, actually creating a schedule for writing and cooking again has been incredibly therapeutic. I also have a few clients that I work with in a Creative Direction capacity and I’m writing a book about road trips that my publisher has allowed me to put on the back burner more than once. The manuscript is due in December so I’m tolling away at that as well.

But I set limits now. I subscribe to a quitting time. Family is my priority.

I wish someone had told me that the lack of ego changes everything. I don’t mean the sense of self. I mean ego as in the inability to see through the eyes of others, the inability to have patience with others during times of duress and the inability to show gratitude. I have grown more as a woman, mother, wife and daughter in the last two years than I had in the previous ten. I think my Papa would be proud.


I think about that all the time, Jen. Would my dad be proud of my life? I sure hope so. Thank you for adding such wisdom and sheer honesty to our day. It was so good to have you back.

Here’s what I loved: “Raising children is hard. Raising step-children is harder. We make mistakes, we over-react, we panic, we push too hard, we probably say no too much.” For those of you with step-children, I’d sure love to hear about your parenting survival guide!

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

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A Few Things Fri, 12 Aug 2016 09:15:24 +0000 Design Mom

round hay bale normandy

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ben Blair.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Did you have a good week? Did you see any meteors last night? We went out at 11:00 PM for about an hour, and then again at about 1:30 AM. The viewing was much better during the second shift. But all of it was super cool! At least two of our kids are planning to sleep outside tonight to see more of the show.

How about you? Any fun plans for the weekend? Has school already started where you are? Or are you still soaking up the last weeks of summer? We’re still in summer mode — one week left in France!

I’m off to take advantage of every last minute of being here, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- The problem with female protagonists.

- Super interesting article about one design style spreading across the world.  Thanks, Laura.

- 19th century French postcards that predicted the future.

- “[W]hite children with appendicitis were almost three times as likely as black children to receive opioids in the emergency room.” Racism is alive and well. (NYT)

- Related: It’s hard to get therapy unless you’re white.

- I’m participating in Blogust this month — every comment, like, or share helps provide a vaccine!

- I had no idea Frank Lloyd Wright designed pre-fabricated houses.

- Wow. A few years ago, our representatives worked with people across the aisle far more than they do today. My brother watched this and said, “It looks like osmosis.”

- It’s so easy to overlook this stuff. But gosh is it annoying.

- That awful/weird sound you hear when someone cracks a window in the car? It’s not just you!

- Women get it done. Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school.

- This internship program only hires women over 40.

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


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Perseid — The Most Magical Meteor Shower Ever Thu, 11 Aug 2016 15:13:36 +0000 Design Mom

A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky over Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain

By Gabrielle. Image via Reuters by Kieran Doherty.

Have you heard about the Perseid Meteor Shower? Tonight, as many as 200 meteors per hour could be visible from Earth!! It should be on display for the new few nights, but tonight after midnight is likely to be the best viewing.

“It scares you to the bone when you see it coming across,” Jackie Faherty, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History, told the New York Times. “If you get just one, it will be embedded in your vision for all time. I don’t think you forget things like this.”

At our house, Olive (our studier of deep space and black holes) has taken the lead on following news about the meteor shower. She’s over-the-moon that we happen to be staying in the countryside during the shower, where light pollution isn’t a problem. In fact, since we have such a good viewing spot, we’ve invited friends for a (late-night) star party this evening. Probably more of a gathering than a full on party, but should be fun whatever it ends up being. (What shall we serve for treats? Starbursts? Mars Bars? Hah!)

What about you? Will you be watching tonight or this weekend? Will your kids stay up for it? What are the night skies like where you live? As a child, my favorite spot to view the stars was at Lake Powell, sleeping on top of my neighbor Kjersten’s houseboat. No artificial light anywhere. The stars were always insanely bright! But in Oakland, to study the night skies, we head to Chabot Space and Science Center to use their giant telescopes. Can you see the stars in your neighborhood?

P.S. — This article mentions NASA has a livestream, if you’re in a place that’s not good for stargazing.

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State Abbreviations Thu, 11 Aug 2016 13:20:28 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Scratch-off Watercolor Map by Kristin Douglas.

Oh my gosh, you guys. This stand-up set by Gary Gulman on Conan came my way today and it has me laughing so hard. Have you seen it? So smart and funny! Worth a few minutes, for sure. Especially if your Thursday is kind of dragging (mine totally is).

I haven’t seen clips of a Gary Gulman performance in ages, but back in our New York days, we once bought tickets to see him live at Caroline’s. He’s fantastic. I think we must have been going through a live comedy phase at the time because we also went to live performances by Demetri Martin, and Dane Cook. Bummer for me, I haven’t been to a comedy show since then, but Ben Blair and Ralph saw Brian Reagan when we lived in Colorado.

How about you? Have you ever gone to a live stand-up comedy show? Did you like it? If you could get tickets for any comedian’s show, who would be at the top of your list? I would love to see Amy Schumer and Jim Gaffigan. Last question: As far as comedy goes, would you prefer to see a stand-up show or an improv show?

P.S. — By the way, there’s one swear in the video.

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Night Games Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:27:37 +0000 Design Mom

Night Games Blairs France

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It stays very light here in France until about 10:30 at night. And it just so happens that the yard of this rental house has a lot of great play space — a big lawn in front, and a big lawn in back. Which means that on many of these gorgeous summer evenings, you’ll find us playing Night Games. Sometimes the neighbors join us. Sometimes we invite friends over. Sometimes it’s just the 8 of us. Last night, we were a group of 16, speaking a mix of English, French, and Dutch!

Did you ever play Night Games as a kid? There was Kick-the-Can with Deanna Christian and all of our siblings — I liked hiding in the tree if I could. I remember playing Boston on Wednesday nights after cub scouts finished up at the church — though the boys didn’t always let me join in. And of course, Capture the Flag is a staple for all ages.

Some of the games seem to exist everywhere we live. What was called Boston in my childhood town, was called Pomp for Ben Blair, and has been introduced to our kids as British Bulldog. And it’s called Épervier in France. But other games seem particular to kids of the 80′s — especially Kick-the-Can. It always has to be explained. : )

June introduced us to Dragon Tag, and sometimes we add that to the evening games. Maude introduced us to the Hand Game (sort of a clapping pattern game), which you can do sitting down and makes for a good rest if people are worn out from British Bulldog. As a kid, Night Games were an after-dark summer activity. But here, we end up playing them in the light.

Just writing the words Night Games is bringing on the nostalgia! Any one else? Were your summer evenings similar as a kid? If yes, what were the names of the games that you played? And have your kids had a chance to learn? Is there a city version? Blocking off the street and playing games there?

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Living With Kids: Tara Harvey Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:00:10 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Family photos by Tiffany Kokal and house photos by Lisa Kellenberger.

We first met Tara two years ago when she talked about balancing her travel company, Knowmad Adventures, with her new baby, and mostly the idea that travel — and babies — can make us better people. Back then, little Trey helped Tara and her husband with their work-life balance: “We had a real problem letting Knowmad seep into every aspect of our lives. I actually had to make a rule once — no business in bed — so we wouldn’t talk about it until the wee hours of the night. I really wanted to be present for Trey when I was with him, every moment of every day.”

Trey is still a fabulous influence on the family’s company and daily life, I’m pleased to report! Come see. Welcome back, Tara.

Our family started one snowy night in 2004 when Jordan kissed me after my parents’ annual Christmas party. Jordan and I, now coming up on seven years of marriage, actually knew each other from growing up. Orono, Minnesota is a small, lakeside town — one of the last stops from Minneapolis before you’re in farmland. Everyone knows everyone there and Jordan and I actually went to the same preschool, then flirted with each other through high school, and then went separate ways for college.

He was drawn to the mountains in Colorado and I went East for the big cities. It wasn’t until my last year of university that we reconnected at home and began our adventure together as a family.

Fast forward and the Harvey family has added some members: two-and-half-year old Trey, rescue-dog Luna, and our kitty Izzy who we lost last year and miss dearly — she’ll always be a part of our clan. I write about when Trey first became a part of our family, my pregnancy and babyhood, in the post Growing A Family: Trading Adventures.

This toddler stage is such a delight. That’s not to say that we don’t deal with all the challenges this stage brings like any other parent though, but watching his little personality emerge is amazing. Trey’s a warm, kind-hearted, and very verbose little guy!

Some days the chaos is uncontainable and one of our favorite things to do when nothing seems to be coming together is to huddle together for a group hug and shout, “Wolfpack!” while howling “Ow, ow, ooooow!” It always makes us laugh and slow down for a second. Sometimes we just do it for no reason at all!

After crisscrossing the globe for about ten years — traveling extensively through four continents and teaching English in Thailand, ski-bumming in Vail, and starting our adventure travel company,  Knowmad Adventures, in Chile — we hunkered down back in what some call fly-over country, our home state of Minnesota.

It was a hard decision, actually. We’d been so focused on being elsewhere for so long that what seems like a natural decision for most — both our families are here, friends, and the quality of life is great — was agonizing for us. We were also really drawn to ski towns, but knew we had to be in a decent size city to get our company launched. In the end, we came to the realization that we needed a lot of help to realize our dream and Minnesota was where the grandmas were!

After renting for a while we bought our 1908 home in South Minneapolis. Minnesota’s winters are cold and long, true, but us locals don’t mind that outsiders have the impression that it’s a frozen tundra here. We consider this northern land the United States best kept secret. Personally I love the four seasons; it helps keep me grounded.

We’ve got four lakes within a 30-minute walk of our house and of course they’re amazing in the summer for swimming, paddle-boarding and splashing in, but they’re most magical in the winter. Frozen over, we cross country ski across them and it’s truly special to be in the middle of the city and experience such vastness.

We love the walkability, bikability, farmer’s markets, cafes, independently-owned shops, diversity, and the energy of our community. Of course, our travel legs are always itching and we can’t help but talk about the next big move, but Minneapolis will always be our base and we feel lucky to call it home.

I love old things and adamantly refused to even look at a house newer than 1940. At our price point, though, we walked away from a lot of showings cringing at the ruined woodwork, popcorn ceilings, and general decay. That was until we saw what we coined The Beautiful House. The woman selling it had grown up there and a total of only three families had lived there ever. It was well loved and well cared for, but still way over our price point. We wrote the owner a letter, telling her our story. She really wanted to see her home house another growing family and we got it!

When we come home after traveling I love to see our house nestled under the two huge elms in our back yard. It helps me realize how comforting cozy and familiar can be.

I keep trying to get my role in Knowmad to decrease now that I’m a mama but it doesn’t seem to quite work that way! As our family has grown a lot in the past couple of years, so has our company. Our US-based team has grown from just Jordan and I to a total of seven Knowmaders. We’re moving into a new office this fall and I’m really looking forward to that project. My role has changed a lot from being focused mainly on marketing, to setting up systems to handle the details of about 200 trips that go annually, to creating a work culture that keeps everyone happy, healthy, and friends.

I’m never bored and generally relish in the challenge, although some weeks I feel like the juggle is too much for my capabilities. Those weeks I try to take a step back and focus purely on my essentials: enough restful sleep, healthy, whole foods, being outside, and the bigger picture. Trey always puts a smile on my face and I’m lucky to always have my husband on my team both at work and at home.

Travel isn’t just my job, or even my career — it’s my calling. As Elle Luna says when “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must, choose Must.” My must is to explore. I feel beyond blessed to have discovered this earlier than later and to have been born in a first world country where traveling to faraway destinations was an opportunity I could pursue.

When traveling I love the sense of freedom and wonderment I have at the most ordinary daily tasks. I love how willing we are to share our innermost struggles or joys with perfect strangers and how, every time, I come to the same conclusion — no matter our background, beliefs, or culture we’re all essentially the same. Beautifully human.

At home, I try to find that same essence of travel in my everyday and appreciate the differences in people. Treat a bike around the lake or even a run to the farmer’s market like a mini-adventure instead of routine. I think that widened perspective attained through travel helps me see the world through my toddler’s eyes and connect with him even on days that I’m too tired to find it amazing that there are ants in our kitchen!

At work, I love the energy of our travelers departing and returning with their stories. There’s also always one of our team that’s off on an adventure and we really back each other up with the office duties to ensure that each other can really revel in those experiences. I’m doing a lot less traveling than I used to now that our company and family have expanded and it’s definitely something I struggle with. When Trey was first born, I had been accustomed to so much freedom that catering to the every need of a helpless being was a big adjustment. I’ve grown so much in the process though — growth I could have never realized traveling.

Our routine always seems to be changing as nap schedules and nanny schedules (thus work schedules) evolve. Right now I’m working three full days (Monday through Wednesday) and Trey is home with a nanny. I’m the early riser in our household and wake up at around 6:30 to start my day off with a half hour to myself with just my own thoughts. I usually walk the pup Luna with a tea or stretch or sometimes just stare into space. Jordan and I try to fit our showers in and get something together to bring to the office for lunch before Trey wakes up at 7:30 — my favorite time of day.

We make it a point to start his day in a really happy and calm place and before rushing downstairs for breakfast or even changing his diaper, we all sit around and read books and drink lattes. Trey even gets his own latte (just foamed milk).

I ride my bike (or walk in the winter) to the office at 8:30 and then back home at 5:00. When you work in travel and aren’t actually traveling, it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It’s a lot of computer time, but our office is light-filled and our team is close. We all eat lunch together every day and get out for a team paddle-board or cross country ski at least monthly.

On my days off I fall into Trey’s routine and take things a little slower. We spend almost an hour eating breakfast and chatting nonsense and planning our morning excursion. Always season dependent in Minnesota, in the summer we love to bike to the beach and get an ice cream cone. In the winter, we frequent the library and museums where there are indoor play areas. We often drive west to my parent’s where there’s a barn with horses, kittens and, most enthralling for a little boy, a tractor!

Naptime is from around 2:00 to 4:00 and I make it a rule to do something for myself the second Trey falls asleep. Sometimes it’s just a shower, but even that can give you the moments you deserve (I made the mistake of working through every naptime for too long!)

After naps we’re generally in a pretty good mood and I can half focus on getting a healthy meal together for dinner. Papa gets home at around six and we trade off who cooks while the other plays, eats, and then we trade off again with who does bedtime while the other cleans up.

In Minnesota summers are insane. All social events are scheduled in a three-month period when the weather’s nice. It’s all fun, but also overwhelming. Our solution is frequent escapes into nature; weekend getaways on the lake up North at the cabin, a couple week trip to the mountains in Colorado, or the longer jaunt down to South America to really escape the routine.

I always knew I wanted a house that felt lived-in. I grew up with a mom that saw no point in putting a half done project away just because we were having company and I appreciate that even more now.

I wanted our house to tell a story: the story of us. Every mirror, dish, and painting has been collected over time and reminds me of that trip we took or that rummage sale we found. Inspired by the bold, beautiful colors from our journeys abroad, I painted the living room a deep teal and the kitchen’s filled with green ceramics and plants.

In an old house without much storage, I try to be practical with my décor choices. The open shelves in the kitchen contain things that we actually use and woven tapestries from abroad double as blankets, pillow shams, table runners (and sometimes scarves).

Mixing family with business and business with pleasure proves to be a genuinely intrepid concoction, but also a bit hectic. So I wanted the rooms of rest to be, well, restful. Our bedroom is a serene gray and the king size bed (hastily bought during the sleepless nights of Trey’s infancy) takes up most the room. I wanted the bathroom to remind me of the sea.

Overall, I’d define my style as worldly and eclectic. And, yes! It’s always, always changing the more I travel, but I’m also so inspired by design trends here in Minneapolis and the fresh, beautiful online content that’s so easily shared now.

I get all stressed out about the same things that every other mom does. I think having traveled so much helps me personally laugh something off as a first world issue a little sooner than otherwise but everyone has their own experiences that help them take life a little more lightly. For us, travel has a way of pressing reset in our lives and every time we come home from a trip we try to live more simply: buy less, make do with more, schedule less, be present more. It’s a wonderful influence on our family’s life and I’d say I’m in awe most days of this journey we’ve found ourselves on.

I hope Trey remembers a feeling of love, warmth, and safety. A sense of adventure. Happiness. I will have done my job and done it well if this is what he remembers of toddlerdom!

I wish someone had told me of how isolating and lonely motherhood, entrepreneurship, and I guess life can be at times. Maybe you have a few close friends but they’re spread out all over the world. Or maybe you have a lot and you just don’t feel that connected to them. Or maybe your friends are great, but what you really need is a sister.

I’ve often felt that I was doing something so different from everyone else that it was hard for me to find that closeness I was searching for. But remember — everyone is doing something different and everyone has love to give to a friend. Just do your own giving and it will, trust me, come back around.


That is the sweetest, Tara: “Everyone has love to give to a friend.” Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

As for your point about brushing off “first world issues,” I can tell you I have a friend who has lived in many third-world countries. It’s funny to hear her family respond to situations with “At least we didn’t get Malaria” and “Oh! You can drink the water from the tap here? How lovely!” Too funny. Tell me: What is it that helps you take life a little more lightly? We’d all love to hear your coping mechanisms!

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

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Being Really Good at One Thing Mon, 08 Aug 2016 13:59:32 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photo of 41-year-old Olympic gymnast, Oksana Chusovitina.

I’m thinking of the Olympics today. Have you been watching? It’s fun and funny to watch it from France because it’s a whole different perspective — obviously the coverage is focused on the French athletes, and I’m getting to see events that I didn’t even know were part of the Olympics (hello, handball!).

Watching the games has reminded me of a topic that’s crossed my mind over the last year. I’ve been thinking about the benefits and disadvantages of being really focused and really good at one thing, versus being okay/fine/good at lots of things. I know there are some people who figure out a specific passion at a very early age. And of course there are parents who pick an activity for their young child, and the child ends up being amazing at it.

I guess I wonder how often it’s the first case (the child choosing), and how often it’s the second case (the parent choosing). I’m thinking of kids who grow up as almost full-time athletes or musicians or actors, with parents who started them on that road as babies or toddlers. Do the kids only love it because it’s all they’ve ever known? Would those kids have found the same passion on their own later in life (like as teens)? And would it be too late to really become amazing at it?

It seems like one of those tricky things, where windows of opportunity close to our kids before we even know the windows exist. If your 15-year-olds are watching the Olympics and wishing they were on the gymnastics team, even if they are willing to work like crazy, they’ve pretty much missed the window to participate in gymnastics at an Olympic level. (I realize there are exceptions, have you been following the 41-year-old?)

So as parents, if we want to give our kids a better chance at being world-class at something, do we try and guess what they might excel at, and then focus on that thing from the time they can walk and talk?

At our house, we’ve definitely done the try-it-all thinking. For example, music lessons. Our kids have taken, and continue to take, a whole bunch of lessons throughout their lives. So far, we’ve done cello, violin, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, voice and ukulele. Four have been in the school band. Three have been in the school choir. They all love to play, and some even love to compose. Family jam sessions are not unusual. But I don’t think any of them think of themselves mainly as a musician. Should we have chosen one instrument for each of them at an early age and required them to focus on that one option until they were proficient? Should we be pushing them toward a career in music? (I’m not feeling regret or guilt here, just curious.)

I don’t have an answer to the question I’m asking. It’s just something I think about. And I hope I’m seeing the tradeoffs clearly. If my child focused on one activity 25+ hours per week, and they were really good at it, that seems like it would be a really positive experience. But, they may be missing out on other opportunities, or even feeling like they didn’t get a childhood. On the other hand, if my child tries a whole bunch of activities, and never really focuses, they may miss the chance to be really extraordinary at something, and they may end up feeling like they’re only mediocre at pretty much everything.

What’s your take? Do you ever think about this? Do you come to different conclusions? I’d love to hear! And do any of you have kids that consistently spend 25+ hours per week on a certain activity/sport? Or maybe you did as a kids? What is that like?

P.S. — I know some of my friends have lost interest in watching the Olympics — they feel like the games end up being too much of a burden on the host city and its citizens. I see their point, and definitely wonder about the requirements for new stadiums and venues that I fear won’t get much use after the games. Have your opinions on the Olympics changed?

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A Few Things Fri, 05 Aug 2016 12:09:32 +0000 Design Mom

sunset swimming sanary sur mer

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

We drove home from the French Riviera on Tuesday, arriving that evening, and it’s been delightful to be back. We love every place we’ve ever visited in France (and I’ll write up notes about our trip south next week), but Normandy continues to be our favorite. We just feel at home here. Our time in France is rushing by, and we’ve started making a list of everything we still need/want to do before we go — including our back-to-school dates. Since we’ll arrive back in the U.S. right before school starts, we’ll need to do much of our back-to-school prep here. Should be fun!

How about you? What’s on your mind now that August is upon us?

I’m still working on unpacking and laundry from our trip, and I better get back to it, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Who’s getting excited about the Olympics? Love this hopeful read about Refugee Olympians.

- Being Black at School. “I witnessed first hand how the system helped white students thrive while continuing to marginalize Black students.”

- As we’ve suspected all along, women’s clothing sizes are random numbers.

- On the guilt that comes when your child is sick. Beautiful essay.

- Transforming plastic waste into cinderblocks for building.

- It’s not just more diverse books we need, it’s more books like The Snowy Day.

- Things People With Down’s Syndrome Are Tired Of Hearing.

- Thanks grief, for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Amazing words from Patton Oswalt, who lost his wife 102 days ago.

- What are the odds we’re living in a computer simulation? (I love futurist topics!)

- The human toll of terror attacks. (NYT)

Farming robot! For your own backyard.

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


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Growing A Family: Fostering Hope Thu, 04 Aug 2016 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Dreamy roller coaster print via The Gingham Owl.

This Growing A Family story reads like a roller coaster ride. There are many highs that made my stomach leap and a few lows I could feel in the back of my throat, and I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath throughout. I’m hoping beyond all hopes for an easy, happy finish, with arms raised and a triumphant “We did it.”

Welcome, Holly.

My husband Andrew and I adopted our three children in August 2014, but the journey to becoming their mom actually started in 2005 when I was just 20 years old in an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador. One of the nannies in an orphanage I was visiting asked me if I could watch her room full of kids for a few minutes and as soon as she left, all the kids seemingly at once started trying to crawl on my lap, begging for my attention at the same time. I burst into tears and decided in that moment that I would some day adopt kids that needed a family.

I know it’s usually assumed that when people adopt it’s because they have struggled (sometimes for many years) with infertility. But that wasn’t the case for us. It isn’t long after we meet people that they start asking questions about why we adopted three kids (maybe because my husband and I are younger…first becoming foster-adopt parents when I was only 26).

In 2012, my husband and I decided we were ready to grow our family beyond the two of us, and so we started trying both the traditional way and also looking into adoption at the same time. We believed that God would graciously give us the children we were supposed to have, so we didn’t put limits on anything.

About six months later, we were still pursuing both ways of growing a family, and I had a few foster kids as students one year (I am also a special Ed teacher). Through getting to know them and their stories, I asked my husband if foster adoption was something we should look into (rather than traditional domestic or international adoption). Long story short, he said yes, I Googled “foster to adopt,” I called the first agency that popped up in our area, and six months later we were certified and became parents to two sweet boys. We tend to be the type of people that don’t overthink anything, but just go with whatever falls in our path, believing each step to be a gift — even the hard parts.

As you probably suspect, foster adoption is such a roller coaster. You pour your heart into each and every child that gets placed in your home, you do the work of becoming attached to that child, because that’s really what every child deserves — loving and fully attached parents — and then one day, you have to say goodbye and it rips your heart out. This is what happened with our first two boys, and a third baby we also fostered for a short time.

The one reason people always seem to give us for not wanting to foster — we’ve never asked anyone to give a reason but people always feel compelled to! — is that they would get too attached. But what I want to tell them, is that is exactly what every foster child needs: parents who will get attached!

Back to our story. The night that our third foster baby left us was a crazy one! The social worker had told us they were taking him for a visit with his birth mom and then they never brought him back. I called around 6:00 pm and the social worker forgot to tell us that they decided to put him in another foster home closer to where his birth mom lived.

My husband and I were devastated. We still had all the clothes we had bought him, his bottles, and we didn’t get to say goodbye. After finding this out, my husband said God was going to have to make it very clear if He wanted us to take another foster baby. A few hours later, we got a call from our foster agency who asked us to take a two-week old baby girl. We found out her name was Shekinah, which means “Glory of God,” and so of course we said yes! How could we deny the glory of God a warm bed in our house that night? :)

Shekinah was dropped off at our house at 2:00 am that night, and the moment I held her, I felt the deepest connection to her. I prayed one of my bravest prayers ever, that God would allow her to be mine forever.

At this point, we still had the two boys that first made us parents along with Shekinah, but we knew their time with us would be coming to an end soon as they were on the path to being reunified with their birth mom.

Five months later, we found out the boys would be leaving us and in the same week, we found out Shekinah’s two full biological siblings, Zaniah and Isaiah, who had been in a “permanent” foster home were being removed from that home and needed a new home…so could we take them? It just so happened that they were the exact ages of the boys we had, so we already had the right beds, rooms set up, everything. And most importantly, it meant Shekinah would get to grow up with her biological siblings. She hadn’t even met them at this point.

See what I mean about how foster adoption is a roller coaster? A roller coaster with so many hard and perfect gifts along the way. And little did we know at that time just how long the ride would be or where it would take us.

A few months later, we had all three kids together for the first time ever and about a year later, we finalized their adoptions in court. It was truly the happiest day of our lives!


In July 2015, we got an unexpected call from our foster agency that a baby boy needed a foster home. We felt it was the right time for our family to begin fostering again, so I went to pick him up from the hospital where he was born and had been waiting in the NICU for a family. The nurses wheeled me out carrying a nine pound perfect bundle of joy and upon arriving home, this sweet baby boy was immediately embraced by our entire family and extended family.  From day one, our older three adopted children have bonded with him, fallen in love with him, and considered him their brother. In May 2016, we were named his perspective adoptive parents and were set to sign his adoption papers in July 2016.

In the beginning of October 2015, we received another unexpected call that the birth parents of our three adopted children had had another baby girl who was four weeks old at the time we found out. Although we realized raising two babies who are just two months apart in addition to our three other children would be a challenge — this would make parents to five kids under six! — we also felt in our hearts that we should bring her into our growing and loving family.

Part of the deciding factor was remembering how much our oldest two children (Zaniah and Isaiah) had been through before being placed with us, each of them living in four different homes before coming to us as their forever home. We could not imagine this new baby girl having to go through similar trials as they had to endure before they came to us. We wanted her to have a stable and loving home as soon as possible, and for her to grow up with her biological siblings, and so we said yes and she was placed with us a couple of weeks later.

At the beginning of this summer, life was proceeding as normal and we were expecting to finalize the adoptions of both babies by the fall, when our baby girl shockingly fractured her leg. However, we did not see it when the fracture occurred, only noticing her symptoms which prompted us to take her to the hospital. The doctor who examined her assumed the worst of us, being her foster parents, and stated in his report that it was a highly suspicious injury. That same day, CPS came in while we were still in the hospital with our baby girl, and decided that both babies should be removed from our care immediately since they are both dependents of the state.

We are now in the fight of our lives to regain custody of both babies. Thanks to a kind judge’s order and an extremely gracious foster family, we are able to visit the babies every day for several hours. We have hired an experienced attorney and been granted a trial where we can have a second opinion doctor testify on our behalf, which we are currently awaiting in the near coming weeks.

For now, the ending of our our family’s story still remains to be determined. We have been told that most foster parents don’t fight so hard for children that are not legally their own because when you are facing the county, the easier option is just to walk away. While every day is a choice to risk all we have to bring them home, they are worth it!

I have learned so much about my strength as a mother and the strength of our family and extended family. We have all grown in faith and character and endurance in countless ways. We have such hope and confidence that God will bring our babies home to us and give us a beautiful ending to the story of how we have grown our family.


Holly, I am wishing your family peace and happiness. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Also, Holly’s family is accepting donations via Go Fund Me, if you’re so inclined.

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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Do Your Kids Pretend Play Like Toy Story? Wed, 03 Aug 2016 16:48:17 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Image is a still from the movie.

I’ve got a question for you. On our drive to the South of France, the topic of Toy Story came up and I asked my kids, “Do you ever remember playing with your toys the way Andy in Toy Story does?”

It occurred to me that though they have all done lots of pretend play over the years, I’ve never seen them do anything even close to how Andy played with his toys — setting up a scenario and sort of acting it out. And as a kid myself, I don’t remember playing that way either.

That made me me wonder. Do other kids play like Andy does? Or was it just good imagination on the part of the screenwriters? I don’t mind at all if it was just made up for the benefit of the script, but I’m curious to know if it’s common and I just haven’t seen it in person.

I know that different kids use different play-styles, and I know there are certain toys that my kids never really got into, even though they were around — like racetracks and matchbox cars. I also have a distinct memory from my niece Edie’s second birthday. She received a doll and a little doll feeding set with a bib, and bottle and binkie. She was over the moon! She immediately started parenting the heck out of that doll — cradling it, feeding it, diapering it. It was the cutest thing! Ben Blair and I laughed that none of our 4 daughters, or 2 sons, ever played pretend parenting. And there were (and still are) lots of dolls around. As far as dolls go, mostly my kids like to dress them up and design outfits for them. Hah!

How about you? How did you play as a child? If you have kids (or grandkids), do they play the same or differently than you did? Any Toy Story types out there? Anyone reading that has never seen Toy Story and have no idea what I’m talking about? I’d love to hear!

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Living With Kids: Brianna Van Dyke Tue, 02 Aug 2016 16:00:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. House photos by Katie Jenkins, and barn shot by Libby Newell.

Brianna has a barn and a to-die-over pantry and land and extra rooms and lots of old stuff and a magazine she writes from said barn, but what’s most interesting to me about her is how she is using all her space.

Hospitality. Welcoming guests into her life and almost forcing herself to do so, sometimes, because it involves so much more than simply inviting people over, right? No, hospitality is not easy. But, oh! The reward. I read once (probably on Pinterest!) that the word hospitality comes from two Greek words; one means love and the second means strangers. So sweet when it’s put like that.

Brianna, I’m happy to offer you some hospitality here today! Welcome to Design Mom. I can’t wait to share you with my readers.

Hello! I’m Brianna Van Dyke, and I live with my husband Jonathan in Fort Collins, Colorado, with our two kids Finnley (ten) and IlaJane (seven) and our three dogs. I’m a writer and editor and an introvert. I love words and seeking beauty and good conversation, and I’m passionate and driven and I have a perfectionist streak that sometimes gets the best of me. My kids and my husband teach me so much about extending grace to myself and to the people I love.

We live in Fort Collins, which is about an hour north of Denver. It’s known for all its breweries and is often called the Napa Valley of beer. There are also lots of great outdoor spaces to enjoy. One of our favorite family activities is rafting on the Cache La Poudre river and barbecuing along the river.

I grew up in Colorado, and I love all the sunshine and natural beauty, but I can definitely take it more for granted because I’m used to it. My husband is from Chicago, and for him, Colorado is the stuff dreams are made of — he LOVES to be on the river and running on the trails in the foothills.

Fort Collins also has great schools. Our kids go to a dual language school and learn throughout the year in both Spanish and English. It’s been really inspiring to see them learning another language; their accents are impressive! And the school is intentionally trying to help break down the barriers between the English-learning students and the Spanish-learning students and help the kids learn how to talk and play and learn from one another rather than just staying in their own comfortable language groups. I also find that really inspiring.

We moved into our current house about three years ago. We’d been living in the Old Town part of Fort Collins, and we had a patio instead of a back yard. With our two kids and our dogs, we decided we wanted to find out what it would mean for us to have some more room and some land for gardening and chickens and bees, a place for the kids to roam and catch grasshoppers and dig holes to China. So, we moved to our new house, which is on 3 1/2 acres. It’s an old farmhouse built in 1909 with two outbuildings, one of which we call the barn. We remodeled and turned it into my work/studio space. It was quite an adjustment.

Our old house was pretty dialed in. We’d remodeled the kitchen and done work on the landscaping, and there really weren’t really any other projects to do. Our house now has projects everywhere you look. So, it took some adjusting — kind of just embracing the cracks and letting go of the to-do list. We’ve tackled a few projects over the past few years, but we’ve also had to learn to live with imperfection, a slower pace, and acceptance about not being able to fix everything all at once. For example, there are weeds everywhere, our front porch is rotting and needs replacing, and we still have aluminum blinds up. Eek!

I love old stuff. Actually, I have to be careful and limit my estate sale trips or our house would start to overflow. Luckily, my old stuff fits with the style of our house, and my husband and kids don’t mind it.

It’s also really important to me for our house to feel like our family’s little sacred space. We have a prayer/meditation table where we will sometimes light candles in the evening as a way of remembering our friends or family who are struggling or as a way of showing gratitude for something or someone. If the kids find a special rock at the river, they can bring it home and put it on the prayer table. It’s a way of honoring the sacred in the mundane, the holy in the everyday. Our kids are older now, and they love to help light the candles and blow them out. I think they recognize the beauty in this small ritual, too.

I work as a writer and editor of the magazine I started called Ruminate. Ruminate is a nonprofit arts and literary magazine to help people slow down, encounter honest storytelling, and awaken their hearts. I really am doing my dream job, and it’s such an honor and privilege. But it has been a long, hard journey.

I started the magazine ten years ago, and I’ve always worked from home. When the kids were little, this meant working around their kids naps and at night, and that was so hard. I remember just feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted. I had read something a Benedictine nun, Macrina Wiederkehr, said about how ongoing “multi-tasking is a kind of violence against the soul.” That really resonated with me. It took me having a physical and emotional crash to finally start to intentionally seek out more of a work/life balance.

One day, I found I couldn’t get out of bed anymore. I didn’t have a choice — it was like a protest — my mind and body refused to go on unless I made significant changes. It has been a long journey of healing, and one I’ll always be on. But slowly, I’ve been relearning what it means to care for myself, to speak about my wounds, to ask for help, to nourish my body and mind with good food and deep sleep, to say no when I need to say no, to go for walks, to be okay with imperfection…and to slow down and notice beauty. And for me, I think we can seek beauty in our day-to-day lives: in our homes, in our words, and in our relationships. I now feel really grateful for my job and how fulfilling it is, but I also know that my happiness and my identity aren’t tied up in my work. This has been a huge shift!

One of my favorite parts about having more space – we now have a guest room, and we have the barn, and some land — is that I’ve been learning more about practicing hospitality. We have a dear friend from California who now comes to live with us twice a year for a month at a time. Depending on the weather and her needs, she’s lived in the barn and she’s lived in our house with us. We have enough space to do this, and I’ve loved having another woman in the house and a friend to share meals with and another person to love on our kids.

I think multi-generational homes are great. As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.

Another thing we’ve been able to do is open the barn up to other arts groups to use. And, our neighbors run a working farm, and they’ve been growing veggies and keeping their turkeys on our land. I know we can practice hospitality whether we’re in a small space or a large space, but for my introverted soul, it’s nice to have enough room to still be able to have my own space and room to share.

A few years ago, when my son was in first grade, his Spanish-speaking friend Omar was just learning English, and my son knew little Spanish. I remember asking him what they talked about, how they would decide which games to play during recess, or who was it.

“Well, he knows some English words,” my son told me.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like hello,” he said. And then he paused, smiled, and said, “But mostly when he laughs it’s in English, and I know just what he means . . . And Omar laughs a lot, Mom.”

For my son, laughter was a word that transcended barriers. I’ve held on to this story from my son, and I have really have seen the healing power of laughter…of not taking myself, especially, so seriously.

More recently, my daughter and I walked a prayer labyrinth together. I was thinking about our divided country and asking for my eyes and heart to be open to the pain and injustice. I led the way into the center of the labyrinth. I felt like I could have sat there in the center for hours. But we met eyes, and I could tell she was ready to walk. She could tell I was feeling sad and overwhelmed. She said, just do one step at a time, mom. And then she stood up and led the way out. That seemed so right.

My kids teach me so much if I’m willing and able to be present with them and learn.

My deepest hope for my children is for them to be brave and compassionate toward themselves, toward others, and toward our world.

One of the most important things I’m working on as a parent is learning to be a lot kinder to myself. Instead of beating myself up for not being a better mom — especially in those early years — I wish I could have known that my sweet self was doing the very best she could.

Now, when I can catch myself doing this, I try and repeat this mantra: My sweet self is doing the best she can.

I suggest trying it! It helps me extend grace to myself. I’ve learned that when I’m hard on myself or critical of myself, the shame and criticism usually spills out onto the people I love, and I end up being critical of them, too! So, if I want to be kind to my children or my husband, or even strangers, I have to first start with being gracious and kind to myself.


Thank you, Brianna! What you said about laughter being able to transcend language barriers rang really true for me while I’m in France; I may struggle to conjugate a verb or come up with the correct noun, but sharing a smile or a giggle is super easy.

Also intriguing to me: “As mothers, I don’t think we’re meant to be so alone.” There’s a lot of truth and comfort in that one little sentence, isn’t there?

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

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