Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:13:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Get Moving! Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:20:39 +0000 Design Mom

Jawbone UP24

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Let’s talk movement today. Ben Blair goes to the gym five days a week, but I’ve never been very good at incorporating official exercise — like running, or a class at the gym, or yoga — into my daily routine. That said, I think of myself as a someone who uses my body a lot, not because I’m exercising, but because my calendar is generally packed and my commitments keep me on the move. There are certainly weeks where that is true — during Alt Summit I rarely get to sit for more than a few minutes, and anytime I’m in the middle of a room remodel, I’m like a busy bee, constantly on the move. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that on many days, I do a lot of sitting.

Part of that is the nature of my job. Writing means sitting. Editing photographs means sitting. Attending to my inbox means sitting. Researching means sitting. Coordinating with photographers while looking at a calendar means sitting. Taking a phone call while writing notes means sitting. What can I say? If you have a computer based job the same might be true for you as well. But I also know that if I’m in true brainstorming mode and really thinking up ideas, I have to pace or circle the room. I seem to think better when I’m moving.

So, I’ve decided to officially jump on the fitness bracelet bandwagon! I just started this morning (only 250 steps so far!), and I think I might be the last person in America to join in. Hah! I’m partnering with Jawbone for this fitness attempt and using the UP24.

Jawbone Up 24 App

Right now, I have two goals I’m hoping the band will help me with. One is to get a better sense of how much I’m actually moving each day, and improve where needed. I’m really hoping that by being aware of how much I’m not moving on some days, that I’ll be encouraged to get up out of my chair and do some creative thinking on my feet.

And the second goal is to track my sleep and get a picture of what’s happening at night. I know it’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep is good for you, but I want to find out if I can really see the cause and effect. Am I more active after better sleep? Is the amount of sleep the key factor? Or is the time I go to bed? Related to the sleep goal, I’m also really curious about the Smart Alarm. It’s supposed to wake you up at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle so that you feel the most refreshed. I very much want to try it.

The band, paired with the app, actually does a ton of stuff. You can track food and drink, sync up notes with friends or family members, and set simple daily goals, like: Today I will drink 8 glasses of water. Feel free to check out all the features here. I’m going to use the Jawbone Up24 for a month, track everything on the app, and then I’ll report back in October what it’s been like. I’m very excited about this! I have a feeling it will really jump start my daily movement.

Now your turn. First, are you into working out? If yes, do you like tracking your physical activity? For those of you who are like me, and don’t love formal exercise, do you feel like a fitness band would jump start your daily movement? If you’re already a movement tracking expert, what are your favorite things about using a tool like this? And for those of you haven’t tried a fitness band yet, feel free to join me!


This post was brought to you by Jawbone UP24.

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Book Update Wed, 17 Sep 2014 17:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

Design Mom Book Cover Photoshoot

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Ready for another update on my Design Mom book? I haven’t updated you guys since March, but there’s tons of fun stuff going on. Two things in particular I want to report, for those of you who are following along behind the scenes.

First, we shot the photo for the cover! You can see a sneak peek above. This happened in July, and since then, the book designer has sent over several different book cover designs. I’m going to check with my editor, and if she doesn’t mind, I’ll share the options with you guys and see what you think.

Second, in the book process right now, I’m responding to comments from copyeditors. This is how the process has worked for my book. Last March, as I mentioned, I handed in the first manuscript. My editor went through it, sent me notes, and the book went through some major revisions. Sections were removed, the focus of the book was refined, topics were reordered, more actionable advise was added in where needed.

That took a long time. And I had to break down the tasks chapter by chapter so that I could make it more manageable.

Then, the revised chapters were sent back to my editor, one by one. A team of copyeditors took the revised chapters and have been going through them with a fine tooth comb. They’re looking for simple things like typos and grammatical errors, plus more complex things like places that need clarification or simplification. When the copyeditors finish a chapter, they send it back to me with their notes and changes. I’ve received 3 chapters back so far.

Then, I go through the comments and changes and I respond to each one as needed.

What a process! And still lots more to do!!

For those of you who have written a book or worked in publishing, this sort of info is very likely old news. But to me, the process is brand new. Bloggers don’t generally work with editors. I’ll proofread my posts, or have Ben Blair proof one if I want some extra eyes on it. And my siblings are good about sending me a heads up when they see a typo I missed (even with proof-reading, I miss something in every post). But this process is very different, and I LOVE how it works. It’s amazing to see the improvement from the first manuscript to where the book is now.

Another exciting tidbit is that my book editor, Lia Ronnen, was just named Publisher at Artisan Books last month. Such a big deal!

Anyway, I thought some of you might be curious about how the book process works. I find stuff like this fascinating! Have you ever been through an editing process like this? If yes, what did you think of it? I find it incredibly challenging — and that’s an understatement for sure. : )

P.S. — You didn’t know I was writing a book? It’s been a looonng process. You can read the original announcement here. And you can read about why it’s taking me so long in this post.

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Living With Kids: Agnes Hsu Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Agnes would be a lovely friend to have, I think. She owns a cupcake shop, is a family photographer, and also runs a kids’ creative site. Life with her must be sweet, DIY divine, and photogenic. (As an extra bonus, she lives in my neck of the woods, so I call dibs!)

But with all those professional endeavors, something’s gotta give, right? If you’re struggling with your own overwhelming schedules, you might like to hear how Agnes deals with it all. From the division of duties, scheduled personal times that refuel the family’s energy levels, and effective out-sourcing, it’s good stuff. Friends, please meet Agnes! Hello, Wonderful!

Q: We can’t wait to meet you all!

A: Hi! I’m Agnes Hsu, mom to two feisty kids who keep me on my toes: Alia, five and a half, and Kian, who is three and a half. I’m married to my college sweetheart, Tim. We’ve been married for 12 years and together for 18, which seems like a lifetime but it’s all flown by so quickly!

I’m the entrepreneurial/creative spirit in the household. I run on energy and am a non-stop person. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t enjoy small talk, but can talk for hours one-on-one with someone because I love getting to know people from the inside. I’m inspired by those who take chances and have gone through trials in their lives. I am an avid reader, particularly biographies and memoirs. I’m typical type A, compulsive and frenetic. But thankfully, my husband Tim balances that out.

He’s an extrovert, super friendly, and people generally love him upon first meeting. He’s solid, laid-back, and is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. Our interests couldn’t be more different, too. He’s very much into technology and works in marketing at Twitter, and just prior to that he was at a gaming company. He’s extremely witty, funny, and a hoarder, whereas I’m serious and a neat freak who is scared of clutter. It’s a miracle we are married!

Our kids are the center of our amusement and love. Interestingly, they are also polar opposites like my husband and I. My little girl is like a mini-me. She loves arts and crafts, creative projects, and is also super neat (actually loves to clean her room!) and enjoys baking/cooking in the kitchen as much as I do. She’s also on the shy side and it takes her a while to warm up to people, but once she does she can’t keep quiet around them.

My little boy is the complete opposite. He’s a wild monster! He wreaks havoc around the home, and leaves a trail of trains and cars wherever he goes. He’s also super friendly and will say hi to most people he meets, even on the street. Although he and his sister couldn’t be more different, they are attached at the hip. Kian won’t sleep in his own bunk, and instead climbs down every night to sleep right next her. Don’t get me wrong, we have to break up fights several times a day as they argue like most siblings, but they have a strong connection, which makes me so happy to see.

Oh, and we also have our beloved first baby, a Yorkie name Wicket we’ve had for nine years. He’s spunky even as he’s getting older, but also loves to cuddle and would sleep all day if he could.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We’ve lived in our Craftsman type home in Oakland, built in 1918, for eight years now. Unfortunately, we bought in the summer of 2006 at the height of the market, but since then it’s come back up and we feel lucky we live in a desirable yet still affordable part of the Bay Area. Given the high cost of living in the Bay, especially San Francisco, Oakland is a wonderful option, especially for families.

It used to be an apartment (triplex) back in the early 1900s, so the bedrooms have rooms within rooms which makes it nice to organize spaces around. Our dining room/kitchen has French doors that open right into the backyard. I remember our realtor saying that was an ideal flow for entertaining, and she was right. We have enjoyed hosting so many fun parties and dinners here in our home.

When we moved in, it was pretty much move-in ready. We did some minor cosmetic things like paint and add new carpet, but that was it. A year ago, we repainted the living room and kitchen and refaced the cabinets to white from maple, which gave the space a brighter feel.

Honestly, this wasn’t the home I think I would have chosen today. Since we bought at the height of the market, there was so much competition and we ended up settling a bit. And although we wanted a house to raise kids, we didn’t have kids at the time so we didn’t know what would truly be important. For example, our backyard is a deck that’s not leveled in some places and not very kid-friendly. As any parent knows, having a flat, grassed, and open area for kids to roam is key when you have children!

Over the years, though, we’ve grown to love our home. It’s the only one our kids have known, and so there are priceless memories here.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I absolutely love the Bay area! I know I am biased, but I really do think it’s the best place to live and raise kids. My husband and I are both from Southern Cal, but we met up here in Berkeley and have both lived here ever since.

The Bay area has so much to offer for families. You can be in popular destinations like the mountains (Tahoe), valley (Napa’s wine country), or oceans (Stinson Beach) all within an hour or two drive. We are fortunate to be at the center of the organic and farm fresh food movement; there is an abundance of farmer’s markets and a variety of CSA/farms offer delivery to your home, and almost every restaurant it seems here prides themselves on sustainable, fresh, and seasonal foods. We visit farms every year to go fruit and berry picking. There are museums like the SF MOMA, popular Bay Area attractions like Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, and Ghirardelli. In nearby San Francisco, you can hop over to Marin/Sausalito via ferry or take an excursion to Angel Island to go biking or hiking. There are also great kid-friendly exploratory museums like Bay Area Discovery.

In Oakland where we live, it’s thriving with culture and diversity, which is what I love most about it. There is a sense of pride from the people who live in Oakland. For kids, here in Oakland and around the East Bay, there are museums like MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art) with drop-in art classes, local beaches, Jack London Square which holds its popular Eat Real festival, Chinatown right in downtown Oakland, and amazing parks like Roberts or Joaquin Miller which offer hiking trails with beautiful redwood trees surrounding you.

Q: Oh, your aesthetic! It’s so calming with jolts of excitement! And there are so many touches that scream KIDS LIVE HERE. How do you balance it all and merge the sophisticated with the sweet?

A: Thank you! It is a work in progress. Interior design is not my strength, but I love to look at how other people decorate their spaces. Since I do lots of creative projects with my kids, you’ll find remnants of them scattered around the house. It can tend to look like a mishmash of things, but I (and the kids) can’t bear to part with anything we make so we find space for them. I think it keeps things looking lively and colorful.

My aesthetic if I lived alone would probably be minimalistic and clutter-free, so I love to inject my kids’ personality in our home. My daughter is really into art, painting, and drawing so I have several areas where I showcase her art – in frames that open so you can easily switch them out, as canvases, or displayed on a clothespin line. Every year, I take a picture of the kids’ favorite art and make a book so they can always look back year by year.

I like to place photos everywhere I can. One of my favorite ways is to get them printed as wall decals so they are easy and affordable to switch out. I also have a few framed galleries of our favorites and like the art books, make a yearly book of our family photos each year. The kids love going over the photo books. They get a big kick of seeing themselves as babies to where they are now.

My big priority for the home is to have the kids be able to display what they want, but I have learned to balance that with my desire to also have a home that is neat and displays “grown-up” things. So I use baskets and an “everything in its place” kind of philosophy. And have certain rules. Like the kids know they can’t play with my antique cameras or my husband’s vintage record player as “toys” but of course can touch as long as they are not being rough with them. I really believe you can have kid stuff among adult things, but the key is communicating (perhaps several times!) and giving kids boundaries. They eventually really do get it, and I believe it gives them an appreciation for things.

Q: What is your favorite space in your home? What makes it special to you?

A: Definitely, my favorite place is the kitchen. I like to cook so that’s a natural answer, but I’ve also run a commercial kitchen at the bake shop for almost ten years. So when you do that, the kitchen kind of becomes your domain and there is a feeling of ownership. My husband is a gamer – he can’t live without his computer – hence the office is probably his favorite room. The kids’ favorite is definitely their shared playroom/bedroom. They can spend hours there playing.

Q: You’re busy! Tell us about all that you do professionally.

A: My first business was (and still is) a cupcake and cookie shop, the first in the Bay area opened in 2005 before the whole craze hit. I actually grew it to five locations but sold four recently. I’m also a family photographer and run a kids’ creative site called hello, Wonderful which is where I spend most of my time currently.

My career path seems so disjointed, but I look back now and believe everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to this exact moment. The bake shop helped hone my photography skills; it was astounding how much food photography cost, so I taught myself how to shoot. Then when I became a mom, it was a natural playing ground to get even better, which eventually led to a career in family photography. After I became a mom, I realized how important it was to have flexibility in your schedule. The bake shop was my first love and passion, but it was grueling and labor intensive. So after I decided to scale back, I launched hello, Wonderful because I was constantly looking for creative things to do with my young children.

Life is busy but fulfilling and even as I am approaching turning 40 next year, I continue to be amazed that I am still learning and growing each year!

Q: Do you have help in balancing it all? Please share your scheduling tips!

A: My biggest help is my husband. Although we both work maddening hours, we are really good about splitting the work it takes to raise two kids. They are our first priority. The only way we’ve been able to do this successfully is to each be responsible for a main part of the day. He does the mornings and I do the nights. What this means is that he gets the kids up early, dresses, packs lunches, and does the drop-offs at school. I do the evening: pick up, bath, dinner, and bedtime. This allows me to work late into the night after the kids go to sleep, and not have to get up at the crack of dawn. And by me doing the evenings, he can skip rush hour traffic (staying at work later or using that time to work out) and then come home around 8:30pm. We both connect with our day then and eat dinner together.

Yes, that means we don’t eat as a family with the kids on weekdays, but I am always at the dinner table with them. On weekends, we eat all our family meals together. With two parents who work 10-12 hour days, that is the only way we’ve been able to work things out where each of us also have our “down-time.” I believe every parent should have that.

I’m also a big believer in out-sourcing if you can find it. Living in the Bay area, there’s no shortage of apps or services that can help you out. For example, there’s Instacart which is a grocery delivery service that delivers within two hour time frames. We use Amazon for almost everything and love their Prime free shipping. They just opened Amazon Prime Pantry for bigger household items like paper towels, and we also use that. There are meal delivery and planning services like Cook Smarts, Blue Apron, Munchery, or Plated. All of these services surprisingly don’t cost that much if you factor in your time spent driving and gas compared to the time you gain. There are also errand running services like Task Rabbit that can help you out in a pinch. (Note: I am not affiliated with any of these services, but I am an early adopter of new technology and services that maximize your time and make things more efficient for you. I do the cost benefit analysis and if it’s worth it, will try it out. I’m always on the hunt for new apps that make things easier for parents! If you do the research, there are a surprising amount of them that are popping up.)

Each day, I give myself three things to accomplish, and that makes it easy to break down the work. And they are often prioritized based on deadlines. My to-do list is always going to be long. So as long as I give myself a minimum of three things a day I must accomplish, then it makes things more manageable.

What doesn’t work for me is saying yes to too many things. For example, I limit the number of photography jobs I do so they don’t interfere with quality time with our kids. I’ve learned to let go over controlling every aspect of my business. I have a great staff for the bake shop and amazing manager, so I’m lucky to be hands-off there. I’ve learned over the years to delegate, and it hasn’t been easy, but I realize I can’t do it all.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this home and this time in their lives? How intentional are you at making memories on a daily basis?

A: I want my kids to remember a lively, fun, adventurous, and creative childhood. I want them to know that everyday moments can be made special. I want them to celebrate not only big things, but little things as well. And instill the belief that you can have fun at work and play.

I try to do that through my site, hello, Wonderful. It’s become a cornerstone of so many things I love. Cooking, photography, and most importantly being a mom. It has inspired me to be even more creative with the kids which also means bonding, learning, and experiencing things through their eyes. One series I started there is Cooking With Kids. My daughter loves to brainstorm what recipes we should make. As a result, she’s also opened up her tastebuds; there was a time when she wouldn’t touch anything green or eat meat! Since starting the site, both my children and I have done so many fun projects and the time spent together has been priceless. They are proud of the things they’ve made and I make it a point to showcase them around the home.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is how distinct each of their personalities are, despite the fact they have the same parents! I truly believe each child is ingrained with a certain personality even at birth. Sure, you can influence them through experiences and teaching them certain values, but the core of who they are doesn’t change. I feel truly blessed that I have two kids who are both their own little people, and I enjoy seeing how they develop and showcase their uniqueness. I love the fact that they are so different from one another.

I admit I am not a big fan of the newborn stage; it often felt like you were just a caretaker. The stage I enjoy most is the ages they are now – five and three – where they are seeing and learning so many things for the first time. Everything is HUGE for them, down to noticing an insect they’ve never seen or trying a new food. They are also talking non-stop so the questions are hilarious. Every night our bedtime ritual is “Ask mommy any three questions” and the range of silly to serious questions only one would expect from young ones would fill a comedic novel.

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

A: For me personally, I wish someone had told me to trust the journey you are on. My career path has often seemed all over the place and, at each stage, I questioned the risks and challenges I was taking. But every time, it’s proven itself to be a lesson or window to a new path or opportunity. I’m constantly learning. I’ve realized I will never be professionally just “one thing” because life and career is an evolution of your passions and interests. Although it sounds trite, I do believe that if you follow your passion, you will be right where you were meant to be.

Related to parenting, I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to let go and make mistakes because there will be plenty of them. With my first child, I was so focused on the right schedules, the right foods, etc. I became more lax with the second, and every day I realize more and more it’s okay to let chaos take over sometimes. It’s okay not have the answers.

Having kids has taught me that certain things are out of my control, and that there is beauty in madness. I mentally have to stop myself to take in moments and find magic in them…even when there are crumbs all over the place, poo in the crib, or crayon drawings on the wall.


Agnes, thank you so much for your advice. I know you’ve inspired me on a day when my schedule and list of goals seem so scattered that I don’t know where to begin! Today, my mantra is “There is beauty in madness.”

Friends, do you make an effort to split your parenting duties and carve out worthwhile time for yourselves during the hectic week? I’m curious how you try to do it all. Do you have one trick that works like magic?

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

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Oakland Public High School Update Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

Maude Track

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Last year around this time I talked about the fact that we were enrolling our kids in an Oakland Public High School, rated a 2 out of 10 on the Great Schools website. Since we’ve entered our second year in the same school — now upgraded to a 3 out of 10 — I thought you might enjoy a little update. I don’t want this post to be a repeat of last year’s, so I’m going to focus on the individual experiences of Ralph and Maude at the school.

- I think one fear parents may have is that it might be hard for their child to shine in a big, urban school. But Ralph felt he experienced the opposite. Ralph loved the opportunities the high school gave him. In the fall, he tried out for the school play and won the part of the Italian Father in “Golden Boy”. Since he was a new student, and only a sophomore, he thought they probably wouldn’t consider him.

- He also found opportunities in music. Ralph plays trombone and he joined the Marching Band and Jazz Band. He’d always been pretty casual about his trombone playing, but found he had to really practice in order to keep up with his bandmates. Joining the band really pushed him in a good way, and gave him experiences he couldn’t have had any other way — the band performed in competitions around the state, parades around town, even a renowned jazz club in downtown Oakland. At the end of the year, he laughed when he received the award for Most Improved Band Member. : )

- I think another fear of parents when looking at low-rated schools is wondering if their child will be challenged. Will the courses be rigorous enough, or will they be built around the lowest common denominator? Ralph seemed to experience some of both. There were serious classes like AP World History that challenged him. But there were also classes that felt like a review of earlier work. Certainly, some of this depended on the teacher.

- One thing that helped Ralph integrate right away was that he was super involved. Have you ever watched the extra curricular activities scene of Rushmore? He was like that — joining every club, participating in every possible activity. He’s in the yearbook at least a dozen times. Of course, some of that is just Ralph’s personality, and not every student would want to be super involved. But it was good for us to see how many options and opportunities there were at the high school.

- Because he was so involved, even though he had only been at the school for one year, he got to know a ton of his fellow students. In fact, at the end of the year, his peers recommended him for student leadership.

- Ralph really loves the high school and his friends there. Even though he’s in England and France until December, he attended the first few days of school here in August. His birthday was that first week of school, and his friends threw a sweet party for him. He misses his friends, but knows he’ll be back in January.

- One of his closest friends graduated early so she could work on a film, and I think he’s also attracted by that idea. One of our fears has been that we’ve ruined Ralph’s high school experience since he missed his freshman year. So his friend’s choice was a comforting reminder to him, and to us as parents, that lots of kids are no longer having a “classic American high school” experience, and that’s okay.

- Now Maude’s turn. Last year was Maude’s freshman year and she was SO HAPPY. Maude really, really thrived at the high school. She joined the Cross Country team right off the bat. This was her first opportunity to try distance running, and she had no idea how much she was going to like it. She was super dedicated and practiced 6 days a week. In fact, she would run laps around the hotel if we were traveling, and she couldn’t make a practice.

- As Cross Country ended, she transitioned to the Track Team. Again, she loved it. Again she was super dedicated and took her workouts seriously. She loved traveling with the team. Because of Cross-Country and Track, she is also stronger than I’ve ever been! Watching her do pull-ups is a delight.

- While I’m talking about sports, one thing I appreciate about the school, is that although there are lots of teams and sports, the school doesn’t have a focus on athletics like my own high school did. There are many ways to shine beyond sports.

- Maude worked hard and earned good grades. I think she especially appreciated her classes were in her native language. : )

- In classes she had a similar experience to Ralph. Some of the classes were challenging and rigorous. But she felt like others were being constantly disrupted and were frustrating.

- I think another fear parents might have for their children in a big urban school is wondering if they’ll find good friends. And Maude definitely did. She found that many of the dedicated students in her classes were also on the cross country team, so she was able to find friends that had the same types of priorities she had. She said there were lots of ambitious kids, trying their best, and she felt like you could find them in any class, especially the difficult classes, and in places like orchestra and band.

- She said there are plenty of students aiming for top universities, and mentioned there’s a joke that Stanford is their “safety” school.

- We continue to be impressed with the opportunities the school offers. This year, Maude is taking journalism and wants to launch a school paper. Her teacher seems to trust her and the fellow students and allows them lots of independence and decision making power.

- At the end of last year, Maude was also recommended by her peers for Student Leadership, and she’s part of the leadership now. She’s currently working on student events and loves it.

- Though our kids thrived (and continue to thrive), the school is definitely not perfect. I mentioned disruption above, and that’s a real problem. And then there are little workarounds we’re having to figure out. For example, both Ralph and Maude took Advanced French last year. The next class would be AP French, but not enough students signed up for it, so the school didn’t offer it. Which means we’re going to have to figure out another way for them to take the class — probably an online option.

- Another thing that surprised them (and us). There were fake bomb threats throughout the year. Like maybe 5 or 6. The kids would all have to walk down to the football field until the threat was confirmed fake. Which it always was. Apparently students would call in a bomb threat if they wanted a test to be cancelled. Crazy! That said, our kids didn’t feel unsafe. Unlike many high schools in the U.S., there isn’t a police presence, and there aren’t metal detectors either.

- I mentioned in the P.S. of last year’s post that there is a performing arts school in Oakland that students can try out for. We put the tryout deadlines on our calendar and I asked both Ralph and Maude if they had any interest, but they were both so settled at the current high school, that they didn’t even hesitate, they had no interest in trying out. They were thriving in their current situation.

Our conclusion:

As you may remember if you read last year’s post, we went in knowing the kids might love the school or might hate it, and that we were willing to try other options if the kids weren’t thriving. Of course, that’s still true, and would be true wherever we lived, and even if our kids went to the “best rated” schools. If the kids aren’t thriving, we’ll look at other options.

But I would definitely say this, if you live in a place where you feel like your kids can’t attend the public schools because of low ratings, don’t automatically dismiss the idea of your assigned school. Before you reject a school based on its rating, go to the school and see what it is like. Talk to families that attend. Talk to someone on the PTA and see if there is a core of involved parents. Remember that the parents of the kids who attend low-rated schools love their kids as much as you love your kids.

Now tell me friends, would you ever send your kids to a high school rated a 2 or 3? Does this whole topic of school ratings stress you out? Do you feel like we’re doing our kids a big disservice by putting them in a low-rated school? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — Oscar & Betty are continuing at our local elementary school. Nothing new to report yet! And June is in a French + English preschool.

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A Few Things Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:00:02 +0000 Design Mom

view from the couch

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How was your week? I hope it was a good one. As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, September 11th is my father’s birthday. He died many years ago (I was pregnant with Ralph at the time. I was 22.). Yesterday, someone left a sweet little message about him for me, and it was like the floodgates opened — I could not stop crying!

It probably doesn’t seem that strange to cry on my father’s birthday, but it sort of is. Last year on his birthday, I reminisced with my family about fun dad memories, but I don’t think I cried. Sometimes the out of nowhere missing-him-grief catches me off guard. All these years later and the tears come less often, but are still so unpredictable. I’m sure many of you who have lost someone you love can relate.

Anyway, today I find myself a little post-weepy, if that makes any sense.

We have a laid-back weekend ahead. Some fun church activities, but that’s about it. It feels good, like we have time to hang out. What about you? Anything you’re looking forward to this weekend? I’d love to hear!

And before I sign off for the week, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- One method for preventing kids in the classroom from falling through the cracks.

- Piano staircase — 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator. (Oh Sweden, you’re so cool.)

- Hah! Sir Ian McKellen on acting.

- Ben Blair read this story to me yesterday and I couldn’t stop crying. (Lots of crying yesterday!)

- Best red lipsticks.

- Way beyond my post about online school, this article is about taking your kids out of school altogether.

A dollar store project to spark your (or your child’s) imagination.

- Dear Girls, life is too short for crappy friends.

- What giving birth looks like around the world. Thanks, Heather.

- Remember sticker books? What do you think about this?

- I didn’t realize there was so much turnover in teacher staffing. This is a really interesting article on why teachers quit — and why those who choose to stay do. Thanks, Laura.

- I really like combining textures and came up with these plaster-dipped carafes. Cool or weird?

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


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Olive Juice Kids Giveaway Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:00:55 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Today’s gorgeous giveaway is sponsored by Olive Juice Kids. They’re offering a generous $150 gift certificate. Yippee!

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

I’m still working on my kids’ school clothes for this year — no doubt some of you are as well. And the planners among us are already looking ahead to the holidays. Either way,  Olive Juice has us covered.

They’ve been a fantastic sponsor of Design Mom for the past few years and I simply love their clothes! Their designs are consistently beautiful, high quality, and with style that will last.

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

If you’re looking for something with a European feel, something that feels unusual, Olive Juice will have the perfect thing. Take a look at their fall catalogue — it’s full of inspiration for putting together outfits! Best of all, their clothes truly are made to be worn by kids — the cuts and materials are comfortable and realistic.

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

As I mentioned right now, I’m shopping for fall clothes — the Tilda Shirtdress, Pop Pop’s Sweater, and the Bailey Top are all on my shopping list.

Visit Olive Juice Kids and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to know what pieces catch your eye. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Emily C is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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City Versus Suburb Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:20:38 +0000 Design Mom

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

By Gabrielle. Images from the New York Wooden Postcard DIY.

It’s September 11th, so of course, the great New York City is on my mind. And I thought it might be a good day to have a city-related conversation. Last month, I shared a home tour featuring a city apartment in Chicago, and in response, received several requests to start a discussion about how and why people choose to live in a city, versus a suburb, versus a rural area. I love that idea! Especially because this is a topic that comes up frequently among my friends and siblings.

Our year and a half in Colorado, when we lived in a suburb of Denver called Centennial, was our most true suburban experience. The house we rented had a two car garage. The streets in our community were wide and easy to navigate. Everything we could possibly need or want — schools, pediatrician and dentist, movie theaters, the mall, Target, restaurants (both sit down and take out), hardware stores, rec centers — was only a few minutes away by car. We never had to think about parking. Ever. Or pay for it. It was always easy to park. There was a ton of green space, yard space and park space. The kids in our neighborhood could play outside freely and safely. Ben Blair and I would often comment how life was designed to be easy there, and we truly enjoyed living there.

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

That said, our entire time in Colorado, we were constantly house hunting in downtown Denver! And in its closest neighborhoods as well. Turns out I like the action of a city. I like access to the restaurants, the museums, the instant variety of people, places and things. I was drawn to housing converted from old warehouses and factory buildings. I liked the walking district in Denver and the downtown festivals and events. I liked that public transportation is plentiful.

And I found I had some sort of emotional resistance to settling down in true suburbs. But I could never really pin point what the resistance was. Because I could honestly see how convenient life was in the suburbs, especially for a family of our size. And conversely, how inconvenient it might be in the city — the lack of parking, the tiny + expensive grocery stores, the smaller living spaces. It seems like the suburbs should have been a no brainer, but they weren’t.

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

Then we moved to France, and we got a taste of rural life. Our house was surrounded by fields, far outside the little town. Knowing my fondness for cities, I had no idea I would like it so much. But I did. Life moved slower. Because it was inconvenient, we ran fewer errands. And when we did run errands, we went as a whole family because it was practically an event. It was quiet in the countryside. We could see the stars. We ate most of our meals at home. The kids interacted with their peers at school, but at home (and we were home a lot) their friends were their siblings. Our family grew closer than we’ve probably ever been, which was a completely unexpected perk.

And as you know, now we live in the city of Oakland. Our neighborhood is somewhere between an urban and suburban classification. You can walk to most of what you need, or you can just as easily drive. You do have to think about, or search, for parking, and generally pay for it, but it’s not as hard as dealing with parking downtown, or in San Francisco. It’s definitely not as easy living as suburbia, but it’s also closer to the city center and all the perks a city offers. It’s very easy for us to get to any happenings in Oakland or San Francisco. For us, it feels like a good compromise. And it reminds me of the neighborhood we lived in in New York, called Tuckahoe — it also always felt somewhere between city living and suburbia to me.

DIY: Wooden postcards made with photo transfers. So cool!

Speaking of New York, I’ve heard it’s a popular place to retire. Apparently, it’s ideal for an older couple. Everything can be delivered, and you never to have to drive!

Obviously, not everyone gets to choose. Work location and housing prices determine these decisions for many, if not most people. But let’s pretend. If you did get to choose, if you could get to work conveniently from an urban, suburban, or rural location, where would you live? Where would you raise your family? And have you ever surprised yourself — maybe tried city living, thinking you’d love it, and didn’t? Or moved to a sprawling rural farmhouse and then missed your tiny city apartment? I’d love to hear your stories.

I’d also love to hear how you made your decisions — I know some people have a ton of angst about moving from the big city to the suburbs. And others are terrified about moving from the suburbs or countryside to the big city.

Lastly, as I alluded to above, my personal classification for true suburbia is never having to think about parking. How about you? What are the earmarks of suburban life in your mind? Or urban life, or rural life?

P.S. — My dad’s birthday was on September 11th. We had a little discussion about that last year.

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Meet Jibo Wed, 10 Sep 2014 18:30:05 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by IndieGoGo.


I’m totally fascinated by this Indiegogo campaign. It’s called Jibo — and it’s the world’s first family robot. I love this sort of stuff! Watching the video I got all sorts of Jetson’s goosebumps — like I was having a the-future-is-here moment.

Apparently, Jibo recognizes faces, and it will take photos of what’s happening around the room at your request. They say it can even act as a personal assistant — ordering dinner, taking down notes, reading a recipe aloud while you cook — that sort of thing.

Maybe the most interesting part to me is that the creators have built in natural social cues like giggling — the examples on the video seem pretty natural. It looks like Jibo will be able to chat with you. Which again, I find fascinating. It makes me want to discuss predictions from science fiction books, or topics like the Singularity.


The fundraising project has been hugely successful. Anyone interested can contribute as little as $10 to help make it happen or actually pre-order their own Jibo. And there’s clearly a ton of interest in the robot — the goal was $100,000, and so far over $2 million has been raised.

Have you ever heard of Indiegogo? It’s the largest global crowdfunding platform, with campaigns that have launched from almost every country in the world. And there are millions of dollars being distributed every week due to contributions made by the Indiegogo community. It’s a powerful way to give people a platform.

Indiegogo wants to democratize the way people raise funds for projects, and it empowers people everywhere to fund what matters to them — could be a creative project, something entrepreneurial, or even cause-related. We’re talking all sorts of projects! In fact, here are links to 5 current campaigns — all very different — that I found compelling:

- The country of Palau wants to declare it’s entire island nation a marine sanctuary. This one blows me away.

- One million kids worldwide may never walk because of clubfoot. You can help change that right now.

- A recipe site taken to the next level.

- The Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center is fundraising to build a forested enclosure for an orphan baby chimpanzee.

- Control Devices and appliances in your home with gestures!

Have you ever tried Indiegogo? Either to launch your own project, or to contribute to someone else’s project? I’d love to hear! And I’m also wondering if any of you are ready to buy a Jibo. How do you feel about the idea of robots in your home? And is there anyone reading that feels this is one step closer to robots taking over?

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Growing A Family: When Life And Work Collide Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:33:59 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Love Of A Mother by the breath-stealing photographer, Dewan Irawan. (Prints available!)

Imagine working in a field where you’ve never personally experienced your specialty. Like a chef at an Italian restaurant who has never feasted on pasta. An artist who never stood in front of a Klimt and blinked away the dazzling golds. A sky-diving instructor who has never pulled her own cord. Or a policy-shaper who works tirelessly to improve maternal and child health services who has never experienced childbirth. I think experience changes everything, don’t you?

Julianne Weis would agree. She has spent the last ten years advocating for women. Clear in her purpose to eradicate preventable maternal deaths, it all somehow became even clearer when she experienced childbirth herself. This is a wonderfully eye-opening tale, and I feel proud to share it with you! Friends, please welcome Julianne.

I’m an American, but over the last 10 years I have lived in a dozen countries, including Niger, Brazil, and Ethiopia. In every place I’ve lived, I have worked on ways to improve maternal and child health services. I have counseled teenage moms addicted to crack in the slums of Brazil, helped clinics in the Congo adapt to the needs of handicapped mothers, and planned policy reforms to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria. I have witnessed a woman die from complications in childbirth.

I’m so determined that my job won’t exist in 20 years because all of the preventable maternal deaths caused by poverty and lack of quality health services around the world will have been eradicated, once and for all.

I chose this work because I have always felt strongly that women around the world, no matter their income or status, should have access to safe and supportive reproductive health services, but this passion was only intensified when I got pregnant myself for the first time last year. My husband and I had just moved back to the UK from Ethiopia at the time, coming back to the city of Oxford to finish off our PhDs.

Suddenly, I began to glimpse first hand the intense wave of emotions, responsibilities, and fears that come with carrying a child. I also knew how deeply privileged I was. I lived in a country that has dedicated so many resources to ensuring mothers are supported with quality medical and social services. I was seen by competent and caring midwives every four weeks in the first six months, then every two weeks until my due date. This is a luxury, not just as compared to “the old days,” but also to the present. Tens of millions of women around the world have no access to this kind of care.

As the end of the pregnancy drew nearer, I began to prepare more for the labour itself. I was planning on giving birth in a midwife-led birth centre without medication – barring emergency circumstances, of course. I practiced breathing and meditation, and would visualize all the women I had worked with around the world who had preceded me in undergoing the ardors of labor. I thought of these women’s experiences of birthing unassisted at home, in crowded urban hospitals, or in remote rural clinics, and how incredibly strong they were.

While my work focuses on ensuring women have necessary medical care in cases of obstetric emergency, I knew that for most women, birth is a normal event. Many of the women I’ve worked with in low-income countries have undergone numerous deliveries without either medical assistance or actual complication, utilizing solely their own personal strength to withstand the intensity of the escalating contractions.

Once my own labor began early one morning, seven days past my due date, I tried to muster up the strength of these brave women. The contractions went from ten minutes apart to three minutes apart in less than three hours, and remained that way for 10 more hours as I progressed through the first stage. My husband and I stayed at home in our small flat for the majority of the labor. The hours passed remarkably quickly as the contractions progressed in intensity until I was no longer able to speak through the pain. We called a taxi and went into the birth centre to find I was seven cm dilated. At this point, the intensity was overwhelming. The contractions were coming with hardly any break between, and it was impossible for me to continue breathing through them. I began moaning loudly, and was somewhat relieved when after two hours, the sensations shifted and I knew it was time to push.

The midwives in attendance patiently waited as I again mustered up the strength to continue to push for an hour, checking the baby’s heartbeat every three minutes to ensure he was handling the stress just fine. When my dear son was finally born and placed on my chest, the sense of astonishment and relief was overwhelming. Having lived and breathed pregnancy, birth, and babies in my studies and work for a decade, to hold my own baby in my arms was so blessedly surreal. I had done it! I now knew for myself the amazing, primal act of birthing a child!

Becoming a mother myself has shifted my perspective on my work immensely. Working in the abstraction of the policy world, where women become statistics and universal health recommendations are developed with little thought to local conditions and contexts, to now be able to put myself in a woman’s shoes as she finds out she’s pregnant, or as her contractions begin, or at the time she meets her precious baby – this ability to empathize means everything.

I now realize that it’s absurd to ask women who live in remote, rural areas, to pick up and walk 20 kilometers to catch a crowded long-distance bus to give birth in a hospital the moment their contractions begin. Can you imagine undergoing that kind of journey in the throes of labor? I now realize how frightening it could be to be stuck in prolonged or obstructed labor, with no assistance at hand. My own birth experience was so straightforward, but I can’t imagine if something had gone awry.

Or the ultimate pain – to have lived through a whole pregnancy and the overwhelming pain of labor to only lose that sweet baby in a wholly preventable death like asphyxia. But this is all too common: every two minutes around the world a mother will die in childbirth, but every minute, twenty babies perish from preventable causes.

My joy in holding my infant son is indescribable, and I wish all women went through their experience of becoming a mother with the same level of confidence and support that I did. No more forced pregnancies, unattended labors, or tragic infant deaths. These circumstances cause such levels of pain and suffering. I have seen it first hand on five continents.

And it’s the same everywhere. Everywhere, women desire love and support in their decisions regarding their path to motherhood. I’m so privileged to have had access to such a high level of care in my own experience this last year. It is never something I will take for granted or forget. And this experience has only inflamed my passion further to keep working for the day when all women round the world can say the same.


Julianne, this was very powerful: “…the ability to empathize means everything.” I’m so moved by how your personal experience affected so greatly your professional focus. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us.

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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When’s the Last Time You Ate at McDonald’s? Tue, 09 Sep 2014 14:00:39 +0000 Design Mom

happy meal

Image and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by McDonald’s.

Hello, Friends. Can you believe I partnered with McDonald’s for this post? Not the typical Design Mom sponsor, right? And before you jump ship all at once, know that when my ad network asked me about working with McDonald’s, my initial response was: no thank you. But I later reconsidered, because once I learned more about what McDonald’s is trying to do, I confess, I was intrigued. And also because I felt hypocritical — I felt like I was pretending I’m never a McDonald’s customer, when actually, from time-to-time, I am.

McDonald’s knows they have a bad rap with moms, and they’re attempting to see if they can upgrade their reputation by making some concrete changes — like being really transparent about the farms where they buy their ingredients, and being incredibly open about their nutritional information. I don’t know if they’ll be able to reach their #WinningMomsOver goals, but I do have honest opinions about McDonald’s, and they promised me I could speak openly. So here I am. Laying it all out on the table.

Here are my thoughts on McDonald’s in list format — it’s sort of a McDonald’s confessional:

- As I’ve written before, in France, it wasn’t unusual for us to eat at McDonald’s (see the reasons here), and the restaurants there are viewed differently than they are in the U.S.

- On family road trips, if we’re driving in the morning, McDonald’s breakfast is our preferred meal-on-the-go.

- I remember hearing about my friend Amber, who had a child who was having a hard time falling asleep, so at the spur of the moment, they jumped in the car late at night and went to McDonald’s. I loved hearing that! And I knew it must have made the best memories for that child. I vowed to copy her.

- During the last trimester of my pregnancies, I would consistently have cravings for Quarter Pounders with Cheese (hold the ketchup, please).

- When we lived in New York, one of my most stylish friends, Erin, would come pick up toddler Oscar and take him to McDonald’s with her own son, so I could have some quiet time with baby Betty. Oscar adored these trips to McDonalds! And I remember thinking at the time, that it was so refreshing that my friend openly and un-embarrassingly went to McDonald’s. And she was still cool! At the time, if I ate at McDonald’s, I felt like I had to keep it a secret.

- I think that feeling (of not wanting to admit of ever eating at McDonald’s) is kind of a national one — when my brother was recently traveling in Thailand, he stopped at a McDonald’s and his friend took a photo of him in line and posted it on Facebook with a caption: Caught red-handed!

Seeing someone you know at McDonald’s, or having yourself documented there, can be cause for blushing. My brother is actually quite the foodie, but sometimes McDonald’s is the best, quickest, easiest option.

- In my childhood memory, getting invited to a McDonald’s birthday party was like the crème de la crème of invitations.

- A few years ago, I remember learning about The Ronald McDonald House charities, and also learning about how many steady jobs McDonald’s provides around the world, and there was a moment where my opinion about the company took a big shift. It was this reminder to me that the world is rarely black & white.

- I’m not going to pretend I’ll ever be convinced that eating at McDonald’s is as good eating a home cooked meal made from whole ingredients. But as I mentioned, I do eat there occasionally, and over the years I’ve let the guilt go about eating there. Goodness knows, I can’t pretend I eat well all the time (I’m looking at you entire-bag-0f-sour-patch-kids I ate last night).

But now I’m curious. What’s your take? Do you ever eat at McDonald’s? Or would you ever admit it? : ) Do you feel like the reputation of McDonald’s can change? Is there anything McDonald’s could do that would shift your opinion, or have you sworn them off forever? Is there anyone out there reading my blog that has never eaten at McDonald’s? And lastly, if you don’t eat at McDonald’s, is there another fast food chain you favor? Or do you avoid fast food at all costs? I’d love to hear!


Update 9/16: Over 450 excellent comments! Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts, opinions, and points of view. I’ve read every single one — probably twice!

I’m going to close the comment section (though you can still read them all) because I have to move on to other posts and can’t dedicate the time needed to keep responding to comments. But if you’re dying to weigh in, feel free to email me so I can read your thoughts.

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Living With Kids: Cher Anderton Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:30:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I have a soft spot for this home. Any home, actually, that provides a safe and sweet haven for someone who needs it most, which is exactly what the Anderton home does on the daily.

It’s been the spot for homeschooling and studying, wrestling and relaxing, dreams great and small – even Cher’s youthful goal that someday she would allow her kids to write on their walls! But maybe most significantly, it’s been the landing pad for their recently adopted son, making room for one more with just a few tiny shifts.

If you’ve ever thought about foster care adoption, this is the read for you. Maybe your home has room for one more? While you consider that, please welcome Cher!

Q: Tell us all about your family.

A: Jon and I started our family 16 years ago when we married, then became parents 14 years ago with the arrival of Ella, and added Will 12 years ago before adding Noah eight years ago. Jonny joined our family two years ago and is ten years old. We are in a short period of even numbers!

Jon works market hours as a bond trader with a small start-up on Mercer Island. My job history has been a little eclectic with short stints as an interior designer and property manager, among other jobs. I homeschooled our kids for five years before making the switch to public schooling last year so I could pursue a remote Masters in Social Work at Boston University. The process of adopting our son from foster care helped me recognize the huge need for therapists who specialize in trauma and adoption, so that is where I really want to focus my career.

Q: You completely renovated your home, right? Was there that initial moment of “THIS is the one!” despite all the work that would eventually need to be done?

A: After seven years in Baltimore where my husband was an investment banker, we decided to make a lifestyle change in order to be together more as a family. Jon had grown up in Seattle and I loved visiting the city, so we decided to focus Jon’s job search there and made the cross country move. During a solo house-hunting trip, I was strongly encouraged by our real estate agent and friend that I should see one house in particular.

The house initially turned me off because of its challenging split-level entryway – you walk in and immediately have to decide “Do I go upstairs or do I go downstairs?” There’s not a lot of room for dilly-dallying in the entry space. But two features made me forget the split-entry: the private street with no through traffic and the upstairs fireplace. I was sold.

The house was original everything, which was fine for us as we wanted to make it our own with renovations. Projects are a huge creative outlet for me. They can be stressful but there’s nothing like looking around and thinking “I did that.”

We had a few surprises as we began the renovation process, like black mold behind bathroom tile, rotten subfloors, and mushrooms growing in the basement bathroom. As we continued renovating when we had the time and money, we not only learned a lot about renovating a house, but also about ourselves and our relationship. We’ve had friends and family teach us so many things and we hope to pass along the skills we’ve acquired to our kids. They are very much a part of the continuing process.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Shoreline is a sixty-block suburb north of Seattle and was actually within the city limits of Seattle until it incorporated 20 years ago. This means we are really close to the city and all Seattle has to offer: amazing food, unique activities, great music, and beautiful outdoors. We are also lucky enough to live just five minutes from several Puget Sound beaches. Shoreline has amazing schools, including a brand new high school three blocks from our house.

We can walk from where we live to grocery stores, drug stores, the local farmers market, parks, and most of our good friends’ houses. We feel like Shoreline has all the perks of both city and suburban living. The weather, while not for everyone, suits us; there is no prettier place than Seattle on a sunny summer day. The abundance of water with green everywhere is something to behold. I think the misty rain also keeps us looking young…all of that moisture has to be a natural youth serum. We pretty much never want to leave our home or city!

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: We want our home to have really good energy so our friends, our kids, and their friends want to be here. We gravitate towards light and bright spaces with textures and materials that are kid friendly. While we don’t have toddlers running around, most of our friends do so we’ve designed so that when they come over just a few things need to be put up and – voila! – baby proofed.

We have a grown-up living room that is for lounging and hanging out. Our basement, while small, is for wrestling and rough-housing. When they want to get some of their energy out, the kids move the coffee table out of the way before throwing each other around (in the best sense of the phrase). Three boys can make for a lot of energy but Ella can hold her own as well.

Q: You’re neat! And organized! Do your kids have a hard time in the shared living areas, keeping it tidy, or have you edited your things so well that life just goes on? (Does the neatness keep everyone calm…or does it contribute to some ill-timed “CAN YOU PLEASE PICK UP YOUR THINGS?!”)

A: If you look closely at the pictures, you will see baskets and storage everywhere. I’m a huge fan of baskets and bins because there is always a place to drop the random toy or item. When it gets full, it’s time to put everything back in its place. Another way for us to organize all of the random things that we accumulate is to have clear plastic shoe holders on the inside of closet doors. We have all of those random items – bandaids, cords, measuring tapes, thermometers, bags, etc. – separated into each holder but still visible. It’s a brilliant idea and I can thank Pinterest for it, I’m sure!

Most importantly, because we have a small house, there isn’t much room for extra stuff. My husband and I are hardcore thrifters, so we are constantly bringing new things into the home. Fortunately, we also know when it’s time to purge, so we have as much outflow as we do inflow. I’m not a huge fan of clutter and let’s face it, kids accumulate clutter, so I have a lot of mental conversations with myself about not making a big deal about the build-up in their rooms, for example. I’m not always successful in holding back the “Please come pick up your things before I go crazy!” phrase, but in general we’re able to keep things at a pretty manageable level.

Q: You’ve recently adopted your foster son. Tell us about the journey.

A: The journey to adopt has been a long one, but I’ll try to summarize! I have issues getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and being pregnant – hyperemesis is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy – so adoption was something we’d always considered. Our first two children are 17 months apart and the second and third kids are 4.5 years apart. The big gap always made us want a buddy for our youngest. After five years of international and domestic adoption starts and stops, we decided to look into foster care adoption.

I found Jonny, who was seven at the time, on a website and we loved his profile. He seemed like a great fit for our family so we submitted our home study and a month later were picked to proceed with the adoption. Amazingly, we met Jonny on a Friday and then took him home the following Friday. The quick transition, while necessary for a variety of reasons, was probably not something I’d recommend.

Q: How has the adoption process changed your family? How has it changed your daily home life? How did you carve out his own space in your home?

A: Adoption processes can be intimidating, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Ours was! I experienced many panic attacks along the way, wondering what we were getting ourselves into, but when I stopped thinking about myself all of the panic would go away.

Finally having Jonny in the home was an entirely new kind of challenge. I would say the first eight weeks were hard on all of us. Jonny was raised in a Spanish speaking home within a community that had a strong Mexican culture, so to be placed in a white home with very limited Spanish skills and no Mexican culture must have been a shock for him. Fortunately, Jonny has five grandparents that speak Spanish fluently and have Latin American influences in their homes, which helps us encourage Jonny’s cultural identity.

Our family dynamic went from mellow to intense, and we so needed the injection of energy that Jonny gives us. Jonny had shared a room with his cousin before he came to our family and our youngest had always shared a room, so we decided Jonny and Noah would have a shared room. Thus began the Great Room Shuffle of 2012. Jonny and Noah moved into the master bedroom, which is the largest room upstairs. Ella and Will each had their own room. Jon and I moved downstairs into what used to be the homeschooling room. It’s small and we can only fit a queen size bed and two small nightstands, but what more do we need? The arrangement has worked really well.

I’m a huge advocate of adopting from foster care because these children are in the system at no fault of their own and desperately need a stable, loving family that can help them heal from the trauma and baggage they carry. Kids are resilient, something we’ve seen firsthand. Despite being behind academically, we hit the ground running with therapy, tutors and extra help, and with a year of focus Jonny had caught up to grade level. The most beautiful thing about the experience so far has been to watch our biological children embrace Jonny as their own. We would never have been able to see them in such a capacity if we hadn’t adopted Jonny.

Q: You mentioned that you weren’t allowed to write on your walls growing up, so you’ve bent that rule for your own kids. What other design styles have seeped into your home for the same reason? (I know we’ve all probably grown up saying “When I’m a mom…”)

A: When we became parents we made conscious choices about what we wanted to incorporate from our own childhoods and what we wanted to do differently. Design-wise I’m more lenient than my parents, but I still like their rooms to be decorated like my mom did when we were kids. I provide the canvas, I guess, and they provide the personality. We do periodic “purges” to keep the clutter under control, but we still let the kids have plenty of the things they love around them.

I print out different pictures every so often so each kid can have their own spot for pictures for constant reminders of their family and friends and the fun things we do together. We also have a huge spot in the dining room with pictures of grandparents, great-grandparents, our travels around the world, etc. Family and friends are so important to us and we hope that is reflected in our home.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: Jon and I love watching the kids grow and do things that suit them. The whole process of creating a family is pretty amazing. We get to have these humans in our lives for just a little while and hope that we did all we could do to help them be whole, kind people. It’s the happiest and most heartbreaking thing, sometimes at the same time!

Mothering didn’t come naturally and that surprised me. I’m definitely better at some aspects of parenting than others, and I’ve learned that most of my good parenting is a very focused, concerted effort. I’ve learned so much from the women I’ve surrounded myself with; they’ve taught me how to be a better mom and I feel extremely grateful for those connections.

As for stages I love, I’ve been able to hold a lot of babies lately and I so love them. While it’s a demanding period of a child’s life for parents, being a baby is also simple in a way as they have no place to go and no life-altering decisions to make.

But I love the stage I’m in with our kids. They are funny, curious, unique, goofy, and sometimes weird, and it’s my favorite phase so far. I think I’m a better mom to older kids and that may be because I’m wiser and more calm, or maybe I just enjoy the conversations and connections more.

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

A: …that life is messy and complex and hard, but there is joy in that. Maybe that is something everyone just needs to learn, but I wish I knew this growing up because I probably would have had a few less crazy moments. It’s okay to just hold the good and the bad at once and not wish for a different day.


Thank you so much for your honestly and information about foster care adoption, Cher. You may not know how you’ve touched a reader or two today, but I know it’s happening.

Friends, when Cher wrote to me about a home tour, she mentioned how major projects really tell you a lot about your relationship. For sure, that is true! I’m sharing part of her note just in case any of you are in the middle of your own DIY disaster. You’ll get through it!

“We recently took a wall down between the kitchen and dining room and redid the kitchen in five weeks. My husband and I are pros at working together now and luckily the marriage is intact. Which is especially nice when we spent an entire day installing cabinets, leveling them and shimming them from behind to make them perfect. Only to discover that I had arranged the cabinets in the wrong order and we had to pull them all out and do them over again. Not my best moment.”

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

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Ask Design Mom: Travel Camera Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:03:32 +0000 Design Mom


Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. The last time I posted an Ask Design Mom question was in December. Hah! It seems I mostly answer questions via email or blog comments these days. But I’ve received this question so often lately, that I thought writing up a post would make sense.

Hi Gabrielle. Would you mind sharing what camera you used for your trip to Sweden. I was following along on Instagram and the photos were beautifiul. Were they taken with your phone? — Sent in from several readers

Sony NEX 5T:L4

Good question! I was originally planning to bring our Canon DSLR 50D which is what I use to shoot photos for Design Mom (including the photo here). But I wasn’t looking forward to it, because it’s HEAVY. Especially with my most flexible lens. Plus, knowing we were checking into a new hotel practically everyday, we packed light — one carryon size suitcase each plus a backpack. But a big camera, with a big lens, needs padded protection during transport and takes up a hefty bit of space. So I wasn’t sure how we were going to deal with it. I even wondered if I could get by with my cell phone.

I asked my sister, Jordan, for advice, and which camera she had taken with her on a recent trip to Paris & Morocco, because I new she had also needed to pack light for that trip. And she mentioned that she tried something new. A very small Sony NEX-5TL that takes DSLR quality photos.

So I bought one for the trip, and it was a hit!

Sony NEX 5T:L2

It’s very lightweight. I had it around my neck for the entire trip and it never bothered me. I didn’t use any special case for it, but would just add to my day bag as we left the hotel. The photo quality is excellent! The lens it came with did I every thing I need it to. The back screen pops up so you can take see what you’re doing when you take a selfie. But the best part: I could upload images directly to my phone from the camera — without a cord! and without being connected to the internet!

This was a major help. Instead of shooting photos from a big camera to share on my blog, and then shooting additional photos from my phone to share on Instagram, I only shot with the Sony NEX. I didn’t use my phone for photos at all. Then, I would transfer the images that I wanted to share on Instagram from the camera to the phone right then and there, instantly. I LOVED this.

One other thing about this camera that I thought was a big draw (even though I didn’t make use of it), is that you can actually switch out the lens like you would on any standard DSLR. And I’ve heard that Nikon lens also work with it! (I use Canon, so that’s not applicable to me, but for you Nikon users out there, I thought you might want to know).

Anyway, if you are looking for a travel camera, I highly recommend the Sony NEX 5TL (the L means it comes with lens, if you buy the NEX 5T, it will just be the camera body with no lens). I chose silver, but it also comes in black and white. For casual outings with the kids, walks to the park, a day at the beach, this camera is just so easy to keep with me. It’s practically a staple in my purse now.

Do I use it for blog images? No, not generally. I suppose I could, but I seem to reserve it for on the go images. I’m still more comfortable with my Canon 50D when I’m shooting for the blog. That could change, but for now, that’s where I’m at. It’s definitely much more affordable than my Canon, so this might be a good alternative if you’re just getting into photography.

Any negatives? Just one. Instead of looking through a viewfinder, you look at the screen to shoot. That’s not a problem, unless it’s super sunny. Then you can’t see anything and you just have to guess. Which I totally did! There are optional viewfinder add-ons available. I haven’t tried them, but they might be worth the extra cost depending on how you’re going to use the camera.

Lastly, yes the NEX 5TL shoots video, but it’s another feature I haven’t tried yet, so I can’t speak to what it’s like.

Tell me, Dear Readers: What kind of camera are you using these days? Are you able to shoot everything you need with your phone? Or perhaps you carry a camera bag purse for your DSLR? I’d love to hear any tips or tricks for cameras on the go!

P.S. — In earlier years, I’ve featured Ask Design Mom questions frequently, and even had whole weeks dedicated to reader questions. Any interest in me reviving something like that? I always love your feedback!

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Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff Mon, 08 Sep 2014 15:56:51 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot

By Gabrielle. Images and styling by Lindsey Rose Johnson.

School has started. Fall is here. Life is as busy as ever. It’s a great time to start relying on slow cooker recipes to help get dinner on the table. And what could be better as cooler weather returns than a plate full of slow cooker Beef Stroganoff?

Stroganoff originated in Russia, but different versions have popped up all around the globe. This one is a pretty basic, traditional one made with big chunks of stew meat, flavorful cremini mushrooms, and red wine. The low and slow cooking time transforms the stew meat and it becomes super tender. All you need is a big bowl of buttered egg noodles and you’re set.

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot

Any meat+sauce over egg noodles works as a comfort food for me, but I have a special fondness for Stroganoff because of a funny little childhood memory. My little brother Jared was making a spotlight poster about himself for an assignment — hobbies, favorite colors and foods, stuff like that. For the food example, he cut a picture of stroganoff out of a magazine, just to represent that he liked food in general — he didn’t know there was a name for the dish in the photo. But his teacher saw the image and recognized it has Beef Stroganoff and determined — to Jared’s surprise and confusion because he didn’t know what it was — that his favorite food was specifically Beef Stroganoff.

Throughout the rest of our childhood and into adulthood, any time Beef Stroganoff was seen on a menu, eaten in our home, or mentioned in any way, someone would be sure to comment, “Hey Jared, look, it’s your favorite meal!

A silly little memory that is making me nostalgic today. I hope it reminds you of a funny memory from your own childhood home. : )

This recipe makes enough for a large family. It’s great with some green veggies or a salad on the side.

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

1 Tablespoon oil
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds cubed stew beef
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used cremini here, but I’ve used all sorts over the years)
1 cup low-sodium beef broth or stock
1 cup red wine (or more broth)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
Hot cooked egg noodles or rice, for serving

Toss beef cubes with flour, salt, and black pepper. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the beef. Let the meat brown on one side, then turn over and cook until all sides have browned. Transfer meat to a slow cooker.

Add the onion to the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up any cooked on bits on the bottom of the pan. If needed, add a little more oil to the pan to keep the onions from sticking and burning. Next, add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant.

Transfer everything to the slow cooker and add the mushrooms, beef broth, red wine, and thyme sprigs. Set slow cooker to LOW for 8-10 hours or HIGH for 3-4 hours. Right before serving, stir in the sour cream or creme fraiche. Serve over hot egg noodles or rice.

Yield: 8 servings

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot


- If you’re worried about the red wine, it can totally be substituted with more beef broth, but the wine does add to the flavor.

- Be sure not to add the sour cream until the very end, otherwise it will curdle.

- This can easily be made with chicken instead of beef. Use 2 pounds of chicken thighs or breasts, diced, and use 1 cup white wine instead of red, and use chicken broth. One teaspoon of Dijon mustard adds great flavor too.

P.S. — Have you checked out my Slow Cooker Recipe Series?

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A Few Things Fri, 05 Sep 2014 15:30:53 +0000 Design Mom

Bison near Grand Canyon

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Are you getting adjusted to your fall schedules? It’s been a good week for the Blairs — we’ve had reports from England and France that Ralph and Olive have started school and are excited to be there. So comforting!

As for me, the summer was unusually crazy, so I am trying hard to limit my commitments. I have the hardest time saying no to things, but I promised myself I wouldn’t say yes to any new travel or events until my biggest current project (which is my book) is complete. I said no to two invitations this week and it about killed me. But the result was some really good book progress. We’ll see if I can keep my promise to myself. : ) Speaking of the book, I feel like I haven’t updated you guys about it in ages. I’ll try to write a post this week.

While I get back to work, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- The one word men never see in their performance reviews.

- Also job related: He dropped one letter of his name, and the job interviews rolled in.

- Did you see this IKEA commercial? So clever!

- Why writers are the worst procrastinators.

- Are you discussing racism in America with your kids and your community? This letter to white moms is a reminder of why it’s so important.

- A playset that teaches your kids how to take care of a real car. Thanks, Aaron.

- An irreverent and hilarious post poking fun at Anthropologie’s furniture line. Thanks, Amy.

- As a protest, a Columbia student is carrying a twin size mattress with her wherever she goes.

- What pets actually see with the GoPro. Thanks, Rebeccah.

- I’m obsessed with these leather perforated Vans. Should I go with black or white?

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


P.S. — I’ve heard from readers that my RSS feed and daily email stopped working last week. I believe it’s all fixed again, but please let me know if it’s not. Thanks! Also, I took the photo at top on our epic roadtrip. The herd of bison was grazing very near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped the car and watched them for ages.

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Pop & Lolli Giveaway Thu, 04 Sep 2014 19:42:53 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.  

As you may have noticed, I had a bit of a giveaway break while my summer traveling took over. But today, I’ve got a terrific one for you! It’s sponsored by Pop & Lolli, and the prize is a $100 store credit, so you can pick out exactly what you want. Hooray!

6 D2D 600_500

Pop & Lolli is all about Larger Than Life fabric wall decals. Their selection is outstanding! Tons of themes — trains, robots, mermaids, pirates, family trees, flowers, animals, and on, and on. The decals are colorful, beautifully designed, and offer major impact in a room. They even have a recently launched collection by Sarah Jane, an artist you may already know and love.

7 FT 600_5002 SJBP 600_500

Another new product they just introduced is adorable Pop & Lolli Wallpaper! The argyle and gingham are probably my favorite, or maybe On The Go. So many cute options! And I should note: these wallpapers are fabric! They are eco-friendly and non-toxic. No glue, no mess, and no professional installation needed.

Made in the U.S.A., the decals (and wallpapers!) are removable, reusable and completely reposition-able — simply the BEST decals out there!

oversize fabric wall decals by Pop & Lolli

Pop & Lolli’s chic wall art will transform any blank wall into a space that encourages imaginative play. Their decals would be darling in a playroom, classroom, child’s bedroom, or boring hallway. Right this minute, I’m considering Pop & Lolli’s colorful World Map decal for our family room. I still need to take measurements, but I think the large one would be perfect for the wall I have in mind!

Extra fun: Use coupon code HAPPYDESIGN15 for 15% off! The code is valid for duration of giveaway.

To enter, visit Pop & Lolli and leave a comment below — I’d love to hear which decals you want most! The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Jen G. is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Kiwi Crate Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:00:12 +0000 Design Mom

Kiwi Crate14

Images and text by Gabrielle. // This post is brought to you by Kiwi Crate.


I first heard about Kiwi Crate a year ago, but I didn’t actually try one till this week. I wasn’t sure what to expect (would my kids care? would they be too old for it?) but Oscar, Betty & June spent the afternoon with the box of activities and LOVED it. (As a sidenote, the funniest part was when Betty accidentally made a puppet that looks like an evil dictator. See below).

The 411 on Kiwi Crate is that it’s an award-winning, monthly subscription service for kids. Each crate includes 2-3 hands-on projects — they cover things like art, science, games, and imaginative play. There’s a new theme each month, and the box also includes Kiwi Crate’s explore! magazine, which features bonus activities and kid-friendly recipes.

Kiwi Crate01

One thing I appreciate is that the activities are legit — before they send out anything, Kiwi Crate tests the projects with a crew of kids to make sure everything is developmentally appropriate, enriching, engaging, fun, and universally appealing. To get an idea of what they offer, you can see their most popular crates here. And best of all, if you’d like to try it, you can save 25% on your first month subscription with code DM25.

Kiwi Crate12

My main takeaways are 1) This is genius for tiny apartment dwellers. 2) This is genius for any parent who isn’t artsy/craftsy. 3) This is genius for parents who feel like their schedule is too full to run extra errands (that’s me.). 4) It’s also hugely appealing to me because there is nothing to store or use up when you’re done. It’s exactly what you need for the projects. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kiwi Crate07

I wrote up some notes about our experience with Kiwi Crate below in case you’re curious about how your own kids might react, or how different aged kids might respond. I hope it’s helpful!

Kiwi Crate02

It’s just flat out fun to be a kid and get a package in the mail. It’s hard to beat that feeling. So right off the bat, knowing the box was just for them, they were super excited.

The activities were spot on as far as kid-appeal goes. All 3 were into it. Oscar and Betty are 9 and 8, and they didn’t need much from me to get started. We unpacked the box, located instructions for the first activity — finger puppets — and they got to work.

Kiwi Crate04

There were drawings of puppet examples that the kids could follow, but the instructions also encouraged them to make up their own puppets, and my kids were all over that. Pig noses and cow noses were swapped. Random tails were used as feet. They had a great time.

Hitler Puppet1

At one point Betty said, “Look mom, I made a man with a mustache.” I glanced up with a “That’s awesome” ready on my lips, but before I opened my mouth, I got a good look at it and starting laughing because it looked just like a certain evil dictator! Of course, Betty is just starting 3rd grade and has never heard of him before so it was totally random. But isn’t the resemblance uncanny? Hah!

Kiwi Crate05

June, who is 4, could “help”, but couldn’t do this activity on her own. So she would get assistance taking the paper of the sticky backs of the felt parts and was still totally involved. If she were my only child, this would also have been a lovely activity to do side-by-side together.

Kiwi Crate08

The kids finished the puppets and started playing with them, and I started putting the box away, thinking I’d save the second craft for another day. But they wanted more, so we dove in to craft number two — which was a mini garden.

Kiwi Crate09

They loved this project even more than the puppets! The coolest part was the soil pellets. As they used the dropper to add water to the pellets, the soil would magically grow! The kids couldn’t get enough of it.

Kiwi Crate10Kiwi Crate13

Once the soil was ready, the kids planted wheat grass seeds and radish seeds, then June watered the soil some more, while Oscar and Betty built little fences around the gardens.

Kiwi Crate11

This second craft was definitely more complex than the first, and once the soil was in place and watering was done, June wandered off. But building the fences was satisfying to the older kids.

Kiwi Crate15

When both the crafts were complete, Oscar and Betty sat down with the activity books and went through some of the puzzles and games.

I have to say, I’m impressed! In addition to the two main crafts, the activity book is full of other ideas — there are even instructions for turning the box that everything came in into a project. I felt like we could have spaced out the activities and had enough to keep the kids busy over several days.

I mentioned this above, but the thing I liked best was that the box came with everything we needed. Nothing more, nothing less. I love that! We enjoy crafts around here, but having to buy (and store!) a box of 300 craft sticks or googly eyes when we only need a few can be a pain in the neck. It was wonderful to use up everything in the box and have nothing we needed to store. I immediately thought of my friends who live in small city apartments and thought how ideal this service would be for them!

Kiwi Crate03

A little more info: Plans start at just $16.95/month and they offer free shipping on ALL subscriptions! If you have more than one child that would be interested, they have a sibling add-on option for $9.99/month. And if there’s a project or craft material that you especially like, you can also shop for individual arts & crafts and party favors on the website.

Want to give Kiwi Crate a try with your kids? Join their Time Traveler Series to fall back in time! Save 25% on your first month subscription with code DM25. (A little note: Promotional code excludes sibling add-ons.)

Now I’m curious. Do you craft with your kids, or do you find this sort of thing hard to do as a parent? Have you ever tried Kiwi Crate? I think getting a box like this each month would be fantastic —especially for rainy days. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Online School Wed, 03 Sep 2014 21:53:16 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photos from Back to School photo shoots in France.

I’ve been getting lots of emails on how we’re handling Ralph’s schooling while he’s in England and France, which is a really good question and has taken some figuring out. The whole thing is so new to us, I’m not even sure how I feel about it. For the first half of this school year (his junior year of high school), he’ll be attending the online school called K12. Then, when he returns to the U.S., he can either reenroll at our public high school, or continue on with K12 for the rest of the year.

We decided on this for several reasons. When we were in France, we had two different nieces come and stay with us. In both cases, they would attend class at our local school, but wouldn’t get graded or do French assignments — neither one knew much French so it wasn’t realistic to really fully participate. Instead, they continued with their American schoolwork using their laptops, and would spend some class periods in the school library doing their U.S. homework.


Then, when our French exchange students, Charles and Victor, came from France to stay with us this last Spring, the same thing happened. They attended class with Ralph at our local high school, but they didn’t participate in class or get graded. Instead they would work on their French homework. (The exception was French class, where the teacher would sometimes want to involve them to model pronunciation or phrases or talk about culture to the American students.)

What to Wear to 9th Grade

We concluded that this worked out well in both countries. The visiting kids don’t burden the teachers and there is no interruption of school work. And the visiting kids get to experience a foreign school and meet tons of people and dive way deeper into the culture than they could do as tourists.

So this is what Ralph is doing. He’s in England now. He attends school with his friend Chris but uses K12 for his coursework. When he goes to France at the end of the month, he’ll attend school with Charles and continue his K12 work.

We considered talking to his teachers here in Oakland and asking them to prepare work for him while he was abroad, but concluded immediately that it was too big of a favor to ask. And though we’ve never used K12 for our kids, we know all about it because Ben worked there for several years. In fact, it’s always been in our back pocket in case we needed another educational choice.

What to Wear to 9th Grade

For those of you who homeschool, I’m sure this is no big deal at all. But having a student enrolled in an online school is new to us! And we feel so lucky it’s an option. Since the State of California has a contract with K12 (most states do, but not all), there is no cost to us, and the coursework aligns with state standards. Which means that if/when Ralph enrolls in our public high school in January, he can step into the school work seamlessly.

One of our hopes is that this will simplify his transcript, versus trying to figure out how to give him school credit for one month in England and 3 months in France, which would be super complicated and not very realistic.

We are crossing our fingers the whole thing works as smoothly as possible. Who knows? We may decide it’s not working at all and have to figure out something else. But so far, so good!

The experience has me thinking about schedule flexibility. Over the weekend, I was with my brothers and sisters celebrating my Mom’s birthday. Pretty much all of us have built careers for ourselves that allow for a really flexible schedule. We love the idea of using that flexibility and being able to take roadtrips with the kids, or work on awesome family projects together (like Olive Us), but being bound by school attendance tends to negate much of the flexibility our jobs offer.

What to Wear to 9th Grade

My siblings and myself are all big supporters of public schools (no doubt partly because our dad was a public school teacher), but we find ourselves being drawn to options like K12 or other online schools because they match the flexibility of our work schedules. Sometimes I feel like all my kids should enroll in K12 — if for no other reason than to avoid the crazy mornings!

One more quick note: Olive isn’t using K12 while she’s in France. She will be attending the local French school that she attended before we moved, and will participate fully as a student. Since she’s not in high school yet, her transcript can have breaks in it and we don’t mind.

I understand this arrangement/exchange would feel too messy for some families. I’m betting some of you are reading this and thinking that it’s too complicated! I totally get that. International adventures never do seem simple. But we feel like it’s worth it. Ben and I really value these types of experiences and couldn’t be happier that our kids are into this sort of thing.

What’s your take? How strict are you on school attendance? Are you as strict with your younger kids as you are with your high schoolers? Perhaps you’re casual about it up through Middle School before transcripts count? Have you ever felt like you had to skip an opportunity because your kids would miss too many school days? Or have your kids ever gotten really involved in a sport or other extra curricular activity that cut into vacation time? Would you ever consider online school? And for any of you that homeschool, was part of the decision about schedule flexibility?

P.S. — Several readers have asked what exchange program we used, but we didn’t use an official program. Before we moved from France, Charles and Victor, both friends from Ralph’s school, asked if it was possible to do an exchange with our family. They would come and stay with us, and then Ralph would go and stay with them. We loved the idea, and connected with Charles’ and Victor’s families before we moved away so we could formalize the arrangement.

Victor came to our house for 3 weeks. Charles came for 3 months. An English friend, Chris, made arrangements with Ralph for an exchange as well, and Chris came to our house for a month. Now, Ralph is spending a month at Chris’s house in England, and then 3 months at Charles’ house in France — and perhaps a weekend or two with Victor as well.

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Olive Us: To The Sea Tue, 02 Sep 2014 18:37:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hooray! A new Olive Us episode!! The last Olive Us video I shared was our Goodbye to France (my eyes get teary every single time I watch it). Then we took the summer off. And now, we have brand new episodes to share. In fact, they are our first episodes filmed here in Oakland!

First up is To The Sea. We made it last November — smack in the middle of crabbing season — as we started settling in to our new surroundings and getting to know our new town. And the footage is beautiful. It makes me want to drop everything and get out on the water.

Betty on the Boat

Even though it was filmed 9 months ago, sharing it now feels just right to me, because now that we’ve been here for a whole year, Oakland (and the entire Bay Area) feels more and more like home. I think we all really felt it as we returned from our epic roadtrip this summer — the kids couldn’t wait to get “home”. Home to The Treehouse. Home to their friends and schools and life here.

For those of you who have moved your families, did you feel at home right away? If not, how long did it take you to start thinking of your new home as “home”?

I hope you enjoy the episode! Be sure to subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter so you never miss an update.

P.S. — Today is the first day here in our home without Olive and Ralph. Such a strange morning making lunches and breakfast for only four. Making only four beds. I suppose this feeling of our family being incomplete will hover around until Christmas.

Also, would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us — including every episode — here.
- We’ve made 44 episodes so far and ulive commissioned 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

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Living With Kids: Amy Doak Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Amy seems like the type of friend who will always tell you like it is. The unedited truth, if you will. Those of us who have a treasured friend or two like that know how valuable a trait this is! So I can assure you that if you’re thinking of starting an online endeavor or company of your own, Amy has some solid advice for you. And if you’re ever worried about your child not displaying traditional boy/girl qualities, worry no more. Truly.

A number of lovely reminders, just ahead. Please enjoy Amy, Friends!

Q: Tell us all about your family.

A: There are six of us in total. I’m Amy, and I still don’t feel like a grown up or a parent despite how it all looks on the outside. There’s my husband Rod, an incredibly talented carpenter and an absolute perfectionist and details man compared to the big picture gal that is me.

Rounding out our family is our eldest son Oscar, almost five, who is sweet, and kind, and loves beautiful things and making things beautiful), and my younger son Sebastian, freshly two, who is funny and charming and and crazy and has a greater sense of self than any person I’ve met in my life.

And then my fur-children: a black cat with green eyes called Halle who goes missing in cupboards for most of the day, but when the house is quiet late at night and I have a good book and a moment on the couch, she always appears to sit in my lap, and a mad golden cocker spaniel called Keira. We were told that cockers are fairly crazy for about four years and their puppy stage lasts longer than most breeds, but Keira is 11 this year and still acts and looks like a puppy! So we wait for her to one day calm down.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We bought a house on this block 16 years ago. It was a teeny little miner’s cottage with no cupboards, no bathroom or laundry inside (we had to run an extension cord across the backyard in order to wash our clothes!), and two very small bedrooms. It was so hot in summer, I remember spending nights sleeping outside covered by sheets sprayed with water and feet dangling in a plastic kids’ pool…and so cold in winter that we would confine ourselves to one tiny room because it was impossible to try and heat the whole house!

The block was amazing, though. Huge and just 15 minutes walk to the centre of town. We thought perhaps we might knock the house down eventually and build units or do something equally entrepreneurial, but when we finally got permission from our council we had fallen in love with the location and decided to build our forever home instead!

At the time, we weren’t married and we didn’t have kids, so it was definitely a leap of faith, but it was the perfect choice. We still love it.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: We live in Australia in a gorgeous city called Bendigo. We have four distinct seasons here, so even though it doesn’t snow, you still get the chance to wear great coats and boots in winter! And the summers are hot enough to swim everyday in a nice, clear heat unlike the humidity that exists in other parts of the country. Our region is known as Central Victoria and for good reason: we really are right in the centre of the state, and that means it’s less than a couple of hours drive to the snow, the river, the beach, the outback, and the centre of Melbourne. So, no matter what you are in the mood for, it’s never far!

The architecture in Bendigo is beautiful. There was some serious money back in the city when gold was discovered around 150 years ago, and some amazing old homes were built in that time and have been lovingly maintained. Of course, strict heritage overlays have helped there too. We have lots of parks, lots of trees, and the new buildings that are being built have been designed with the latest technology and styles in mind, so the contrast between old and new is fabulous.

I do often joke, however, that it’s the largest small town in the world. We are the second largest inland city in all of Australia, but everyone knows everyone here and it has a real small-town vibe with all the benefits of a city like great schools, universities, and cafes!

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: Because we didn’t have kids when we designed our home, we tried really hard to imagine different life stages. Would it work with young kids? Teenagers? Empty-nesters? At the time we built, Rod had done a few renovations on some old Victorian homes, and many of them were putting large open living/dining/kitchen spaces off the back of the house. We loved the idea of the Victorian plan, which is essentially a large central hallway with rooms off either side, and then that modern open space at the rear of the home.

It is a really simple design. Not a lot of rooms, but each room is slightly larger than a usual room, and all the ceilings are high which gives it a great sense of space. We also made our central hallway nice and wide, and before the boys arrived a lot of people commented that it we ever had little boys they would adore that long hall…perfect for indoor cricket! We were given a soccer ball when Oscar was very young, and it is made from some amazing material that means you can kick it straight at someone’s head and it doesn’t hurt! It doesn’t knock my photo frames off the wall either, so there is a fair bit of kick-to-kick going on each night when the bath is filling.

There have already been evolutions along the way since we built almost 10 years ago. We wanted to keep a guest room when Sebastian was born, so our movie room (which hadn’t seen much action since Oscar’s arrival!) was reconfigured and became an office/library/tv room/play space, and the office became Sebastian’s bedroom.

The bedrooms are all lovely large spaces so that there is enough room now for the kids to play on the floor and spread out, and when they are teenagers there will be ample room for a double bed, a chair, and a desk. Because their rooms are such a great size, we find they happily play in there and don’t spread too much out around the rest of the house. We have a small Ikea book shelf masquerading as a window seat with some toys in baskets and their car garage at one end of the kitchen, and then their kitchen and a small box of toys at the other end of the room. Everything can be thrown away at the end of the day, and I am incredibly grateful that I don’t have to climb over toys everywhere I go in the house.

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best? How does the room decor contribute to this harmony?

A: I love first thing in the morning on days when there is nothing to rush to and we all end up in our bed laughing and talking. I love bathtime when both boys are in the bath and happily making up games, and Rod and I can both sit in there and talk about our day. I love nights by the fire watching a great show on TV and knowing the kids are safe and warm and asleep in their beds.

I think, though, most of all, I love our home in the summer. My perfect afternoon is when we swim in the pool, then pick some fresh tomatoes from the vegetable garden to add to a salad and BBQ tea. Then to have the kids go to bed and the sun is setting but it’s still warm enough for one last swim and a glass of wine outside…heaven!

Q: You run an online magazine called LittleONE. Tell us about it and your role.

A: Before I started LittleONE, I ran a local magazine which started after Rod and I returned from traveling in Europe where we had discovered city magazines throughout the UK. I wanted to create a positive forum to celebrate the good things about my city and I think LittleONE has turned into a bit of an extension of that.

When I got married, I became completely obsessed with beautiful bridal magazines. Around the same time, I had quite a lot of friends having their first baby. I looked everywhere to try and find the bridal magazine equivalent of a baby magazine, but all I could find were terrible quality magazines packaged up as lectures. As an educated woman, I didn’t need to spend $10 on a magazine and just to be told how much folate I should be eating whilst I was pregnant or judged for my choices once the baby arrived! I wanted real women sharing their stories and acknowledging that if mum and bub are happy and safe, then the choices of each family are just perfect.

I also wanted gorgeous fashion and rooms and cute little parties and ideas. This was a time before Pinterest, and if you typed nursery into Google images there wasn’t much that came up. So, I put together a mock-up of a magazine, did a business plan, and tried to find some advertisers and distributors to commit in order to get it off the ground.

On the day I met with my Australian distributor, I left our meeting (which was successful, I might add), walked back to my car in the car park, and threw up! Turns out I was pregnant with Oscar. The first issue of LittleONE Baby hit the shelves in June of 2009 and Oscar was born one month later. I often joke that I have managed to survive most of my life simply because of my naive optimism, but I have definitely been tested along the way with the business/family mix.

Q: I love how you describe what makes LittleONE stand out in the crowd. Can you explain your no stylist/no Photoshop ideals?

A: There are some incredibly stylish, talented, and clever parents out there. I wanted to share that. Many magazines on the market have impeccably styled rooms, and quite often the content of the rooms show that there is a bit of an agenda there…often promoting product. I wanted to show rooms and parties that were extravagant and over the top…and rooms and parties that were created with zero budget and loads of creativity.

I think we should be able to celebrate and appreciate the way that other people choose to live…even if it isn’t necessarily how we would, which is part the reason I love this Living With Kids series so much. LittleONE is beautiful, but we don’t Photoshop our babies or kids or mums, we don’t style the rooms, and even though our mums have no doubt tidied things up before we arrive (wouldn’t you, if a photographer was coming?), the space is what it is.

I also make sure that the story that accompanies the images tells it like it is. You might be looking at a glorious space and a super cute baby, but you will also learn that mum had a tough pregnancy and birth or is still dealing with breast feeding challenges. I think we all need to be reminded that just because something looks perfect doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious challenges going on behind the scenes. And just because life is hard and can be really awful at times, doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the beautiful things as well.

Real life and beautiful living are not mutually exclusive, and it bugs me that people think we have to choose only one way.

Q: What has been the biggest gain from working on this project? What is the most difficult part of balancing work and home? Any tips or tricks or shortcuts that save your life on a daily basis?

A: Meeting and talking to all of the parents who have been involved in the magazine has helped me so much. Oscar was a colicky baby, and many of my friends who had babies at the same time had these super sleepers who just slept and ate and smiled. There were times when I felt really alone, so learning the stories of other mums around the world was a huge comfort.

At the same time, having little babies and running a business is really, really, really challenging, and I think I am still a little bitter about not being able to take maternity leave and just shut off and be mum for a bit! When Oscar was about one and a half, I had the offer to sell my other magazine and I jumped at the chance. Turns out though, one business is just as hard as two. I used to work when he slept, and then he was in daycare one day a week and I would try to get all the activities that weren’t so kid-friendly done on that day. Daycare is really expensive in Australia, and that is something that I have struggled with a lot.

When he dropped his day sleep, it nearly killed me! I worked most nights from around 8pm until midnight, and there have been times that my relationship with Rod and with some of my friends has suffered. It’s not always ideal. However, the flip side to that is that this job has allowed me greater flexibility than I could ever wish for and that has been so great. I don’t feel as though I have missed a moment of the last five years with my children, and I am not sure there are many working mums who could say that. So I am very, very grateful for what I have been able to do, which is really have the best of both worlds even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

I have a photographer, a designer, and someone to help with the advertising. If budget allows, I get a few freelancers in to do some of the writing, but mostly I do everything myself. I love the writing and the stories, and the beautiful images, but the business side of things has always been a challenge. The content is the fun and easy part! It’s the website management, the logistics, the accounting, and compliance that is the boring and time consuming bit. Everyone who is involved with the magazine is a parent as well, though, so we are all pretty understanding when it comes to the work. However, you still have to remember that at the end of the day you are a business and you need to be professional. That person who emailed you today doesn’t care that you have a sick kid who won’t leave your hip or you got no sleep last night!

When Sebastian was due, I put on another helper but that has meant sacrifices from a financial end. When you run a business, I think there is always that time/money thing; you almost always have to make a choice. Rod has his own business as well, and that is something that I would not recommend! I think if you run your own business and have a family, then it would be incredibly helpful if your partner has a steady job or vice versa. There have been some really rough times when we have both been relying on other people to pay us and, let’s be honest, not everyone pays in 30 days! A regular wage would definitely have been handy along the road at times to keep us a little more sane.

My only tip to other parents, working from home or not, would be that it is ok to just go into survival mode at times. There are going to be times when the floors aren’t clean, or it’s lunchtime and the kids are still in their pjs because you are on deadline. Just so long as that is the exception and not the rule, you are doing alright! There is an awful lot of pressure on women to do it all and have it all: tidy, gorgeous home, well-behaved, delightful children, an exciting career, hot body, great hair, fabulous sex life, wonderful social life…I mean, come on! You might be able to have it all in a lifetime, but I don’t think you can have it all at one time. And you have to expect that if you are focusing on one or two things in a big way, other things will have to take a back seat. That is fine because it isn’t forever. It’s just for now.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

The biggest surprise and my favourite part is how much being a parent teaches you about who you are and how it challenges your beliefs.

I am the youngest of three girls, and many of my cousins and family friends were also girls. Growing up, I didn’t have much to do with boys at all! My husband also has two older sisters, so it was a bit of a shock to us to not only have one, but two boys! I was really worried in the beginning, as I am not sporty at all and not very good at rough and tumble. How on earth would I be a good mother to boys?

Having two boys has taught me that stereotypes mean nothing. Both of my boys have ‘typical’ boy traits and girl traits…and they are both SOOOOO different from one another! There is no way that I could now honestly say ‘that’s a boy thing.’ I now know that some boys and some girls are loud and crazy and run and shout and jump off everything. And some boys and some girls are quiet and sensitive and thoughtful. Some boys like mud and puddles and mess, and some boys like colouring and quietly putting together a puzzle. Some boys couldn’t care less what they wear so long as it has a train on it, and others like to colour coordinate their ensemble JUST so. And some boys like cars and tractors AND things that are pink and purple and sparkle a lot.

Despite their differences, both of my boys love to read and they adore music…two things that are great passions of mine. They both love nature and being outdoors and animals and cooking, and as they grow I am finding that I have more things in common with them than not. Although, if their dad has his way they will love footy and then I might be in trouble! So far, the only thing I don’t get with the boys that I might with a girl is cute dresses and floral fabrics, but even that would be questionable after the age of two.

I miss things about them daily as they grow. A walk around the block takes about an hour as we look at every flower and bird and pick up little stones along the way, but when they ask to ride their bikes instead and we race past all of those things, I am already grieving a little for the lost toddler.

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

A: How much I would LIKE them!

A lot of my close friends had children before me, and I was completely ready for the hard work that parenting entails. Often you would get a fairly horrific story from people followed by a ‘Oh, but we LOVE them! We wouldn’t change them for the world.’ And then a laugh! So, I travelled and worked and did all the things I wanted to do before I started a family because everyone had me so convinced that I would have to sacrifice so much when I did have children. Then they arrived and it shocked me how much I actually liked them and enjoyed their company and wanted to hang out with them all the time!

I was 33 when I had Oscar and sometimes I wish I had started sooner. Perhaps we could have had more? However, I guess if I wanted to be a little philosophical about it, waiting until I was absolutely ready and wanting it…good or bad…meant that a lot of the things that other people consider to be a sacrifice about parenting, I actually love. I love nights at home and early to bed. I love reading childrens’ books at bedtime each night. I love hanging out at the playground, especially when the sun is shining. I love going on holidays with them to all the kid places that we have avoided all these years! It hasn’t slowed us down at all, really. Since having kids, we have travelled to the Cook Islands, Singapore, and Vietnam, and are hoping to get to Europe next year. It will just mean more parks and less churches this time around!

I am so conscious that I really only get them, full-time, for five years and then they are off to school and, ultimately, their own lives. You really just borrow them as parents. So, I try really hard to take in and enjoy every moment. Yes, even when one child didn’t make it to the toilet in time and the other one is drawing in permanent marker on the walls! Quick as you blink, it’s gone. Sebastian has been a fairly awful sleeper and a terrible velcro baby, but every time I whinge about it, I also realise that in about 13 years time he will be sleeping til lunchtime and I will be begging him to get out of bed! I will also be begging for a kiss and a cuddle, so I’d best take them while I get them now. When you have little kids, you are so physically drained that it is hard to imagine you will ever feel any different. Friends with older kids tell me it’s the emotional drain that hits you later. Surely being a parent is the easiest hardest thing you will ever do in your life!

I think the other thing that people actually tell you but you don’t GET until you have kids is how your brain is no longer your own. From the moment you know that baby is on its way, all you can think about is making sure they are going to be ok, and that in itself is exhausting! Nights out, trips away, even heading off to see a movie with a friend…you are often still thinking of your kids and wondering if they are all good. So often in the night I sit up, suddenly wide awake in bed, and then a minute or two later I hear one of the kids begin to cry or shout out. You are connected to them in a such a way that you are never alone again. And that can be magical and wonderful and terrifying and make you insane all at once! I have found being a mother is my greatest adventure yet, without question, and I am so grateful every day that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it.


Amy, I love your style. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the unequivocal and deep-rooted feeling that they fit anywhere and everywhere and however they wish to fit. And the whole sharing your brain bit? Genius, and true, true, true.

There have been a million moments when I’m somehow alerted true seconds before my kids actually need me, or I know exactly the itchy spot that needs to be scratched. Friends, does that happen with you and yours, too?

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

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A Few Things Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

19th Anniversary

Image and text by Gabrielle. 

Hello, Friends! How are you? For those of you in the States, are you looking forward to the long Labor-Day weekend? I certainly hope so. I’m picturing happy barbeque gatherings across the country.

What a week it’s been at our house! We arrived home from Sweden on Sunday. We said goodbye to our dear friends Audrey and Nick (they were watching the kids while we were gone) on Tuesday night. Ralph flew to England on Wednesday amid much emotion from his parents and siblings. School started for Maude, Oscar and Betty, but we’re still playing catch up on prep — we have many school-related errands to attend to. We had two birthday celebrations (we now have 3 teenagers!). This morning, we’re driving to Utah for a family gathering. And we’ve been working hard to get Olive prepped and packed for France — while we’re in Utah, Olive will fly to France from Salt Lake City.

There’s so much I want to write about and discuss with you! More reports on our public schools, and how we’re dealing with Ralph’s schooling while he goes from England to France. How the whole family is feeling about sending two of our family members across the ocean. Projects I’m in the middle of (or more likely, behind on). But I feel like I’m in a bit of a processing cocoon, rolling everything over in my mind, having quiet conversations with Ben Blair as I sort my thoughts. No doubt, I’ll be writing it all up soon.

Before we head out, I wanted to share a few things with you. Lots of fun stuff — many of the links sent in from readers!

- Lunch ladies are heroes. Thanks, Reshma.

- I’ve fallen in love with tiny kitchens.

- Hah! The definitive list of the top homeschools across the country.

- The last true hermit: 27 years alone in the woods of Maine. Thanks, Meghan.

- A mountain, a mom, and a year of magical thinking after Dad is gone. (Prepare to cry.) Thanks, Amanda.

This panda knows a little something about self care. Thanks, Beccah.

- Laces help kids learn to tie shoes.

- This is how scientists feel about climate change. Thanks, Julie.

- Another one that made me laugh! Back to school in the 70′s versus back to school today. Thanks, Kathryn.

- Where we donate versus diseases that kill us. Thanks, Laura.

- I don’t pretend to know what this is about, but thought it was interesting. This family wants to find a lucky person (plus one) to take with them to Disney.

I hope you have a really wonderful (long!) weekend. I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.


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