Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 29 May 2015 21:25:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 29 May 2015 16:12:31 +0000 Design Mom

Iris Award Red Carpet Gabrielle Blair

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. This was such a good week! I have loved (and to continue to love) your comments on my post about “going off script”. It’s so delightful to read about your paths to higher education. The sheer variety of experiences is inspiring! So thank you for chiming in.

I also feel like this is the first week in a long time where I started to feel like I was back on my usual schedule. I loved it! All these years later and I still love blogging. Which reminds me, something really wonderful happened to me weeks ago, but my schedule has been so nuts, that I think I’m just processing it now. While I was at the Mom 2.0 Summit, I received such an honor — I was given the Iris Award for Blog of the Year!

Iris Award Gabrielle Blair

Holy moly. This was completely unexpected. In fact, I was at the very back of the room eating dinner — I had presented an award earlier and assumed I was done with stage duties for the evening. When my name was called, it took me a bit to realize what was happening. I was so slow to respond they thought I must be out of the room on a bathroom break and sent someone to find me. Hah!

As I walked to the stage, people whispered such kind things to me, and as I passed Whit Honea, he urged me to walk slowly and take it all in. I was super emotional — I started crying before I even got to the microphone. I don’t remember much of what I said that evening as I accepted the award (I wish I had a video!), but I remember naming each of my kids and Ben Blair, and the next day, I saw a tweet quoting me as I ended with something like: Parenting got a lot better for all of us, when blogging came to be.

Another  lovely thing: While I was at the microphone, Laurie Smithwick texted Ben Blair and told him about the award, so when I got back to my seat and looked at my phone, there were a bunch of texts from Ben and the kids congratulating me and cheering me on. I started crying all over again, and quickly snuck out to the hallway so I could call them.

Blog of the Year! What a night!!

Of course, any award is fun to receive, but an award like this, where I was acknowledged by my peers, means so much to me. I really did feel so honored. Thanks for letting me tell you about it.

And now, back to our regular programming. Here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- A report from my dear friend Laura Mayes who lives in the flood plain in Central Texas. (Plus a list of how you can help!)

- Sketching Sleeping Beauty. Thanks, Maude.

- A local florist purchased 2 very run down houses in Detroit for $500. Her plan is to fill the house with flowers for a weekend in October, responsibly tear them down and rebuild a flower farm on the land. Thanks, Julie.

- Make your own slate cheese board for $3!

- Motherhood in the Upper East Side. Have you lived there? Do you think this is accurate?

- Airplane passengers as explained by their pants. (Also, did you see the McSweeney’s kickstarter?)

- A comic strip about privilege.

- Dear Teen Me — a list of 5 boys not to kiss.

- American’s oldest active park ranger.

- Living room before and after with built-in shelves.

- Junk food looking fancy.

- Wow! The San Francisco Chronicle published a two-page feature about my book. Awesome!

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


P.S. — You can see tons of images from the Iris Awards ceremony and the Mom 2.0 conference here. One behind the scenes side note: My arms and legs were totally covered with poison oak during the conference, so finding a dress that would cover me without looking too wintery (it was like 90 degrees at the conference) was a challenge! But I found the red dress on Rent the Runway and it worked perfectly. Also, the photo at top is me and Jeannine Harvey — she is one of my favorite people, and she also won an award that night for her excellent work with the One Campaign.

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Graduation Party! Thu, 28 May 2015 17:30:24 +0000 Design Mom

Ideas for a simple graduation party.

Photos and text by Gabrielle.  //  Get their dorm room ready. Create a registry at Target for your college-bound grad.

Since Ralph has officially finished high school, we thought it would be fun to have a little party to celebrate. He has worked so dang hard over these last few years, and of course we want to demonstrate in any way we can how proud we are of him.

So over the weekend, we put together a Graduation party. We kept it simple and just invited family. We decorated and talked about Ralph’s accomplishments — with cheering! And talked about what’s next. Since Ralph didn’t have a graduation ceremony, marking this transition with a family gathering felt especially important.

Ideas for a simple graduation party.Ideas for a simple graduation party.

Graduation and college is clearly on my mind. In fact, this has turned into a college-themed week. On Tuesday we talked about finishing high school early.  On Wednesday we talked about 529plans. And today, I want to tell you about the graduate registry program I just learned about from Target. I think it’s so smart!

Ideas for a simple graduation party.

It works just like a wedding registry or baby registry, but you fill it with items your student will need when he or she heads to school. Stuff for a dorm room like a tablet or speaker (that’s what we gave Ralph), or items for furnishing a first apartment like a futon or small fridge.

Even if you don’t have a graduate at your house, I’m betting you’ll be sending gifts to graduating nieces or nephews. And this registry makes it simple — one link and you can find everything on their college list — tech gadgets, bedding, kitchen appliances, and school supplies.

Ideas for a simple graduation party.Gift ideas for graduates!

I’m a total fan of buying gifts from registry lists. I love giving a gift that I know the recipient really wants or needs. I also think it’s fun to see what’s on any given person’s registry, and I love that it eliminates the guess work. It feels good, knowing I’m not wasting money on a gift they won’t actually use.

As a parent, I like the idea of making a graduate registry for my kids for lots of reasons, but one particular thing that appeals is using it as a perfect opportunity to help them with more life training — walking through a store and discussing what their needs will actually be at college. Will they need an iron? Do they know how to iron? Will they need a toilet brush? Do they know how to use a toilet brush? It’s also a way to help them picture the actual transition of move-in day and what supplies they’ll want to have ready, so that they can unpack and get to know roommates and not have to run around town on last-minute errands.

All that to say, the invention of graduate registries seems like a brilliant move to me.

Gift ideas for graduates!cupcake smile

What’s your take on registries? Do you ever shop from them when you’re buying gifts? And have you ever created a registry for yourself? I distinctly remember creating our wedding registry almost 20 years ago. It was the first time I really started imagining married life — what towels we would use and the pots and pans we’d cook with. It made the whole thing feel much more real. How about you? I’d love to hear your stories!

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The Treehouse: Finishing the Family Room Thu, 28 May 2015 16:50:21 +0000 Design Mom

world map and hanging chair

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

You know what I’m super excited about? Now that most of my book responsibilities are complete, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to projects in our home. I’m so happy about this! I feel like our house has been on pause for months and months. The room I’m looking at first is the Family Room. At our house, the family functions as the TV room, the music room (you can see our music nook here), and the playroom.

I’ve been working on it little by little, and am happy to say it’s about 70% done! I’m not ready to show the whole room yet, but I thought it would be fun to share this little corner, and talk about what’s still on my list.

world map and hanging chair

This corner is a happy spot. First, the hanging chair is a total magnet for everyone who enters the room. What is it about hanging chairs? Maybe it’s that they are sisters to swings, and they seem like that could have been a toy in an earlier life. : ) Whatever it is, as soon as I saw the super high ceilings in the room, I knew I wanted to add a hanging chair. It gives permission for the whole room (and everybody in it) to relax.

The little red podium is also a draw. We’ve had that podium since our first apartment in New York. I bought in used on ebay. I thought it was full-size when I made the purchase and was completely surprised when the box arrived and it was kid-sized! But over the years, it’s ended up being a perfect addition to our playroom. The kids use it to practice presentations for school and church, they use it for pretend play, and it comes in handy for family meetings as well. When I first bought it, it the finish was dark wood stain, and when we moved to Colorado, I painted it fire-engine red.

world map and hanging chair

The highlight of the corner is probably the colorful world map. I love this map! I ordered it from Pop & Lolli (a many-year sponsor of this blog). It’s the extra large version. The house I grew up in had a world map in the family room, so this feels familiar to me, but I like that this version is very child-like and friendly. As you can see, instead of drawn geographic or political lines, the shapes are created from illustrations and objects that reflect each region. Very cute! And it’s made of a sort of vinyl fabric that you can reposition and reuse, so if we ever want to take it down and move it to another room, or maybe donate it to a classroom, we can.

So what’s next for this room? Three big things: 1) I’m still working on area rugs, 2) I just had a bid to replace our sliding patio door (which is wonky and doesn’t close properly) into a French doors, and 3) I think we’re going to order a couch from a design-your-own-sofa shop. Have you ever used one before? I haven’t, but there are several in the Bay area. The one I’ve talked to is called Decorium, and apparently I can have full design direction over shape and dimensions, so in theory we can order something that fits the available space perfectly.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a family room that’s separate from your living room? Or perhaps you have minimum square footage and combine those rooms into one? And have you ever ordered a sofa from a design-your-own shop? If yes, I’d love to hear any advice you have from your experience! Also, have you ever considered a hanging chair or swing in your house (or do you have one now)? And what are your thoughts on a podium as a piece of residential furniture?

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National 529 Day! Wed, 27 May 2015 18:32:44 +0000 Design Mom

National 529 Day is tomorrow!

By Gabrielle.

In December, we talked about whether or not we paid our own way through college. I LOVED the discussion. So when ScholarShare reached out to do a 5-post series about saving for college, I was all in! For this first post, let’s talk about 529 savings plans. The timing is perfect, because Friday is National 529 Day! And to celebrate, ScholarShare is hosting a 529 Day matching promotion, “You Start It, We Match It.” ScholarShare will match your $50 opening balance to make it $100!

So what is a 529 plan? You know how a 401(k) plan is for retirement savings? Well, a 529 is similar, but intended for college savings, and they give you an important tax advantage — there is no income tax or capital gains tax on the earnings as long as it is used for education.

If you’re intimidated about saving for college, a 529 plan is an encouraging way to go, because you can start with a very small deposit. And we all know that where saving is concerned, simply starting is half the battle. When you’re ready to withdraw funds, they can be used at schools across the nation, and it’s not just about paying for tuition. Funds can be used for all sorts of educational expenses, like books and fees, or supplies and equipment — even certain room and board costs!

Another nice thing is that anyone can open a 529 account. Or gift one. Which means Grandpa can open an account for his granddaughter if he’s so inclined. Or if you’ve opened an account for your child, relatives and friends can add funds to it as well — such a good option when Aunt Sally asks what to get your son for his birthday.

Personally, one of the big reasons I like 529 plans, is that once the money is in the savings account, I’m not tempted to use it for other expenses, because I know I won’t get the tax benefit unless I reserve it for education costs. It sort of makes the funds out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

If you’ve been wanting to start a college savings fund, let this be the kick-in-the-pants you need to make it happen. Put $50 in and instantly turn it into $100! Every dollar counts. And even more than the amount of money you initially deposit, knowing you made the first step on the saving-for-college path feels so dang good.

Want to take advantage of the matching promotion? Open a ScholarShare 529 College Savings Account on Friday, May 29th and ScholarShare will match $50 of the initial deposit. Read details here to find out if you qualify.



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, shared in partnership with ScholarShare.

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Living With Kids: Senna North Wed, 27 May 2015 15:30:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This is such a fabulous story. Even if you only look at the pictures, Senna’s home is a true and beautiful reflection of what it’s like to live with kids. I couldn’t stop smiling at all the little details in the North home that scream happiness and togetherness. (Of special note is her son’s bedroom at the moment, devoid of furniture except for his bed because the kid is a climber! Anyone empathize?!)

But if you live for these interviews, this one is overflowing with hows and whys and different ways of looking at this parenting/working balance we all crave. Plus, there are lovely adoption experiences, a dad who works it into his schedule to spend one weekday with the kids, and oh, did Senna’s beginning tug at my heart! I said it once, but it deserves another mention: This is such a fabulous story. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Welcome, Senna!

Hello, everyone! We are Senna, Eric, Iliana (Illy), and Evan. Eric and I are family physicians and own our own clinic. Illy is six and just finishing kindergarten, and Evan is three and will be starting preschool next year.

I’ll start with Evan because even though he is the littlest, I’d say he has the most exuberant and loudest personality of all of us! He is definitely three. “I want to do it myself!” is a common phrase around here. When we go to a coffee shop, he always ends up charming someone with his smiles and laugh. He really works a room! Ever since we can remember, he has loved music. He plays the drums with anything and everything – anything that remotely resembles a drum and drumsticks turns any moment into a mini concert. And he’s pretty good. Just very loud. He has a little guitar that he plays every day and sings at the top of his lungs. He makes up funny songs about being put in time out and wearing his underwear on his head.

Illy is such a girly girl. She loves anything that is sparkly, pink, kittens, or stickers. She also isn’t afraid to get dirty or play with the boys. At the end of the day, she usually has dirt or glitter all over her sparkly dress and her hair is a mess, with a big grin on her face. She is truly kindhearted. I used to think she was going to be really shy, but she is just cautious and careful. She didn’t walk on her own without holding onto our hands until she was 17 months, but one day Grandma caught her practicing walking in her pack and play when she thought no one was watching. She had been holding out on us! Once she feels confident at something, nothing can stop her. She is always doing a craft. I check on her sometimes at night and she is out of bed, cutting up paper and taping it together into a treasure box or some other creation. She has her artwork taped all over her walls.

Eric is one of the most genuine men that I know. He truly cares about other people and works hard to have deep, meaningful relationships. He takes on a lot of the household work and tries to balance work and family and relationships. He is selfless in so many ways. I fell in love with him because he is such a good listener. When you’re talking to him, you feel like you are the most important person in the world at that moment.

I am very introverted, but also value relationships. I was raised by a single mother. She worked hard, but we really didn’t have a lot. We lived in pretty rundown rental houses. Even as a child, I tried to decorate, paint, and make things pretty. I dreamed of living in my own home someday with the freedom to make the space the way I wanted it. I even remember designing rooms and houses when I was very young. Of course, my designs included indoor slides and swing sets, too! I also dreamed of being a doctor. Even at the age of 11, I knew that was how I wanted to help people. It’s amazing to me now that I never doubted that I could achieve this dream, even with no way to afford college, let alone medical school.

Eric and I met in college at a ballroom dance. We were both such nerds! I was taking a swing dance class. He taught me to waltz and we ended up talking more than dancing. We both wanted to be doctors, and saw this as a calling and not just a career. I left the dance early and he didn’t know who I was – just my first name! He spent several weeks trying to track me down. Long story short, he eventually did find me, and we slowly became best friends. Then one day I realized that he was the one person that I wanted to do life with. I think he always had a crush on me, but I was a little slower to fall in love.

I always knew I wanted children and was told by so many how hard it is to be a doctor and a mother. It seems to me that the balance between work and home is somehow harder on women. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard myself saying to Eric, “I wish I could just quit medicine and be a stay-at-home mom.” But then I think about my patients and my relationships with them that are so valuable. I make a difference in their lives.

Sometimes I feel like I’m short-changing my patients or my kids, but over the years I’ve been learning that it’s important to live my dreams. This world needs people who are living their dreams. My dreams were to be a doctor and a mother. It truly is an amazing thing that I can show my kids what it looks like to pursue your dreams, especially as a woman. For me, the right balance is working two days a week. I will always feel the pull to be home more, but I think it’s worth it in the end. My daughter and son know that they can be or do anything they want in this life. There are no limits on them.

Eric and I did medical school and residency together. He was accepted to medical school a year ahead of me. It was a miracle that I was accepted to the same school the following year. Then we got married after my first year. I can’t believe that I planned a wedding during my first year of med school! We were on a very tight budget and paid for the wedding ourselves. Eric took a year off of medical school our first year of marriage so we could do the rest of our training together. He worked at a boring office job and cooked and cleaned and was such a support to me. We joke that that year as a house husband got him trained good.

We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Medical school and residency was hard, and I’m so grateful that we got to do it together. Often spouses have a hard time understanding just how difficult medical training can be. There is a high divorce rate during medical training. Since we were both in it together, we were able to have a lot of grace for each other and learned how to encourage each other.

We waited until we finished our family medicine residency before starting a family. We had done natural family planning and it seemed like it would be so easy to get pregnant once we started trying. Well, it didn’t happen. We did testing and everything was normal. We considered IVF, but for us it seemed like there were so many children in this world already here who needed a home, so we decided to look into adoption.

Now, I have always admired people who adopted, but never thought that I would do that. It seemed like such a huge responsibility to be entrusted with someone else’s child. Like there would be no room for making a mistake! But over the years, God changed my heart. Until one day I thought, if I had the choice to either become pregnant or adopt, I truly wouldn’t be able to make the choice.

I realized that my dream was to have children – not be pregnant. Shortly after that aha moment, we got a phone call from the adoption agency that a birth mom was interested in meeting us. She was 36 weeks along. Eric and I were so excited that we actually jumped up and down on our couch and…um…broke it!

We met Iliana’s birth mom only one time before Iliana was born. It was a magical and humbling moment when our little girl was placed in my arms by her birth mom, who loved her so much. We brought her home from the hospital the day after she was born. Our adoption with Iliana is an open adoption, but Iliana’s birth mom has decided to not meet her again at this point. We send letters and pictures through the adoption agency.

Evan’s adoption was different. We found out about him through friends of ours in Oklahoma. Our friend, an OB/GYN, had a patient who wanted to place her baby for adoption. She was due in about a month. We talked with her several times on the phone and emailed back and forth. Eric, Illy, and I flew out to Oklahoma just in time for her induction. We met her in the hospital for the first time and fell in love with her. Her love for her baby was so evident and we knew this was the hardest thing she would ever have to do.

The agency that we had used for Iliana’s adoption didn’t do adoptions across state lines, so we had to go through lawyers. The difference was night and day for us. We had such trouble getting the lawyers to communicate with us and felt that there was very little support for the birth mom through the process. We brought Evan home from the hospital after two days and were able to stay with friends in Oklahoma. We didn’t know when we would be allowed to fly home with him to Oregon. It was a waiting game until all the paperwork was finalized and because two states had to sign off on everything. After a week, Eric and Iliana had to fly home while Evan and I stayed in Oklahoma indefinitely. That was probably one of the hardest times for me. I missed Iliana a lot, I was exhausted and frustrated. I’m just so grateful that I had friends to stay with; some families live in hotel rooms during this process. Amazingly, we finally heard that the adoption was approved and I was able to take him home after ten more days. I actually made it back just in time for a baby shower that was planned for that day! Evan’s adoption is also an open adoption. I post pictures of Evan on Facebook and give his birth mom updates. She would like to see him again someday when he is older. She is an amazing and strong woman.

Both kids love to hear their birth stories and all about their adoptions. They take it all in stride at this point. I think it’s so interesting that Illy will have memories of Evan’s adoption story. She has the experience of both being adopted and being part of the process of adopting Evan.

We live in our dream town. It has a population of about 9,000. It has a little movie theater with cheap popcorn, old buildings, a creek, a park, a summer farmer’s market, a few grocery stores and cute little shops. But it’s also close to a city of 250,000, which is about a 20 to 30 minute drive through gorgeous farmland. It’s about an hour from Portland and the international airport. We get to have all the fun of a quaint small town with the convenience of bigger cities close by.

We still can’t get over what a close community it is. They have a pet parade where everyone can bring their pets! We parade through the streets with our cats, dogs, horses, mice – you name it! There are probably about five different festivals or parades throughout the year, and they are a big deal! People know each other. I can’t go to the grocery store without running into a friend or patient. I know that not everyone would appreciate that, but we love it. The people are a great mix of hard-working farmers and artists, young families, and retired people.

Eric and I were finishing our family medicine residency program in Oklahoma and flew back to Oregon one weekend for a wedding. In one day, we looked at 17 homes. None were quite right. I wanted an older home to fix up, and Eric (who is practical and knew that we would never have time for that) wanted a newer home. The next day, our realtor showed us a home that wasn’t on the market yet. It was perfect! It was newer, but had tons of character. I really fell in love with the house, though, because the owners at the time had kids and there were signs of life everywhere! Toys, bright colors, lots of bedrooms, little nooks and crannies. It was the perfect family home and I could almost hear the little feet running around!

We made a few cosmetic changes. I painted almost every room upstairs. In the last couple of years, we had the kitchen cabinets painted and subway tile backsplash put up and quartz countertops. I had been drooling over white kitchens on Pinterest for years! We decided to keep the white appliances because they work and we’ll replace them as needed.

We’ve talked about moving when things feel cramped and there doesn’t seem to be enough storage, but I really love this house! I also think that it’s human nature to always want bigger and more, and I try to resist that impulse. So for right now, we just try to not hold on to too much. I’m very good at purging.

One thing that wasn’t even on our radar when we bought the house is that it’s in such a safe neighborhood. It’s away from any major roads and we are surrounded by a great mix of young families and retired grandmas and grandpas.

My mom lived about an hour away at that time and would drive down to watch the kids on Fridays while I worked and she would stay with us for the weekend. When we finally persuaded her to move into town, we were able to rearrange our schedules so that she watched the kids one day a week on Tuesdays (the one day that Eric and are both in the office) and Eric stays home one day a week on Thursdays. I’m with them the other three. I am so grateful that they get to spend their days with different people who love them and have unique things to offer and teach them. We all have our different strengths and the kids benefit from that. My mom does a lot of crafts with them and cooking. Eric takes them out a lot to the park and to the zoo.

As the kids have grown and their needs change, I have continued to adjust my work so that things feel balanced. I used to take care of my patients in the hospital and assist on surgeries. After Iliana was a little over a year old, I saw that this was taking too much time away from her and it was stressful to juggle childcare on the days I was supposed to be home, but instead got called to the hospital. So I stepped down from those duties. I continued to deliver babies and do newborn care in the hospital until Evan was born. Then I phased out that as well when he was about six months. It was too exhausting to be up all night with a delivery and then not be alert the next day while caring for the kids. It was difficult to admit that I couldn’t do it all, but it was the right thing to do.

Right now, Eric and I wake up around 6 or 6:30. We like to have some alone time before starting our day, since we’re both introverts. Then we get ready and get the kids up at 7:15 or so. Breakfast is usually cereal or oatmeal, and Eric always makes a Vitamix smoothie. At least the kids get veggies once a day! Whoever is working that day drives Illy to school. We drop her off and then head to the office. We start seeing patients at 8:30. Our workdays are sometimes long. If it’s a slow day, I get home around 6 or 6:30. If it’s a busy day, it could be 7:30 or later. On the days I work, either my mom or Eric makes dinner. It’s so nice to come home and not have to cook!

On the days I’m home, Evan and I will play in the morning until 9 and then I do an exercise class at our YMCA. They have childcare there and he usually gets to play with other kids in the gym where I work out or go to the park. I have tried so many different variations of exercising and having childcare has been the key for me maintaining this schedule. The rest of the day isn’t very structured. It’s usually spent catching up from the day before when I was working. There is always lots of laundry and dishes. My mom often picks Illy up from school at 11:30. Then we do lunch and then Evan goes down for a nap at 1:30. Illy and I do a craft or homework. Or we take a nap too Then it’s time to make dinner. I work really hard to make a menu each week. It’s usually flexible, but I found that I really needed to have some ideas written down so that I had the ingredients I needed. I just hate trying to think of what to cook at 5:00 pm! I hate making a menu also, but at least it’s just once a week of pulling teeth. The kids go to bed around 7:30. Eric and I watch TV and then I’m in bed around 9, reading a book or conking out!

I’m sure my kids think that Daddy is way more fun than mom. On his day off with the kids, Eric goes stir crazy just staying home so he usually thinks up something fun to do outside. They go swimming, to the park, hiking, or the zoo. They play outside in the sprinklers and make big messes! It means so much to me that they get at least one day of his undivided attention. Also, every week, he is reminded that being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job!

I don’t have any space in our home that is too formal or off limits, but I also want the kids to learn how to pick up their things and be respectful of their space. I spend a lot of time coming up with storage and organizing solutions that work for us. I’ve found that while I love baskets for hiding things, clear storage seems to work better for us because we can see what is in each container. It’s been an evolving process.

One of my favorite storage solutions is the Ikea Algot that we have in our mudroom. It’s not a gorgeous built-in, but the kids can easily access their drawers and put things away. We keep sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, hats, socks, shoes, towels, swimsuits, and odds and ends toys in the drawers.

I love spaces that incorporate kid things into the decor. So many toys are cute and colorful and can make a house feel lived-in and warm. I have my old dollhouse that my mom and I made in our dining area and the kid’s Ikea kitchen there too, along with an old school desk I had as a child and their chalkboard. I also like furniture that has dual purposes. I painted an ugly brown 90s hutch white and distressed it. The top glass-fronted cabinets hold display dishes and the lower closed cabinets hold all our board games.

I used to really be drawn to neutral, white, calm spaces. But with kids, I find that my decorating style has leaned more toward neutral backdrops with bright punctuations of color. I didn’t enjoy having to childproof when the kids were really little because most childproofing just isn’t aesthetically pleasing. For a long time, we had a gate at the top of the stairs for safety. It was absolutely necessary, but I did a happy dance the day we were able to take that ugly thing down!

We were eager to buy all new furniture when we moved into our new home. But we realized that once we started having kids, a lot of things would probably become worn pretty quickly. So we bought sturdy, less expensive furniture that wouldn’t break our hearts if they became stained or broken. I have added slowly to the house, mostly shopping thrift stores or garage sales. I have repainted quite a lot of my furniture. A little chalk paint goes a long way!

I’ve learned a lot over the years about our style. Our living room used to have a dark brown coffee table, dark bookshelf, and dark end tables. All because I thought I had to match the wood tones to the legs of our couch. Soon, the dark became oppressive. I have always been drawn to white distressed furniture. So, with my husband asking “Are you sure about this?” I painted some of the furniture white to lighten things up. I even painted and distressed the coffee table, which turned out awesome.

But things keep changing. We took the coffee table out of the living room because we found that the kids just want to have room to play and the table was in the way – and the cause of several head bumps!

I have enjoyed getting to know my kids. They each have their own personalities and I love learning about who they are. For me, I really enjoyed the age where we would start to have little conversations because I started to really feel like I was getting to know who they were. I am surprised at how much I enjoy doing little trips with the kids. I love including them when I go shopping or run an errand because everything is new and interesting to them. They get a kick out of going through the carwash or riding in the shopping cart at the grocery store. I love to look at things through their eyes. Going on a walk with my daughter becomes a treasure hunt. She comes home with twigs and leaves and rocks and they are precious to her. Everyday objects become musical instruments for my son. It is a magical world that they live in! I remember having imagination like that when I was a child. Somehow, I became very serious and my kids remind me how to laugh and play again. I try to teach them about things, but find that I’m the one learning from them.

I’ve found that I have no preconceived notions about who my kids will someday be simply because they are adopted. They might take after Eric and I in some mannerisms, but they are truly their own people. I try to not put labels on them and I’m not tempted to say, “Oh, Illy is shy because I was shy.” Or “Evan is going to be musical because his dad is.” Instead, we get to see how life unfolds for them. It’s very exciting!

I hope they remember feeling peace in our house. I also hope they have memories of lots of music and laughter, good food and friends. I hope they remember that Eric and I loved them and showed them everyday what our love looks like with words and actions.

I do wish someone had told me that things are never going to be perfect. I got lots of good advice and read parenting books as well as books on adoption, so I felt like I had done my research. But nothing really prepares you until you’re in it, experiencing it. The biggest struggle that I have is that I really want things to be clean and tidy. With kids, things are just never going to look like a magazine picture. I knew this about myself when I became a parent, but it’s something that I have to continually remind myself about. I love the quote “Cleaning the house with kids in it is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.” So true!

Some really good advice that another mom gave me early on is that there are just different phases of life with kids. Some phases are harder than others. Sometimes you don’t get to do everything you want to do. I remember when Illy was two weeks old and I became overwhelmed one day. I thought the rest of my life would be two hour feedings, interrupted sleep, endless diaper changes, no more date nights with Eric, etc. I had to remind myself that this period of time would pass before I knew it. Sure enough, life flies by and you’re on to the next phase. Before I know it, the kids will be heading off to college and I will wish that I had enjoyed each and every moment. So I remind myself of that.


So good, right? Thank you, Senna, for sharing all your hard-earned wisdom with us! I’m touched by the sweet observation that you get to relive your childhood and play again with your own kids. And Evan’s room makes me laugh. You probably elicited a relieved sigh or two out there from readers who are in the same situation and considering removing all the dressers and bookshelves in their child’s room – or at least bolting them down!

For those of you craving answers on how others manage their schedules with two working parents, did this tour hit the spot? It’s reassuring how the family continues to adapt to new stages and adjust their schedules accordingly, isn’t it? Our answers today on how to make it work might not be the answers we need tomorrow, and that is a worthwhile reminder as the summer season and a whole new schedule hits us. Good luck adjusting, everyone!

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

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30 Minutes Till Guests Arrive: What Do You Clean? Tue, 26 May 2015 18:45:45 +0000 Design Mom

Question: 30 minutes till guests arrive and the house is a mess. What do you clean first? Click through for my list.

Photos and text by Gabrielle.This post is sponsored by Clorox—helping you clean on the go for a happier home.

Last week, as the family was cleaning up after dinner, I posed this question to Ben Blair and the kids: If guests are arriving in 30 minutes, and the house is a complete mess, what would you clean first? It’s a simple question, and a scenario that we’ve all lived through multiple times, but it was funny to hear everyone’s answers because we all had a different list!

Obviously, answers can depend on context — are these guests staying overnight? coming for dinner? stopping by for a playdate? So for our imaginary scenario, we decided the guests were first time visitors, who are only staying for a couple of hours. The visit isn’t during a meal time, and they might want a house tour. You’ve got 30 mins to clean up. What do you do?

Here’s my list:

First, I’d spend 7 minutes or so putting dishes in the sink and wiping down the kitchen counters and kitchen table. I figure no one wants to see the remains of lunch on display. Note: I wouldn’t actually do the dishes — as long as they’re in the sink and the counters are wiped, I would move on to other tasks.

Next, I’d spend another 7 minutes clearing clutter on the flat surfaces in the living room and entry — sofas, coffee table, benches, etc., The kind of clutter I’m thinking of is paper stuff like homework, mail or catalogs, and also things like tools from the shed that are waiting to be put away, or a stray pair of shoes. I would focus on the paper first, because putting loose paper away makes a huge impact.

Then, I’d spend about 5 minutes focusing on the coffee table. I’d start with dusting the coffee table itself, plus anything on the coffee table, because picking up an interesting book or conversational object and realizing it has left a layer of dust on your hand is gross. (Shout out to my dusting fave Clorox® Triple Action Dust Wipes!) Then I’d choose books to display that I think our guests would like.

Question: 30 minutes till guests arrive and the house is a mess. What do you clean first? Click through for my list.

After dusting, I’d spend 2 minutes on the sofas. I’d plump the pillows and tidy the throw blankets. If anything needs a cleaning, I’d send it to the laundry room.

Then I’d stop by the bathroom most likely to be used by visitors, and do a two-minute tidy. Hang any wet towels, wipe counters, make sure there’s a clean hand towel accessible, and that the toilet paper is stocked.

Next, I’d spend two minutes on the porch and front walkway. Is everything welcoming? Is there a clear path?

Then the remaining time would go to sweeping the floors. And if I have 2 minutes left, I’d also spot clean the floor with a wet rag.

If I have kids to help, I’d send them to work on bedroom essentials: makes beds, and put dirty clothes in the hamper. Then take out any garbage, recycling and compost in the house, or start on actually doing the dishes.

The play room and family office would be ignored, because I can use the excuse they’re sort of supposed to be messy — it means good things are happening. : )

So that’s it. In 30 minutes, I feel like I can get the house fairly decent. I first asked the question just making conversation with my family, but it ended up being a good reminder to me, that it doesn’t have to take all day to get the house tidy. Even 30 minutes can make a big difference!

Now it’s your turn. I’m curious about what would make your last-minute tidy list? Is yours similar to mine? Would you switch the order? Or maybe prioritize tasks like window cleaning or vacuuming? Do you know exactly what you’d tackle first? Or perhaps your house is generally clean 24/7 so you can’t really relate to this scenario? Or, maybe your house is happily messy and you’re fine to bring guests no matter what? I’d love to hear!


I was delighted to partner with Clorox on this post, because lately, my go-to dusting tool has been Clorox® Triple Action Dust Wipes. Have you tried them? I like their dust wipes because they’re super easy to use, and they work on pretty much every surface in my home — like furniture, electronics, and floors. Plus, they’re effective, so they help us fight allergies — a non-stop battle since our home is surrounded by trees.

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School Update Tue, 26 May 2015 18:02:13 +0000 Design Mom

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1503

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Here we are, finishing up another school year. We still have 3 weeks to go — our last day of school is June 12th. (Side note: School after Memorial Day always seems so challenging to me — it feels like summer vacation should start now!). June will be going to Kindergarten next year. Betty will go to 4th grade. Oscar to 5th grade. Olive will go to 8th grade. Maude will be a junior in high school. And Ralph was going to start his senior year. He was. But instead: he’s offically done with high school!

This came as quite a surprise to us. Here’s how it happened.

You may remember he spent his Freshman year in France attending a local French school. And he spent the first half of this school year (his Junior year) in France as well, enrolled in California Virtual Academy (which is a K12 online school). He arrived home for Christmas, and then went to Haiti with Ben Blair in January. When he got home from Haiti, we asked him if he wanted to continue doing online school, or re-enroll in the same high school he attended his sophomore year (the same school Maude attends). But he surprised us by saying he wanted to finish high school early.

Last year, one of his best friends had finished high school early by taking the CHSPE (pronounced chess-pea), which is essentially the California GED. And she’d started college at CalArts instead of attending her senior year. Ralph thought that path sounded amazing.

We were open to the idea, but wanted to learn more about it. What would happen if Ralph took the CHSPE? How would that change his college applications? How would it change his already unusual transcript? So, at the end of January, we called in a local college advisor — a consultant that helps families through the college application process — and we learned that taking the CHSPE changes things a lot.

When we talked with the counselor and told him about Ralph’s high school experience — good grades, lots of extra curricular, but one year in French school, one year in Oakland high school, and one year in California online school. We explained that we’d had a hard time transferring all his different credits into one seamless transcript. It’s not impossible to do, but because we were new to Oakland when we first inquired about it, and didn’t know the right people to talk to, and also because we simply didn’t have enough time to commit to the red-tape involved, we hadn’t been able to make it happen. We hadn’t given up on transferring the credits, but with Ralph wanting to finish early, we weren’t even sure if we should proceed.

The advisor said we had 3 good options:

1) We could enroll Ralph in a good private school in our area for the remaining half of his junior year, and his senior year. A private school would be able to evaluate what Ralph has learned, and translate all of his different credits into one transcript that would be easy to use for college applications. He told us that in theory, our public schools could help us do this, but that in California, public schools are so challenged for resources that it would be nearly impossible to get this done. (I’m guessing the difficulty depends on the school district.)

2) The second option would be to ignore Ralph’s transcript and instead, use AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) subject tests to show college application boards Ralph’s academic qualifications. Basically, Ralph would take the SAT, and then as many AP and IB subject tests as he could make time to study for to show that he can do college-level work. Then college boards could focus on his test scores when evaluating his application and not even look at his transcript.

3) The third option was taking the CHSPE. If Ralph took and passed the CHSPE, he would be officially done with high school. And he wouldn’t need to take the SAT or ACT. But, applying to universities wouldn’t really be an option. Instead he would go straight to community college. There, he could do a two-year program, then transfer to one of the California universities to finish his degree.

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1535

Ralph was definitely the most interested in option number 3. But Ben Blair and I had a million questions: can he transfer to a university after one year? Answer: Apparently, no. The transfer programs are based on two-years in community college. How expensive is community college? Answer: Umm. Super, super affordable! Especially compared to UC tuition. What about Cal Arts — how did his friend start immediately at CalArts? Answer: Turns out CalArts is a private university and they have some non-traditional entrance options.

I also had a big question for Ralph. I figured he might like attending community college the first year, when his peers were still in high school, but would he be bummed out when they went to their dream universities and he still had another year of community college? Also, would Ralph be sad to be missing his senior year and all the traditions that go with it?

But Ralph was 100% excited about the community college plan. Mostly, he was just ready to be done with high school, and also, because it was like a major bonus when he realized he could bypass the ACT and SAT, and build his video portfolio instead of preparing for a test.

So Ralph prepped for the CHSPE with a tutor for about 6 weeks and then he took the test in March (it’s only offered twice a year). At the end of April, he found out he’d passed. Which means: he’s officially done with High school! Since then, we were afraid he would be bored, with all of his other siblings still in school. But it turns out he’s had a ton of work. He’s been busy taking on video jobs, being a camp counselor, teaching iMovie classes to teens, and working on Olive Us as well.

And this fall, instead of his senior year, he’ll be enrolling in community college. Luckily, we have 5 great community colleges in our area. He’s looking at computer animation classes and typography classes, and advanced video editing.

As parents, we’re delighted he has a solid plan for moving forward. And the more we learn about community college options, the more excited we are. Ralph hasn’t even started yet and Ben Blair has already become a community college advocate.  Many of the schools have a focus on trade skills (like learning Photoshop, or accounting), and the teachers often have full-time careers in their field. For example, a computer animation class might be taught by an animator from Pixar. The price is also super encouraging. For reference, the cost of tuition for a year is essentially equivalent to our family’s cell-phone bill over two months. If you transfer to a university after two years, it’s like getting a university degree at half the cost! Suddenly we’re wondering if community college should be the plan for all of our kids.

So Ralph’s current plan is to do two years of community college, then transfer to a university to get his degree. Right now he is interested in Cal Berkeley and UCLA, so he’s talking with people who have transferred to those schools from community college, but he knows that his options hinge on how he does at community college.

Since Ben’s PhD is philosophy of education, I put extra weight on his thoughts about this new path, and I’m feeling more assured since he’s so into it. One of the big things he references is Ralph’s sophomore year. Ralph earned excellent grades, took hard classes, participated in marching band and jazz band, and theater too (he won Best Performer of the year!). But in order to do all of that, he stayed up super late pretty much every night, was constantly stressed out, and we hardly saw him. Even before Ralph chose this new path, the idea that he would be that stressed for 3 years in order to go straight into a good university was already feeling wrong.

I still have regrets about my college career because I was a pretty high-achieving high schooler, and  when I started college, I was burned out on school. So knowing there’s an option for teens, where they can learn what they need to learn to finish high school, but not have to be super anxious about grades or standardized tests, feels like a godsend.

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1521

I can tell you I also have a funny feeling like we’ve suddenly gone off script. The “script” was: check out colleges as a junior, apply in the fall of senior year, graduate, then head to university the next fall. Maude is still following that script. (And every time she’s stressed out by the burden of her AP classes, I wonder why in the world I’m clinging to this script so tightly.) But with Ralph, we’ve now taken a new path, and I’m feeling like I need a new script, a new roadmap. (Side note: For me, the script sort of ends at college, because there are so many variables at that point. Length of universtiy depends on what they study, where they study and how they study. They may want to do graduate work, or go on a mission, or study abroad, or get married. Who knows? So I guess our script for Ralph is just ending a bit early.)

The other thing we didn’t expect, but that has been fascinating, is that the more people we tell about the community college plan, the more we hear about people taking non-traditional approaches to college. It makes me wonder how the college experience will change from the time Ralph starts to the time June starts.

Now I’m dying to hear: What was your experience after high school? Did you go to college, and if yes, did you attend 4 years in the same place? Or did you get to University through an unusual path? We have friends who partied through high school, attended okay colleges, and then did graduate work at Ivy League schools — anyone else? If you have kids old enough to go to college, what kind of path got them there?

P.S. — The real reason college tuition costs so much. Also, the advisor we talked to was recommended by our friends at church and he is fantastic, his name is Matthew Hulse, and if you live in the Bay Area and need college help, I would highly recommend him.

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A Few Things Fri, 22 May 2015 16:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. What a strange week this was for me blogging-wise. I’m sort of stunned it’s already Friday. I was traveling on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — Tuesday night was my last officially scheduled book tour stop. And when I got home on Wednesday, I could totally feel myself shut down. I imagine I was holding myself together till my tour commitments were done, but when I finished, I think I officially hit some sort of exhaustion wall. Oh my! (Side note, yes, there will likely be future book stops, but for now I’m taking a break.)

This morning, as I wrote this post, I realized it’s only my 3rd blog post this week, and I was completely surprised! I’m not sure if I’ve ever published so few blog posts over a week in my almost 9 years of blogging. If nothing else, it’s definitely a rarity. It feels strange to me. And stranger still because I feel like there is so much I want to talk with you about! I’ve been meeting readers all over the country and want to report, our cottage in France is on my mind and I’m long overdue to tell you more about it, we’re wrapping up another Oakland public school year, I had all sorts of emotions come up when visiting Denver that I want to discuss with you, summer plans are in the works, and Alt Summer is coming up fast!

But this weekend, I will be completely content if I can do absolutely nothing. Holding still sounds perfect to me. : ) So before I begin doing nothing, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- 100 years of beauty. Super sweet.

- From the Onion — the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage.

- Jimmy Kimmel’s tribute to David Letterman. I totally teared up.

- My daughter Maude sent me this link and it blew my mind — the total area of solar panels it would take to power the world.

Gravity glue.

- What it’s like to have your child diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Thanks, Julie.

- Burgers and drought.

- Oakland pride!

- Strong opinions about flip-flops. You too?

- Striking up your grill this weekend? Check out this grilling guide, this picnic guide, and this lemonade 101 guide.

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


P.S. — Are you doing anything to mark Memorial Day? I think our best Memorial Days were in France — it was such an honor to visit the American Military Cemetery that overlooks the D-Day beaches. Have you ever been?

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Growing A Family: Jenny Post Thu, 21 May 2015 16:52:15 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Nostalgic photo of big-sister Betty meeting baby Flora June (who turned FIVE last week!).

I originally posted Jenny’s first birth story way back in 2011, so it’s really a lovely feeling to welcome her back with another! She experienced a completely different type of birth the second time around, so this is nowhere near the same story, second verse same as the first! For her first delivery, she was adamant on a natural birth. This time? Why not try an epidural? I love how easy she was on herself.

It’s fascinating to me how we place all these expectations on ourselves to somehow conquer a multitude of personal goals when it comes to the birthing process. Delivering a baby is tough enough, wouldn’t you say? I would, too! Please enjoy Jenny’s words and sweet experience. Even if you’re not having a baby anytime soon, it’s pretty wonderful advice.

Welcome, Jenny!

My second pregnancy and birth experience was a complete 180 from my first. I’m honored to have my son Nolan’s birth story featured on Design Mom, and when I reread it before sitting down to write this one, I was reminded what a difference a few years make.

In March of 2013, my husband Matt and I finally decided to sell our house on Long Island, a house that never quite felt like home to us. We lived there for five years, and I was itching to leave after a year or two.  We were fortunate to have a very successful open house and after a few days on the market, the house was sold! The morning after that exciting news, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. While I really shouldn’t have been surprised, I was stunned.

I was so stunned that I didn’t tell Matt right then. I think because I had pushed him into selling our house, I felt like I was bombarding him with major life changes. I was actually worried he was going to be stressed or upset. So instead of telling Matt, I packed up our two year old, dropped him at daycare, and spent my workday in a fog.  I might have been teaching Lord of the Flies to my high school students, but all I could think about was, “Oh my God I’m pregnant and we just sold our house and now we will have nowhere to live.”

Later that day I nervously waited for Matt to come home from work. We stood in the kitchen recounting our days and I silently mouthed, “I’m pregnant” to him while Nolan chatted away obliviously next to us. Needless to say, my nerves were unwarranted. He was very excited and not panicked like I was. But that’s when the real insanity began. Over the next few months, we packed up our house, put most of our belongings in storage, moved in with my parents, looked for a new house, found a new house, renovated that house, and moved in a few weeks before baby number two arrived.

Having so much upheaval and change while being pregnant is not ideal. In addition to managing the stresses of packing, moving, house hunting, etc. I lost a lot of that time to sit back and be excited about the baby. During my first pregnancy, I could tell you in an instant what fruit or vegetable was comparable to my baby’s size. This time around I frequently forgot exactly how many months along I was.

With our older son, I delivered at 38 weeks and I was fully prepared for an early delivery with this one, too. When weeks 38, 39, and 40 crept by, I sort of stopped believing I was even going to have a baby and started pondering what it would be like to be pregnant forever. On my due date I ran some errands, and when the cashiers at Home Depot and Target asked, “When are you due?” there was a mix of horror and disbelief when I answered them, “Today!” You mean not everyone buys a new mailbox and picture hooks on her due date?

With both pregnancies I opted to use a midwife instead of an obstetrician, which in our area is kind of unusual. I was determined to have a drug-free birth with our older son, Nolan, and I felt more confident that could happen with a midwife. As my second pregnancy progressed, many people asked if I was planning on going drug-free again. I assumed I would, but there was this nagging question in the back of my mind…why? When I was pregnant with Nolan, I had a dozen reasons (good ones!) why I wanted a drug-free birth. Now I couldn’t come up with many. I started to feel like my desire for an unmedicated birth this time around was more ego-driven, like, “Well, I did it once without the epidural, so I guess I should just do that again, right?” I decided I would wait and see what I wanted to do in the moment.

In the early morning of November 17, five days after my due date, I woke up with some sharp cramping, and I thought I felt the tiniest little drop of something. Pee? Water breaking? My imagination? I got out of bed and stood up and that’s when my water broke. My first thought? Eeeek! Get off the rug! With my first baby, my water didn’t break on its own, but this was like what you see in the movies. It felt like pee falling out all over the floor and no amount of kegels was going to stop it.

I woke up Matt and called my midwife.  At this point it was 3:30 in the morning and I wasn’t having any contractions. She recommended we get Matt’s parents over here to stay with Nolan and said I should get in the shower. “Second babies can come faster!” she warned. My labor with Nolan was nearly 30 hours from start to finish so I wasn’t too worried. By the time I got out of the shower the contractions had started and they were already three minutes apart. Ok, so maybe the midwife was right…

After Matt’s parents arrived, we headed to the hospital and by the time I got checked in it was around 6:00 am. The contractions were non-stop. They were coming a minute apart and lasting for close to a minute, so I had no break. My midwife Michelle examined me and said I was four centimeters (curses!) but tried to soothe my nerves by reminding me that I hadn’t even been in labor for three hours. After another hour or two, I felt at my breaking point and asked to be checked again. I was still four centimeters. And that’s when I asked for the epidural! Little did I know I would have to wait close to another hour because I hadn’t had any IV fluids since my original plan was no drugs.  Apparently you need a bag of fluids before the anesthesiologist can give you the epidural (more curses!).

When I finally got the pain medication, it was nothing short of heavenly. I was smiling! I was laughing! I could unclench my fists! Really lovely. I said to Matt, “I hope I don’t dilate too much because I could really use a nap!” Well, that was not in the cards for me. Less than an hour later I started to feel the telltale time-to-push feeling: bowling ball in your bottom. I actually said, “Oh no! I think I have to push!” Michelle examined me and I was right. Go time!

Let me take a moment to recap my pushing experience with Nolan. It was for nearly three hours in excruciating pain. His arm was kind of stuck up over his head, so it took forever for him to pass under the pubic bone and make his way out.

Because I had the epidural, I had so much less pain from the contractions that I could really feel how and when I needed to push. It obviously still hurt but I think my pushing was more efficient and effective. Only a few pushes underway, Michelle said, “Ok just a couple more!” In my head I thought, “No way. Don’t mess with my head, lady!” But she was right. In less than ten minutes, Will Henry was here.

Four months later and life is great. Motherhood feels easier, and I’m much more confident and relaxed. Of course part of that confidence comes from the experience of having done it once before. More of my assuredness is rooted in the idea that everything is normal and what it is supposed to be. If he’s up a few nights in a row? It will pass. If he’s distracted while nursing for a day or two and pulling all over the place? It’s temporary.

My message to friends after giving birth both with and without drugs is do what you want! I don’t regret skipping the epidural the first time around, and I’m not disappointed I got it this time. More than anything, I’m grateful I’ve had two healthy babies.


“More than anything, I’m grateful…” Thank you, Jenny, for those simple five words that I will enjoy repeating here and there and whenever I remember. If you only helped one of my readers ease up on her expectations today, that’s pretty worthwhile!

What does everyone think? If you’ve been lucky enough to experience more than one birth, were you more lenient on yourself the second time around? (Over my six births, I ended up trying a mix of everything!) Or did you feel compelled to prove something to yourself, and push harder in a direction that scared you? Oh, you know I always love your stories!

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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Living With Kids: Jessica Rushing Tue, 19 May 2015 11:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kelsey Gerhard.

At some point during my correspondence with Jessica, she mentioned that her primary goal wasn’t to have her home tour published on Design Mom. Well, it was probably one of the reasons why she asked her friend, Kelsey, to take the photos in the first place, but eventually she realized she simply wanted to record this time in her family’s life. Her house is just growing out of the babyhood stage, most of their furnishing are inherited or found, and the family is set to embark on a one or two year adventure in England.

Everything is about to change in the matter of a few weeks, but Jessica learned – somewhere between the photo shoot and her interview – that this moment should be remembered. The house, the decor, the little puppy scratches by the back door…it’s not all perfect, but it’s perfect to them. Such a wonderful reminder, isn’t it?

Please help me welcome Jessica!

Hello, everyone! I’m so happy to share my home with you today! My husband Matt and I live here with our four children, our fat, snuggly old cat, and our two year old puppy.

Matt and I both enlisted in the Army after graduating from college and were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. We met in January 2003, started dating in June, got engaged in July, and got married in December. After we got married, we had four kids in about five and a half years, so our life together has been jam-packed from the very beginning.

I am the Communications Manager for a non-profit called the Officer Down Memorial Page, which is basically my dream job. I also started my blog about a year and a half ago, and I love it – writing is my favorite thing, so blogging really makes me happy. In my free time, I love to read, work out, play with my kids, and hang out with my husband. Not necessarily in that order! And I love to travel.

Now that our kids are old enough that travel is suddenly far less complicated and way more fun, we’re hoping to really embrace that and travel a lot more in the near future.

Matt is a consultant for a government contracting firm. He’s funny and smart and a super-involved dad, which makes my job as a mom so much easier and more rewarding. He makes me the best version of myself, and hopefully I do the same for him. I like him a lot.

Bridget, our ten year old daughter, is intelligent, dramatic, witty, impatient, thoughtful, and funny. She loves sports of all kinds and she is also very, very into theater and photography. She has a creative soul. Her little brothers might refer to her as bossy, but I prefer to say she knows how to take charge of a situation and has great leadership skills. I pretty much think she’s awesome.

Gabriel is eight, and is my most physical and snuggly child. He wears all his emotions on his sleeve and just completely interprets the world around him through touch. He is friendly and outgoing and loves hanging out with his friends. Gabe is an excellent athlete and would gladly stay outside playing baseball, football, hockey, swimming, riding bikes, skateboarding, and generally being active all day, every day. Sitting still is not really his thing.

Owen, my six year old, is a thinker and an observer. He is my most determined child; he just does not give up at something he wants to do until he is successful. It’s a beautiful characteristic when he’s trying to learn to ride a bike or throw a fastball, but it’s slightly less admirable when he turns his determination against me, like when it’s time for bed. He is also very athletic and we haven’t yet found a sport he can’t master. He’s fun to watch.

Quinn turned five this week, but he is and always will be my baby. He is the happiest and friendliest kid I know. He has never met a person or an animal he didn’t like. Like his siblings, he also loves sports. He is my partner for grocery shopping, running errands, gym visits, and all the other day-to-day things I have to get done, and he’s a rock star for all of it. I’m lucky I get to hang out with him all day, and I will be really lonely when he heads to kindergarten in the Fall.

We moved to the D.C. area almost ten years ago when Matt got out of the Army; he got a great job offer here and that was basically the deciding factor. When we first arrived, we just wanted to settle down after having moved around A LOT in the Army, but there just weren’t a ton of single family homes in our price range that didn’t need major updating. We looked at so many houses, but felt like they all needed too much work to really be what we wanted.

Then our realtor brought us to this house. When we pulled into the driveway, we made him double check that it was actually in our price range – that it wasn’t a typo or a mistake – because it was much nicer than anything else we’d seen. The previous owners were both retired and wanted to downsize, so they had cut the price so this house was just barely in our price range. As soon as we walked in and I saw the huge eat-in kitchen – which was easily twice as big as any other we’d seen – I turned to Matt and told him this was the house. We hadn’t even seen the upstairs yet! He did make me at least look at the bedrooms before making the final decision, but, like the rest of the house, they were lovely, and we literally sat down at the kitchen table with our realtor and wrote up an offer right then and there. Our offer was accepted, and one month later we closed on the house and moved in.

Finding this neighborhood was a happy accident. After we moved in, we actually learned that people stalk this area waiting for houses to go on the market because it’s such a great neighborhood for families! There are tons of kids and the neighbors are all very friendly. We have an awesome mix of older and younger families, so there’s no shortage of friends to play with or teenagers to baby-sit my kids when Matt and I want to go out.


The schools in this area are really, really great and both our elementary and middle schools are within walking distance from our house, so in the mornings and afternoons my kids walk to and from school along with all their friends. Parents are out walking their younger kids to school, and everyone waves and chats. I just love it.

I can’t lie, though: it is not inexpensive. The D.C. Metro area is definitely pricey, but it really is worth it. We are less than 45 minutes from downtown D.C., so we can easily get in to town and go to the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, or tour the monuments for an afternoon anytime. And less than 45 minutes in the other direction we are in farm country in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with tons of amazing places to go hiking, kayaking, and camping, so we really do have the best of both worlds right at our fingertips.

We’ve been here eight years this month, and I still love my kitchen. I love my whole house, actually. Since moving in, we’ve taken on a few house projects, the biggest of which was finishing the basement. It was just concrete walls and floor, and now it’s a giant recreation room and play space that the kids practically live in when the weather is bad. We also have a guest room down there, and an office for Matt that is still sort of under construction. With the help of our families, we finished the whole basement ourselves – from framing and electric to drywall and painting. It was a huge labor of love and it took a long time, but it’s been so worth it! We love that space and we use it all the time.

While I definitely think my aesthetic is still evolving, I’d say my style tends to be a little eclectic and a little traditional. I love rooms that mix old and new and that look like they’ve evolved over time. I love antiques and items with a back story. I prefer classics over trends because I want things that will always look good. When we moved in here, we were deep in the babyhood stage. We didn’t buy tons of new furniture because we didn’t want anything too precious, so we have lots of hand-me-downs and many, many Craigslist finds. But I love the balance of older items with newer pieces. I think we make it work. I try really hard to make the rooms look cozy, livable, and still stylish.

Now that the kids are older, though, and far less likely to write on walls or spill juice all over the sofa, I feel like it’s time to update and reexamine what works for our family. We are definitely beginning the transition out of the baby phase, which is sort of exciting. I think it will be a fun process, but I need to take my time and be thoughtful about what items I want to invest in and how I want the rooms to function. Pinterest is my best friend right now and I’ve got tons of great ideas – I just need to decide which ones to put into action.

Currently, things are still a little up in the air, but a few months ago, we learned that Matt may have a position with his company for a few years in England! We are so excited and our fingers and toes are all crossed that it works out because it would be such an amazing adventure! It’s almost certain that it’s happening, but the timing is really up in the air. When we first heard about it, we thought we’d be leaving in January, but we’re still waiting on final dates. At this point, it would be summer at the earliest before we’d be going. But we are definitely going to jump on this opportunity whenever it happens. It’s something Matt and I always dreamed of doing, and our kids are just at great ages for this kind of experience. (UPDATE! We just received word! Let our adventure begin!)

Because this would just be a temporary position, and because we love our neighborhood and this area so much, we won’t be selling our house. We definitely plan on coming back here, so we’ll rent it while we’re overseas. That makes things a little more complicated in terms of planning, but I think that also makes it easier for the kids to be excited. Since they know we’re not leaving their friends and their home permanently, they are just thrilled about the adventure of it all instead of sad to be leaving this place they call home.

We have been renters in a lot of places before, but we’ve never been landlords, so this is all new to us. When you realize that someone else may be living in your home for a fairly long-term, you really look at everything differently. Suddenly you see all the little imperfections that you overlook on a daily basis, like the baseboard by the back door that the dog scratched all up when he was a puppy and you just never quite fixed. Or the dent in the playroom dry wall from an unsanctioned game of indoor soccer that no one will admit to playing. Ahem.

So the first thing we did was walk room-by-room through the house and make a list of every little thing that needed to be fixed up. Even the smallest details are important because we want the house to present well and rent at a good price. We tackled those items right away because it really felt good to be able to check a bunch of stuff off the to-do list without expending a ton of time or money.

In landlord mode, I think we’re trying to balance making updates to make the house more rentable with not spending money on major renovations since we’re not going to be here to enjoy them for a while! Hopefully though, the things that make us love our home will translate to renters, and it will all work out.

You know, it’s easy to overlook how much you love your home on a day-to-day basis and to focus only on the things you want to change or update. It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that “If I just had that new couch, I would love this room” or to look at homes on Pinterest and feel like what you have doesn’t measure up. Right now, though, because of the potential move, I find myself appreciating our home so much more. It’s been eye-opening because I feel like it shouldn’t take such a huge upheaval to make me love my home every day.

When I think about leaving this house and this neighborhood – even temporarily, and even for an amazing adventure – it makes me a little sad. But instead of focusing on that, I try to focus on appreciating what we have while we are still here to enjoy it. We are really lucky to have this great home in this amazing neighborhood and I do not want to take that for granted.

When I first saw the photos that Kelsey took for this interview, I realized that our home is really lovely just the way it is and I’m proud of the way it looks and the way we’ve designed it using what we have. It’s comfortable and cozy and pretty and it’s reflective of my life right now: a little bit of a mish-mash but fun and full of love, even if it’s not all brand new and none of it matches.

I’m really grateful to have these photos of this house at this time in our lives, because when we get back from our move, everything will be different. And I love our lives right now so much. I know that as we go through this major transition, and then come out the other side hopefully with new experiences and a new perspective, I will treasure this little snapshot of our home and my kids forever.

I think my favorite part of living with my kids is creating family traditions. We’ve been fairly deliberate about creating and maintaining traditions, so we have lots of them. I love family game nights. We play a lot of Pictionary and Poker. I love movie nights when all six of us pile on the big sectional couch with bowls of popcorn and watch a movie together. I love birthday mornings when the birthday kid wakes up to a decorated kitchen and gifts at their seat at the  breakfast table and we sing happy birthday with candles in a pancake. And I really love holidays with kids – all of them!  There just seems to be so much more to celebrate when there are children involved.

The thing that surprised me the most about becoming a mother is how long the days can be, but how quickly the time flies by. Every mother has had days where you just can’t wait for the kids to be in bed. You cannot imagine playing one more game of Candy Land or reading one more children’s book or having to mediate one more disagreement or cleaning up from one more meal. Those days that just drag by and you look at the clock to see if it’s nap time yet and it’s only 9:00 am. But then I look back across the last ten years and I feel like I have to slow time down because it’s all going by too fast.

My daughter is closer to college than to birth. It’s hard to believe. People always tell you it flies by, but until you’re in it, you can’t even imagine how true that is.

I hope our kids remember the friends we’ve made here and the amazing community and neighborhood that we’re so lucky to be a part of. Matt and I didn’t grow up here and didn’t know anyone when we moved here, so we had to start from scratch and create our own village. I hope the kids always remember this great community of friends. I hope they remember walking to their friends’ houses up the street to play and having impromptu cookouts with neighbors on the weekends and spending most of our waking hours in the summer at the local pool surrounded by all these people we love to spend time with. I hope they make lifelong friendships here that they can take with them no matter where they live when they grow up.

As for me, I hope they remember our adventures, both big and little. Bike rides through the park near our house. Day trips into D.C. to go to the museums. Skiing in the winter. Going to the pool and our favorite ice cream shop in the summer. Annual road trips to New York and Boston. And maybe even a year or two in Europe! I hope they remember that Matt and I always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM and that we tried to make even the little things special.

I wish someone had told me that you can have it all…you just can’t have it all at once.

Don’t worry about having a perfectly designed and immaculately clean house AND a fulfilling and well-paying job AND trying to cook organic, gourmet meals AND have stylish clothes and hair AND be in top physical shape while simultaneously raising children. There is eventually time to do it all, but you’ve got to work up to it.

Hearing that advice – or just realizing it was true – would have taken a lot of stress and self-imposed pressure off me when my babies were really young. I’ve finally realized that it’s a gradual process to get to where all those things are possible.


Thank you, Jessica! Yes, that realization when your kids are closer to leaving home than the day they arrived is a little gut-wrenching! But your all-caps emphasis on your hope that they remember how you always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM is a great indicator that you’re using your time with them wisely and happily. Well done.

Friends, have you ever left your home in the hands of renters while you went on a temporary adventure? I am sure Jessica would love to hear any hard-earned advice you learned along your way, so please share it if you’ve got it! You know I love the conversations that happen in the comments.

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

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A Few Things Fri, 15 May 2015 16:00:19 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle. Ben Blair had these gorgeous peonies waiting for me when I got home last weekend.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Did you have a good week? I had a great one — nothing in particular happened, I was just home, and had a normal schedule, and after so much work travel it was heavenly. : ) Speaking of work travel, I’ve got book parties in Houston on Monday and Denver on Tuesday (details here), and then I’m taking a break from my book tour for awhile. It’s time to turn my attention toward Summer plans!

Our school doesn’t let out till June, but I’m already counting down the days till summer. I think it’s going to be a good one! The thing we’re most excited about? Our nephew, Josh (the one who built our giant table), is all grown up and married now. And he and his wonderful wife are going to come and stay for a bit. Josh offered to help Ben Blair build some platforms and zip-lines in our trees! Ben has been dreaming and scheming about this since we moved in, and the whole family is super excited.

Are you already making summer plans? I’ll bet school ends for some of you next week! (Or maybe even this week!)

My big task for today is to make some headway on my inbox. So I’m going to sign off, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Have you posted a “strengthie” yet? In support of’s Poverty is Sexist campaign, people everywhere are posting “strengthies” — a selfie where you reimagine the Rose the Riveter post and share it with the hashtag #withstronggirls. Malala did it. Shonda Rhimes did it. You can do it too!

-  The audacity of Cinderella.

City Council training in Austin on “how to deal with women”.

- Would you qualify to live at Silicon Valley’s Startup Castle? (I would not.)

- Just got my first Causebox. It’s a box of socially conscious women’s products. There’s a new box each season. Such a cool gift!

- The real price of mani-pedisThanks, Giulia.

- One of my dear friends just launched a tech kickstarter. His creation turns any helmet into headphones (think: skiing, cycling, etc.) Now you can answer phonecalls or play music without in-ear buds. I can think of a dozen teens in my life who would need this. Very cool!

- John Oliver’s Mother’s Day Program (FYI: he swears a bunch).

- Remember when I was in New York for HomeGoods event? Here’s more on the colorful family room I created while there — blog post and video.

- Is busy the new black?

- Such a cool project by Darcy Miller. I’m totally going to copy this.

- The One Room Challenge is wrapping up. Find links to the before and afters here. (Do you know about this? Designers take 6 weeks and makeover one room.)

- Indiana Jones giant boulder scene in real life.

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


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Tea Collection Giveaway + Win a Trip to India!! Thu, 14 May 2015 20:00:16 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photos by Hideaki Hamada, a Japanese photographer based in Osaka, for Tea Collection.

Have you received a Tea Collection catalog this month? Mine came yesterday, and I read it cover to cover, in total bliss. That’s not my typical reaction to catalogs, but this particular Tea Collection issue is different. It’s like reading a travelogue from a dear friend, but with much better photography. : )


As you may already know, a design team from Tea Collection travels the globe every six months to gather inspiration for each new collection. Usually they only travel to each destination once, but this season, they made a very special second trip back to India with designer and founder, Emily, and her family! She traveled with her husband Hilton, their children, Clement (age 6) and Georgia (age 4), and with Emily’s adventurous mother as well.


Their travels took place in and around Jaipur while the family stayed at The Farm, an incredible boutique hotel. The whole trip was shot as an editorial — capturing the reality of traveling with little ones to far away places — and then published as Tea’s May catalog. The pictures are truly stunning. They make me want to pack our bags asap and head off on a family adventure.

Don’t miss the gorgeous catalog. Oh and while you’re reading it, keep in mind that each item purchased from the May catalog gives back to Gram Bharati Samiti — a society for rural development in India.


For today’s giveaway, the prize is inspired by Emily’s family trip to India. And it’s a big prize. You could win 1) A Tea Collection wardrobe set, up to $150 value, and 2) A hardcover Artifact Uprising Photo Book, plus one signature print. Because what do you do with all of the pictures you’ve taken after a trip? You make a photo book of course!


But beyond this giveaway, there’s an even bigger opportunity. You could win a trip for four to India!! Tea Collection is hosting a campaign called #MakingTheForeignFamiliar. After just a few days in India, Emily could see that what was once foreign to her kids, was now welcome and familiar and something they looked forward to. Such an important thing for kids to understand as we raise our little global citizens!

So Tea Collection is partnering with AFAR, Artifact Uprising, Flight001 and The Farm boutique hotel — and for the month of May, they’re running a contest and awarding one family of four a trip to Jaipur! Oh my goodness. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I would LOVE to take my family to India. You should totally enter! You can find the trip contest details here.


Now back to today’s giveaway. As a reminder, the prize is 1) A Tea Collection wardrobe set, up to $150 value, and 2) A hardcover Artifact Uprising Photo Book, plus one signature print. To enter, visit Tea Collection and leave a comment below — I’d love to hear what your favorite piece of clothing is from the trip. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Liz P is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing.

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Four Picture Books You’ll Love Wed, 13 May 2015 14:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

It’s time for another Picture Book post! I’ve got four good ones for you today. First up, Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins, a Brooklyn-based author who probably wins the prize for coolest name of a person.

I had my oldest daughter Maude read this book to see if she agreed it was a keeper. She confessed she expected to be annoyed by it, but then ended up loving it! It’s really good. It’s packed with hilarious details and grin-bringing surprises — and it works in a lovely message, too.

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You could use this book as a good starting point for a conversation about manners, or even bullying.

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Next up, Interstellar Cinderella, which sounds like it might make a good tongue-twister. It’s written by Deborah Underwood, and illustrated by Meg Hunt.

Does Cinderella really need another re-telling? Heck yes! It’s a best-loved fairytale for a reason. This version features a mechanical-minded, independent Heroine who manages to save the Prince on her way to the ball.

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This heroine is someone a modern girl can root for. Oh, and did I mention the whole thing rhymes? You’ll love it!

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The third book I’m featuring today is A Nest is Noisy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston, with illustrations from one of my favorites, Sylvia Long. This is the next installment of a beautiful, and award-winning series of nature books including A Butterfly is Patient, A Rock is Lively, An Egg is Quiet, and A Seed is Sleepy.

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It’s packed with solid information — really good, captivating facts. But the best part is this book will turn your walks through the park, or through the neighborhood, into a treasure hunt. Your kids will start looking for nests everywhere!

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My fourth pick for today is How to Read a Story. Written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Siegel.

To me this book is about teaching your kids how to fall in love with reading. It’s funny and keeps your attention, while it paints of picture of how lovely it is to immerse yourself in a text.

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This “how-to” book takes you through 10 steps. And with the 10th step, kids are primed to jump right into another book and start the steps all over again.

Now it’s your turn? What are your kids reading these days? Any new discoveries you’re loving? What have you picked up from the library lately?


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Seedling Craft Kits Tue, 12 May 2015 16:00:46 +0000 Design Mom


Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Seedling. Find a 25% off discount code below. Build, imagine, play!

I’m so excited to be working with Seedling today! I have been reading about them over the last few months, and was delighted when they reached out. Seedling creates really cool project kits for kids — the kind of kits you’d totally want in the cupboard when summer boredom kicks in, or when a rainy day surprises you. Founded in New Zealand and recently expanded to Los Angeles, their products are imagined in both places. I ordered four different kits so I could get to know them, and I’m impressed!


What I noticed first were the unusual kit topics, like Make Your Own Pinata, Pirate Peg People, and Invent Your Own Insects. And the next thing I noticed was the great-looking packaging. In fact, I remember thinking you could tie a bow on any of the kits and they would make an excellent birthday gift.


There are TONS of projects available based on categories like Science & Nature, Arts & Crafts, Imaginative Play, and Dinosaurs & Rocks. You can search by category, by age, or by price. Seedling knows all about the importance of growing our children’s imaginations, so kids are invited to use their own initiative at every stage of the activity or kit, from the materials they’ll use to the ways they’ll play with it.


Oscar tried the Let’s Rock! Geode Kit. Since it was loud and messy and involved wearing goggles, there’s no surprise it was a big hit with this 10-year-old! And I loved it because my Grandpa Ralph used to polish stones and cut geodes as a hobby. I thought it was cool that Oscar was being introduced to an activity that connects him to earlier generations.


Betty worked on the Butterfly Wings. The wings are a particularly good project for more than one kid to work on, because you can spread them out and make space for lots of hands and markers. And it’s the kind of project you can come back to over a week or two — there’s no need to rush through it. Best of all, the wings will make a fun addition to our dress-up collection.


Seedling’s mission is to create beautiful, innovative products for families, and to celebrate the parenting journey by making it a little bit easier and a lot more fun. I love that sentiment! I know Seedling is new to many of you, and I hope you’ll find it as I helpful as I did.

Would you like to try Seedling for yourself? Here’s a discount just for you: Enjoy 25% off at when you choose your own adventure using the code SEEDLINGDESIGN. (Offer valid one per customer; discount does not apply to past purchases, packaging, applicable taxes, or shipping and handling. Expires May 24, 2015 at 11:59 pm PST.)

Happy making!

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Living With Kids: Mia Galison Tue, 12 May 2015 12:00:59 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Andrea Reisfeld and Saxton Freymann.

Mia owns a super cute boutique toy company on the Upper West Side of New York. It began in the basement of the building where she still lives, but now is found just down the street. Once a renovated ballroom that at one point was a Japanese tea room full of flea market finds, Chinese art deco, rugs, sky lights, and school house lighting, it’s pretty magnificent. (Especially the bathroom converted to become her son’s room! See if you can spot the tiling and leftover soap bed!)

The photographs she submitted were a jumble of old memories and current – how her home looked in the thick of of having three kids under four years old, and how lovely and quiet and clean it looks today, and every stage in between – and I wasn’t sure which ones to share. You see, her kids are older, off to college and other adventures, so sharing the older images might not make contextual sense. But then I thought, “Hey. This is what it’s all about! Learning from each other how to live as well as we possibly can with our children!” Mia has a goldmine of experience on this topic, and most of the important stuff happened years ago.

I went with the shots that inspired me: crafts at the kitchen table, stuffed sleepovers, working in the basement from 9:00 pm until 2:00 am, and room for one more. So if you see a shot of a young one climbing on a chair in front of a grand window, know that he is at University now, and know that probably every single detail in that photo is missed terribly today.

Yes, it took a lot of hard work and sleepless nights and sacrifice – you will smile when you hear how they communicated before mobile phones and FaceTime! – but she has zero regrets about how she lived with her kids. That is a result I wish for us all! Welcome, Mia!

Hello! I’m Mia Galison. I’ve been married to artist Saxton Freymann for 25 years. Sax wrote and illustrated the Play with Your Food book series, and he currently works on his artwork when he isn’t developing games or illustrating for eeBoo.

We had Eyck, (named for the Flemish artist) in 1994, and less than two years later we had twins, Elodie and Finn.

Sax and I share an enormous and glorious studio space that used to be a Japanese Tea House on Manhattan’s Upper West side. I work upstairs with the eeBoo staff and he works downstairs, in what used to be a beautifully tiled kitchen. He is a great husband who is always happy to spend the day at a flea market with me and talk over projects even in the middle of the night.

Our son Eyck loves history and politics and is an intrepid adventurer. Last year, he took a year off from college to work and then traveled alone across Europe and China. He is currently studying East Asian History and is about to spend his summer at the Carnegie Institute for World Peace in Beijing.

Finn loves reading and performing Shakespeare and circus and card tricks. His specialty is word-smithing and he likes to write songs and play music. He’s also very funny and is usually surrounded by lots of friends.

Elodie is an artist and scientist. She cuts elaborate silhouettes, draws, paints, makes crazy things out of felt, and generally engages everyone around her in a project of one kind or another. She also has had a long-standing love of medicinal plants. As a child, she made balms and teas and pressed or dried everything she got her hands on. She’s thinking of majoring in Environmental science or traditional medicine, and she throws Javelin for her University’s Track and Field team.

We began looking for an apartment in New York City in 1990 soon after a significant real estate crash. When we saw our apartment, it had been on the market for a long time and it was a stinky mess. The herringbone wood floors had been covered by linoleum or wall-to-wall carpeting, there was five times more furniture squished in to every room then there should have been, and a gigantic sectional sofa filled the entire living room. The apartment seemed very dark because of the heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes that were hung over the French-door windows, but when we pulled the curtains aside, we saw the view of a small park, beyond which you could see the faintest bit of the Hudson River.

Sax and I loved the space immediately. When I looked around the rooms I could imagine it spare, with the opulent curves and glorious proportions. We felt that it had to be ours, and miraculously no one else wanted it.

Over the years we have done a lot to the apartment. When we had three kids in less than two years, we needed to be very creative. Sax boxed in the bathtub in the extra bathroom and that became Eyck’s bedroom. He had a soap dish over his head and a medicine cabinet in his room. The walls are covered with crackily 100 year old tiles – which are perfect for taping up posters.

Right after Eyck was born we started eeBoo in the basement apartment directly under ours, but they were not connected. Ten years later we were able to buy that space, and we joined the apartments with a staircase and replaced our puny little kitchen with a huge warm gathering space. Finn also moved downstairs since his former bedroom was so small that his bed couldn’t be any bigger than 6 feet – and he got to be 6’3”. Best of all we finally had a place to put all our books on shelves and get a huge long table for the dinners with family and friends that has been among the greatest joys of my life – and the center of our life as a family.

At night I often walk in to the living room to look at the windows and I cannot believe how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful peaceful place.

I live in the neighborhood where I grew up in – New York City’s Upper West Side. We live a short walk to where my mother lived as a child and where my grandmother and grandfather lived as children; it’s where my great grandparents settled when they arrived from Romania in 1904, so I have an obvious bias for the neighborhood!

It’s quiet and leafy and it’s still the ethnically diverse area it was when I was growing up in the 1960s. There are restaurants of every imaginable kind and great New York pizza. Riverside Park hugs the Hudson River, and is cool in the summer even when the rest of the city is not. You can walk along the banks on a small path that runs along with the water with the river sweeping by only feet away. Most of the buildings that line the winding and irregular Riverside Drive were built around the turn of the century, and are no taller than 12 stories with large elegant apartments with high ceilings and walls loaded with chunky mouldings. The tree lined side streets are filled with formal stone townhouses, and almost everyone has abundantly filled window boxes. Our apartment is on a tiny spur of the drive that makes a small loop around a little park and shelters us from almost all traffic. In the evenings, it is easy to imagine the sounds of horse hooves – if it wasn’t illuminated by electric lights, everything you see is as it was 100 years ago.

I was working as a creative director and product development person when I got pregnant with my first child. I wanted to find a way to be able to spend time with him, and thought I could contribute something unique to the children’s specialty market. My first products were Garden Bug cookie cutters (packaged in a jar with decorating instructions) that I had manufactured in a tiny factory in Pennsylvania, and a crazy hand-made alpaca cap with points that I called a satellite hat. They had nothing to do with one another but I only had the money to make one thing in a factory at a time and I figured I could fill my line up with things I could make myself as I sold them.

Right around the time that the Bug Cookie Cutters were ready to ship, I found out I was pregnant with twins. Going back to work for other people was now a logistical impossibility. I couldn’t afford a babysitter for that many infants, and my husband who was painting at the time could not care for three children under the age of three on his own – no way. I knew I had to work like a maniac and be really smart and frugal, so we worked out a complex revolving system of child care that included parents, friends, and babysitters, and which allowed me to be integral to the rotation and spend lots of times with my kids.

A revolving rotation of husband, friends, babysitters, relatives, and me – that’s how we spent the first few years. I was able to rent a crude apartment in the basement of our building, and Sax and I would take turns working there for a few hours at a time – weekends as well – running up and down the stairs.

Brenda, the designer I’ve worked with for 30 years, would drive in and we’d work from 9:00 pm after putting the kids to bed until 2:00 am. Then I’d wake Sax up and he’d walk her to her car. Efficiency, organization, and totally forgoing any trace of a social life other than time spent with family or close friends optimized the time I was able to work. Being careful about money was also key because really being able to spend time with my family meant that eeBoo had to grow enough to the point that it paid our bills.

Sax and I did as many things ourselves as we possibly could. Having eeBoo in the basement allowed me to conserve time not having to commute. We only had one phone line for the apartment and the office so when the kids were upstairs (supervised of course) and they needed me for something, they would go to a specific part of the ceiling and stomp – then I could pick up the phone and talk to them over the dial-tone.

I never worried about what the business looked like to other people, and I created my own paradigm for a modern mother in business. I never tried to conceal that we had kids and dogs running and barking in the background, nor tried to stop my mother walking into the office during a meeting. I embraced this early as my brand, and I was proud of it. I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family – I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.

We encouraged our children to participate in activities together so that we could spend weekends as a family, not breaking up with one parent taking one kid somewhere and the others somewhere else. I felt this allowed for the more important development of us as a family unit. All for one, and one for all.

As a special time for each child, we had a babysitter come once a week in the evening and we took one child out alone for dinner. It was a great strategy because we got so much more meaningful communication with them when there was no competition for our attention. This tradition began when they were tiny and continued until they went to college. I never had as much time as I really wanted with my kids when they were growing up, so I made it my priority to make sure that it was as plentiful as I could humanly manage, and tried my hardest to be really present for it…and never take it for granted.

My toy philosophy is fairly simple. I love useful things made of paper, cloth, wood, or other natural material and old things that were designed beautifully for children. I like games that kids play around the house or outside just using their imagination and props – like taping leaves to themselves or sitting in an empty box in the middle of the living room floor. My kids played with wooden blocks, hats and scarves from flea markets, vintage costumes, loads of art supplies and books – and empty boxes. For over a year, we had an empty refrigerator box in the middle of our living room with control panels drawn on the inside walls.

Sax and I supplied the miscellany and technical support, but the play was all theirs. As far as games I’ve purchased for my home, I like toys that can be played across generations, that encourage individual and cooperative creative thinking, and that are beautiful enough to stay in a child’s mind for their lifetime. In that spirit, we have tried to create simple, wholesome games and activities that will be meaningful for children and their families.

I’ve always loved being a mom. I loved simple things like lying next to them when they’d fall asleep after a story and the way they smelled and how warm they were in their pajamas. But, the part I love the most about my life with children is also the part that made me go crazy sometimes: the constant hum of emotion, action, and affection. Family dinners with my kids, my parents, and their friends. Loud, messy dinners with arguing or singing and a house filled with people. Running the business out of our home while having plenty of family nearby, brought in lots of people…including Mr. Ross the piano teacher, a constant flow of visiting friends and relations from all over the world, all happy to have a place to stay in New York City.

I always strove to make our home inviting, comfortable and beautiful and always tried to have delicious things to eat. Seeing the kitchen filled with loud conversation, a floor filled with sleeping bodies, a group of kids playing a game around the table – made me so happy and gave me endless energy. Now that the kids are away, we still have plenty of house-guests (and our two dogs) but I really miss the clamor at the dinner table. Occasionally we are lucky enough to have one of their friends come over for dinner, and we don’t miss an opportunity to gather everyone together when they come home from school.

What surprised me was that our children still listened to what I said even after they got so much taller than me – which happened when they were still in elementary school!

Someone once told me that it all goes by so fast, and I understood it straight away. I knew that the time when my kids were young was very likely to be the best years of our life, and Sax and I really dug into making the most of it. Not having time for ourselves without the kids was not a sacrifice. Now that my kids are recently off to college, I don’t feel bad about how I spent the brief time I had with them home. Of course, I wish I had had more.

People tell you, but I didn’t know how true it was, that children internalize who you are as a parent: the good things and the bad. And it’s easy to forget when they are little, but then you see yourself in them so clearly when they get to be teenagers and by the time you see it – it’s kind of too late to change it! It can be positive things like a strong work ethic, or bad things like getting too stressed out.

It’s hard to believe how tired you’ll be. How much you’ll worry about them. That it takes planning and a lot of thought to help your kids build a good relationship with one another. It doesn’t always just happen. We gave a ton of thought toward trying to reduce competition, encourage each of them to try the things that their siblings were better at than they were, and helped them to appreciate one another’s accomplishments.

I hope they remember all the talking we did and the time we spent together reading, traveling, making dinners and eating together with so many friends and relations around the table. I hope they take away from their childhood home the desire to be generous and how to be a good host, and that they have learned the value of not just opening up your home but doing it with an abundance and graciousness that shows your guests that you care about them. Most importantly, I want them to know how to make their own home not just a place others want to be, but a place that they love to return to.

I hope they remember me as a mother as one who encouraged them to pursue their interests and did my best to provide the best opportunities for them to explore and engage themselves.


Mia, thank you so much! I’m so glad I decided to use your memoried photos. Yes, they made my eyes water, but I couldn’t imagine your story without them. Also, I absolutely love the back story of eeBoo. Especially: “I refused to embrace the compromise of work versus family – I was determined to have it all in one place, one self-perpetuating organism.” It’s beyond inspiring, and I know there are some entrepreneurs out there right now who just got that extra burst of “I can do it!” (Tell us if you’re one of them, will you?)

Do you make one-on-one time for your kids? I think it’s an awesome tradition. I respect how important it was to Mia and Sax, so much so that they made time for it at the expense of their own one-on-one time. Family traditions sometimes involve a little sacrifice and sometimes a lot of “Are we really doing this again?” and “Yes, it will live in their memories – and ours – forever.” Family life…I never get tired of these stories.

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

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A Few Things Fri, 08 May 2015 12:00:10 +0000 Design Mom

giant bag of cereal

Photo and image by Gabrielle. I’ve been traveling across the country with this giant bag of cereal. Why? Story here.

Hello Friends! How are you? I’m writing this from Atlanta, but I’m about to head to the airport. I’m on my way back to California today!! Oh my goodness. I CAN NOT WAIT to see my family. It’s all I can think about at the moment. And we happen to be heading into a very exciting weekend for my family — there are birthdays, Mother’s Day, Prom, and just regular life that I’ve missed so much!

Oh, and tomorrow, the family will be heading to the last of the four Pottery Barn Book Parties. If you’re in the Bay Area, you should totally join us. Here are the details: On Saturday, May 9th, I’ll be at the Pottery Barn in Corte Madera, from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. (Address: 1822 Redwood Hwy, Corte Madera, CA.)

My amazing sister, Jordan of Oh Happy Day, will be there, and my amazing sister-in-law, Liz of Say Yes, will be there too. Expect refreshments and special cookies, a Q&A, book signing, and crafting. The event is FREE and you don’t need to RSVP. It will be so fun to have my family there with me! And I look forward to meeting you.

I’d better finish packing, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- How teens can become millionaires.

- So funny. Also makes me sigh from exasperation. Ask your doctor if you need birth control.

- Illustrating real love. Thoughts? Is this what love looks like to you?

- 7 habits of people who don’t stress over the little things.

- Joss & Main Sale inspired by my book — with a proceed for Every Mother Counts.

- Teenaged feminism.

- Best news! The Queso relaunched.

- Jack Black & Jimmy Fallon. (Class of ’92 peeps, are you feeling it?)

- A conversation with Anna Wintour.

- Corruption in America explained.

I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Every year, when Mother’s Day comes around, there are a whole lot of people who get discouraged or depressed for any number of reasons. I totally get that. If you’re at risk for either, I hope you’ll buy yourself some flowers or chocolates or whatever you love, so that you have something wonderful to enjoy on Sunday. I’ll be thinking of you.

And hey, maybe I’ll see some of you at Pottery Barn tomorrow! Either way, I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Does anyone else think of sugar cereal as comfort food?

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Call It A Day: Beth Ogden Thu, 07 May 2015 13:03:29 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Beth first wrote to me, she mentioned that she might not resemble my typical reader. After getting to know her better these last few weeks, I sure hope she’s wrong; I would love a hundred Beths adding their smart voices to my pages!

Beth is a college student – ahh, remember those days? – and I jumped at the chance to follow her through her day. She has advice on choosing a college, positive assurances for all your stressed high-schoolers about grades and test scores, and concrete ways to overcome homesickness and other difficulties when you’re far away from family, not to mention it’s simply great fun to see this professional-in-training before she embarks on her chosen career. If you ever wanted a glimpse into a young adult’s college life, here it is. Welcome, Beth!

Hi everyone! I’m a junior at Elmira College. I’m a childhood education (elementary) major with a concentration in visual and performing arts. My days this term are spent student teaching in a first grade classroom.

All students are required to live on campus all four years, so I live in an on-campus dorm. I’m currently student teaching about half an hour away, so I have to get up pretty early around 5:30. I really dislike getting up before the sun rises, so it usually takes me a few minutes to get out of bed!

I share a bathroom with about 20 other girls. Luckily, at 5:30 in the morning, I’m usually the only one up, so it’s usually not too much of an issue. The hardest part is doing my hair; I try to wait until just before I leave so that I’m not waking everyone up at 6:00 with the sound of my hair dryer.

I have a wonderful roommate. We get along really well, but there are also challenges. She’s a nursing major and has clinical at night. This means we are on completely opposite schedules. She likes to sleep in, so I try to be really quiet when I get ready in the morning. The hardest part is probably getting ready in complete darkness. I’ve found that it helps if I get everything ready for the morning the night before, like packing my lunch, putting everything I’ll need in my bag, and picking out my clothes.

Like most mornings, I’m eating a bowl of cereal – today it’s Frosted Mini-Wheats – in my room. When I don’t have to be up so early, I like to go to the dining hall for a bagel. The college has homemade bagels that are really yummy, so I’ve been missing those this term. I almost never miss breakfast since it’s my favorite meal of the day. I’d rather get up earlier than skip eating in the morning.

As I write this, it’s my first week in the classroom, but I already love the class I was placed in! The students are great and I really like my cooperating teacher. One of the things I’ve noticed so far about the school is how much communication there is between the various teachers, administrators, and other staff. It seems like a really nice place to work. I also have a seminar related to the student teaching once a week. I’m hoping to go to grad school for library science. I’d really love to combine my love of kids with my love of reading and books, so I want to become a school librarian.

I’m done with student teaching at 3:30. I carpool with two other students to my student teaching placement, and we usually get back to campus around 4:00. Because Elmira is a small school, you really get the chance to get to know all of the other students in your major. I’ve had classes with both of the girls I carpool with since freshman year, so we know each other pretty well.

We talked about our days at school today. The other two girls are in fourth and fifth grade classrooms, so their students had state testing today. They’ve both been so surprised by how stressed the students get!

We also talked about the infamous Freshman 15. We all played sports in high school but weren’t interested in playing at college. Add a lack of regular exercise to college food and you’re definitely going to gain weight. Something I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m actually more comfortable with my body now that I was when I was skinnier. I’d love to be fit and have a strong body, but I’m also happy with the body I have now.

As for the other big concern for college students, partying can be problem. It’s never been an issue for me because it’s simply not my thing. I don’t really enjoy big crowds of people cramped into small spaces. But there are so many other distractions to deal with when you’re on your own: friends, the internet, Netflix, procrastination. I can’t say that I’m always the best at avoiding those distractions. I’ve always been a procrastinator, so that’s one of the biggest challenges.

It’s important to find a balance between it all. Doing assignments and going to class is really important, but it’s also important to have a life outside of that. Figuring out how to manage your time effectively helps you find that balance. I try to spend at least some time with friends every day. Some days, it might just be for an hour or so at dinner, but on the weekends, we try to do some more fun things. As I’ve spent more time at college, figuring out how long assignments will likely take has also helped a lot. If I know that something will take a couple of hours, I might try to get it done earlier as opposed to an assignment that is most likely going to take 30 minutes at most. I’ve also learned to not stress quite so much when I know I haven’t done an assignment as well as I probably could have (unless it counts for a large percentage of my grade).

When I got back from the car ride, I got right to work on my lesson planning and preparations for the next day. If it’s a good day and I’m ahead on my work, I try to get outside and go for a run or a walk, but it was really cold today, so I didn’t go.

I get together with a large group of friends every night for dinner. We’re all on different schedules during the day, but we try really hard to all eat dinner together. My family always eats dinner together, so I really enjoy having a regular group of people to eat dinner with every night. This is always one of the best parts of my day.

We have a regular meeting time at 5:15, and those of us that live in the same building walk over together. There are three different eating places on campus, but they are all in the same building so we can get our food from different places but still eat together. We almost always eat at the same long rectangular table. It used to be just a few of us, but now there are sometimes so many of us that we have to put tables together. We often stay in the dining hall for quite a while, talking about our days, venting, and laughing together. Our college is over 70% females, and our dinner group is pretty much always all females, so it isn’t unusual for us to talk about girl stuff, like periods or guys.

Tonight’s conversation included plenty of topics, including our love of food (pizza in particular), the classes we’re taking, student teaching (several of us are education majors, so this is a typical topic), and our plans for the weekend (we’re thinking bowling would be fun).

After dinner, I usually have plenty of work to finish up. I typically do my homework in my room. I know it sounds a bit hypocritical because I want to be a librarian, but I really dislike working in the library. I don’t get distracted by people being loud in my dorm or my roommate playing music, but I do get distracted by the people walking past my computer at the library.

I usually have to take a trip over to the library to print things for the next day’s lesson since we have free, unlimited printing there. The school where I’m doing my student teaching follows a scripted program, so my lesson planning isn’t super original. Although I’m not a huge fan of scripted program, I do like this one. The lessons are interdisciplinary so that the students learn literacy skills through social studies and science.

The students are currently learning about the Revolutionary War, but I’m planning lessons for the next unit, which is about frontiers. The first few lessons are about Daniel Boone. Because it’s a scripted program, preparations don’t take quite as long as it would if I were writing my own lesson plans from scrap, but they still take quite awhile. I don’t want to read from a script when I teach because that isn’t quality teaching, so I try to read the plans in-depth and really know the information. The amount of work can still be overwhelming at times, but I was well-prepared for that aspect of teaching since my mom teaches second grade. I try to go to bed by 9:30. I’m a person that really needs those eight hours of sleep to be at my best. If I have time, I like to journal or read before bed, but that rarely happens.

I actually think I was pretty well-prepared for college. If I was asked to give any advice to high-schoolers and their parents, I think the most important thing is to find the right college – not for everyone else, but for you. There are plenty of great colleges out there, but the trick is to find the one that will fit you perfectly. I ended up having to choose between two colleges I really loved. I knew I learn best from discussion-based classes, so I ultimately chose the college with the smallest class sizes. Tthe biggest class I’ve taken had 25 students, and I’ve had two classes with only three students. Although the other college was an excellent school (my sister is actually a freshmen there this year), it wasn’t the right college for me.

There are only two things I would change about my high school experience if I could go back. When I arrived at college, I hadn’t taken a single art class since seventh grade. I’ve now taken almost every single art class my college offers – ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, painting, drawing, art history classes – but I wish I had taken art in high school.

I also wish I had paid more attention to my emotional and mental well-being. I didn’t realize until I got to college and had an excellent freshmen year that I realized I had not been in a good place mentally for most of high school. My sophomore year, I was finally diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, and I really wish I had recognized the symptoms earlier. One of the great things about being in college and living on campus is that it isn’t as difficult to get medical or emotional help when you need it. Most colleges require you to pay a fee for the health center, and that fee generally includes free counseling with a psychologist or psychiatrist. I was able to see a great psychologist right on campus who was able to help me through a difficult time.

I think the thing that ended up being more unimportant than I had anticipated were grades and SAT scores. As long as your grades are pretty good and your SAT scores are within a pretty decent range, the actual grade/score doesn’t matter all that much. I’ve found that to be true in college as well; you want to get good grades, of course, but it doesn’t matter all that much if your grades aren’t perfect. Also, I highly recommend taking the ACT in addition to the SAT! I felt that the test was far more fair than the SAT, and most schools will accept either.

As for homesickness, I have a really close family, so I was really nervous to leave home. I was surprised to find that for me, it was a pretty seamless process. I think the most important thing is to find a good group of friends as quickly as possible and get involved. I also find it helpful to call my parents, siblings, or friends when I am feeling particularly homesick.

Although I transitioned to college life really quickly my freshmen year, I became really homesick my sophomore year. Sometimes when I miss home, I’ll listen to country music, which is the only music on the one radio station we get at home, and look at old photos or read my yearbooks. I miss my hometown and high school friends the most. I grew up in a small, rural town. My family hikes often and loves spending time outdoors.

So one of the biggest adjustments for me was getting used to living in a city. At home, I can walk four minutes to a hiking trail, but here it’s really hard to hike without a car! I miss living in a small town that gets completely silent at night and where everyone knows everyone. I had a really close group of friends in high school, and while I’ve made wonderful friends here, it’s not quite the same. After all, my friends from home have known me since kindergarten or before – I’ve been friends with one of my best friends since pre-school! At college, the longest they can possibly know you before graduation is four years. Oh, and I also miss being able to shower barefoot!

Being a college student can be really stressful. There is always plenty to be done, whether it’s homework, extra projects (I’m working on research with a professor and four other students), or club responsibilities (I was the president of the Yearbook Club this year and I’m in a couple of other clubs as well). In addition, there are both pros and cons of living in such proximity to so many people, including your friends.  Your friends become your family for the time you’re away from home, and that can be wonderful, but also can put a lot of stress on friendships. Living away from home can also make maintaining relationships with your family and old friends difficult.

So it can be really hard to turn your thoughts off at night. Before I fall asleep every night, I’m usually thinking up different ways to balance it all, but I try to end with a positive thought and replay what was good about the day.


Thank you so much, Beth! One of the sweetest things to me is how considerate Beth is in the early mornings, from prepping everything she’ll need the night before to running her hair dryer as late as possible so as not to wake the others living around her. Those of you with teens might be envisioning the mad rush in your mornings, highlighted with hastily made lunches, lost backpacks found just as soon as they yell “Where is my backpack?” and a race to the car with shoes in hand and bagel in mouth! It’s lovely to know there’s hope!

Is anyone sending their kids off to college soon? Did Beth’s day lessen your stress a little? I sure hope so.

P.S. – You can see all my Call It A Day posts right here. I really relish this peek into your days, so please don’t be shy if you’ve got a unique and inspiring circumstance to share! Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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Oh Happy Day Shop! Wed, 06 May 2015 15:56:09 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Images via Oh Happy Day Store.

Did you see my sister Jordan’s new shop? It’s so well done! Like really, really good. It stocks party supplies and paper goods from all over the world. There are hundreds and hundreds of items — many of them virtually impossible to find anywhere else in the States. The site is beautiful and easy to navigate, with fun features like searching by color.

I have high expectations for anything Jordan takes on because she is amazing, but this shop is even better than I imagined. If you already read Jordan’s blog (her new blog design was revealed yesterday!), you know she has impeccable taste, a great eye, and endless brilliant ideas. In fact, she planned and decorated my Oakland book launch in less than twenty-four hours, and it included spectacular decorations, and a giant 3-D version of my book. And she pulled it off after being out of town for 10 days! I’m telling you, she’s amazing. And oh man, she worked her fanny off making this shop launch happen. I’m having a total big-sister pride moment just thinking about it. Go Jordan!


Definitely take a look at the new shop, and then bookmark or pin your favorites so you’ll be ready for your next gathering. In fact, while you’re at it, I highly recommend stock-piling some party supply basics so that you can put together a last-minute event in a snap.

If you rarely shop for party supplies, this new store may not seem unusual to you, but for those of us who have hunted down speciality balloons from obscure sources, called shop after shop looking for a particular tissue garland, and managed to track down distinctive birthday candles while we’re traveling halfway around the world, the Oh Happy Day Store is a life-saver and total breath of fresh air!

Do you have siblings or besties that are working on cool projects? I’d love to hear!

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Living With Kids: Sophie McCurley Tue, 05 May 2015 15:00:12 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I am a big fan of families who not only make a smaller space work, but actually thrive in it. (I think I’ve told you this before!) There’s often so much more to living with kids than the house itself, right? Spacious, cozy, or somewhere in between, much of the goodness comes from what’s outside the front door.

And the way Sophie describes it, Phoenix has a lot to offer (I spent half of last week in Phoenix, and I agree!). Like the weather. For those who live in a cold climate, Phoenicians’ winters are definitely enviable. It’s the summers that keep families inside and hiding from the 110 degree heat! And it’s then that the smallness gets to Sophie. How does she deal? I’ll let her tell you! Welcome, Sophie!

Hi, everyone! My name is Sophie. I’m married to a totally awesome guy named Mike, and together we have three daughters: Ava, Perla, and Zosia.

Mike and I are both native Phoenicians, which seems to be mind-boggling to many people here. Lots of natives leave, while many non-natives relocate here. I used to be one of the people who couldn’t wait to leave, but over the years I’ve come to develop a true love for our city and state. Anyway, we were both born in the same hospital, which we now live a block away from. Sometimes I feel silly admitting that, but the hospital itself is somewhat of a landmark with some unique architecture, so it’s fun looking out our dining room window and seeing the place where we both started. We also live half a mile from the high school I attended. Another one of those things I’m not sure I should admit or not! Ha!

Phoenix often gets a really bad rap for being nothing more than a suburban wasteland, and that can’t be farther from the truth. While, yes, a large majority of the city is indeed suburban, the area in which we live is rich with cultural diversity. We live in a historic neighborhood in the downtown central area, where local businesses reign and true community exists. Our neighbors are some of the friendliest, kindest, most generous people you will ever meet. The market up the street knows us by name and treats my girls to lollipops every time we’re in.

We’re a three block walk from award-winning dining, a ten minute walk to our famous local library, the Phoenix Art Museum, several wonderful playgrounds, and our favorite neighborhood cafe. Just a few blocks from us is a glass studio that hosts live glass blowing performances during downtown’s First Friday Art Walk. Ten minutes on a bike will land you at the Children’s Museum, Symphony Hall, the Science Center, Chase Field Ballpark, or Saturday’s open air Farmer’s Market. We can see Piestewa Peak from our living room, watch airplanes flying into the airport, and can walk across the street to the public pool. It is truly a dream.

There’s just so much this city has to offer. And beyond the city are all of the other wonderful things Arizona has to offer. Surrounding us is the breathtakingly beautiful desert, with its blooming cactus, stunning sunsets, and late-summer monsoons. Mountains that offer the perfect day hike. Two hours north you’re in the forest, with much cooler temperatures and snow in the winter. And just beyond that is the Grand Canyon! There’s just so much beauty in our state it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

Although Mike and I were born in the same hospital, our paths didn’t cross until many years later when we worked together as baristas in the same cafe. It was an almost instantaneous connection; we were married less than 18 months later! We’ve been married seven years, over the course of which I’ve realized we make a pretty perfect match. Mike is level-headed and slow to speak, whereas I’m more hot tempered and I definitely speak too quickly. He loves coming home from work and taking over so that I can have a break. I fold the laundry, he puts it away. We make each other laugh every day. The mutual balance we’ve achieved is something I’ve really become so thankful for in our marriage.

Mike works his dream job for a small, super cool company that hosts luxury automobile launch events, where his workdays are filled with researching and writing about new cars, the occasional traveling, and of course lots of fun test driving. I stay home with our girls, and when I have an extra minute during nap time or after bedtime I’m working on my bonnet business, Booboos’ Bonnets, which I started last summer.

Our oldest daughter, Ava, is six years old and my mini-me. She is adventurous, strong willed, incredibly kind and compassionate, and the best big sister. She can also be a bit timid, and she prefers to observe before jumping into any new situation. She has wild blond hair that’s always in her face, and she insists on wearing only dresses and skirts. She is at that age where she craves independence, so little by little I’ve been letting her branch out; she’ll ride ahead a bit on our bike ride through the park, she’ll go get her own water at our favorite cafe, or she’ll make her own breakfast of peanut butter toast in the morning. Ava attends kindergarten at a Waldorf school, which has been incredibly rewarding for her and for our family.

It is unlike any other schooling we’ve experienced. Academics are introduced slowly starting in the first grade, so the main focus of kindergarten lies heavily in teaching life skills and nurturing the creative side of the brain. The school is essentially on a farm, where there are animals, a pond, and a huge, beautiful garden. The children take comfort in structure and routine, so their day to day activities differ ever so slightly while largely remaining the same. They’ll play outside, help make bread, set their table with real dishes and glass where they share a healthy snack together (like millet and quinoa, oatmeal, and Stone Stoup), wash their own dishes after snack, engage in inside play with open-ended, imaginative toys, sing songs, help in the garden or chicken coop, finger knit, watercolor, or go for nature walks. The children can climb trees outside, dig in the mud with real shovels, and use real knives to chop their own vegetables for Stone Soup. There are no desks in the kindergarten rooms, but just one large table where they all sit together. There are no grades or point systems. It is a truly freeing, safe space for Ava to just be a child.

Our second daughter, Perla, will be four next month. Her birthday falls the day after my younger brother’s and it’s been so fun finding how similar their goofy personalities are. Perla is our little firecracker. She’s sensitive, incredibly sweet, endlessly hilarious, and surprisingly witty for an almost-four-year-old. She’s always preferred wearing the same two or three favorite pieces of clothing until they’re completely worn out, or wearing nothing at all, which means I’ve basically stopped buying her clothes. She and Ava get along fantastically, which makes me so happy. I always wanted a sister, so I’m ecstatic my girls have each other.

And lastly, our third daughter, Zosia (pronounced zoh-shah), is ten months old. Sweet Zosia made her timely appearance on her due date, which was shocking because our first two were both one to two weeks late. I remember getting coffee that morning and the barista exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! You look ready to pop!” to which I replied, “Oh no, I still have at least a week!” Little did I know I’d have a baby in my arms eight hours later. Zosia is likely our last baby, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down and treasure every moment of her baby-ness. She’s on the move now though, so literally slowing down has been difficult!

Mike and I moved seven times in the first five years of our marriage. A completely irrational number if you ask me! I’m somewhat of a real estate and interior design nut though, so I had fun with it when we were younger. While it ultimately taught us more about who we are as a family and what we want in a house, at this point you couldn’t pay me to move into another rental. Partly because we just love ours so much and because yes, moving is the worst!

We’ve lived in our current home for just over two years now (the longest anywhere) and happily call it home. We are incredibly lucky to be here, a feeling that I think has fostered an attachment to this home unlike any of our previous houses. The neighborhood we live in is wonderfully unique. I’ve lived here on and off since I was a child, spending summers here with my father to ultimately moving my own family here. Our last house was a block from our current one, and after ten months of being there we received news our landlord was putting it up for sale. We were devastated, and frantically began searching for a new house in our neighborhood. The market was just coming back up then and rentals were incredibly sparse, many of them leasing within hours. I searched for weeks and weeks with no luck and I started feeling hopeless we’d get to stay in the neighborhood we loved so much.

Then one day we noticed a private rental sign had gone up at a house down the street from us. The house was unassuming, its exterior had been redone, and from the outside it didn’t have the historic feel most homes in our neighborhood possess. But I called the number anyway because we were desperate. We toured the house a couple of days later and instantly fell in love with it. The owner claims it to be her retirement home so she’s kept it in immaculate condition, updating it with modern amenities while keeping the home’s historic integrity in place.

It’s a small 1929 built historic 2/1 bungalow that’s just under 1000 square feet, but its coved ceilings and floor plan makes it feel much bigger than it is. Bad kitchen tile aside, we immediately filled out an application. Upon turning it in, the owner thanked us and said she had other applicants and would let us know who she chose in a few days. The anticipation nearly killed me. Never had we been in a situation where we weren’t approved for a rental on the spot. Add that to the fact I hadn’t found literally anything else in weeks and we were running dangerously low on time in our current house…I was a complete mess.

It took every ounce of self control not to beg the owner for her approval. Instead, I called her every other day for the week she was deciding. I left messages stating just how perfect the house would be for our young family, that we would love it as our own home, cherish its historic features, and be careful with its original hardwood floors. That we understood the neighborhood and we belonged here. After not hearing anything for several days, I was feeling defeated and gaining the courage to begin my search again.

Then, one afternoon while driving on the freeway, I get the call. She explains she had one other strong application from a young professional couple that looked excellent on paper. In my head I’m thinking, “They probably make more money, doesn’t have children that will no doubt put wear and tear on the place, etc.” She’s walking me through her reasoning, my stomach is in knots, and all I want to do is scream, “So who is it already?!” Finally, she delivers the good news. She’s chosen us! I started crying. I was so relieved and so excited at the same time.

She said that while the other applicants looked better on paper, she ultimately chose us because her mother, who happened to live on our old block, would watch me and the girls take our daily walks and thought we were “just the sweetest family.” I had no idea! She then went on to say she wanted someone in the house who would no doubt love it and make it their own, but can we please be careful when bathing the children not to get water on the bathroom floors, because they’re original? Of course I happily agreed!

It turns out, I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to decorating our home. I’ve never been big into hanging onto things, and I’m constantly purging – a skill that’s slowly rubbing off on my husband, to my delight! I’m drawn to bright, natural light, wood tones, clean lines, quirky art, and, lately, cobalt blue. I always have fresh flowers in the house and I’m obsessed with a good basket. Mike jokes I’m not allowed any more baskets, but seriously, there’s nothing a good basket can’t handle. I have them for my knitting and sewing projects, children’s toys, house plants, shoes, our keys, toilet paper in the bathroom…they’re everywhere!

And I know they’re trendy, but my home wouldn’t be the same without my fiddle-leaf fig tree. I randomly found it at a resale shop for $19 a few years ago and it’s been my baby ever since. After having it maybe a year or so its growth nearly stopped so I asked a horticulturist friend of mine what to do and she recommended repotting it. So I put it into a new, larger pot, and it went into shock! All but one leaf fell over the course of just a few days. It was the first houseplant I’d ever owned that didn’t die immediately so I was frantic thinking I killed it. Thankfully that last leaf held on and slowly the tree has started growing again.

I also love a freshly stocked fridge. Nothing makes me happier than unloading a haul of groceries and neatly organizing it in the fridge. It’s the little things.

I think our home works because no area is off limits to my children, and because we keep it tidy and organized. People like to assume that because I have white furniture my children aren’t allowed to touch anything. Um, everything is washable! This is their home as much as it is ours. That’s not to say they don’t have rules, because they do – food at the table only, no shoes on inside, don’t be destructive, etc. – just that they also understand respecting our belongings.

We don’t have a coffee table because we’d rather have more room for the children to play. Our dining table is probably too big for the space, but that’s okay because at any given time it’s covered in someone’s project, whether it be my sewing or the girls’ coloring or Legos. Our entry cabinet houses all of my sewing materials, and you better believe each bed and closet space is fully utilized.

“Everything has a home” is something I’m constantly repeating during clean up time. I’ll admit, comfortably squeezing five people into a 2/1 home has not been easy. On one hand, I absolutely love being close to each other and I love that the small space keeps our belongings to a minimum. On the other hand, it’s difficult being close to each other all of the time. It’s hard for me to let the children go wild inside when our hollow floors amplify every movement and the farthest I can be from any yelling or screaming at any point is maybe twenty feet. Sometimes it’s frustrating to have to wait until the children are asleep at night to watch our shows because they’re too loud or scary – Game of Thrones, anyone?

The true test comes in the summer, though, when temperatures reach upwards of 110 degrees daily and we’re all stuck inside with cabin fever. This is when living feet from the public pool comes in handy! And sometimes when the smallness really gets to me and I find myself wishing for a giant suburban home and my own sewing studio, an indoor swing, and a sectional sofa, I have to remind myself of the reasons we choose to live here. And they far outweigh any small living temporary moments of madness.

Although we rent, I think our home feels permanent because we’ve found exactly how it works for us. My daughter’s beds fit perfectly in their tiny bedroom. We’ve started a backyard garden. We’ve hung art and family photos. Over the two years we’ve been here we’ve had to make adjustments with furniture and flow but I think we’ve finally achieved what works best for us.

I think what really helps is that no space is off limits. (Maybe I should change this because I can’t get a minute alone to use the bathroom!) We don’t have too much stuff and we try to keep the clutter to a minimum. The children are allowed to bring toys, puzzles, and books into the living areas so long as they’re put back in their homes at night. We keep their art supplies in the dining room, where they also have a designated wall to tape their artwork. During the cooler months we spend as much time as we possibly can outside, tending to the garden, jumping on the trampoline, taking walks around the city, dining on the patio. Mike and I try to take each of the girls out on little dates when time allows. It’s amazing how their personalities change during one on one time. It truly benefits all of us when we can get away separately.

One of the things I do to help preserve my sanity is regularly attend 6:00 a.m. barre classes. I get my exercise in first thing in the morning and I come home feeling energized and refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

I really hope my children remember the love in our home. I hope they remember the sounds of the creaking floors, the helicopters flying overhead, and the city buses rattling down the street. I hope they remember walking to the pool for swim lessons all summer long. I hope they remember helping set the table for dinner and singing the blessing. I hope they remember riding their scooters while watching the sunset on our nightly walks. I hope my older children forget the sleepless nights they’ve had sharing a room with each other and their baby sister. I hope they forget my sleep-deprived mean mommy state that happens more often than I care to admit.

I wasn’t aware just how much I would love watching their young personalities blossom and bloom. They are each so incredibly different, that every time I think I have them figured out they surprise me with something new. I’ve learned just how intelligent, understanding, and insightful children are. Much more than most give credit.

My own children have taught me more about life than I ever thought possible: it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to ask for help, always forgive, be silly! Don’t let any one thing ruin your day. Simple ideas that adults tend to overcomplicate. Children just want to laugh and have fun. And who doesn’t love having fun?

Looking back, I wish someone had told me not to stress over dinner. Growing up, my mother had a hot, home cooked meal for us every single night. This is something I seriously took for granted as a child. Dinner is hard! I don’t know how my mom did it. No matter how much meal planning and grocery shopping I did, I always dreaded dinner prep. I love cooking, and I believe myself to be pretty good at it, but cooking for five with very different tastes in food is a challenge in itself. Mike is a vegetarian and my girls eat opposites. It’s difficult not feeling defeated when you’ve spent time and energy preparing something you think will appease everyone only to find out your three-year-old suddenly hates every single thing on the plate.

Up until just a few months ago, this is a concept I constantly battled. I felt guilty for not having a nutritious, colorful, delicious meal ready for my family at 5:30 every evening. I would cry when one of my children refused to eat what I put in front of them. My grocery lists were long, with endless ingredients for a single recipe that required an hour’s worth of chopping, blending, sautéing, and roasting. I started to loathe cooking. I don’t know exactly when it hit me, but one day I realized the world won’t end if I feed my children peanut butter and jelly for dinner every once in a while. Or if we have bean burritos twice in one week! (To my credit, the beans are homemade!) Or if I serve steamed broccoli and rice.

But once that hit me, it was like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me and I could breathe easy again. Dinner was stressing me out way more than I imagined and I just let it all go. I still cook more complex meals, just not as often. And I don’t take it personally when my children don’t eat what I’ve served them. There is a season for everything in life. Right now, fancy dinners just aren’t in season for me, and that’s okay.


Thank you, Sophie! I smiled when you admitted to feeling silly about living in the same town your entire life, with a clear view of precisely where you began. That doesn’t sound silly at all. In fact, it sounds quite lovely, especially when it’s apparent that you adore your city so, so much. (It would be an entirely different thing if you abhorred Phoenix, wouldn’t it? Phrew for loving the place you live!)

Funny, too, is how refreshing life gets when you remove that which causes you unnecessary stress. I love that you’ve learned to not be hard on yourself about what’s being served! At our house, my default is breakfast-for-dinner when I’m out of menu ideas. What about you? What do you serve when you’re not up for preparing a big meal and don’t want to eat out?

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

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Olive Us: Lemon Waffles Mon, 04 May 2015 20:19:10 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Have you seen the new Olive Us episode? It’s fantastic! And a totally different concept than we’ve tried before. All thanks to our oldest son, Ralph. It was his idea, and he directed and edited the footage. Very exciting! I’m betting your kids will love it. And you too! It’s short and cute and really fun.

Olive Us: Lemon Waffles. On set.Olive Us: Lemon Waffles. Behind the scenes.

We first showcased this episode in the Olive Us newsletter last week and it’s getting such a fun reaction. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. Feel free to share it with someone you love!

P.S. — Fun fact, since Olive Us launched, we’ve made 47 episodes total. You can find them all here. Subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to see upcoming episodes!

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