Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

St. George

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How was your week? We are in the middle of our #epicroadtrip. Today, we are headed to Zion, and tomorrow the plan is the Grand Canyon. Very exciting. Also, very hot!

From growing up in St. George, I learned that I can handle dry desert heat pretty well if I have an ice water in my hand. But if I don’t remember to bring an ice water, and we’re hiking or getting into a car that’s been sitting in the sun, I am a total crab. It’s like I turn grumpy and hopeless instantly. So you can imagine, I have a cooler full of icy bottles of water in the van with us at all times. : )

Before I finish up my work week and head out on the next leg of the roadtrip, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Lace Graffiti.

- What are your thoughts on this Weird Old Trick?

- Simpsons Marathon. The entire series!

- Jenny the Bloggess wrote an amazing and compassionate response to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr. I’m lucky to call her a friend.

- Hah! What every trendy restaurant menu looks like.

- Big happy news!

- Everything iconic about summer in New York City, all in aerial.

- Still laughing about these Instagram confessions.

- Changing Tides. Thanks, Maude.

- The best places to raise kids. Is your home on the list? The state I’m writing this in (Utah) is rated high. The state we actually live in (California) is rated low.

- These toasters print selfies.

- Have you seen this inglorious fruit campaign? (The video made me homesick for France. Intermarché was our closest grocery store. Seeing the store signs and even receipts made me happy. I can’t believe we’ve been gone for a year!)

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


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Epic Roadtrip Stop #3: St. George & Cousins Weeks Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:00:46 +0000 Design Mom

Cousins Week Begins

Image and text by Gabrielle.

On Sunday afternoon, we dropped the kids off at Cousins Week, and we picked them up yesterday afternoon (Thursday, if you’re keeping track).

What is Cousins Week? It’s an annual tradition, hosted by my sister, Sara and her husband, Steve. All cousins age 8 or older are invited. They go to Sara & Steve’s house in St. George, and have this sort of kid-paradise vacation. There’s a ton of swimming in the backyard pool (which is essential because St. George is crazy hot), the kids can stay up as late as they want, they can eat dessert for breakfast if they want, and they get a break from their typical schedules.

On each day there’s an adventure or two with the aunts or uncles or Grandma. Things like tubing in the Virgin River at Zion. Or cliff diving in the Sand Hollow Reservoir. Or rock climbing. Or hiking the narrows. Or seeing a musical at Tuacahn. Or visiting the sand dunes at night. Or tie dying t-shirts.

But mostly, it’s swimming and sugar. In fact, there’s a whole freezer dedicated to popsicles, and a whole drawer dedicated to candy — the kids call it the Drawer of Wonders and talk about it with hushed, sacred tones. : ) When they need a break from the sun or the pool, they watch movies and look up favorite videos on YouTube. Though the adults are right there, ready to help, it’s definitely a very kid-centered week.

My kids LOVE cousins week. There are a lot of cousins in my family, and the cousins live, and have lived, all over the place. So this is an amazing time for them to get to know each other with no distractions. Oscar starts talking about the next cousins week as soon as the current one is over. It might be his favorite thing in the world.

Betty turned 8 in May, so this was her first year. I was so worried about her getting sunburned. She burns so easily! But she made it through with skin intact and she had a fabulous time. When cousins get to college age they sort of graduate from cousins week. They might make an appearance if they can get to St. George, but they usually have jobs or summer semester or study abroad programs that keep them away.

Cousins Week typically starts with a BBQ for the families — even the parents and the kids under 8. And it ends with a “talent show” on Thursday afternoon, again, for the whole family. I put talent show in quotes, because it’s very silly. The cousins don’t really perform their traditional talents, but instead do lip syncs and make crazy videos and do funny skits — the kids put together their talent show performances during the week.

After the talent show, we search the house for missing flip flops and track down random socks, then pack everyone up and head out. The kids are happy and exhausted. Ready for a break from their cousins, but already looking forward to next year.

Some of my siblings drop off their kids and then head home — even if they live hours away — then return on Thursday for the talent show and pick up. But we live far enough away, that Ben Blair and I always stay in St. George during cousins week. We check in to a hotel or stay at a friend’s house, then we hang out with the kids that aren’t old enough to go — when Cousins’s week started, Olive, Oscar, Betty & June weren’t old enough yet, but now it’s just June! We might visit my dad’s grave, or hang out with friends from my high school days, or go to dinner with my siblings or my Mom.

On this trip, my sister-in-law, Erin, had June over to the house to play with her two youngest, which was amazing! I was able to have solid work days and tried to catch up on as much email as possible.

Now, I think that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about Cousins Week. Hah! But I’d love to hear: Did you grow up close to your cousins? And are your kids growing up close to their cousins? Has your family ever tried something like Cousins Week? Would you ever be the host of something like Cousins Week? I don’t think I could it, but my Sara & Steve seem to love it!

P.S. — We don’t really do family reunions on the Stanley side of the the family. Between Alt Summit conferences and Cousins Week, we seem to get our fill of one another’s company. How does your family handle reunions?


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Gemvara Giveaway Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:00:10 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Today’s giveaway is going to knock your socks off! Gemvara is the sponsor. And the prize is a $1000 gift certificate!!!

Gemvara Design Mom1Gemvara Design Mom2

Do you know Gemvara? It’s an online high-end jewelry store where every piece can be customized in any metal, and with any gem you’d like. For real. They offer 20 different natural gemstones and 9 different precious metals.

Just playing around on the site is delightful — and surprisingly educational as well. I started with this Small Circle Pendant. Then I tried changing the metals. Then I tried changing the gemstones. Each time I’d make a change, I could instantly see the change reflected in the photo, and also in the price. Depending on what I chose, the price would go up or down. I know almost nothing about gemstones or precious metals, so it was fascinating to me to see the relative value of each option reflected in price. The same piece of jewelry might be anywhere from $300 to $1700 depending on the metals and gems. So fascinating to see!

When you order a piece of jewelry from Gemvara, it’s made just for you. Seriously. There is no inventory. Instead, each piece is crafted by hand in NYC, then delivered in less than two weeks.

Gemvara Design Mom3Gemvara Design Mom4

Gemvara sent me a piece of jewelry so I could see the quality in person and photograph it for you. They sent the gorgeous Pure Pave Pendant (pictured above) in gold and tiny diamonds. It really is stunning. It comes in a beautiful box, with an official certificate of authenticity, and feels like something truly special to open. The necklace is simple as can be, and the scale is petite — the whole thing is smaller than a dime. But I think it’s ideal! Small enough to wear every day. It adds a touch of sophistication to even the most basic outfit and is great for layering with other pieces. Since we kept my birthday low-key, I’m calling it my 40th birthday gift. : )

Gemvara Jewelry

If I won the big prize, my favorite pieces are the Stacking Ring set, the Five Stone Necklace, the Triple Drop Earrings from their Gemstones by the Yard Collection, the Two Hearts Ring (you could pick two different colored hearts!), the Victoria Band, and the classic Martini Studs.

Extra fun: Design Mom Readers get 15% off in the next 72 hours by clicking through this link. (Discount will automatically apply, no promo code needed.) And you can shop worry free, because Gemvara offers free-shipping and 101-day returns (even on engraved pieces).

To enter, click here to sign up for Gemvara’s email list, then comment below with the url of your favorite piece. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

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Growing A Family: Trading Adventures Thu, 24 Jul 2014 05:40:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Tara’s company that she and her husband co-founded, Knowmad Adventures, was born from the idea that travel makes us all better people. I would suggest that babies do the same exact thing!

In total seriousness, running a South American travel company that specializes in authentic adventures is probably one of the best training grounds for parenthood, don’t you think? Unpredictable climates, crazy eating habits and sleep patterns, a continually changing and ever inspiring landscape, and daily excursions that leave your heart beating like nothing else in the world…

Yep. That’s parenthood. Friends, please help me welcome Tara as she shares the story of her favorite adventure yet.

Q: Tell us about the moment you first learned or suspected you might be pregnant.

A: Well, it actually took me over six weeks to realize I was pregnant. Trey was conceived on a trip to Patagonia and the Atacama Desert in Chile. We spent a little over a month there researching luxury lodges (real rough!), and the day after we returned I hopped a flight to New York for a college friend’s wedding. Needless to say, I’d been on the run so I kind of forgot when I was supposed to get my period. When I realized I was late, I figured it was because my body clock was messed up.

Finally I got worried enough to take a pregnancy test and I literally thought to myself “I’ll take this so I stop worrying and it’ll start tomorrow.” That big, purple plus sign proved that theory wrong!

Jordan, my husband, wasn’t home. As soon as he walked through the door, I told him to sit down and that I had something to tell him. He guessed it from that and paced around the house saying “It’s a miracle!” We took the next day off, got breakfast together, and tried to let the news sink in. I think it took me until month five before I was over the shock, however.

Q: What were your favorite parts about being pregnant? And least favorite? Also, tell us about the challenges of managing a growing baby and a growing company!

A: I loved eating whatever I wanted to. Old fashioned donuts were a real weakness, along with macaroni andcheese and, of course, ice cream. I’m still battling with that ice cream addiction.

I hated not being able to horseback ride, ski, bike, and do all those active things. It made me really appreciate what a positive impact they have on my day to day. I found it challenging to find good stress release in their absence, and apparently turned to sweets!

Running Knowmad Adventures, the South American travel company that my husband I founded five years ago, while pregnant was also a challenge. My first concern was for our baby’s health. We had had a trip planned to Peru to trek to the Incan ruins of Choquequirao a week after we found out I was growing a little bebito inside. It consisted of four days of intensive hiking in high altitude. I was still in my first trimester and my doctor assured me that it would be fine (fetuses live in an oxygen-less environment in the beginning anyhow), so I did it.

It was physically more demanding than I had thought it would be and I was absolutely worn out after, but I don’t regret it for a second. It gave Jordan and I some time to disconnect, to reflect on the change that was to come in our lives. We were able to nurture the really beautiful, tender bond between us that, trust me, as a couple you really need to fall back on in those first sleepless months after the baby comes.

I also can’t wait to tell Trey about all the places he had already been before he was even born! By chance, I had just started collecting sand from each place in glass bottles on the trip to Chile, and so now those can be his.

However, back at the office after the Peru trip, I pretty much freaked out. The due date became a looming deadline. I had a website to design and a million projects to delegate and get off my plate in an effort to carve out a maternity leave for myself. We managed for the most part, although I was still doing some weekly accounting right after he was born. I was really envious of my friends that worked for corporations and got a clear cut paid maternity leave. When he was three months old though, I thought of them having to return to work all day, five days a week, whereas I was able to be more flexible at that point and gradually increase my hours as they worked with Trey’s schedule. I felt very grateful for our situation then.

Q: How did you prepare for your delivery? Take us through the day (or night!), and be sure to include your best and not-so-best moments!

A: I was more or less a possessed nester. My background is in art and design so, naturally, I thought decorating our house was an utmost priority. We painted eight rooms in our house before Jordan refused to do one more. So I wallpapered the nursery.

I organized every closet and every cupboard. It was cathartic and made me feel prepared, but truthfully I was really scared for delivery. My mom had broken her back and pelvis in a ski accident, and my sisters and I had been c-sections so she couldn’t really ease my fears. And my aunts comforting words were basically “Don’t worry about it – it’s so painful you’ll forget.” Which, in hindsight, is true but not really what you want to hear!

My water broke movie-style early on a cold December morning. Jordan was already at the office and so I called him, but he didn’t answer. I had to text him then that my water broke because I wanted to call the hospital right away. Of course then when he called back I was on the other line and so he raced home, dropping his phone in a snow bank and breaking it!

We spent the rest of the day at the hospital waiting for labor to start, but my contractions wouldn’t come. Finally they induced me at 7pm and it went from zero to sixty like that! I labored for five hours before requesting…no…demanding an epidural. After that, I honestly took a nap before I was dilated enough to push.

After four hours of pushing, our precious baby boy came into the world at 6:34am on December 10th. It was a precious, precious moment.

Q: You and your husband are successful business partners in high-actions, high-stress situations. Was that a good training ground for becoming parents?

A: Yes and no. A baby is so much different than a business. You can’t approach constipation issues like you would finding a good web programmer. But I think we had already developed a great admiration for each other’s endurance and strength and a real teamwork mentality, which helped.

Q: How has your baby merged into your life?

A: Trey, in a way, has helped us a bit with our work life balance. We had a real problem letting Knowmad seep into every aspect of our lives. I actually had to make a rule once – no business in bed – so we wouldn’t talk about it until the wee hours of the night. I really wanted to be present for Trey when I was with him, every moment of everyday. So now there is no (ok, minimal) checking email at home, and we try to leave Knowmad at the office as much as possible.

The adjustment for me of being so homebound has been hard, though. Minnesota just survived the worst winter in over 30 years with over 55 days below zero. There were literally weeks where it just wasn’t worth it to spend the half hour it took to preheat the car, get all packed up and bundled for an excursion even to a coffee shop.

Nor had I spend so many consecutive months Stateside in a long time. I’m nursing and pumping wasn’t really working for me enough to leave Trey. Besides, my priorities had really shifted and I really just didn’t want to leave him anyway. So Jordan has done all the traveling for Knowmad this year, and I played single mom in the meantime. Single moms out there – you absolutely rock this world. It is tough.

Luckily, we’ve had so much help and support from family and friends. Countless meals were dropped off, grocery runs made, the dishwasher emptied, diapers changed, sidewalks shoveled…the list goes on and on. It really does take a village and we are so thankful.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I feel like a mom when I…

A: I feel like a mom when I realize I haven’t worn high heels in over a year!


Tara, thank you so much for your story. Your experience is so unique, and I know you’ve inspired readers out there worried about balancing their old, adventure-laden life with a bit differently paced trip that includes a baby.

I read your blog post on motherhood, Tara, and I especially love this: “Admittedly, the days of traveling to foreign, Latin American lands seem so far, far away. But even though every day brings new challenges, I literally wouldn’t trade motherhood for the world. Every morning that our baby boy wakes us with his perfect smiles and delighted coos I’m reminded that this is the trip of a lifetime.”

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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Your First Grownup Apartment Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

Target Products Fall 2014

By Gabrielle. // This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Room Essentials to make modern life easier.

I’m betting the reason I first fell in love with Target so many years ago is the same reason you did: they made excellent design available on a large scale, at prices that are accessible to everyone.

Over the last year, Target revamped and relaunched their Room Essentials line. If you’ve been in-store lately, I’ll bet you’ve seen it — I couldn’t help but snap an instagram months ago when I was walking down an aisle on a late night Target run and the RE display caught my eye. So when they recently reached out to work with me, I was already a fan of the renewed line.

I have several nieces and nephews heading out on their own — some are moving in to their first post-college apartment, others are newlyweds — and I thought it would be fun pick out some of my favorite items from the Room Essentials line and imagine how I would set up my first grown-up home if I were doing it today. Take a peek:

1) Microfiber Sheet Set. Super soft, easy care, sophisticated colors — and a total bargain.

2) Citron Dot Sham. So cheerful and sunny! A pop of color for the bed.

3) Shadowbox Mirror. I love this piece! The depth of the frame makes it a convenient spot to leave your favorite earrings or lipstick — even your keys. Put it in a bedroom — or by the front door for a quick glimpse as you leave the house.

4) Tripod Table Lamp. Such a good-looking lamp. It would work on a side table next to your sofa, or on the nightstand as well.

5) Cube Organizer. One of those pieces that will be useful in any space for many years. It works as pantry storage in the kitchen, bookshelves in the living room, or clothes storage in the bedroom.

6) Grey Ottoman. Another flexible piece I adore! A footstool or extra seating. And so handsome in grey.

7) Plaid Comforter. I’m always a fan of a good gender neutral comforter. This one in navy plaid is great looking, reserves to grey for a fresh look, and is totally affordable.

8) Modern Clock. I’m picturing this cheerful clock in the kitchen. Or maybe by the front door. It would make me smile every time I came home.

Geez, thinking about first apartments is making me nostalgic. I consider my first grown-up apartment to be the hosue that Ben Blair and I first rented after we got married. We had a blue velvet sofa that was a hand me down from his parents. I adored that sofa!

Tell me, friends. Have you noticed the Room Essentials line? Or tried any products from the line? Do you remember the pre-Target days, where it felt like hunting down good design was way too hard and way too expensive? And lastly, what do you remember about your first grown-up apartment?

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Living With Kids: Kat Hertzler Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I definitely wouldn’t look at Kat‘s home and think to myself “I’ll bet they did all this debt-free!” No, that would not be my first, second, or even tenth thought. Because there’s so much else to think about in this tour! Like the rustic kitchen island or that gorgeous countertop, the ceiling in the nursery and that insanely lush carpet, the leather couch that looks like it was plucked from a London pub…I could go on. Wait! One more: her master bedroom and bath was once a two-car garage.

But back to the debt-free part. Yes, the renovations and decorating took far longer than if they had sped along their wish list and borrowed the funds and bought new. But where would the fun be in that? Friends, I hope you’re inspired by Kat today. (I know I’m off to check Craigslist!)

Q: Tell us about this family of BOYS!

A: It’s true…we have three little guys who are our world: Ryder (6), Bryce (4), and Finn (18 months). Plus there’s Mitch, my better half, whom I met in high school. We went to college together too, but were just buds then. We didn’t start dating until after we graduated. We’ve been married almost nine years! And I’m Kat, the momma of this all-boy household.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Lancaster County, PA, in a little white rancher. From the first time we saw our no-frills little box of a house, we knew it had potential. Mitch bought the house before we were engaged, but I put my touch on it right away by picking out crazy paint colors and going to town. We literally had a yellow kitchen, red living room, bright green bathroom and a purple spare bedroom; I cringe when I think about it.

Right from the get-go we ripped up carpet, painted, scraped off wallpaper border, and did pretty much whatever we needed to make this house more us. We weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to our little two bedroom rancher.

As time went on and babies started making their appearances, we knew we had to do something…we were quickly running out of room. Our bathroom, which didn’t even have a bathtub in it, wasn’t going to cut it for much longer.

The first thing we did to make our house larger was to finish our basement. It’s so nice to have another space in which to relax, watch movies, play together, or simply send the boys to get out of my hair for a bit. Then about three years ago, we decided to make our house even larger by converting our attached two-car garage into a master bedroom/bathroom, mud/laundry room, and dining area. We did this by tearing down a wall that separated the two spaces and opening our kitchen up to that space.

At that time, we decided to redo our kitchen – since everything else was a mess, why not? And now we have a three bedroom/two bath house with a lot more living space. Every room in our little house has undergone a transformation (some more than one), and we’re really proud of all the work and character that went into those remodels.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Both Mitch and I have very fond memories of our childhood towns in which we grew up, hence the name of our blog, Maple Leaves & Sycamore Trees: Maple Leaves because Mitch grew up in Alberta, Canada, and Sycamore Trees after the street on which I grew up in a small town in South Jersey. I always pictured raising a family in a small town, but alas, we’re in the country and are loving raising our boys here.

We have so many different farms that we frequent. We buy our milk from a farm that is literally right down the road. There’s a cheese farm where our favorite cheese is made. I even have an “upholstery farm” where I’m currently getting two chairs reupholstered. I can’t forget about the “paint farm” where I recently bought two gallons of paint to redo our family room. Even our kitchen cabinets were made by a local farmer. These farms are literally just that – farms that have side businesses. And the farmers are local Mennonites that do great work and are really affordable.

Lancaster County is the home of the roadside stand, where you can find local in-season produce, local honey, fresh-cut flowers, and even baked goods (shoe-fly pie, anybody?). I’m so thankful that I can feed my family fresh, local homegrown food. There’s also a lot of discount grocery stores here where I can get good organic foods at a serious discount. I just bought organic grass-fed chicken for 99 cents a pound!

Plus, it’s just beautiful here. A country sunset is hard to beat. We have horses and buggies that go past our house every day. The view out our master bedroom is just stunning.

Q: Your home underwent serious renovations. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?

A: Probably the hardest part of our renovation when we converted our garage into living space was the amount of time it took us to complete it. Because we did all the work ourselves with help from friends, we had to rely on evenings and weekends to chip away at it. It wasn’t an easy task, especially with two little boys at the time vying for our attention as well. We would let Ryder and Bryce “help” when they wanted to, and would have several breaks that we took from it to focus on family.

Obviously the funnest part was when everything was done. It’s so fulfilling looking around a room knowing that you did the work and that it actually looks good! The toilet actually flushes, the pipes aren’t leaking, and the lights go on when you flick the switch. Mitch learned a lot through the whole process. Prior to the remodel, he really didn’t know the first thing about electric, pluming, etc., but now he can lay pipes, wire lighting, and tile like nobody’s business. If he didn’t know how to do a particular thing, he’d ask a friend to show him or he would look it up on YouTube. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching videos!

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

A: Well, the biggest thing we wanted to include was a bathtub. It’s not all that practical to bathe a kid in the kitchen sink – after a while it kinda gets tight in there! – or in the shower. So we definitely wanted a nice big tub for not only the kids, but for Momma too! That was one of the first purchases we made; we found a garden tub on Craigslist and snatched it up.

Q: You mentioned that most of the renovations in your home were completed debt-free. Tell us your secrets to staying within a budget.

A: I mentioned that we found our bathtub on Craigslist. That’s pretty much where we would turn to when we needed something. We found our toilet (yes, our toilet), bathroom vanity, kitchen island, and a ton of smaller things like the Moravian star pendant light that’s over our tub on Craigslist.

We even found things on Craigslist that we didn’t necessarily need. For example, one day I was checking out the free section and noticed that someone was tearing down a barn and all the wood was being given away. “Just come and take what you want,” the ad said. So Mitch and a couple of his buddies went and filled a truck bed with barn wood that we then used on the ceiling of our stairwell.

At the same time, Mitch discovered a huge piece of slate in the barn. He told his buddies, “I gotta get this for my wife…she’d LOVE it!” So they hauled the slate onto the truck bed as well and later Mitch made a frame for it and it’s now on our dining room wall. The boys enjoy doodling and I love being able to write Bible verses on it. And you can’t beat free, right?

Craig is definitely our buddy and the first “person” we turned to when we needed something for our house. I’m also a big thrifter, so I found a lot of little things at thrift/antique stores in the area. I also hit up some outlets I found the chrome etagere that’s in our bathroom at the Restoration Hardware Outlet for $20.

People are always asking me, “How do you find these things?” I don’t know…I guess I’m at the right place at the right time? I thrift consistently – less these days since we don’t really need anything – so that helps to find some good stuff and I’m not afraid to take a chance on something. Things that people might totally pass over because it’s ugly, I’m more apt to see the potential in and buy and transform it. I did that to a funny-looking console table that I found at Goodwill. We chopped off part of the legs and upholstered it and turned it into the perfect-sized ottoman for our living room. So one little tip I like to give people – look for the potential in something that has otherwise seen better days.

Q: With three boys, do you find yourself gravitating toward more rugged, durable furnishings?

A: I’ve always loved a more masculine-looking room…there’s just something so not-fussy about that look. So we have a lot of antlers in our rooms as well as durable surfaces. I just had couch cushions recovered in kid-friendly outdoor fabric. Also, when Mitch made the top to our dining room table, he made it out of old barn wood that had lots of character in it so that the boys couldn’t really destroy it.

While planning out our master bedroom space, I definitely wanted it to be a mix of both his and hers. And I think I achieved that look. There are botanical prints on one wall and an Audubon bird print (which reads masculine to me) on another. Our wardrobes are a charcoal color but there are feminine touches in accessories like antique lamps, pillows, etc. It’s been fun collecting items over the years that I know will fit in with our style. Thankfully this momma doesn’t love pink, but I guess I get my feminine fix with flowers – I love having fresh-cut flowers on our table.

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

A: We have special nights where we camp in. This usually includes a movie, indoor s’mores, some singing around the campfire, and a sleepover in Mommy and Daddy’s room. We have an electric fireplace on our bedroom wall that we all snuggle around, lay out the blankets and pile on the pillows. I know that’s something the boys really enjoy and it’s something that we’ll look back at and reminisce about, I’m sure.

One thing that kind of surprised me about being a mom is that sometimes I can be really short with my boys. I’ve always loved being around little kids – I used to be a teacher and I loved my little fourth graders – but being a stay-at-home mom definitely has its challenges. There’s no break. I know that sounds like a “duh” statement, but parenting is a full-time job. On days that I just want the boys to play together nicely, they fight. Imagine that. Then I get frustrated. Being a parent isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes you gotta lay down the law and that’s not an easy task, especially when you’re sick of telling them for the 27th time that day, ”Don’t hit your brother!” This too shall pass, I’ve been told.

I try to savor each stage of my boys’ childhood. Some stages are easier to enjoy than others (um…hello, terrible twos!) but I know their childhood is so short and before you know it they’ll be all grown up. So the more time we can spend together as a family, the better in my opinion.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: It’s funny because we were just talking about that the other day. I was dreaming out loud about our forever home and both Ryder and Bryce said, “But I want to stay here. This is our home.” They love their little house, and I think that’s because Mitch and I (and them!) have put so much into it. Whenever we pull out of our driveway we all say, “Good bye, house!” so there’s already that attachment to this place that warms my heart. Playing in the yard, having a camp-out in the playhouse, breakfast on Saturdays together as a family – all these things! Family times are what I’m hoping they remember from their childhood home.

Great, now you’ve got me thinking I never want to leave!

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

A: You can’t do it all. I think a lot of moms these days have so much pressure put on them to be Super Mom. Doesn’t take but two minutes perusing Pinterest that you soon see your inadequacies and start to feel insecure, telling yourself that you don’t measure up to the mom who apparently has it all together. Whether it be a squeaky-clean house, or having a hot meal on the table every evening, blogging, to staying in shape – I’ve realized that I can’t do it all without help.

I’m trying to focus my attention on what really matters: my family. Because at the end of the day, loving relationships are what count the most – not that we were able to juggle it all. I’m trying to live a less busy life and really enjoy the times we’re all together.

That being said, I need breaks too. Mitch and I really enjoy our time together going out on dates. We need that. I think every mom needs that. That time apart from my kids recharges those parental batteries and makes me refreshed and ready to go another round because, you know, this raising kids thing isn’t for the faint of heart. But I love it, am so thankful for my family, and wouldn’t change it for the world.


Yes, yes, yes to dates! Thank you, Kat, for the lovely reminder. I’m so proud of you for completing so much of your home (and so well, I might add!) on a budget. It’s inspiring.

Friends, could you ever tackle a renovation project like Kat and Mitch took on, or would it be worth a little debt to have it done by someone else on a much faster timeline? (I think I’m good with making tables and installing concrete floors and whitewashing bricks, but turning a garage into these lovely spaces? Not too sure!)

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

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The Treehouse: Front Porch Makeover Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:56:41 +0000 Design Mom

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.  |  This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to refresh your own front door, so your home can make a welcoming first impression.


I love a good front porch makeover! It’s one of those projects where small changes can make a big impact, and make any house look like it’s loved and up-to-date.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Way back in the day (2007), when we lived in a rental house in New York, I did my first porch makeover. It made such a difference. Instead of being bummed out as I drove up to the house, I grinned! I’ve been a big believer in making your front door a happy place ever since.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

In this particular instance, we replaced the front door, which can be expensive. But if you can keep your current door, a Front Porch Makeover can actually be a bargain project and can be tackled over a weekend.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

If you’re thinking about your own Front Porch Makeover, the key elements are:

1) A fresh coat of paint on the door. A fun new color is ideal! You’ll only need a quart of paint, so this isn’t a big expense.

2) A new light fixture. There are great looking options in every price range. My first porch makeover included a light that was $30.

3) Fresh pots and plants. If you’re willing to DIY, you can create something awesome for a bargain.

4) Updated house numbers. There’s something about shiny, new house numbers that communicate this house is loved and cared for.

5) An extra detail with a pop of color. It could be a red mailbox, or a blue chair, or a yellow bird feeder. Something pretty that brings an out-of-the-ordinary feel to your entry.

I’m telling you, for less than $150, you can give your house a facelift that will make a huge difference in how your feel about your residence.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

I’d love to tell you all about the decisions I made on our front porch — the door, the light, the chair. All of it. It was such a fun project!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

First, let’s talk about the door. You may remember, that we bought this home without seeing it in person. In fact, the first time I saw this house in real life was the night we arrived from France and moved in. I had seen it in photos, and I loved the house even more in real life, but my first thought as we walked through the door: This door doesn’t make sense with this house, we’ll need to replace it, hopefully soon.

So basically, updating the front door was the very first thing I wanted to do when we moved in. And it took us a full year to get around to it!

I wanted something that looked simple, clean and modern and fit with the architecture of the home. I did a bunch of research and found a company that made true mid-century modern doors, but the doors were crazy expensive! Way out of our budget. So I kept hunting. Eventually, I happened upon a line of doors called Pulse by Therma-Tru. Clean lines, and simple designs at realistic prices. We special ordered ours from the Lowe’s door department and it arrived about 3 weeks later.

I stood outside with my laptop and looked at the door options on the Therma-Tru website, then looked up at the real porch and figured out what I liked best. I knew we wanted to keep the left sidelight, and I knew the handleset should be on the right, and knowing those two things helped me narrow the options down.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

After the door was chosen, I picked out a modern handleset, called Seattle by Baldwin. Again, this was a special order from Lowe’s. I researched online, found the handleset I wanted, then went in store to order the exact thing. It was helpful to order in store, because there were a bunch of construction questions that affected the order that I didn’t know how to answer — I’m afraid if I had tried to order something online, I would have chosen the wrong type.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The  door arrived unpainted and I spent a good chunk of time thinking about color. When I think about the future of this house, I picture the exterior in a charcoal gray with a shiny red or yellow door. But it may be awhile till we paint the exterior. It’s a big commitment. So for now, I needed to work with the colors that are currently on the house — a red-brown and a dark grey-brown. I ended up choosing Valspar Storm Grey. And I love it!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Next, I updated the light fixture. A shiny new light fixture makes a huge difference. Our old one looked rusty and cobwebby even when it wasn’t. I chose a new one from a company called Kichler. It’s so handsome! I love the straight lines.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Then, it was time for smaller details — house numbers, and a sleek, simple doorbell.

We hired out the door installation, but the smaller projects — the new light and doorbell and house numbers — we could install ourselves.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Once the more permanent details were in place, I turned my attention to seating. I really wanted a chair from the old school Homecrest line. They are vintage metal outdoor furniture in several shapes, and they look amazing with mid-century architecture. I stalked Craig’s List every day till I found just the right one.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Eventually, a set showed up in Santa Cruz — about an hour and a half away. The set included a highback chair (pictured here), and two smaller chairs with a table. (I’m saving the two chairs + table for another spot.) The highback chair had some rust damage, so we restored it. It wasn’t hard to do, it just took some time and muscle — I’ll create a restoration how-to tutorial for a future post. But the chair looks like new now!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The next project was making concrete planters. A super fun, easy project. Really inexpensive and really satisfying. I’m planning to include the DIY in my book. Very excited about it!

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design MomFront Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

I feel like I’ve bought a million succulents for the house at this point, but they do so well in Oakland’s climate. I can’t help myself! I found these beauties in Lowe’s garden department.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

The last details I picked up were the wooden doormat, plus a pillow and citronella candles I found at Marshall’s.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Oh man. The makeover has added such happiness to the entry! I love walking up to the front porch, and I love sitting in the chair and watching the birds. I knew the makeover would make a big difference, but I think it surprised me how BIG the difference actually is.

Have you ever taken on a Front Porch Makeover? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. — Find more posts about The Treehouse. Also, here are a few “before” photos so you can see the difference:

"Before" photo of a Front Porch Makeover"Before" & "After" - Front Porch Makeover on Design MomFront Porch Makeover Before+After

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A Few Things Sun, 20 Jul 2014 22:30:50 +0000 Design Mom

Blairs at Yosemite

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How has your weekend been going? I’m here with a Sunday edition of my weekend link list. The fact that I’m posting this two days late will give you some sense of how behind I’m feeling on work at the moment. Hah!

We’re off to St. George next, but while we get packed up and back on the road here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- When to use tu or vous in French? A helpful flowchart. Thanks, Allysha.

- Haunting photos. Living below the poverty line in Troy, New York.

- For those of you who found Overdrive lacking, I just heard about Kindle Unlimited — all the ebooks and audiobooks you want for $9.99 per month.

- Would you ever try a babywearing ballet class?

- A letter from John Cleese.

- A modern treehouse.

- Woah. It can happen to anyone. Can’t stop thinking about this video.

- I don’t know why this is so funny to me, but it is!

- I don’t care if you like it. (Be aware: the article has some cussing.)

- 5 ways to raise kind children.

I hope your weekend was the much needed break you deserve! I’ll meet you back here this week. I’ve missed you like crazy.


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Epic Roadtrip Stop #2: Las Vegas Sun, 20 Jul 2014 22:03:34 +0000 Design Mom

Las Vegas Boulevard

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Waving hello from Las Vegas! We’re staying at the Golden Nugget — it’s in the old school downtown part of the city. And we’re having a fabulous time!

I have such nostalgic feelings for Las Vegas. Growing up in St. George, Utah, meant Vegas was our nearest big city. St. George has grown like crazy in the years since I left for college, but while I was a kid, it was a small town. So when we needed Costco, or a mall for school shopping, we drove to Las Vegas. My first concert was in Las Vegas. And the Las Vegas airport is the one I would fly in and out of.

We didn’t spend a ton of time in the casinos, but we’d drive by all the neon with wide eyes. And I remember a family vacation where we stayed at a hotel/casino called The Imperial Palace.

The Fashion Show Mall would also draw us to Las Vegas Boulevard, fondly known as The Strip. That mall had expensive stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. We couldn’t afford those stores, but my mom would make a point of having me window shop there so I could see the current styles — those window shopping trips were part of my early design education.

I also came to understand that gambling was infused into life in Las Vegas — that even in the suburbs, there were slot machines everywhere — in the grocery stores and the pharmacies and every possible spot.

I remember the Vegas skyline changing when I was in my teens. I remember the Luxor pyramid being built, and the Mirage and the MGM Grand. But the next big growth spurt — the Bellagio and the Venitian — happened after I’d moved away from St. George. The whole strip has continued to develop like crazy and when I’m in Las Vegas I no longer feel oriented. The suburbs have also grown like crazy and it’s easy to imagine that most residents of the Las Vegas area probably rarely interact with the touristy, casino part of the city.

My kids haven’t ever really been to Las Vegas. Since my hometown is so close, we usually just drive through on our way to see cousins. But we thought on this roadtrip is would be a good destination. Vegas feels very American. Lots of neon and shopping and commercialism. A contrast to the very natural National Parks, and something fun for our exchange students to see. This is also the main spot on our trip where they’ll be able to shop.

Vegas is contrasts. The shopping is as good as the biggest cities in the world — I think I counted 6 Louis Vuitton shops over about a mile of the Las Vegas Strip. Hah! The newest growth spurt brought in fine dining, and luxe spas. Of course, the city has always been known for great concerts and performers. There are even world class art exhibits now. And all of that shares real estate with endless, dark, smoke-filled casinos and the trashiest shows you can find anywhere. In the same brochure where you can get info on Seigfried and Roy, you can also find tours to the Grand Canyon. Much of the city is for adults only, but at the same time, there are a surprising number of attractions designed to attract families with young kids.

Our hotel is on Fremont Street. Sassy Sally and Vegas Vic of my childhood are now part of a walking district. There is a roof over the whole street making it a semi-indoor space, and the entire ceiling functions as a giant screen. The whole outdoor walking area is air conditioned! I mentioned Vegas not being eco-friendly on Instagram and there were comments that Vegas has actually done a ton with water recycling — which I was comforted to know! But when you’re in this desert oasis, surrounded by a million light bulbs and outdoor air conditioning, it’s hard not to wonder how much energy it takes to power this crazy place. (No judgment from me, I promise. I can’t pretend I’m awesome at being earth-minded. I’m a tourist here just like everybody else.)

Our hotel, The Golden Nugget, has a real live gold nugget on display. The biggest ever found. From Australia. But it’s not much of a draw. Instead the pool is the thing. First, because it’s super hot out and cool water feels amazing. And second, because the pool surrounds a salt water aquarium full of sharks. But that’s not all. There’s a water slide at the pool and it goes through the shark tank!

We were laughing with the kids and wondering what it would be like to be part of a Vegas hotel/casino planning team, trying to come up with more and more jaw-dropping attractions. We imagined a conversation like this: This pool is pretty nice, but it needs something more. Hmmm. How about a giant aquarium that you can see when you swim? Wait. How about a giant aquarium full of sharks?! And what if there’s a water slide that goes by the shark tank? No. Even better: What if the water slide goes through the shark tank?! Bingo!

Las Vegas is a city where creativity and talent abound. And at the same time, everything gross about our country is present there and in full view. But one thing that I observed on this trip: Everyone in Las Vegas seems like they’re in a good mood! There are no desks in the Golden Nugget hotel rooms. No one comes here to work. Vegas is all about play.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever been there with kids? What are your favorite spots in the city, or favorite attractions? And whether you’ve been there or not, I’d love to hear about your impressions of the city. I think it’s so much fun! But I can only handle a couple of days and then I’m ready for something a little less neon. : )

P.S. — When we lived in New York, our neighbors would be wowed when they heard we were flying into Vegas (on our way to a family reunion). To them, Vegas was the coolest possible destination. Is that how you think of it, too?

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Epic Roadtrip Stop #1: Yosemite Thu, 17 Jul 2014 04:00:15 +0000 Design Mom

Yosemite Summer Sunset

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Yosemite. This place! This place is heavenly.

It’s our first visit here and we’re already thinking about future trips and imagining what it will be like to visit in the winter (ice skating!), or spring (legendary waterfalls!), or fall (fall color? I have no idea what happens here in the fall. Hah.).

We drove here this morning in a giant rented van. Eleven people. Me and Ben. Our six kids. Our two exchange students (one from France, one from England). And my niece Roxcy, who happily joined us at the last minute. That’s a lot of people! And a lot of teenagers. : )

The weather is hot, but we have a cooler full of icy water, we jump into the river whenever we get the chance, and we have lots of audiobooks.

Actually, I need to mention the audiobook tip before I forget. Janssen told me about an app called Overdrive and it’s genius. You use it to look up your local library — for example, we looked up the Oakland Public Library system — then you log in with your library card, and you can instantly read any e-books or listen to any audiobooks that your library has in their collection. Best part: totally free! Amazing right?

Anyway. The trip started this morning and it feels good to get going. This is the first stop of many. We’ll be here two nights, then it’s on to the next destination. Have you ever been to Yosemite? What are your favorite spots?

P.S. — In case you’re curious, we’ve been listening to Speaker For the Dead today — it’s the second book in the Ender’s Game series. Are you an Ender’s Game fan?

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Living With Kids: Leah Stapleton Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Leah first sent me photos of her home, she almost didn’t include any photos of her kitchen. It’s a huge work in progress, you see, and still reflects the 90s almond craze in appliances! But she figured there are others living with some big sections of their homes far from magazine worthy and not exactly the way they want them to look, so she submitted it all. Somewhere along the way, she found a lesson in that room’s cramped configuration and dated colors, armed only with a positive attitude and some chalkboard paint!

It’s life, isn’t it?

I’m so proud to share Leah with you, and I just know you’ll find some inspiration in her home and words. Welcome, Leah!

Q: Tell us about this family of yours!

A: Our family is a happy little family that I wake up every day thankful to be a part of! My husband and I have been married for nearly seven years, and we have two little girls: Ida (two and a half years) and Amy (seven months). Andy is a high school teacher and soccer coach at a classical Christian school, while I get to stay home with the girls and help them grow up.

Ida is an observant, thoughtful, and high-spirited girl who loves books more than anything. At the moment she is busily paging through a Latin and English dictionary that caught her eye on the bookshelf. Amy is our beacon of joy; she is always scanning the room just waiting for someone to catch her eye so she can smile at them. She throws herself wholeheartedly into every moment, like when she grabs my cheeks and bites my nose just to say “I love you.”

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We moved to the northern suburbs of Cincinnati from Philadelphia four years ago. I loved Philly itself, but found life there to be lonely, temporary, and harried, and we were ready to start a family. We had some trouble finding the right home and had what we thought was our dream home slip through our fingers. One day, we were driving around some neighborhoods in our favorite part of town and stumbled across a cul-de-sac street of red brick, three-level townhouses surrounded by tree lines. And one was for sale!

A day or two later, I walked into an empty house, all old oak, seashell sinks, almond and black appliances, and painted for sale in a flat beige/green/gray horrible paint. There was little natural light and no yard. And I fell in love. It felt like home, so we immediately put in an offer and it became home. I still catch my breath a bit when I turn onto our street, so thankful to live here.

We’ve loved townhouse life and plan on making this house work for us for years to come. We’ve been able to overcome some of the superficial downsides to our home. For example, while we’d like to have a yard someday, the deck has been a great space for us to enjoy and the lack of a yard pushes us to frequently explore nearby nature walks and the neighborhood parks.

As for the gloomy interior of the townhouse, I just decided to embrace it. I went with deep colors on the walls on the main living level and bright colors for the decor in order to make the space homey and warm. I do love airy, bright homes, but I also love where I live and wanted to create an aesthetic that maximizes its potential.

The deeper tones also complement the antiques we’ve inherited through the years. The dining table, antique and vintage chairs, stools, bookshelves, and other items from family members’ homes came with their own vibrant shades, and rather than go to the expense of reupholstering everything (I did repaint a few things), we’ve just enjoyed the unusual colors and patterns. We love having those memories mixed in with all of our new ones.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family. Our suburb is actually an old place with a cute little historic downtown, surrounded by a well-planned, community-centered residential area. So much thought went into designing it, with bike and walking paths everywhere, great parks, attractive public landscaping, and a wonderful community center. So, of course, it is filled with families. And there are big city amenities just a short drive away – Ida’s favorite is the zoo!

Q: You mentioned your kitchen is not your happy place right now. How does it affect your daily mood to have an unfinished room in your home? Especially one where you spend the most time?

A: Our kitchen, in addition to being out-dated, is not well laid out. There’s a lot of empty, unusable space and it feels cut off from the rest of the open living area. I’ve tried a lot of different configurations for the space and none has been particularly functional, so I’ve come to realize that without a full scale renovation and floor plan makeover that probably would include taking down a wall, it’s going to remain isolated and inefficient.

When we moved in, we painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the hardware. However, due to having two babies and a limited budget, any serious renovations of the kitchen are not possible anytime soon. It has been a good exercise for me in contentment and learning about what really matters. We have people into our home a lot, and happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.

Our kitchen is the sunniest room in the house so we chase the light in there. Sometimes I turn around from the sink and Ida is at her desk coloring, Andy has spread a blanket on the floor to play with Amy, and there’s absolutely no way for me to get to the pantry to grab the pasta for dinner but I still can’t help but smile because almond counters or no almond counters, my family is together in the sunshine.

Q: What are your plans for that space? Are there any little, affordable ways you make it more stylish?

A: As the girls get older and more independent, I would like to refinish the existing countertops, floors, and cabinets (again) myself, as well as tile a backsplash, replace the appliances, and find a way to put a banquette into the empty wall.

In the meantime, we’ve focused on simple updates. I painted the almond fridge with chalkboard paint, and its smudged, messy exterior fits in well with the worn rest of the kitchen. We added the inexpensive kitchen island to create more prep and storage space. The stools were from my parents‘ first apartment, and I refinished them in a bright yellow DIY chalk paint. I also went a little crazy adding inexpensive or homemade colorful decorative touches. Color makes me happy, and helps the kitchen feel loved, worn, and lived-in…and not neglected.

Q: When does your home work best? What time of day is most enjoyable with you and your family?

A: Our home works best when it’s filled with people, for meals or overnights. We’ve done our best to make it family-friendly and comfortable. But when it’s just us, we really love the hour between dinner and bedtime. Daddy and Ida turn the living room into a big gymnastics space while Amy cheers them on from her exer-saucer (from a safe distance, of course) and I can be in and out of the fun while cleaning up the table. That’s when it’s great to have a sturdy, durable couch and a padded ottoman!

Q: What are your goals as a mother, day to day? How do you make sure your home support these goals?

A: My biggest goal as a mother is to help my girls grow in grace. I want to nourish their mental, physical, and most importantly their spiritual development. Thus, a favorite decorating theme in our house is trees, to reference the Psalms where it says “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

With such tiny girls, home is the place right now where they do every bit of their growing and learning. So we keep books of all reading levels everywhere, including touch-and-feel books for little Amy to explore and chew on and chapter books for Ida to page through. We also try to encourage independent and imaginative play, so we keep careful limits on how many toys are available at one time and try to fill our home with toys that require creativity, like blocks and puppets.

I love to hear Ida’s chatter as she plays or reads on her own – it really gives me a window into her little mind and heart.

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

A: I love seeing how different they are, even at such young ages, and imagining how these little personality traits will grow into confident ladies. I love their wonder at everything in the world, and complete lack of shame at whole-heartedly enjoying what they love. I wish I could be like that.

But I do already miss the sleepy newborn days, where they fit perfectly into your shoulder and need only you. They don’t need me so much anymore, less and less everyday. And it’s bittersweet.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember having time to just be. Long mornings with nowhere to be and no plans. Long walks with nowhere to go, and long drives with smoothies just to see the green countryside. Being able to take their time and explore, with Mommy always there to help and encourage.

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

A: Well, people told me this, but I wish that I had accepted it earlier. I wish that I had accepted that it is okay to need, as a mom. I went into motherhood thinking that my husband and I needed to do it all, and be everything for our kids and home.

The hardest lesson for me has been learning that it is okay for me to need – to need help, to need friends, to need support, to need prayer, to need a couple of hours away from the house. And that acknowledging that need and letting others fill it helps me to be a better mommy and a better wife, too.


Thank you, Leah. These words should be on a poster hung in every old kitchen: “Happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.” Such a great reminder.

Friends, she’s right, isn’t she? We all have one or two areas in our home that prompt a cringe every time we pass through it! Until free time and budgets and all the stars in the sky align for the perfectly painless remodel, how are you feeling love for those spaces?

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

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Nesting Tue, 15 Jul 2014 05:30:41 +0000 Design Mom

Family Room Bare Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

What a day! I don’t think I sat still for more than a few minutes today. I’m looking at the clock (11:20 PM) and laughing that it could be this late.

We leave on our epic 3-week road trip on Wednesday morning, and I feel like I’m somehow nesting before the big event. Today was filled with big projects like clearing out the garage, little things like putting house plants outside (we have someone who will be coming by to water plants and collect mail and check on the house in our absence), and lots of laundry. Then this evening, when I was supposed to start packing, I rallied all the kids and we cleared out the family room furniture and pulled up the carpet! Hah!

The carpet was already badly worn and stained when we bought the house and I’ve wanted to pull it up all year (can you believe this week marks one whole year in California?), so I’m happy as a clam that it’s gone! But it’s such a random thing to do before a big trip. I hope it means we’ll get home from the trip and get right to work on the new flooring. I’m really excited to put the family room together — that space has felt halfway finished since we moved in.

I’ve been thinking back to past family trips to see if I have a habit of nesting before I travel, or if this is really just me procrastinating the packing. How about you? Have you ever surprised yourself before a trip by taking on a new project? Or maybe you have another pre-trip habit you’ve noticed? I’d love to hear!

The Genet Scar by fashionABLE. A collaboration between Alt Summit and

Shifting gears: Totally unrelated to the trip, but I wanted to make sure you heard about the new scarf design contest Alt Summit is hosting with fashionABLE. The open call for designs was announced today. And the prize is big — worth over $1000! The winner will receive a pass to the Alt Summit conference of their choice, plus a $500 gift certificate to fashionABLE. Nice. The last time we ran this contest, the winning scarf was the Genet. It’s my favorite. I truly never travel without it! Entries are due on July 24th, which is coming up fast. That’s why I wanted to mention it right away — I want you to have plenty of time to submit a design. Find contest details here.

Well. That was a random post for a random Monday. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start! Wish me luck on the packing. : )

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A Few Things Fri, 11 Jul 2014 18:30:33 +0000 Design Mom

Studio Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! I hope it was a good week for you. We have some fun stuff going on at our house. 1) Ralph, Maude and our French exchange student, Charles, are all on a Pioneer Trek this weekend. 2) On Saturday, we’re adding another exchange student to the mix — one of Ralph’s friends from England, Chris, will be joining us for several weeks. Yay!

3) We’re prepping for an epic roadtrip. All 10 of us (8 Blairs + 2 exchange students) will be driving around the Western U.S., visiting National Parks and other sites for almost 3 weeks. We leave next Wednesday!  4) We installed flooring in the studio/home office this week. The floor looks great (see above) and we need to move everything back in today. 5) Yesterday, we had a new front door installed. Hooray! I’ll share photos as soon as I paint it up and add some details to the porch. 6) I’ve been shooting the cover of my book this week. It feels like progress. And also makes me nervous. I want the book to be so good.

And 7), tonight we’re hoping to meet up with friends at Point Reyes. I’ve never been, but the photos look amazing. I love how this summer is turning out! How about you? Anything fun going on at your house?

While I go work on putting the studio back together, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- ONE just launched their Girls & Women Initiative! Meet Phiona Mutesi, their first guest curator.

- Penny In Your Pants.

- Related, something called Bicycle Face was once a medical condition. Hah!

- What happens when LeVar Burton gets pulled over.

- The New Yorker’s hilarious take on Eloise, at 46Thanks, Dani.

Mater Mea — a bimonthly online magazine that celebrates the lives of women of color as they balance work and motherhood.

Taryn Brumfitt’s story has me thinking.

- Free paper crafting class for Bay Area readers — or you can access it online from anywhere!

- Is parenting in crisis?

- This story is great: The letter that kicked of a radio career. (Proof that there’s never any harm in asking. The worst that can happen is someone says no.)

- Everything you need to know to host an Outdoor Movie Party.

- The music is the best part!

I hope it’s a wonderful weekend for you and yours. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — You can follow along to all of our summer activities, like Pioneer treks and new front doors, on Instagram.

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Jacadi Summer Sale + Activity Sheets + Giveaway! Fri, 11 Jul 2014 17:38:37 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Hooray! I’ve got a giveaway you’ll LOVE today. Jacadi, the chic French clothing line for children, is offering a $150 gift certificate. Fabulous, right? Even better, Jacadi is running their Summer Sale right this minute!

Jacadi Summer Sale - 50% off!

The Summer Sale means items are 50% off, so it’s a great time to stock up! Find the sale across seven categories — baby girl, baby boy, toddler girl, toddler boy, little girl, little boy, and tween girl as well. Everything is adorable! The selection of dresses for little girls especially caught my eye. So many classic choices!

Jacadi Summer Sale-  50% off!

Based in Paris, Jacadi is all about timeless cuts, refined tailoring, quality materials and gorgeous prints. If you’re trying to get a sense of how a little French boy or little French girl dresses — for summer vacation, for school, even on the weekend — taking a peek at the Jacadi displays will tell you everything you need to know.

Jacadi Summer Activities - Ideas and Worksheets - Free!

Extra Fun: Even if the giveaway doesn’t tempt you, you’ll want to take note of the Summer Fun & Games section on the Jacadi site. You can find boredom fighting ideas and clever activity sheets — totally free!

Visit the Jacadi Summer Sale and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear if you find something fun for your kids in the Fun & Games section. The winner will be announced on Tuesday. Good luck!

P.S. — I know I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you missed it, I think it’s a fun little tidbit. In France, the name for Simon Says is “Jacques a dit” — that’s where the name Jacadi comes from! A close approximation would be Jock-ah-dee.


Arika is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Kitchen Stools Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:08:13 +0000 Design Mom

Barstool Treehouse3

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Way back when I shared the Living Room tour, I received several emails asking about our barstools — they peek out of the corner in a photo or two in the tour. All this time, I’ve been meaning to share, and I finally prepped some photographs.

The stools look so simple, but it took me a ridiculous amount of searching before I figured out what would work best here. The parameters I had in mind:

1) We needed stools that could be both counter height and bar height — most of the family prefers counter height, but Oscar and June like something taller. I considered stools that were available in the same design at two different heights, but decided I wanted stools that were adjustable — so that if in the future we decide we want them all at counter height, we won’t need to replace the bar height stools.

Barstool Treehouse4

2) I wanted the stool seats to spin. Because the stools are right in between the kitchen and living room, people sitting on the stools end up taking part in conversations happening in both places, and I wanted people to be able to easily spin from one direction to another without getting off the stool.

3) I wanted something that didn’t have a huge footprint. The counter is not that wide, and I was hoping to fit five stools. Along the same lines, I also wanted backless stools — chair backs would block the view to the kitchen when sitting on the sofa.

4) Since the whole space is done in light colors, I wanted the same thing for the stools. It they were dark, I knew they would be the first thing people would see in the space because they would draw the eye — and I wanted the stool to be more functional instead of a centerpiece.

Barstool Treehouse1

5) Lastly, the stools needed to be within my price range.

So, I hunted and hunted — in brick and mortar shops, and online as well. I found lots of options that were close, but not quite right. Some were out of my budget, others were the right look, but didn’t offer two height options.

And then I found these. They were (almost) perfect! I ordered one to test out in the space, and concluded that if I recovered the tops, they would be just right. The stool seats spin. There are two different heights in the same stool. The footprint is small. Bingo!

Barstool Treehouse2

To recover the stools, I chose Crypton fabric. It’s designed for kids and pets and is super durable. I used the same brand on the toddler beds we built years ago and it held up beautifully! The fabric feels like normal soft fabric against the skin, but it wipes totally clean. I love this stuff! In fact, if you’re concerned about stains on your sofas, Crypton would be a smart choice for upholstery. The shade I used is a grey/blue called Herringbone Loon. It’s really lovely.

Though I take on simple upholstery projects from time to time, I hired this one out — I wanted welt along the top edges, and the last time I tried welt it was a total fail. Hah! Also, this was the only time I’ve ever had a brand new piece of furniture recovered, and I confess, it felt odd to do so. If it had been anything bigger than a stool, I don’t think I would have been willing!

Tell me friends, how picky are you about searching out the ideal furniture? I feel like I’ve turned up the pickiness factor as I make design decisions for The Treehouse, because I feel like we’re going to own this home for a long, long time. So I’ve been going slowly and trying to choose carefully. I’d also love to hear: have you ever recovered a new piece of furniture?

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Growing A Family: False Starts Turned True Wed, 09 Jul 2014 13:00:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Helvetica Hi Blanket via Yarning Made.

A lot of pregnancies have a false start or two. (Mine with June did!) But sometimes those false starts turn into very real, very surprising beginnings, and what in the world do you do then? Melissa has some experience, mistaking her early delivery signs as lingering flu symptoms and perhaps a little constipation. I’ll let her tell you how it all turned out. Enjoy her story, Friends!

My husband, Aaron, and I plopped onto the couch after getting the kids to bed on a Sunday night. Our Valentine’s weekend hadn’t gone at all as we had planned. Instead of date night and playdates, we dealt with barf buckets and Gatorade. I had spent the previous Friday night experiencing some of the most violent vomiting ever.

We spent Sunday recuperating. We made cinnamon rolls and spent a wonderfully relaxing day together. That night we snuggled on the couch as my two oldest boys picked Aaron’s brain for stories about his time as a Temple Square security guard. “Did you get to carry a gun!?” “What does getting sprayed with pepper spray feel like!?”

The Drunk Indian and January Pond Wader are among the favorite stories that were told that night. Our family room felt like a happy little cocoon. I felt a few strong contractions as I put the boys to bed that night, but didn’t worry. I was only 30 weeks pregnant.

Our lazy day left me feeling nostalgic. After getting the kids down, we talked about my weekend plans of flying to Las Vegas to visit friends. We finally got around to talking about baby names. Aaron liked Max. I liked Noah. We brought up the name Grant for the first time.

I said, “Things are probably going to get really hard after the baby comes. But we just need to remember days like today. That will get us through.”

I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up several times with back pain and worried that our stomach flu was coming back in the form of some kind of gastrointestinal distress. Or, I wondered if my iron supplements, combined with two days of no food or water, were causing some plumbing problems.

The next morning the back pain wouldn’t go away. I took a bath, which eased the pain, but it returned and intensified the moment I stood up. Still sure that these pains were related to our stomach flu, I called my sister who recommend Miralax and a lot of water. I followed both of those instructions. The pain got so intense that I lay on my side and practiced my hypno-birthing prompts. I struggled to relax through each surge.

I decided to use the bathroom. I felt the pressure reduce as I sat down. After a couple of pushes I saw something come out and was sure that I was about to feel some relief. But instead of relief, I felt panic as I noticed a purple swirly bag beginning its departure. My heart stopped and my mind stuttered in catching up to what my eyes had seen. There’s no way, I thought. I felt my mucous plug in my hand.

I called Aaron. “Aaron you need to come home right now! I think something started to come out of me that wasn’t supposed to…it couldn’t have been my bag of waters could it?” He left work immediately as I composed myself and called my midwife.

“Hi Kara,” I said, “I thought I was constipated, but…I just tried to use the bathroom, and…I thought I saw my bag of waters start to come out. I had to push it back in! My mucous plug was in my hand! It probably wasn’t that. I mean, it couldn’t be that, right? I’m only 30 weeks. But could you come and check me out just in case? I’m probably still messed up from our stomach flu.”

She assured me that I was probably okay, and said she was on her way.

As I lay back down on my bed I texted a friend to come and get the kids. I started to realize that this pain was probably much too intense to be related to the flu.

Panic and denial started rising in my chest.

After calling Aaron and my midwife, I didn’t sit still long. I hurried around the house, finding shoes and getting kids dressed to go to their friend’s house while fighting back tears. I told the kids that my body was possibly trying to have the baby, but that it was too early. Our friend arrived and shuttled them into her car.

My oldest son shot me nervous glances and asked me if I was going to die as he walked out the door. “I’ll be fine, honey,” I answered, hoping it was true.

I lay down on my couch and relaxed, waiting for the contractions to stop. They didn’t. Wave after wave rippled through my body. I breathed and counted and waited, sure that they would go away. I had spent weeks prepping for an unmedicated birth, and my work paid off in helping me to relax and focus. But the contractions didn’t slow. They intensified.

Aaron got home and gave me a Priesthood blessing. I was promised peace and a clear mind.

My midwife arrived shortly after. She offered me some medicine, but I didn’t turn to look at her because the pain was too intense. Kara, ever calm and steady asked, “Melissa, do you think you could be having this baby?” I nodded and said yes, believing it for the first time, as I said the words out loud.

We sped to the hospital. I curled to my left side, breathed, and cried as question after question stumbled out. Will they be able to stop this? Can babies survive at 30 weeks? Why would my body do this? Why is this happening!? They could probably still stop this, right? It felt as though reality had jumped 10 miles ahead and our minds were racing to catch up.

Aaron wheeled me into the Emergency Room and they directed us up to Labor and Delivery. They stopped us halfway there, and flagged down a nurse to ride up with us. Just in case I delivered in the elevator.

Labor and Delivery took approximately two years gathering my insurance and driver’s license information and handed me a dozen forms to sign. I closed my eyes and breathed through each contraction. I don’t think they believed me when I told them we needed to hurry.

I’ve had three fulll-term deliveries, all healthy, no complications. Yes, we have insurance. I’m 30 weeks.

I was finally wheeled to a triage room and checked by a nurse. “Wow…it looks like you are having a baby today. You’re complete. The baby is right there.”

After transferring again to a delivery room, the on-call doctor didn’t waste any time explaining things.

“You are in preterm labor. There is nothing we can do to stop it at this point. At 30 weeks, premature babies have higher risks of cerebral palsy, blindness, meningitis, brain bleeds, and chronic lung problems. We are going to do everything we can do to slow this down so that you will have some time to get some steroids that will help your baby’s lungs. We want to give you two doses. One today and one 24 hours from now. Any questions?”

The pain was constant at this point, but I felt calm as I asked question after question in between contractions. The hospital bed was tilted upside down to take the pressure off of my cervix. A nurse started an IV. “This is magnesium sulfate. It will make you feel like crap,” she explained. “You’re going to feel like you have a bad case of the flu…hot flashes, nausea, blurry vision, and slurred speech. This will help your baby’s brain and slow down your contractions. I’m also going to start a penicillin drip, just in case you are GBS+.”

Another nurse gave me a shot of steroids. My blood was drawn for labs.

I kept waiting for the part where I would pass out and wake up after the drama was over. I didn’t think people stayed conscious during intense medical situations like this. Everyone passes out in the movies, right!? Hollywood, you all are a bunch of liars!

The doctor hooked me up to an ultrasound. I heard him mumbling about seeing hemorrhaging on my placenta. He confirmed that the baby was head down and that my cervix was, indeed, completely dilated. The doctor said an epidural wouldn’t be a good idea, but then later changed his mind. I was so relieved. The thought of laboring with the Magnesium for two days was unbearable.

“Hooray for a drug-free childbirth!” I joked as I counted up the drugs I was on. Wonderful life saving drugs!

I was very worried that I had done something to cause this. I asked if I should have come in the night before. Or was it the Miralax? The doctor reassured me and said no activity on my part could have caused this. Then I mentioned that I have a bi-cornuate uterus. The doctor explained that this baby must be in the other, smaller, side of my uterus and that’s what caused my cervix to give out.

After the initial flurry of chaos, Aaron and I had a minute alone. The magnesium started to kick in and my contractions slowed. What the doctor said struck us hard. This could have happened with any of our babies, yet I had had three healthy pregnancies. Miracle.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant with Charlie I packed up a house and moved from North Carolina to California with no problems. Miracle.

When we arrived in California, we knew no one. My mom randomly picked a day on the calendar to come and help and I prayed that I wouldn’t go into labor early. I didn’t feel a single contraction until I was on the way to the airport to pick up my mom. I had the baby four hours after she arrived. Miracle.

I started crying again. Half marveling at Heavenly Father’s care of us, and half nervous for what was to come. We had been prepared for this, without even realizing it. I almost picked a doctor that was 45 minutes away (because the hospital had a better setup for natural childbirth) but I didn’t feel good about it. I felt really good about the midwife here in town. She helped me prepare for my first natural birth, and that was turning out to be another huge blessing. I felt a very strong connection to this baby. (Something I never really experienced early on with my other pregnancies). I knew he was strong and felt a closeness to him.

Now, for reasons I can’t completely explain, I was sure that I wasn’t going to live through this. I think this was partly due to the fact that my friend had lost her husband to flu complications a month prior. Yes, I realized people have babies early all the time and do just fine. But people also get the flu all the time. Death was on our minds.

I wasn’t being dramatic, and I wasn’t afraid. I felt peace. I knew everything was in Heavenly Father’s hands, and that knowledge comforted me. But I was sure that either the baby or I was not going to live. When I realized how God had prepared us for this moment, I was sure that it was because He was preparing us for a devastating trial.

Every time I looked at Aaron I was filled with joy and peace and a panicked need to tell him how incredible he is. To tell him how much of a joy the past 10 years have been with him. He never let me finish these trains of thought, because he thought it was best to focus on us all living, for some reason. Right. Living. Good idea, Aaron.

The magnesium started making my face and chest burn. I felt nauseated. Being upside down made the burning in my face and chest worse. I vomited, but did it as gently as possible so that I wouldn’t break my water. I was given Zofran through the IV. Because I was tilted back, the epidural started going too high up my chest. Apparently it’s not good for your heart to go numb? Who knew! So my chest was propped up.

The combination of my pelvis up and my chest up made me look like a large pregnant taco.

I stopped being able to track with my eyes. I felt like I was looking at everyone from inside a snow globe, which made me more sick. My blood pressure kept dropping into the 70s and at one point hit 70/24. I was put on oxygen and given epinephrin to help bring it up.

I hung out like this for over eight hours. My nurse continued to adjust my position to keep my blood pressure up, yet prevent my epidural from rising into my chest. She checked my breathing. “Cough.” she ordered, stethoscope in hand. “Wait, don’t cough! We don’t want your water to break!”

She left after instructing me to call her immediately if I felt any fluid.

Finally, at 7:30, I felt a gush of fluid and called the nurses.

“I think my water broke,” I announced. One nurse lifted the sheet to check and let out a little gasp.

“It’s not fluid, it’s blood!” she mumbled to the other nurse. “Go get the doctor!”

The doctor rushed in and the room fell silent. He checked my contractions on the monitor and watched my bleeding.

“You’re hemorrhaging with every contraction.”

He waited another minute. Another gush.

“At this point we need to decide if we should let you continue like this, so that the baby can get the added protection from the second dose of steroids. But doing that will risk you losing to much blood. Or, we deliver the baby and deal with the risk of him having immature lungs.”

He stood still for what seemed like several minutes. Another gush.

“I think we need to deliver the baby,” the doctor finally announced. “He’s had one dose of steroids, and we can’t have you losing any more blood.”

Everyone left to prep the room for delivery. I felt more gushes of blood. I started praying. Please, Heavenly Father, please. Carry us. Please send your angels. Please help my baby. Please carry us…Please…

At this point, Aaron had texted our family and also asked our Facebook friends for prayers. We felt them, you guys. We probably should have been scared and wailing at this point, but we were calm. I felt nothing but peace. Your prayers carried us. Our situation was terrifying, but it also felt holy. Like walking on sacred ground.

“Aaron, if anything happens…” I sobbed.

“Stop…don’t…” Aaron cut me off again. Because, LIVING. Yes. Focus on living.

Armed with the knowledge that Heavenly Father had this thing, I breathed.

In. Out.

The delivery team arrived. Several people introduced themselves to me. The NICU team, the Neonatologist, I really can’t be sure because I couldn’t focus on any of them. My vision was completely blurred at that point. So I nodded as they talked, and pretended like I could make a face out of the swirling blob in front of me.

“Give me one small push,” the doctor ordered.

I pushed the tiniest push in the world and was told to slow down. The doc eased the baby out and held him up.

Pink skin. Tiny. Like a miniature version of my other boys. I heard a cry! They put the baby on a towel on my stomach for a few seconds while they cleaned him off, and then whisked him under the heat lamp to evaluate him.

“He looks good, doesn’t he!?” I asked, hoping for validation. “He looks good!”

“He does, he looks great,” the doctor agreed.

I relaxed my head back into the pillow crying tears of shock and gratitude as my baby was rushed to the NICU. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing Grant for the first time in the NICU. After the epidural had worn off, I asked Aaron to wheel me down to see him.  Aaron showed me how to call into the unit and then scrub in. I put on a scratchy blue hospital gown and entered the quiet room. My heart dropped the moment I saw him and I fought back tears.

Tubes, wires, beeping monitors, a mask, and the tiniest body I had ever seen, sitting perfectly still. His skin was shiny and fragile, stretched tenuously over the bones. A thin layer of fur covered his body. He weighed 3 lbs., 12 ounces.The mask and tubes were upsetting, but the listlessness scared me the most. His nurse propped him up so that I could take some pictures, and his jerky movements startled me. He didn’t have the strength to lift his arms and kick his legs smoothly like my other babies. When he tried to move, his movements were awkward and obviously caused him discomfort. His nurse kept reassuring me that he looked great and was doing really well, but I barely understood her. The magnesium was still in my system and made me unsteady and unable to focus. I didn’t dare hold him in such a state. I asked to go back to my room.

We didn’t sleep well that night. Every time I closed my eyes, my mind relived the days’ events in vivid detail. The fear, the excitement and the miracles played on a nonstop loop in my mind. I dozed off a few times, only to wake up in a panic – frantically feeling my stomach to check if I was still pregnant – and reliving the day all over again. I’m not pregnant anymore. I had a bay. He’s in the NICU.

“Grant has been misbehaving,” the Neonatologist explained the next morning. He started experiencing respiratory distress this morning. His right lung has a pneumothorax.” He went on to explain about fragile newborn lungs, bursting air sacs, and leaking air. “When we gave him the Morphine, he stopped breathing. We manually breathed for him until we were able to intubate him. A chest tube was inserted to drain the air. We’re hoping the lungs will heal themselves once the air clears.”

The next time we saw Grant, his tubes had multiplied. He now had a chest tube, a breathing tube, a feeding tube, two lines through the umbilical cord, along with the 4 lines for monitors. His chest tube needed to stay in place, so I wasn’t allowed to hold him. I was shocked to see how many machines were required to keep him alive. The oscillator hummed loudly, shaking his bed and making his body quiver. The monitors alarmed every time his oxygen levels dipped, or heart rate dropped, which was often.

We drove home from the hospital that night, and had another night of restless sleep. More nightmares and more panic.

And in the morning, more bad news. Another pneumothorax on the other side. One more chest tube. This time on the left side. Grant was very fragile and sensitive. Touch irritated him. Simply changing his diaper was too much stimulation, so his nurse stopped fastening it. Watching him struggle and not being able to comfort him was pure torture. And the added fact that my touch irritated him even more was heartbreaking to me. I felt useless. On day four, the air outside of Grant’s left lung wasn’t clearing and the pneumothorax had not healed. The doctor wasn’t sure what else they could do to get the air to go away.

My other boys were sick at home, so Aaron and I wore masks, and watched from a distance as Grant’s oxygen levels fluctuated. A nurse and a respiratory therapist never left his side. We watched as his oxygen levels repeatedly dropped, followed by an angry alarm.

99…92….90…85…82…79…beep beep beep! Every time this happened the respiratory therapist would prop him up, or his adjust his position until his oxygen levels went back up. And then it would start dropping again. Over and over. I didn’t like being at the hospital. All of the beeping monitors made me want to run screaming from the room. Standing next to him underscored my helplessness and I hated seeing the ups and downs first hand.

That night we sat next to Grant, watching his breathing – willing his lungs to heal. He was motionless except for an occasional grimace or a jerky kick. Aaron and I exchanged worried glances as we watched his oxygen levels go down and up and back down again. I ached to hold him and feel his warm breath on my chest. I wondered what his eyes looked like. After 4 days we still had not seen them open. We watched as some visitors entered the NICU. Grandparents, I guessed. They lifted their grandson out of his crib and smelled his head and stroked his hair. I watched them take turns holding him until tears blurred my vision. I swallowed the lump in my throat and left the unit to go cry in the hallway.

We left the hospital that evening heavyhearted and without answers. His doctor was still unsure as to why his lungs were still leaking. He was consulting with other doctors to see what else we could do. Seeing him so befuddled shook us up. Wasn’t he supposed to have all of the answers? To make matter worse,  Aaron caught the boys’ stomach bug and spent all that night vomitting.

I woke the next morning feeling as though I had bricks on my chest. I was sure that I couldn’t handle a day in the NICU without Aaron.

I sobbed the entire way to the hospital struggling to read the street signs through my tears. I mumbled prayer after prayer and begged God for a sign that Grant would be okay.

I felt raw and exposed as I walked into the hospital without Aaron. Like I was missing a few layers of skin. I entered the busy NICU and leaned over Grant’s crib, wrapping his fingers around my thumb. I put a shaky hand on his head and hummed the song I had been singing to him every night while pregnant with him. It was a song I had made up to help my two year old learn our family members’ names.


And as I hummed, Grant opened his eyes and looked directly into mine. For a few seconds all of the chaos of the NICU faded away, and it seemed as though we were the only people in the room. It was as though he had been waiting for me to come wake him up.

I wiped away tears – happy tears this time – and found myself saying, “Mom is here, little one. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

And I meant it.


Thank you, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your wild and lovely adventure with us – I am sure it will help at least one or two of my readers who may need the reassurance of your happy ending. My heart broke a little when you expressed your very real fears of dying during childbirth. I wonder how many moms and future moms have that same fear? Friends, would you like to chime in with your own experiences? Do your fears about this massive endeavor of making another person overtake your dreams to make another person?

(To see more pictures of Grant’s ups and downs in real time, visit Melissa’s Instagram account and start with this photo.)

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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Bargain Find: Vaenait Baby Wed, 09 Jul 2014 09:00:48 +0000 Design Mom

Vaenait Baby — A line of affordable toddler clothes from Korea (2T - 6T)

By Gabrielle.

Have you heard of Vaenait Baby? It’s a new to me brand. I was doing a search for non-character underwear for Oscar, and the name came up. Apparently, they are a Korean based clothing line for toddlers — sizes 2T to 6T — and from what I can tell, they specialize in basics like cotton pajamas, underwear, and swimsuits.

Pictured at top: Cloud PJs, Floral Swimsuit, Bike PJs, Colorblock Boxer Briefs.

Vaenait Baby — A line of affordable toddler clothes from Korea (2T - 6T)

Pictured above: Clover PJs, Green Raglan PJs, Sailboat PJs, Micro-stripe Boxer Briefs.

I did a little digging and found a ton of their wares on Amazon. And they’re a total bargain! Lots of their pjs are ten bucks or under. Not bad. But as happy as the prices made me, I was equally enamored with the designs — sweet, simple options in great colors.

Vaenait Baby — A line of affordable toddler clothes from Korea (2T - 6T)

Pictured above: Floral Henley PJs, Pink Gingham PJs, Pink Pocket PJs, Floral PJs.

I know it can be hard to find simple cotton pjs, and even harder to find simple underwear, so in case you’re on the hunt, here’s another option you might not know about. The line is fairly extensive and there are many more options than I’ve pictured here. These are just some of my favorites.

I should note, I haven’t ordered any yet, so I don’t know what the clothes are like in person, but they seem to get good reviews, so I’m hopeful. If you’ve bought something from their line, I’d love to hear what you think!

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Living With Kids: Lesli Gresholdt Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I think it would be so therapeutic to live near a lake, don’t you? There’s something calming about that indescribable shade of blues and greys and the dance of the tiny ripples. Having a rotten day? Just grab a fishing rod and cast away mindlessly. Need a break from homeschooling or that looming deadline? Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Plus, a lake makes for a killer kitchen sink view.

Yes, Lesli and her family are lucky ones, living the good life on a lake just outside of Chicago and enjoying it to the fullest. Yes, she is ever on the lookout for lake dangers — especially since her kids are five and two — but I’d say she’s ready for pretty much anything. You’ll see. Friends, please welcome the Gresholdt family!

Q: Tell us about this lakeside family.

A: Our family includes my husband, Mark, and our five-year-old daughter Adelaide and two-year-old son Oliver. My husband is an operations coordinator for a communications company, and I am currently a regional manager for Bella Baby Photography, a nationwide company providing in-hospital newborn photography.

Adelaide is affectionate, stylish, and stubborn – and takes after her social butterfly father. Oliver is easy-going and much more independent, with a great sense of humor and the ability to quote movies just like his mom.

Years ago in college, I had a strong urge to learn sign language. I took a few elective classes, learned a little bit, and kept up practicing through the years. Little did I know that five years later, I would say yes to a date with a deaf guy I knew in college and we would end up where we are now! Life as a bilingual family is sometimes challenging, especially since the kids are still learning how to sign. Of course, we don’t know it any other way.

We also have a very old farm cat, Sasha, and our new love, Mae, a Norwegian Forest Cat rescue. I don’t really think of our beta fish, Eric, as a pet, but he lives here, too, and requires daily feeding so I guess he’s part of the family.

Q: You’ve recently purchased a lake home. Tell us all about it choosing it!

A: We were finally in the market to buy a home but at the time, Mark was commuting by train to Chicago, so we had to be within 15 minutes of a train stop. This house was in a neighboring town, close enough to the train station, and we had seen it online many times. We both liked the layout, the hardwood floors, and the price, but I would write it off immediately due to the lake. After all, families with young kids don’t live on the water, right? But one night, in an attempt to be open-minded (and maybe out of desperation to find a house!) I emailed a list of houses to our realtor to see the next day and included this one. Not ten minutes later, my fear got the best of me, and I wrote him again and asked him to take that lake house off the list.

The next day, he either forgot or never got my message, because this house was the third one we saw. It felt like home immediately. Our former home had been so dark, and this one was filled with light with such a peaceful backyard and an open floor plan that is a must-have for families with a deaf family member. Being able to see each other (when you can’t hear!) is crucial.

The ironic thing is that the year before, I had been traveling home from a baby shower with my mother-in-law and then six-month-old son in the car. It was late and a long drive and he was having the mother of all meltdowns. We pulled into what is now our neighborhood so that he could nurse and calm down. I had never been there before, but I distinctly remember looking around and thinking, “If we lived here, we would be home by now.”

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Oswego is a smaller suburb about an hour outside of Chicago. It has a quaint downtown, lots of local businesses, and many bike paths and parks. We love the summer movies at the park, the free splash pad and the libraries, but my favorite is the Friday night Antique Market downtown. They close the streets, have live music, and people shop local vendors all night. The Fox River runs through town, so we have access to great fishing, bird watching, and hiking paths. The population here has more than doubled in the past ten years as more and more people move westward, away from the chaos and cost of the city. It’s still expensive, especially those darn Illinois property taxes, but the value for the money is definitely better. We still have all the modern conveniences and major stores, but with a bit more of a small-town feel.

Q: Living by a lake must be beautiful, but also a challenge with two little ones. Talk about what the lake offers – or any home near water – both beautiful and not-so-safe!

A: I will be honest…this is still a daily struggle for me, and I imagine it will be until my kids are older and can fully understand the dangers of water. My whole life I have had recurring drowning dreams, and I don’t know if it means anything or not, but I don’t want to find out! Luckily, we have a pretty large yard and it’s partially fenced, so we typically stay in that area when we go outside. They also know that mom is pretty crazy about them not getting near the water or going on the dock without a life jacket!

But aside from the potential danger, being here adds such fun to our life – my husband has taken up fishing, we have a paddleboat and kayaks, and the wildlife is abundant. The lake just lends itself to a more relaxed lifestyle and mood. It’s very peaceful. I wouldn’t have thought we could have a place like this in the suburbs.

Q: After you purchased it, you made your home your own, inside and out. What were the hardest parts, as well as the most fun?

A; I have always been drawn to older farmhouses, craftsmans, and colonials. I love their character and history. What I got was a traditional Midwestern two-story! I still love it, but I needed it to feel less cookie-cutter. We started by painting the front door chartreuse, and taking off the traditional black shutters and replacing with DIY board and batten navy ones. Just that alone helped it to feel more youthful and stand out from all the tan, gray and white in the neighborhood.

We changed out all the light fixtures for schoolhouse style, painted the wood stairs for a farmhouse feel, and took the door fronts off the builder’s grade cabinets. For me, the hardest part about home design is not always having the money to do what you want to do when you want to do it. We follow a popular cash-budget financial program and it tests our patience often, but the rewards are great. I’ve learned to do what I can with inexpensive things – paint, décor, art – and the rest will happen someday. When that happens, a new deck and renovated bathrooms are first on my list!

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

A: The most important thing for me was to have no wasted space in this house. I wanted each and every space to have a unique purpose and also be kid-friendly with fabrics and furniture. We lived in a small townhome for many years, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not maximizing what we now had.

We are not formal dining room kind of people, so it became a playroom. The kids use it every day and it keeps most of the toys out of the smaller bedrooms. They feel more comfortable playing when they are still close to all the action of everyday life. We also have the traditional front room, which for most families is filled with fancy furniture that is used only for guests or holidays. Again, being a very informal family, we relocated our cable connection, moved in a flat screen TV and a big comfy sectional, and it’s now the most popular room in the house.

My next kid-centered project is to make the fenced part of our backyard much more interactive and fun with a natural play area and DIY playhouse.

Q: You mentioned that most of the furnishings in your home were free and ultimately repurposed by you. What’s your greatest refurbishing triumph?

A: I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to furnish the space on a budget. I started picking – driving around on garbage day to see what was set out that was salvageable and responding to free offers on Freecycle. It was eye-opening to see what people throw out just for the sheer convenience of getting rid of it quickly. Thrift stores also became my best friend for smaller items and accessories.

I am pretty sure people were questioning my sanity, but I was a woman on a mission. I learned the art of chalk painting and transformed so many pieces that would have just seen the landfill. Some of my favorite free finds are a mid-century sewing table, mismatched kitchen chairs, a coffee table we topped with barn wood, a mid-century glass front cabinet, a vintage school desk and antique bed frame for my son, and a drop leaf nightstand and dollhouse shaped bookshelf for my daughter. Some of my larger pieces I did pay for, but only if extremely reasonable…a vintage hutch for $60, a roll top desk for $20, an early 1900s Empire dresser for $40, and recently a huge antique buffet on original casters for just $40!

I love the feel of an eclectic home, with items collected over time from all different styles and eras. Just a warning, however: After you start picking, you can’t stop. But now I just make a little extra money on the side by selling the things I find!

Q: You’re a photographer who works from home while homeschooling. Any unique tips your family uses to make the most of your time together (and working)?

A: Each day, I am doing something well and failing at something else. I am trying to be okay with that. (Most days I fail at that, too!) If we have a homeschool activity, then the house is most likely a wreck and dinner won’t be made. If I was on a work conference call or responding to photographer emails, then my kids are probably still in their pajamas while watching “Frozen” for the millionth time. If we spend the morning at the park or cleaning the house, then you can bet we will still be doing math lessons at 8 p.m.

I would like to have a more set routine, but any attempt to create structure has failed. It just doesn’t jive with our personalities. We do try to keep life simple, have an uncluttered home, and limit social activities and weekly commitments to free up time.

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

A: I love seeing my children change and grow. Babies are adorable, but I much prefer having a full-on conversation with my kids over baby talk and poopy diapers. I’m a much different mom than I expected…never in a million years did I think I’d breastfeed both past the age of two, and co-sleep until they were ready to sleep alone. I gave them everything I had during their first years, so I welcome the ages and stages that they are in now and look back with no sadness (yet).

It’s exhausting and demanding and never-ending – the messes, the crying, the fighting – but they are also filled with so much good and so much love. They have given me a confidence to not care what anyone else thinks, but just to do what works best for us. I don’t think I had that before I had kids.

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

A: How challenging parenthood is for introverts. I miss my alone time so much. I grew up on a farm, the nearest neighbor a mile away and friends nowhere to be found. I loved the seclusion and privacy and independence of life there. I still wish for those things, but now they are nowhere to be found!


Thank you, Lesli! We share the same experience on balance! If one thing is rocking my world, you can bet there are one or two things rolling away. And your chalkboard wall in your bathroom is one of the best spots, I bet, to jot down reminders while you’re brushing your teeth!

I also loved how you described motherhood, especially when you wrote “I’m a much different mom than I expected…” I wonder if that’s true for all of us? Tell me, Friends, are you different moms than you expected?

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

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Love the Place You Live: Oakland A’s Baseball Game Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

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Cheerios Protein BoxImages and text by Gabrielle.  //  This post is brought to you by Cheerios Protein. Cheerios Protein gives you energy to last you through your day’s adventures, wherever they may be!



For my first Love The Place You Live column here in Oakland, I thought an Oakland A’s game would be perfect! The game was on Thursday night, July 3rd, and was followed by a huge fireworks display. Apparently, it’s an Independence Day tradition here and happens every year the night before the 4th. And it’s so much fun!

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The weather was ideal. The crowd was in a festive mood. And the A’s won!

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The light was so pretty in the stadium, and the kids looked so cute, I took a million photos.

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We have two kid-size A’s hats that the kids all traded around throughout the game.

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With and without the hats, the whole family did our best to be good fans — everyone hunted down any green and yellow we could find in our closets.

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Of course, it’s always fun when the home team wins! The kids loved standing up during the 7th inning stretch to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame.

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The stadium was full and the fans were enthusiastic.

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Lots of yellow and green — and even some fabulous metallic gold!

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I haven’t been to a professional baseball game in ages, and it made me nostalgic to see all the traditions in place — down to the cotton candy and hotdogs. (We didn’t actually eat at the game, but it was still fun to have concessions sellers walking up and down the stands with their wares.)

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We’re always on the lookout for activities that the whole family enjoys — teenagers and preschoolers alike. This definitely qualified.

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The sun dropped behind the stadium around the 7th inning.

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Then, the stadium lights came on.

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After the game, attendees were invited down onto the field. Very exciting! Before I went down to join my family, I watched the crowd rush out and fill the grass. So much energy!

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Once the grass was packed with people, the empty stadium seats filled up with Oaklanders that didn’t have tickets to the game, but came to see the fireworks.

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The grass fills up fast, so people that want to watch the fireworks on the lawn start lining up in the 8th inning. Some local friends that go every year clued us in, so we knew to get in line and bring blankets for the grass.

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It was such a cool thing to get to be down on the grass where the players do their thing. I love that my kids got to experience that.

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When it was time to start, the A’s mascot — the White Elephant — appeared on the jumbotron. As he pulled down a giant lever, the stadium lights went out and the crowd cheered. Time for fireworks!

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Patriotic songs played through the fireworks, while we lay on our blankets in the grassy stadium and watched the sky light up. I adore fireworks! And this was an especially good display. It felt like a gift to the Oakland community, and being there felt like we were legitimate members of the Oakland community.

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Charles, our exchange student from France, said he’s never seen such an epic fireworks display.

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It was a late night, but the whole family was pumped up after the fireworks and stayed up talking when we got home.

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Our first family visit to an A’s game was a success!

Now, it’s your turn. Leave your link below. I can’t wait to read your posts and see what you discovered!


Love The Place You Live: July 2014 Linkup

Do you have a Love the Place You Live post you’d like to share? Adding your link is super easy!
-Click the “Add Your Link” button below.
-Copy in the url of your blog post.
-Name your link anything you like. For example, I would name mine “Gabrielle – Design Mom: A’s Baseball Game”.
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Slow Cooker Recipe: French Onion Soup Mon, 07 Jul 2014 13:00:48 +0000 Lindsey Johnson

Slow Cooker Recipe: French Onion Soup  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.

Yay! It’s time for another recipe in my slow-cooker series. I know. It’s summer and the last thing you’re probably wanting is a hot bowl of anything. But don’t let that stop you from entertaining the idea of French Onion Soup. It’s such a classic thing to eat. And it was made to be cooked in a slow cooker!

Is there anything better than a piece of cheesy toast dipped into a flavorful soup? I think not. So when you’re busy running the kids to swimming lessons or all of the other millions of things we all do during the summer, don’t worry about dinner. Just slice up a bunch of onions, pop them into the slow cooker, and when you get back add the stock and dinner’s ready that fast. The Gruyere toasts are ready in a flash too.

Slow Cooker Recipe: French Onion Soup  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

As I mentioned, for this recipe, the onions are cooked alone first, then the stock is added. This gives the onions ample time to cook down and get soft without melting away and disappearing into the broth. If you’d rather not go that route, just add everything to the slow cooker all at once and it will still be really good.

It’s great served with fruit and a very simple green salad like the French might make — torn Romaine with a flavorful basic herb vinaigrette. It’s a great summer meal and you’ll be surprised how even in the hot summer how a bowl of soup hits the spot. And yes, it’s also fantastic when it’s cold outside. : )

Slow Cooker Recipe: French Onion Soup  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

For soup -
4 Tablespoons butter
6 pounds onions (about 6-7 large), halved and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
a few sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts chicken, beef, or vegetable broth

For gruyere toasts-
1 loaf sourdough artisan bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices
8-12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

For simple green salad-
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
Herb Vinaigrette

Soup instructions:
Place the sliced onions in the slow cooker. Melt the butter and pour over the onions. Add the thyme and bay leaves, season well with salt and pepper. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, or HIGH for 4 hours. The onions will cook down quite a bit. Briefly check about halfway through the cooking time to make sure the onions aren’t burning. (They shouldn’t be, they should release enough liquid as they cook.)

After the onions have cooked and are softened, add stock and let cook for another hour, or until the soup is piping hot. (You can heat the stock before you add it to speed things up.)

To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls and place a Gruyere toast on top. Eat immediately.

Slow Cooker Recipe: French Onion Soup  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

Gruyere toast instructions:
Preheat oven broiler to low. Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange bread slices on the rack and top with a little shredded Gruyere. Broil for 3-5 minutes, checking frequently so they don’t burn.

- All of the ingredients, stock included, can be added to the slow cooker and then cooked rather than letting the onions cook first. The cooking time will be a little shorter and the onions may disappear more into the broth. Cooking the onions first allows them to soften, but they remain intact for a chunkier soup.
- Try to use a good boxed broth (homemade is even better!), but choose one that isn’t too salty. It’s better to add your own salt and have control over the amount.
- For a creamy soup, substitute 1 cup heavy cream for 1 cup of the broth.
- Any Swiss style cheese (not processed!) can be used in place of the Gruyere. Shredded mozzarella can also be used in a pinch.

P.S. — Find tons of delicious slow-cooker recipes your family will love right here.

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