Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:27:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:30:58 +0000 Design Mom

Halloween 20144Halloween 20143

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Bet your bottom dollar — it’s Halloween!!

We’ve got a big full day ahead. Costumes, school parades, trick or treating, Maude’s friends are coming for a sleepover, and my parents are staying with us for a couple of days. It feels like a finale for October! How about you? How are you doing? And what’s Halloween like at your house?

I have to say, it’s so strange to have Ralph and Olive gone during a holiday. Olive is having a particularly fun Halloween. She’s on school vacation and is spending it with her cousins in England. Ben Blair’s sister Carol, and her husband Dan, are stationed near Cambridge on a military base, and lucky Olive is spending the week with them. She said it’s like a miniature U.S.A. and trick or treating headquarters! And Ralph is having a sort of non-Halloween. He’s in France and keeps forgetting it’s Halloween season because it’s simply not a big holiday in France at all. As you can imagine, we miss them both like crazy.

Halloween 20145

For costumes this year, Oscar chose Frankenstein, Betty chose a vampire, and June chose Annie. These pictures were taken last Saturday before our church Trunk or Treat party. Maude is also dressing up. She went to school as Raggedy Ann. She looks adorable, but she rushed out the door so fast I don’t even have a photo! Hopefully we’ll get another chance this evening.

We have one other twist to our Halloween. Our elementary school is transforming into Hogwarts for the day, so of course, Oscar and Betty wanted to join in the festivities and dress up as characters from the Harry Potter books during school. Betty is going as Ginny Weasley. And Oscar is going as Neville Longbottom. We stayed up late last night making super cool wands and they are both delighted with their get ups.

Gosh it’s fun to see how much my kids like Halloween!

Halloween 20142

I’ll be away from my desk for most of today, but before I head out, here are a few things I wanted to share with you:

- Inspiring Old Masters.

- We need to stop saying babies ruin our bodies.

- I love this Dear Prudence answer — “Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate…” Thanks, Michelle.

30 sobering facts to mark the last day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Thanks, Lisa.

- This costume!

- Gruesome violence is a reality for the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This Saturday, you can join with people around the world to fight back. All you need is your yoga mat.

- Creepy food! See more of the artist’s work here.

- “We are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them. We are giving away precious time to teach and learn while we cower in fear.” On lockdown drills from a pre-k teacher. Thanks, Beccah.

From the Onion: I don’t support feminism if it means murdering all men.

- 10 greatest changes of the past thousand years.

- Step away from the screen and make something! Olive Us and SAFTSAMS have a fun promotion going on. Take a photo/video of your kid with something they made, and it could be included in a super cool video! Details here.

Halloween 20146

I hope you have a fantastic weekend and a Happy Halloween! I can’t believe tomorrow is November. Is it really time to talk pilgrims and turkeys? Amazing! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


]]> 3
Better Water Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:00:48 +0000 Design Mom


Images and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Soma.

Question: how do you guys handle water drinking in your family? Do you drink from the tap? Favor ice? Use a fridge door dispenser? Drink bottled water? Or perhaps you prefer juice or soda and skip the water altogether? This is how it goes at our house: during our France years we changed up our water drinking in two ways: 1) we stopped using ice, and 2) we started keeping our drinking water in the fridge in glass bottles with spring top lids — which kept it ready and cold (and was part of why it was easy to stop using ice).

But I’ve been wanting to figure out a new system, because the spring top lids are tricky for the youngest 3 to open, the narrow bottle necks make them difficult to clean, and overall I feel like we could and should be drinking more water. I think I’m especially feeling it because the week of Halloween is a candy fest, and I’m wanting to combat the sugar with fresh, clean water.

Then, last week I had a serendipitous moment. I was learning about the critical need for clean water in developing countries and about organizations like charity:water who are dedicated to solving that problem, and on the same day I heard from the folks at Soma, who support charity:water with every purchase. I took it as a sign. : ) My Soma carafe + filter was delivered over the weekend and we’ve been using it non-stop all week.


So far, the whole family is really liking the Soma. It’s easy to pour — even for the four year old, easy to fill, and easy to clean. All key things I was looking for to help our family establish better water drinking habits. Plus it’s gorgeous! But it’s also a sustainable company that I’m excited to support and promote.

We all know that drinking filtered water instead of buying plastic water bottles helps to reduce waste, but Soma’s sustainability goes much further. Soma’s award-winning filters are 100% biodegradable and are made from all-natural Malaysian coconut shells (awesome!), and plant-based resin. They reduce chlorine, lead, selenium, arsenic, and contaminants that harm your immune system.* And best of all, the filtered water tastes so good!

One of the main reasons I thought it could really work for our family is that the new filters are delivered to your mailbox every 60 days so you never forget to replace them. It’s really appealing to me that replacing the filter is automated and doesn’t become an extra errand on my list. Plus, as I mentioned above, every filter you buy from Soma includes a donation to charity:water to support their essential work around the world. So fantastic!

My one concern is that the glass looks so delicate that I wondered if it was easily breakable. But I read that it’s shatter resistant, and is tested with drops from 8 feet! I’m no longer concerned. : ) I was thinking it would be a really good gift for the holidays — one of those gifts that keep giving.


If you’d like to give Soma a try, here’s a fun incentive: Click here and the first 50 readers will receive $15 off their purchase using code DM15. Go for it!

Now back to my original question: how do you handle water drinking in your family? Are you trying to drink more water? Or are you guys already pros at staying healthy and hydrated? And what’s your take on water filtration?

*Soma is serious about water filtration. The Water Quality Association (WQA) tested Soma to NSF/ANSI Standard 42 requirements for materials safety, and chlorine, taste and odor reduction. PACE Analytical tested more specific contaminants both at EPA contaminant regulation levels and at NSF Standard 53 levels. The Soma water filter has been third-party verified to reduce lead, selenium and arsenic levels as well.

]]> 43
Halloween for Party Poopers Thu, 30 Oct 2014 02:30:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

As I’m sure you know, Halloween is on Friday. And that means school costume parades, class parties, and of course, trick-or-treating.

For most kids it’s a BIG DEAL holiday. What could be better than wearing a costume and collecting a bucket full of candy? But I have plenty of grownup friends that have been counting down the minutes till Halloween is over since October 1st. I get it. It’s simply not appealing to everyone.

So I came up with a bunch of ideas for those of you who are costume averse, or have a costume averse significant other. They’re super easy, high impact ideas, and the kids in your life will LOVE to see you take part in the Halloween festivities — even in a small way. Let me save you from being a party pooper!

I’ve shared this little video for the last two years, but I still get comments that it’s helpful, so hopefully it will help a few of you this year as well.

Happy Halloween!

]]> 14
A New Smile Wed, 29 Oct 2014 02:41:25 +0000 Design Mom

Design Mom Invisalign3

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ben Blair for Design Mom.

Guess what. I’m 16 weeks into Invisalign treatment! And I’m kind of geeking out about it!!

I have been thinking about getting my teeth straightened for years, and finally, over the summer I made an appointment with Olive’s orthodontist here in Oakland, and took the plunge. Ben Blair is doing it too! Which means that next summer, both of us are going to wake up to a brand new smile. Which seems exciting and strange at the same time — I’ve been thinking this over for soooo long.

I confess, I was surprised to find myself thinking about my own teeth straightening, at the same time that my kids were going through braces. Yes, I had braces as a teenager, and assumed I would never have to think about my crooked teeth again. I was wrong! My top teeth have progressively become more crooked as the years go by.

Sometimes I see a photo of myself and all I notice is my wonky smile. I realize that’s a ridiculous thing to think. And then, even though I try hard to talk myself out of it, I find myself smiling with less of a full-grin — a sub-conscious attempt to hide my teeth. There are days when I get over myself and grin away, but other times, I hold back. What a shame that is!

Beyond my cosmetic desire for a more confident smile, a few years ago, I was also informed that I have an overbite that wasn’t corrected when I was a teenager, and that it is getting worse, and that it could lead to dental problems down the line. Ugh. All that to say, getting my teeth fixed has been on my mind for multiple reasons.

Turns out Ben Blair was having similar issues as well. He had braces as a teen, but has seen his teeth get crowded as he’s gotten older. And instead of an overbite, he has an underbite that needs to be corrected.

So we did it. We started Invisalign treatment on the same day!

Design Mom Invisalign1

Honestly, I don’t think I ever would have done it if Invisalign didn’t exist. Throughout the year I have speaking engagements and conferences and in-person events, and there are times where it would not be okay with me to be sporting traditional braces. Even if it was only for one year. I can remember years of my adult life where I probably wouldn’t have minded traditional braces, but these days, it’s harder. If Invisalign didn’t exist, I think I would have continued to put off treatment, like I have done for years.

But Invisalign is so flexible and discreet, that I feel like it’s totally doable. In fact, I’m wearing Invisalign in the photos on this post. It’s a pretty simple system. After molds are made from your teeth, you’re given sets of clear plastic retainers, called “trays”. Typically, you wear each set for two weeks, and your orthodontist might give you 3 or 4 or more sets of trays at a time. Which means you only have to visit the orthodontist every 2nd or 3rd month. A huge time saver!

You also receive two portable containers to keep them in. Red is for the trays you just finished, and blue is for your current trays. I wear the trays all day long and overnight too. I just take them out for eating. And if I’m speaking at an event, or meeting someone for a lunch, I can simply remove them for an hour or so.


So you can imagine how gung-ho I was when Invisalign reached out about a fun promotion they have going on. I couldn’t wait to share it with you! It’s called the Countdown to Confidence with Invisalign Sweepstakes. You can enter daily for a $100 cash prize, and each daily entry counts toward the Grand Prize drawing of Free Invisalign treatment! Plus $1000 cash!! Such a cool contest. You can enter daily to increase your chances (your teens can enter, too!). I hope you do enter. And I hope you win. And then we can do Invisalign together!

Design Mom Invisalign4

Things that surprised me about Invisalign:

1) I clean my teeth far more often now! I was pretty much a morning and night teeth-cleaning person before, but now, I clean my teeth each time I remove my Invisalign for eating. My teeth feel much cleaner in general, and every time I brush and floss with ease, I remember how tricky it was to keep my teeth clean with traditional braces.

2) I didn’t realize Invisalign could fix things like an overbite. But it can. I use rubberbands with my trays — just like in traditional orthodontics. And there are also little “buttons” that can be added to your teeth to help the trays work harder. If you’re curious, Invisalign has a Smile Assessment tool that can help you figure out if it will work for your teeth.

3) Turns out I have a crazy gag reflex. It took me a week or so to get used to having the trays in my mouth. But happily, I’m good now.

4) Because I have the trays in round the clock, I’ve almost completely stopped snacking. Instead of mindlessly grabbing my kid’s leftovers as I walk through the kitchen, I just skip it. It’s not worth cleaning my teeth for one bite of leftover pb&j! These days I generally only eat when I’m having an actual meal. I wasn’t expecting it, but wearing the trays has been a great way to break bad snacking habits.

5) One of the things that convinced us to move ahead with treatment, is that the price was very similar to traditional braces. The Invisalign website has information about cost and insurance coverage.

6) Obviously it’s not necessary, but it’s been nice to do it with a partner. I love that Ben is doing Invisalign at the same time. It would be fun if one of my kids was as well, or one of my friends.

7) The time is flying by. This week I start tray number 9 of 27 trays. That’s 1/3 of the way there! I wear each set for 2 weeks — or sometimes longer if I’ve taken some daytime breaks for a conference.

8) I expected working on my teeth would be a bit of a confidence boost, but it’s actually been a BIG boost. I can feel my teeth moving and know I’m creating a new smile that I will LOVE. And that makes me smile more. And I also love that I can take a break from the “braces” as needed. Invisalign is so discreet — that’s such a huge benefit!

What about you, Friends? What’s your take on adult braces? And do you know anyone using Invisalign? I remember discussing cosmetic procedures with you guys in 2011 and it seems like readers felt strongly about the importance of good teeth. : ) Lastly, best of luck on the contest — it ends, November 13th, so enter right away!

P.S. — Several months ago I mentioned on Instagram that I was having my bottom retainer removed. It was one of those “permanent” retainers that was attached to the interior of my lower teeth and stayed in 24 hours a day. I’d had it since the end of my freshman year in college! Several readers asked why I was having it removed, and it was because I was starting my Invisalign treatment. I didn’t really mind the retainer, but I have to say, it’s so much easier to floss without it!


This post is brought to you by Invisalign.

]]> 49
Living With Kids: Jennifer Lula Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:00:08 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Friends, I think you’re going to love this tour. It’s artistic yet accessible. Dreamy and yet utterly down-to-earth. There are a lot of good ideas inside this house that don’t involve a ton of money. Do you have yarn and some found branches? The courage to paint some walls an unexpected color? The bravery to withstand all the expert advice found in the aisles of your local home improvement store…and STILL believe your idea is the best? I think you do!

I’m excited to introduce you to Jennifer Lula, maybe already known to you as the force behind Jen Loves Kev. She’s got all of the above and more. (And I mean it about the more: she let her husband name her blog! Now that is courageous!) Welcome Jen!

Q: Tell us all about this happy little family!

A: Hi everyone! So happy to get to share a little bit about us with you today. I am a former high school art teacher turned stay-at-home Mom. We have two beautiful little girls: Rowan Winter who just turned four, and Finley James who will be two this winter.

My husband Kev owns his own web design company which he started four years ago this November. He’s the one that actually came up with my blog name, bought the domain, and built my first blog site for me as a surprise Valentine’s Day gift seven years ago. Time flies! We just celebrated eight years of marriage this year!

We were the crazy kids that decided to get engaged, get married on a cruise, and move 6,000 miles away to Hawaii all within four weeks time. We lived our first year and a half of marriage on the island of Oahu before we eventually moved back to the Northeast to start careers and a family. We love family adventures and traveling.

Our newest adventure was becoming a certified foster care family this past spring. We are excited at this opportunity to open our doors and love on these amazing children in the foster care system.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We had lived in a loft apartment for about three years prior to finding this house. When we started out on our house hunting journey, I asked my husband why every house felt like a cave? We weren’t having any luck. Nothing felt right. Finally one day we realized we were so used to living with the 15ft ceilings in our apartment, that all the houses we were looking at felt claustrophobic to us.

When our realtor brought us into this house, I knew it was the one! The dining room/living room had a huge vaulted ceiling and so did the master bedroom. There was a ton of natural light making it feel bright and airy just like our loft. We were sold the moment we walked through the doors.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: We live in a quiet, quaint neighborhood. Lots of large trees and kids riding bikes. I love our little community! We live a little north of Albany, New York. It’s a great location because we are super close to the Adirondacks for lots of breathtaking hikes, but still an easy train ride or drive to NYC and our favorite city ever, Boston.

I will admit I am not a fan of the winters here but the beauty that comes with Spring and Fall…ahhh it can’t be beat! It’s not the cheapest part of the country to live in but it’s definitely not big city prices, either. This is a good place to have access to the most beautiful mountains, some major cities, and the ocean.

Q: Your home is filled with fun details, yet still really edited. How do you decide what makes the cut (on your walls and within them, too!)

A: I’ve always been someone that’s loved knick knacks. Flea markets, thrift shops, and antique fairs are my candy store. My husband, on the other hand, loves a more modern, minimal style. If he had it his way, there would be a super modern couch in a white room with nothing else.

Over the years, I’ve learned to tame my hoarder like tendencies with found objects, and create a style that I think works for both of us. Having kids has helped that a lot, too. It’s just easier to keep it simple when you have small kids running around.

Q: You really are an artist; what’s your favorite thing you’ve ever made for your home?

A: I love our desk/shelf unit with the plumbing pipes. I was nine months pregnant when I started that project. I think the whole “nesting thing” was really hitting me hard.

I’m pretty sure everyone at Home Depot thought I was crazy. I was the super pregnant lady with a toddler, cutting, recutting (I screwed up a lot) and threading pipes everyday for, like, two weeks.

I had this chicken scratched diagram I would bring in. I always tried to explain what I was doing but the old men working didn’t really seem to get it. It was a lot of work, but I will always have fond memories attached to it.

Q: How have your girls affected your aesthetic? Do you find yourself decorating for them and for your life together?

A: It’s funny how having kids changes your aesthetic. For the better, for sure!

I love decorating for our life together. I never wanted to have any kind of space that was off limits, but also didn’t want everywhere to look like a kid’s play area either.

Kid toys can get out of control fast! I love using decorative baskets or vintage dressers to hide toys in. They are still accessible but hidden at the same time.

I like to keep things bright, fun, and simple when I decide what gets hung on walls or arranged on tables. I also love to create special areas for them to read and draw.

Q: You’re a blogger with an Etsy shop. How do you balance it all? What has each of your professional endeavors added to your personal life? How has your schedule affected how you parent?

A: One thing I’ve realized over the past few years is that finding balance is a myth. For me, it just can’t be done.

My main goal is keeping my priorities straight, and then things seem to fall into place after that. My faith, my husband, and my kids come first. If everything in those areas are taken care of and there is extra time, I will sit down and blog, or create necklaces for my Etsy shop. If there isn’t time, I just have to accept that and not feel guilty about not getting it all done.

Having small children is a small (although it doesn’t feel small) season of life. I know one day they will be older and more self sufficient. I try to remember that when I am desperately trying to carve out sometime for myself.

I love creating. It’s just part of who I am. So even a few minutes here and there are so enriching. I’ve also found I really enjoying bringing the kids in to be a part of that. I love going to museums with them, letting them be in photo shoots for the blog, or painting alongside me. Having a supportive husband is key, as well!

Q: What do you really hope your girls remember about this home and their time in it? And what are you hoping they remember about the kind of mom you are to them?

A: I really want them to remember all the love. I want them to look back and think it was a place that supported creative endeavors; a place where they were allowed to explore their passions and try new things. I also want them to remember lots of laughter.

I try my hardest to be someone who shows respect and generosity to others. I really want them to learn to treat others with love. Including both their family and everyone around the world as well. I want them to have big hearts!

Q: What has been the best part about living with your own kids?

A: I love all the silliness that kids bring into your life. The wide-eyed curiosity they have. It’s such a joy to watch them experience all of life for the first time.

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

A: …not to take any advice when I had my first baby.

I know that sounds weird and I don’t mean it in a bad way or that I had all the answers. I was just so consumed by fear and guilt with my first baby that it was hard to really enjoy her.

I read every book, asked everyone a thousand questions, searched baby sites, etc. – and found everyone did it so differently!

There are a thousand ways to parent. Each and every day, we are faced with hundreds of questions. Breastfeed or formula? Cloth or disposable? Co-sleeping or not? I felt like I was going to severely damage my daughter if I didn’t make the right decision, and of course everyone has an opinion they want to tell you about.

It wasn’t working for me until I truly started building some confidence and trusting that whatever decision my husband and I made, it would be the right one for our family. Of course, you make wrong decisions from time to time…but it doesn’t break your baby!

There is a time and place for seeking help. Just remember to trust your gut, ladies! You will know your family better than anyone else!


Thank you, Jen. I love that the best advice you wish you’d received was not to follow any advice! Most new moms are certainly not confident enough to trust our guts; that strength comes with time…and much trial and error. And you’re right: most wrong decisions don’t break your baby! (You should sell prints of this idea, and new moms could hang them above the changing table!)

For those of you who have blogs, what do you think about Kev naming his wife’s blog? Too cute, right? But it got me wondering what our partners would name our blogs if given that honor. Remind me to ask Ben Blair!

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.

]]> 25
The Treehouse: Music Corner Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:21:22 +0000 Design Mom

Design Mom Music Nook 3

By Gabrielle. Images by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

Pieces of The Treehouse are coming together, and it makes me super happy! This little corner is in our family room. It takes up the space right below the be reading loft. I love it! Obviously, it’s all about music.

Remember our green piano? We painted it when we lived in Colorado. It’s for sure the hero of this space. Our instruments can look very formal and traditional, so centering them around the bright green piano keeps the whole area more fun. We want music, and our music area to be totally approachable and kid-friendly. I think the green piano nails it!

Design Mom Music Nook 2

The instruments that are hanging around the chalkboard include: an acoustic guitar, a kid-size guitar, an electric guitar, a mandolin, a ukelele, a trumpet, a tiny violin, and two very small cellos. Ben Blair plays the mandolin and guitar. Maude takes guitar lessons, and plays the ukelele for fun. Oscar is studying the trumpet and piano. Betty is taking piano lessons too. (Ralph and Olive are taking a break from music lessons while they’re in France.) Music books and sheet music go in file organizers on the wall.

The tiny violin and little cellos were played by a tiny Maude an little Ralph when we lived in New York. They haven’t been really played in ages, though June likes to use them during family jam sessions.

Design Mom Music Nook 1

The family room overall isn’t done yet. But it’s getting there. The play area needs some tweaking. And the couch is a problem. We inherited the couch with the house and it’s not the right shape for the space. Also, rugs. We need an excellent area rug in front of the sofa, and possibly one in the play area as well. But otherwise, I feel like we’re so close!

As has been typical for this house, I’m trying not to go too fast. But man oh man. Sometimes, allowing myself to take my time with decisions, means that I put off making decisions altogether. Apparently, I have not found the right balance between going slow enough to make good decisions, and going fast enough to finish the room in a reasonable time frame. : )

How do you like our little music corner? And where do you do music at your house? Living room? Family room? On an iPod? Are your kids taking lessons? If yes, how serious is music study at your house? Are you going for “good enough to get a university scholarship”, or do you keep it pretty casual?

]]> 48
Olive Us: Tree Climbing Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:21:08 +0000 Design Mom

Olive Us Tree Climbing

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Would you like a peek of our backyard? In this video, you’ll see our oldest three climbing the giant trees that surround our house. This is a different sort of tree-climbing than the casual kind I did as kid — it involves harnesses, helmets and some specialized equipment!

Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.

I hope it will encourage your family to get outside and enjoy the fall weather! And yes, I have also climbed these trees. I’ve only done it twice, but it always feels like such an accomplishment. Hah!

Also, Olive, Maude and Ralph do a lot of talking in this one — which I know some of you have asked for (more talking, please!), so I hope you enjoy that as well.

Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.

P.S. — Here’s a fun fact: I’ve mentioned before that ulive commissioned 20 Olive Us episodes, and this is the twentieth! If you’re curious, since Olive Us launched, we’ve made 44 episodes total. You can find them all here. Subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to see upcoming episodes — the next one is so good. I think it might be my favorite!

]]> 5
A Few Things Fri, 24 Oct 2014 15:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

Gabrielle Blair and Cindy McCain

By Gabrielle. Image of me and Cindy McCain here.

Hello, Friends. How are you? I’m writing from Washington D.C.. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m here attending the AYA Summit put on by ONE Girls & Women. It’s a short conference (I fly home this evening), but holy moly it has been impactful. We’re learning from the country’s experts about some of the heaviest topics in our world today. Poverty, Hunger, Human Trafficking, Preventable Diseases, Ebola, the World Water Crisis. We’re learning about how these things affect women and children in overwhelming percentages.

There have been a lot of tears, a lot of emotional presentations. And a lot of HOPE as well. In fact, yesterday, we were introduced to Sa’a. She is one of the 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and she escaped after 48 hours. She shared her story and her experience. I’m still STUNNED at getting to meet her, and honored to hear her words. Amazing.

As I have been tweeting and instagramming the #AYASummit, I’ve received questions from readers about what they can do. And I do have a request. A favor. And it will only take a minute. A long-standing program called GAVI provides vaccines that save the lives of millions of children each year. If you’d like to know more, this page has super helpful information about GAVI.

But it’s time to re-up the funding for this essential program. If you are willing, please use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to send a message like this to the White House: @Whitehouse – Help save 6 million children’s lives by funding @gavi #AYAaction.

I would be over the moon if you would be willing! Please join me in putting our voices to good use. I know it seems like one little tweet doesn’t matter, but it does! Our collective voices create real change and affect real policies.

I need to return my attention to the summit, but before I shut my laptop, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

-  This 3-D printed model of a heart saved a child’s life. Unbelievable. Thanks, Ashley!

- If it’s getting kids to read, is it a problem? An interesting piece on the Percy Jackson series.

- Mobile Showers bring dignity to the homeless.

-  Are you a good judge of faces? is challenging other companies to offer more generous parental leave policies. Would you or your partner have taken more time if you could have?

- I love the look of this DIY camera!

- A group of storytellers just launched an Indiegogo Campaign for Haven Magazine Volume One. All profits go directly to Freeset USA, a community in India who are building a restorative business and haven for women who have escaped from sex trafficking.

- A guide to being a super woman — even if you can’t have it all. Thanks, Rachel.

- A really thought-provoking read on our schools, and whether they are preparing our children for the future or for a world that doesn’t exist any longer.

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


P.S. — We have a school fall festival and a church trunk-or-treat this weekend. How about you? Any fun plans?

]]> 7
Jo Totes Giveaway Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:00:53 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Okay, you guys. Are you ready for an awesome giveaway? Good. Because I’ve got one for you. Johansen Camera Bags, makers of the famous Jo Totes, is offering a $200 gift certificate!


Jo Totes are fantastic camera bags. They have all the function you need, but they don’t look like boring tech bags. In fact, you may have seen them before on the shoulders of your stylish friends and not even known they were a camera bag — because they simply look like well made, well designed, totally current handbags.


With 8 different styles in several color options, there are dozens of high quality bags to choose from. Which means, you’re sure to find one that’s just right for you. They’re made to safely fit your favorite DSLR camera, lens, and everyday items you carry in your purse — wallet, phone, cosmetics, stuff like that. Each bag is a little different, so you can read the descriptions to find out what it’s designed to hold.


If I won, I think I would go with the charming Georgia Nautical. Or maybe the cross-body Allison in mint — such a bargain I could get one for me and one for a friend. Or perhaps the briefcase-chic, handcrafted, Italian leather Atlantic. So hard to decide!

To enter, visit Jo Totes and leave a comment below — I’d love to hear which bag is your favorite. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Melissa Bell is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

]]> 553
AYA Summit Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:00:33 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Image via

Hello from Washington D.C.! I’m here for AYA Summit. What’s AYA Summit you ask? Well, it’s a first time event put on by ONE Girls & Women. It’s a gathering of bloggers, authors and social media experts to learn about issues affecting girls and women in developing countries. AYA is the name of a hardy West African fern, and it represents endurance and resourcefulness — just like so many girls and women across the world.

The event is taking place on the Google Campus here in D.C. (Did you know there was a Google campus outside of Silicon Valley? I just found out last month! I’ll be attending classes and lectures all day today and for half a day tomorrow.

The line up of speakers and panelists is amazing. We’ll be hearing from people like Danai Gurira, Nick Kristof, and Jamie Drummond.

Why focus on girls and women? At ONE, they believe that unlocking the potential of girls and women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, is the key to solving many development challenges. And I fully agree!

If you’d like to follow along with the event, watch the #AYAsummit hashtag on your social networks, and be sure to follow ONE Girls & Women on Facebook and Twitter.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out ONE Girls & Women, I highly encourage you to click over asap! The fabulous Amy Poehler is the Guest Curator this month, and as you would expect, her picks are terrific.

Let’s do this! Now’s the time to find out how to use our voices to create a better world!!

]]> 8
Books I’m Considering for Today’s Flight Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:00:08 +0000 Design Mom



By Gabrielle.

Alright, Book Lovers. Tell me your thoughts on Oyster. Have you heard of it? I first read about it on Jenny Komenda’s blog and was intrigued. If it’s new to you, here are the basics: it’s being called “Netflix for books.” You subscribe for $9.95 per month and you get access to unlimited ebooks in their collection, which features over half a million books across every genre and continues to grow daily. There’s a real focus on design and user experience — you can customize the display settings on the app, and there’s a feature that makes it easier to read in the dark as well. Yes, it’s available on any operating system (Apple, Android, Kindle, etc.). And yes, you can try it FREE for 30 days.


I know I’m not unique in saying that reading is one of my great pleasures, though I have been awful at making time for it lately. But I’m not the only voracious reader at the Blair house. I described Oyster to Maude and her eyes lit up like Christmas morning. As many books as she can read at her fingertips? No finishing a book at 8 PM and then having to wait until the next day to pick out something new at the library? Instant access? She was all over it! And we signed up right away.

Books I Want To Read

Of course, Maude’s excitement has me itching to do more reading myself. In fact, I have a flight to D.C. today (I’ll tell you about the trip tomorrow) and I’ve been making a list of possible options that I can read on the plane. This is what I’ve narrowed it down to:

1) The Steve Jobs biography. Ben Blair read it and loved it when it first came out and it’s been on my list ever since.

2) Angela’s Ashes. I still can’t believe I’ve never read this. I’ve heard I need to be in certain emotional state to handle it.

3) The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. I don’t know much about this one, just that it was recommended to me by someone I trust.

4) The Handmaid’s Tale. This is another one where I sort of shake my head at myself that I haven’t read it yet.

5) David Sedaris’ Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. I’ve read a ton of his work, but not this one, and I wanted something on the list that I knew would make me laugh.

Speaking of which, I LOVE book recommendations. In fact, I would say that beyond instant book access, the features of Oyster that are most interesting to me are the recommendation options. I can exchange book picks with friends on the app, and also get Oyster’s recommended books based on what I’ve liked before. They also have a really good editor-curated selection that I’ve found especially helpful — I feel like I add a handful of titles to my reading wish list whenever I check it out.

If you’re curious about Oyster, you may want to start by checking out the list of popular titles — it will give you a sense of what you’ll find there. You can also read more about Oyster’s features here. Want to try it? You’re in luck: Sign up and you’ll get the first 30 days free!

Now I’m off to the airport, and very much looking forward to it. There’s nothing better than reading a great book on a cross-country flight! Before I head out, I’d love your opinions on my narrowed down flight reading list. What do you think of the picks? Have you already read them? Any that you would start with? Or avoid completely? And what are you reading lately?


This post is brought to you in part by Oyster.

]]> 81
Growing A Family: Preparing For The Unexpected Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:41 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Tattly with glittery sparkles, designed with love by Bekka Palmer.

When Addie sent me her birth story, she did so as sort of a favor. Or maybe it’s best described as a returned favor. You see, the birth stories posted on Design Mom over the years helped her through both of her own pregnancies and births, and so she hoped that hers would do the same for others. So sweet! And also exactly why I keep publishing these shared experiences: one story – perhaps even Addie’s – might be the very thing a new, nervous, nine month and counting mom needs to read this very minute.

Babies will keep on coming. And while every birth is break-the-mold unique, chances are there’s another woman who has been through something similar. I love the thought that she might very well come here and browse through our Growing A Family series. So welcome, Addie, and a huge thank you to you and all who keep sharing their hearts with the rest of us!

It was November of 2012 when we decided to try again for a second baby. Sawyer was now two years and two months old and we weren’t getting any younger, so as we decided to give it a go…which it turns out is much less exciting the second time! Counting days on calendars and willing yourself to make a baby while your older one is fighting a fever goes against every motherly instinct.

When we decided to try for baby two, we also decided the housing market couldn’t get any better and listed our wonderful little Cape Cod on an urban street, trading up for a brand new build in a better school district. As the months ticked by and we waited for you to be made and waited for the house to be listed and we waited for our house to be built, we tried to be patient and grateful. As March turned to April, the house was listed. The same week we got an offer on the house was the same week we found out we were having you.  What was an exciting time was also a very difficult time for me.  Between working full time, loving a toddler who did not understand why we were moving, actually moving, and growing a human — I felt empty and used up some days and depressed with nowhere to turn. What was supposed to be a happy time was all of a sudden difficult for reasons I couldn’t understand, and all the while I worried that I wasn’t concentrating enough on my baby inside.

As moving day approached, I finally decided in my heart that I didn’t want the last few days in our wonderful old home to be sad — they needed to be filled with joy — so we did what everyone does when the world feels like it is moving too fast: we threw a party. And then, as June was turning to July, we received the keys to our new home and immediately took on what in hindsight was the enormous undertaking of making a brand new house feel like home.

Between work and parenting and the moving and unpacking and nesting you grew — you grew big and strong and brave. I kept promising you when you were in my belly that I would slow down and hug you tight once you arrived. As summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter, we started to gather what we needed to take you home with us, and as your due date came and went an eviction notice was served on 12/14/13.  The early morning hours of the the 14th were quiet, still, and snowy. As we approached the hospital I grew with excitement knowing that soon we would meet you — we didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl, and I was so curious about what you would look like.

As I was checked in and readied for induction the nurse casually asked if my blood pressure had been high at all during my pregnancy — it had not — and mentioned that we would be keeping an eye on it during the day.  As the clock hit 6:30 am and the Pitocin was started and the Foley bulb was filled, I was anxious as to what the day would bring; would you come slow or fast, would it be painful, would it be easy? My blood pressure stayed stable but high, and I was finally 5 cm. The Foley bulb was deflated, your bag of water was broken, and the epidural was administered.  At 3:00 pm I was checked again. Only 6 cm, but I remember the nurse saying she thought you would be here by 5:30 pm. I just laughed, as  your brother took 2 days of labor to come!  At 3:30 pm I began to feel immense pressure — pressure that even an epidural could not take away — and 45 minutes later I was 10 cm dilated. Your dad was telling me to breathe, I was telling him I couldn’t breathe, and my body was actually pushing you out without me even trying.

The doctor readied for delivery, and I became more confident in getting you out. With a lot of pressure (and thankfully not a lot of pain), you were easily delivered at 5:12 pm. At once you looked familiar — a mop of dark hair ready to be styled — and you were a BOY, another son to love as only a momma can. After you were born and taken away to be checked I realized that I was not feeling great. I was shaking, and drained. That’s when I realized that the bleeding hadn’t stopped and that my blood pressure was now alarmingly high.

As the minutes ticked by I learned that you were eight pounds, 10 ounces and SO pink. The bleeding did stop after three extra bags of Pitocin, and your father held you tight while I tried to lie quietly to lower my blood pressure. After a few hours of rest, we were finally moved to postpartum where you received your bath and your brother met you for the first time. Seeing him meet you was one of the most amazing and unexpected gifts I didn’t anticipate. As evening turned to night and family went home, I received word that I was headed back up to labor and delivery for a 12-hour magnesium drip as I had developed pre-eclampsia postpartum – something I had never anticipated nor heard of.

What I thought was going to be the most difficult part of birth experience turned out to be the easy part. It was the recovery — though not from tearing or stitches as anticipated — that took weeks and months. After an extra night in the hospital I was sent home on blood pressure medicine and my own cuff, and the woman I thought I would quickly see return took months to emerge. Between taking care of an infant that was much different than baby one, and a three year old to love, coupled with the holidays in the midst of it all and two cases of mastitis, my vision of what this time would look like was not realized immediately.

Finding myself and healing took longer than I could have ever dreamed, but in the midst of it all I learned to lean hard on this wonderful husband of mine. I grew a heart that had love for two little boys, and I finally started to be gentle with myself — something I tell your three year old brother daily. We named you Atticus, a name that some say is a bit big for a small boy, but I knew the moment I looked you in the eyes and said your name that it was for you. You, my baby boy, are so strong and patient and you are everything we never knew we needed. And as promised, we hug you tight and you are always willing to hug back. We are the lucky ones.


Thank you , Addie! I’m sure Atticus will love to read his story someday. I found myself nodding when you wrote that what you thought would be the most difficult part of your birth experience wasn’t remotely difficult! And how the part you imagined breezing through was more of a challenge. That’s always the way, isn’t it? This was a good  reminder that no matter how you painstakingly craft the perfect birth plan, something always comes up to add some spice into the story! Thank you again for sharing yourself with us all.

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?

]]> 9
Four Picture Books You’ll Love Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:30:38 +0000 Design Mom

Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team.

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Last month I wrote a post about four picture books we’ve added to our library, and this month I thought it would be fun to share another four. As you may remember, I’m trying to write less posts this year, but keep them packed with content, so sharing 4 books once each month, instead of one small book post each week could be a great solution!

1)  First up, The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey. Written by Sophie Strady, with illustration by Jean-Francois Martin.

Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team.Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team.

Such a cool book! And totally unusual. There’s a storyline you can follow about Marcel the Elephant as he writes and encyclopedia, but it’s also a book that packed with information — sidenotes and tidbits — so you can browse the pages without following the story at all.

And the images! So dang good.Both the author and illustrator live in Paris and the book definitely has a chic French feel. I feel like this book is a treasure.

Book of the Week: Little Pear Tree

2) The Little Pear Tree by Jenny Bowers.

Book of the Week: Little Pear TreeBook of the Week: Little Pear Tree

My friend, Annie, who owns Brimful Shop (and is a frequent commenter here — you may have seen her name), sent this book for June. It’s delightful! The book follows a pear tree over a full year, and readers watch at the tree transforms over the pages.

It’s interactive too. Each spread has lots of flaps to lift, hiding happy little discoveries. A perfect nature book for the littlest ones.

Book of the Week: Jumping Jack — by a Swiss Author Illustrator team.

3) Jumping Jack. Written by Germano Zullo, with illustrations by Albertine.

Book of the Week: Jumping Jack — by a Swiss Author Illustrator team.Book of the Week: Jumping Jack — by a Swiss Author Illustrator team.

This book is by a Swiss author-illustrator team. The outstanding cover drew me in, and the story kept me there. Jack is a championship show-jumping horse, but one day, finds he’s not doing so well competitively. Readers get to follow Jack and his rider as they try to figure out what’s going on — these two friends never give up on each other!

The whole style of this book — words and images — is fantastic. A treat to read and look at.

Book of the Week: In This Book — by a French author + illustrator team.

4) In This Book by Fani Marceau, with illustrations by Joelle Jolivet.

Book of the Week: In This Book — by a French author + illustrator team.Book of the Week: In This Book — by a French author + illustrator team.

This is another book written by author illustrator team based in Paris. The book feels like an art book that will appeal to babies and toddlers. The words are simple and introduce simple concepts — I am in the bus, said the driver. I am in the lighthouse, said the lighthouse keeper.

It has oversize pages with details to explore and discover, and the text if full of new things for little minds to think about. It’s also a really beautiful book to own.


I hope you enjoy these titles. And if you’ve seen any picture books lately that you think I’d love, let me know if the comments!

P.S. — Looking for more book stuff? You can find all of my picture book posts here. Also, I know it’s October. If you’re craving Halloween titles, here are ten great ones!

]]> 8
Living With Kids: Revisiting Haeley Giambalvo Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:30:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Candice Stringham for and Design Improvised.

You might remember the cute Chicago condo I featured a while back, owned by Haeley and her husband, and adored by their two little girls. She mentioned in her interview that she was moving to San Antonio, and the loveliest thing happened: a few readers reached out to lend their advice, support, and eventual friendship! If ever I needed a burst of positivity to remind me of how lucky I am to be a part of such a nurturing community, this would be it.

So it’s with a huge smile that I welcome back Haeley in her new Texas home. It’s pretty fantastic! Let’s go see.

Q: Tell us all about your family today!

I’ve got two busy preschoolers on my hands now. Stella just turned five and Hazel is now three. They go to a little preschool three mornings a week, which has been a welcomed routine for both kids and mommy alike!

Stella is my little mini-me: she is constantly making something. As soon as she wakes up she heads to her play table and starts pulling out paper, markers, and scissors. Her latest endeavor has been to check out kids’ crafting DVDs at the library and try making the things taught on the show. She always amazes me with what she is able to come up with on her own. Stella is a sweet, sensitive little girl. The night before her fifth birthday, she cried herself to sleep because she had so much fun being four and wanted to stay four forever. She loves anything to do with learning new things. She loves her little sister most of all.

Hazel is my little ball of energy and curiosity who rules the roost and is always a step ahead of the rest of us. We like to call her Hazie, but she prefers to go by Georgie, as in her favorite character Curious George. If you ever introduce her as Hazel, she will be quick to correct you. She never leaves home without her teddy bear, which at this point is hanging together by threads. She loves playing dress up by ransacking my closet, making crafts that involve a lot of messy glue or paint, playing on any type of electronic device, and helping cook in the kitchen as long as the recipe involves sugar. She has a big sweet tooth, and overall is a big sweetheart.

My husband Ross works for the Texas grocery store chain HEB, which is what brought us to San Antonio. Outside of work you can find him at home grilling in the backyard, keeping tabs on his fantasy football team, and playing in a local men’s hockey league (yep, they play hockey in Texas!). He’s in the process of transforming a tiny room off of our laundry room into his man cave – the 80 square feet he can claim as his own. He’s impressed me with his carpentry skills; he built a wall full of industrial style shelves and is in the process of transforming a vintage locker into wine storage.

I devote any kid-free minutes of my day to my blog Design Improvised, where I share DIYs for simple home and holiday crafts that make a big impact. I’m almost four years into blogging and I still love it so much that for better or worse I choose to do it over anything else…like, clean the house!

Q: You’ve moved! Where are you living, and how did you find your home?

A: Yes! We have been in the northwest suburbs of San Antonio since July of last year. We are about 15 miles from downtown. Because we were moving for my husband’s job, we had to make a decision on where to live pretty quickly. We flew down that April for a jam-packed weekend of seeing 20+ homes. Would you believe the home we ended up in was the very first one we saw? Had we known it would turn out that way, we could’ve saved ourselves the trouble and spend the rest of the weekend at the River Walk!

For us, the biggest challenge was getting a grasp for the area and narrowing down what part of the city in which we wanted to live. San Antonio is really spread out, and it was hard to know where to begin. We did our best to pick a few areas to focus our house hunting based on online research, but you just don’t know until you’re there in person.

I had a panic moment after our first day of looking at homes when I realized we had focused the bulk of our search too far out of town. It felt like such a giant leap to go from downtown Chicago to a semi-rural Texas neighborhood where I would’ve had to drive several exits down the highway to get to the grocery store. It was a stressful tear-filled day, but helped us identify what was most important. The home we ended up in is super accessible to restaurants, shopping, and downtown.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment to your new area?

A: We loved living in Chicago, and for years I scoffed at the idea of moving to the suburbs. Funny enough, once we were here we didn’t think twice about it. I guess we were more suited for the suburbs than we realized. We came to San Antonio with an open mind and a determination to make this next chapter of our lives a good one.

We didn’t know anyone here, so I expected a tough transition from that perspective, but it just didn’t happen. We knocked on doors to introduce ourselves to our neighbors early on and invite them over for a drink. I think we actually know more of our neighbors than some of them that have lived here for 15 years know each other! I got involved in the active San Antonio blogging community and attended as many events as I could to meet people. We made friends with the parents at the girls’ preschool.

But perhaps most of all, I have this blog to thank for helping make the transition so smooth! I had several Design Mom readers in the San Antonio area reach out to me last year after our Chicago condo was featured in Living with Kids. The readers wrote sweet notes to welcome me to their city, tell me about their favorite spots, and offer their help. I was so surprised and touched by their generosity – it honestly meant the world to me.

Since then, two of them have become my closest friends here. One happens to live just down the road from me and introduced me to a mom group she is part of, and the other is a talented photographer and blogger who is now a frequent collaborator on blog projects (and has taken many of the photos in this house tour!). Our transition here could have been a much different story if it wasn’t for YOU all, so I can’t thank you enough.

Q: This new house is much bigger than your condo, right? How did you avoid the whole “Let’s go buy out the furniture store right now to fill this place!” urge? Did you give yourself time to get to know the house and figure out your needs?

A: Yes, it is about twice the size. Like they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and the cost of living here is less than Chicago. Our home is 17 years old and we invested in some updates before moving in: painting the kitchen cabinets and adding a new backsplash, replacing the carpeting upstairs with hardwood floors, and updating the lighting fixtures, etc. It was a big investment but it made a world of difference. It also didn’t leave a ton of money for rushing out and buying furniture. However, it was such a nice clean slate that I actually looked forward to some of the rooms staying empty for awhile so I could take my time thinking about what I wanted them to become. As a DIY blogger, what more could you want? It’s like a years’ worth of blog content, so I was in no rush.

I’ve also had a great partnership with over the past year. They have an amazing selection of home furnishings and I’ve had the opportunity to design several rooms in our house as part of my work with them.  We’ve collaborated on carving out a special kids’ area in our family room with a play table and toy storage, a shared bedroom for Stella and Hazel with twin beds that can convert into bunks and a reading nook, a guest bedroom makeover in time for the holidays, and an outdoor patio that allows us to hang outside together as a family year round. You can find more details of each room in these styleboards.

The process has required me to be more thoughtful and intentional about the design of each room by developing a mood board and testing out different looks for each space, and I feel like I’ve really grown into my own distinct style over the past year as a result.

Q: What did you want to do differently with the decor of this home? What style or pieces did you want to retain?

A: I wanted to take my time and create spaces that I would love for a long time. Unlike in Chicago, where we started furnishing our condo as newlyweds and making it work over time for a family, I approached the design of this house with a family in mind.

Stella and Hazel have the run of the house. They have a special corner of the family room that holds some of their toys, and a play table where they eat their breakfast in the morning and spend much of the day working on crafts or Legos while watching their favorite shows.

I turned a covered balcony into an outdoor playroom for the girls with a kid-sized picnic table, rocking chairs, sensory table, and potted plants for them to dig in the dirt. We grew our first tomatoes and peppers there this summer.

The girls go into my craft room daily and pull out supplies to make something of their own. It can make a huge mess, but our house is messy most of the time (unlike these photos!), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for pieces we retained, I reused nearly all our furniture from Chicago but in different ways. A little dresser that held toiletries in a bathroom in Chicago is now a nightstand in the guest room. The rug that was in our master bedroom is now under the dining table. I love the challenge of finding a new way to use a piece. To me, it is just as exciting as going out and buying something new.

Q: How are your girls adjusting? And you?

A: I think they were at a good age to make a big transition like this. They are just excited for anything new, so if you make a big deal out of it, they will be on board. The fact that there is a Chuck E Cheese across the street from their new school is a good enough reason for them to like San Antonio!

We all really miss my sister Heather and brother-in-law Alan and our little nephew Ollie. They were our family unit in Chicago and were a big part of the girls’ lives there. Stella still says she wishes Uncle Alan could come over and play chase and hide and seek with her like they did in Chicago. We don’t get to see them enough, and it kills me that I don’t get to be around Ollie (now 10 months) and help out like my sister did with my girls. We are in the process of trying to convince them to move to San Antonio.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember about your life in this house?

A: How they loved being at home more than anywhere else. How in these magical preschool years the day stretched before them and they could choose to spend it however they wanted…spending all day in their playroom, playing in the backyard in their pjs, helping me in the kitchen, the three of us making a big mess together in the craft room.

How they always were free to make the house their own…creating their own holiday decorations to display along with mine, coloring endless pictures to hang on their playroom wall.

Finally how they loved spending time together as sisters…waking up in the same bedroom by chatting and singing silly songs together and telling each other “I love you, sis” before going to bed at night.

Q: Tell us the best moving advice you wish you had followed!

A: Purge, purge, purge! Be really diligent about getting rid of stuff you don’t need rather than bringing it with you.

This was especially the case with some flea market pieces I had plans to eventually refurbish. We all have these, right? I realized if I hadn’t been motivated to do them in Chicago, I wasn’t going to ever do it here in San Antonio, and so most have been donated!


So nice to reconnect with you, Haeley! I have to tell you that I misted up a few times! Once at your daughter’s tears on her last night of four, and the other about not being there for your nephew. It’s tough to be far away from family, isn’t it?

Friends, have you recently moved your family to a new spot? Tell us about your transition. Was it easy on your kids? Was it easy on you? If you have secrets to share, please know they are always welcome!

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.

]]> 29
Host an Etsy Trunk Show! Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:30:08 +0000 Design Mom

Michelle Smith and her shop,  Gather, in Cary, NC.

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Small Business Saturday® and Etsy

Small Business Saturday is coming up next month — on November 29th. I try to announce it every year. As a small business owner myself, I feel supportive of my peers, but I also care about the day because small business has consistently been part of my family life — my parents, and especially my father, always had a small business going on to supplement his teaching income. And the small business gene is something my siblings and I seem to have inherited. Among my brothers and sisters, I think we have about a dozen small businesses happening at the moment!

That said, beyond my personal experiences, I value small businesses because I know what an important part they play in stabilizing and growing a healthy economy.

Olives and Grace, Boston

This year, I’m especially excited because there’s a new feature to Small Business Saturday: shop owners and Etsy sellers are teaming up to host trunk shows! I love that so much. The picture of two small business owners helping each other and encouraging their communities to #shopsmall is pretty fantastic.

Clementine Middlebury VT

In the photos here, I’m featuring three of the shops who have already signed up to host trunk shows — Gather in Cary, North Carolina, Olives & Grace in Boston, and Clementine in Middlebury, Vermont. If you’re a shop owner, you can host a trunk show, too! Here’s how it works:

1. Sign up for Etsy Wholesale with VIP code: AmexSBS

2. Find a local Etsy artist or designer who you want to work with. Then invite them to showcase their products in your store.

3. Once you’re official with Etsy Wholesale, they’ll send you your trunk show enrollment form. It just takes a few moments to submit this form online.

4. Lastly, look out for your free trunk show kit filled with good stuff in the mail.*

You can find out more about the program here.

I don’t have a storefront and (sad face) don’t get to host a trunk show, but that didn’t stop me from browsing Etsy and thinking about which makers I would love to team up with. How about you? Who would you want to pair up with for an Etsy trunk show? Perhaps you have a friend who is an Etsy seller? Are you a shop owner? Or do you have small business owners in your family? Have you ever hosted a trunk show? I’d love to hear!


*Merchandise is only available to eligible small businesses through 11:59 p.m. ET on 10/24/2014 or while supplies last. Limit one order per business. Subject to Merchandise Terms. See Merchandise Terms at

]]> 26
Report from France Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:03:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images from Olive’s Instagram. Video by Ralph.

As promised, here is a little report about Olive and Ralph and their experience in France this semester.

Olive has been in France since September 1st. She’s young (she turned 13 the week before she moved), and we knew this might not work for her, so we were prepared to fly her back home if she wasn’t thriving. But so far, she seems to LOVE it. She’s staying with our dear friend, Caroline, and Olive says she’s amazed how fast dinner clean up goes with fewer people in the house. Hah! I love that she’s getting to see how another house is run. It’s important to me that my kids understand there are lots of right ways to do most things.

She really seems to be developing a sense of independence — helped by the fact that she lives in town and isn’t waiting on a car and parent to get her around. During her first week, she needed to change her money from dollars to euros, and instead of waiting for a grownup, she decided to take care of the task herself. She walked herself to the bank and inquired about the exchange. The bankers sent her to the post office and she was able to take care of it there. No big deal. And just to remind you, this is all taking place in French.

Speaking of French, she said she’s doing well with the language and can speak mostly accent free. She’s enrolled in the same school she attended when we lived there and it’s been wonderful for her to instantly know people and be in a familiar place.

Argentan Mural

Olive has also been acting as translator. There is an American family living in La Cressonière and they have kids attending the same school as Olive. One of them is in her class, and as he learns French, Olive is helping translate as needed. Several years ago, when our kids first started at that school, there was an Irish family attending, and they kindly acted as translators for my kids, so I like the idea that Olive can pay the kindness forward.

When we lived there, Olive’s extra-curricular activities were horseback riding and piano. We wondered if she would want to sign up for those again this semester. But instead, she’s taking a drama class and really enjoying it.

Caroline has also taken Olive to visit our Cottage (which reminds me, I still haven’t properly introduced the cottage. It’s on my list!)

Normandy Field

Now on to Ralph. You may remember, Ralph spent the last week of August and most of September in England. He’s been in France since September 27th.

This whole study abroad concept has really grabbed Ralph’s imagination. Like Olive, he’s thriving too, and can see the possibilities. He’s even started talking to friends in Japan and Australia about doing exchanges. Who knows if it will happen, but either way, he clearly loves this!

England was wonderful for him. He found that getting to experience a taste of the school there was really satisfying. He loved meeting new people and being able to determine his own schedule. He was able to explore the town of Abingdon and he and his friend could take the train to London to explore there as well. (Ralph loves London!)

And then, when he arrived in France, he couldn’t stop telling us how awesome our little town of Argentan is. He said he didn’t understand how awesome it was until he moved back, and that we should move the family back asap. : ) He said he loves walking around town because he sees so many people he knows and loves — like the clockmaker — as he goes about his day.

His language is excellent, but he talks often about wanting to get it perfect. His goal is complete fluency and he studies the nuances to figure out where he’s still getting it wrong.

He also attends the same school as Olive, but only sort of. He’s auditing classes so he can attend as much as he likes, but his coursework is through K12. This seems to be working well. He is able to get his school work done in a few hours, which leaves him time for writing screen plays and working on films, which is for sure his first love.

His latest movie is the one at the top and I feel like it’s his best so far. And maybe his best by far! It’s only two minutes, I hope you’ll watch it because I think you’ll really enjoy it. (And if you do, I hope you’ll share it. It’s a good one!)

One interesting thing is that doing his school work independently has reminded him of how much of a typical school day is just sort of busy work or wasted time moving between classes, and he’s wondering what it would take to graduate early and be completely done with high school. So we’re looking into that to see what it would take. Ralph seems to do well in a school setting — he’s super social — so of course it’s interesting for us to see that he’s find to be done with that and move on.

As expected, both love the food!

I can’t believe they’ve been gone for almost 2 months! We miss them like crazy and the house always feels a little empty without them. One unexpected result that has come with their absence: We thought Maude might get lonely, but she really seems to be thriving. Sometimes I forget that Maude is an introvert and really needs alone time to recharge. With Ralph and Olive gone, she seems to be getting more of that precious alone time and is enjoying life more than ever! Ben Blair and I are already talking about how we’ll help her preserve that time once they return.

To stay connected, every Sunday morning we have a family Google Chat, where we can share 3 screens and get to have time together. Of course, we also get to talk with Ralph and Olive throughout the week as needed. Hallelujah for technology! And I continue to be comforted knowing Olive and Ralph can connect in person if they’re homesick.

I think that’s it for a report today. Anything I missed? If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with international exchanges, or study abroad semesters, or kids far from home. And what do you think about Ralph’s video? I always love reading your words!

]]> 76
A Few Things Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:15:11 +0000 Design Mom

cinderella pumpkins

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How was your week? Mine was good! On Monday night, Ben Blair and I went to dinner with Brad and Kristi Montague, the couple that writes and produces the fantastic Kid President videos. The dinner totally pumped me up! Such a talented, sincere, hardworking couple. I’ve been thinking about the evening ever since.

The second happy thing: The weather has finally cooled down here a bit! It’s hovering around 70 — I realize that’s still totally mild, but it feels closer to fall than it did last week. : ) And speaking of fall, we are in full Halloween costume mode around here (Oscar wants to be Frankenstein, Betty wants to be Dracula, and June wants to be Annie), and I suspect that’s what we’ll be working on this weekend. That, and more progress on the Girls’ Room. How about you? Any weekend plans?

I’m off to a lunch meeting in a bit, but before I head out, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

Which English you speak has nothing to do with how smart you are. Thanks, Ainsley.

- The best way to respond to a bully. Thanks, Natalie.

- A very powerful read on what happens when a company tackles Ebola.

- Cozy nook inspiration!

- This boggles my mind a bit, but apparently seven pounds isn’t what ten pounds is. New research indicates that heavier babies are also healthier — and do better in school. (All my babies were tiny! None even close to 10 lbs.) Thanks, Kat.

- This also boggles my mind. What a $95 million apartment looks like. Thanks, Audrey.

- Woah. These shrimps can see cancer, and now, there is a camera that can, too. Thanks, Matt.

- The cutest marshmallow monsters.

- A group of professional moms called the Nappy Collective in Melbourne are running an Australia-wide diaper drive. In August alone, they collected 82 thousand diapers. I’m so curious if you see diaper drives like this where you live?

- PLEASE let this be true. #bringbackourgirls

- Oh man. This is amazing, mind-blowing and ultimately incomprehensible to me. Made me tear up thinking about how precious life is.

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


]]> 11
Caitlin Wilson Textiles Giveaway Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:21:13 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Ready for a gorgeous giveaway? Good. Because I’ve got one. You could win $150 from Caitlin Wilson Textiles!

Cailtin Wilson Textile Portland Collection

Caitlin Wilson is a textile and interior designer who will knock your socks off. I’ve worked with her lovely company on Design Mom before, and I know that people adore her wares! If her products are new to you, I urge you to take a look.

The Caitlin Wilson shop stocks pillows, rugs, furniture, and fabric by the yard as well. And all of it features her fabulous original textile designs. Including the newly launched Portland Collection. It’s full of watercolored patterns and florals that look completely fresh and modern.

Caitlin Wilson Portland Collection

If I won, I would be tempted by the Bridge City Blooms Pillow on Grey (stunning!), anything in the Gold Collection, because gold always feels like fall and holiday to me, and this Navy Spotted Fabric — I don’t know what I would do with it, but I am into it for sure.

To enter, visit Caitlin Wilson Textiles and leave a comment below. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Molly is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

]]> 416
The Treehouse: Girls Room Remodel Thu, 16 Oct 2014 18:53:41 +0000 Design Mom

olive and june

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

This is a photo of Olive and June. Which reminds me, I really need to write a post about how Olive and Ralph are doing in France!

But really, this photo is here, just so I can have something pretty at the top of this post. Because after the jump, I’m showing lots of photos of the girls’ room pre-remodel, and the photos are not pretty. They’re not pretty because I snapped them with my phone in low light. And they’re not pretty, because, it’s just not a very pretty space. Yet.

But it will be! I’m confident of that.

We started the remodel on Tuesday. Want to see what we’re up to?

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel04

This is the girls room. The former owners used it as the master bedroom. You can see what it was like when we moved in here. It hasn’t changed much.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel03

There used to be two big closets. The one pictured here, and another one that backed up to the boys’ room.

girls room wall1

See that wall by the door that looks like it’s freshly dry-walled? That was a closet. But we walled it in so we could add a couple of feet to the boys’ room, in order to fit two twin beds in there.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel01

Here’s another angle. Note the acoustic ceiling tiles.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel02

Our first idea was to remake the closet that’s still here into 4 equal-sized closets, one for each girl. But then we learned that the electric box in the farthest closet shouldn’t be in a closet at all. So we’ve decided to do something different.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel06

Here’s a shot of the progress after two days. The carpet is gone. And the remaining closet is gone.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel08

The ceiling is divided by beams into 3 sections. The tiles came off of two sections to reveal pretty wood planks on the ceiling. (Which was also true in the boys’ room.)

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel07

But on the third section, the tiles were over drywall — no wood planks underneath. So we’ve been thinking about how we want to handle that.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel05

Another surprise, one of the beams that goes across the ceiling, was cut short during a previous remodel. It’s hard to tell why. But it means there is a random post in the room which holds up the beam. So we’re also figuring out how to move that post.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel09

Here’s a closer shot of the cut-off beam and post holding it up.

Design Mom Girls Room Remodel11

Another discovery: based on the old flooring, we can see that this room was originally divided into two. With the two closets and two windows in separate areas, we had assumed this, but it was fun to see the proof in the excavation.

girls room sketches1

At first, we were thinking a floor plan like this. 4 beds against the left wall, and as I mentioned, the (formerly) existing closet split into 4.

girls room sketches2

But our latest plan is to use free-standing closets, 1 for each girl, and bring both the closets and the beds toward the center of the room — the closets acting as headboards for the beds. This would create a privacy wall and a dressing area that could make sense. It’s one of those things where the idea sounds good in my head, and maybe even looks good to me on paper, but I can’t tell what it’s really like until I see it in person.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Very exciting! I will definitely keep you updated.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever encountered a remodeling surprise? I feel like we’ve had them in every room! Also, I know when I talked about all four girls sharing a room in a post last year, that there were strong opinions on whether that was good or bad. Our girls have been sharing for over a year now, and it seems to be working well for us. Where are you on the room-sharing topic? And lastly, do you enjoy sketching out room possibilities, or does this sort of thing drive you nuts? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — I try hard to show very polished posts with gorgeous pictures, so I’m feeling very uneasy about sharing low-quality images and rough sketches. My apologies if the lack of polish is bothersome. For more posts about our work in The Treehouse, see here.

]]> 78
Getting Seasonal in the Entry Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:00:36 +0000 Design Mom

pumpkins on the porch

This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Home Décor for modern luxury made easy.

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Over the weekend, I spent a lovely afternoon autumn-izing our front entry. Last year at this time, I was barely functioning, and I only have a vague memory of putting a pumpkin on the porch. And if I remember correctly, the squirrels ate that pumpkin! Not my best October for sure. Hah!

pumpkins on the porch

So this year, it was fun to put some thought and effort into it. I have loved the simple colors in our living room — whites, woods, pale textures and a bit of metal — so I thought it would be fun to extend the same color palette to the entry decorations — with the hope that it makes a pretty transition from outside to in.

pumpkins on the porch

First, I moved our cement planters full of succulents, and filled in the space with pumpkins. Instead of the traditional orange-y-orange pumpkins, I picked out Cinderella pumpkins in a muted, dusty orange, and white pumpkins as well. I wanted big impact, so I went with lots of pumpkins.

pumpkins on the porch

Next, I swapped out the summery pillow on the porch chair, for some fresh ones. The gold adds just a touch of glamour! A nice contrast to the home-y textures. I chose two pillows from Target — one in metallic chevron, and the other in an embroidered pattern.

I also added a throw blanket from our linen closet (it’s a super-cozy traditional wool picked up in Ireland), to make the porch chair inviting on cool evenings.

handwoven basket with leather handle

Then, I brought a favorite stool outside to act as a side table — the perfect spot for a cup of tea. And I included a woven basket to hold magazines. The basket is easy to move indoors if the weather gets iffy. (I wish the weather was iffy! California needs some rain!!)

I love a project like this! It didn’t take long to pull it together, but it makes a big difference. The entry feels like fall, even if the weather here hasn’t caught up yet, and it’s so cheery to come home to. I also like that I mixed it up this year and tried something new with the colors, instead of going with our usual orange and black. I like classic orange and black, but it was fun to experiment. And assuming the squirrels don’t eat the pumpkins, I think this look will keep the porch looking gorgeous through Thanksgiving!

Tell me, Friends: Do you decorate your entry in the fall? Maybe put up a wreath or a bouquet of leaves? Or do you like to keep it spooky in October? We have loved spooky stuff over the years, but The Treehouse isn’t on a trick-or-treating street, so I’m finding it’s easier to focus on “fall” for our decor, instead of Halloween. How about you?

P.S. — Some of our favorite good-looking, but spooky Halloween Decor DIYs. And the coolest scarecrow!

]]> 32