Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:21:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Nova Natural Giveaway Mon, 02 Mar 2015 19:56:41 +0000 Design Mom

Nova Natural Wooden Excavator

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. Who’s in the mood for a giveaway? I’ve got a great one for you today. You could win a $150 store credit to Nova Natural!!

Nova Natural is one of my new sidebar sponsors, and I’m delighted to tell you about them, because I know you’ll love their wares. Nova Natural is all about raising kids in the most wholesome way possible. Think hand made wooden play sets, soft dolls, and the best eco-friendly art supplies. Think teething, mealtime and bath time products that don’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. Think products to help your child learn — crafts, books and music. They offer fun products for the home as well.

Nova Natural HammockNova Natural Fair Maiden Dress

Their wooden vehicles might be my favorite — they have a huge selection — but I’m also way into these hammock hideaways. I’ve bookmarked this princess dress for June’s next birthday, and I know my kids would love the beading loom as well.

Nova Natural Enamelware DishesNova Natural Wooden Beading LoomNova Natural Beeswax Crayons

Based in Vermont, I love their clear mission statement:

  • Inspire creativity by sparking the imaginations of children and adults with materials that allow them to learn and grow together.
  • Connect communities by bringing people together to play, create and explore in families, neighborhoods and across the globe.
  • Practice sustainability by Working with small businesses and artisans to supply families with heirloom quality, non-disposable toys that support healthy lifestyles in balance with the environment.

Nova Natural is such a terrific source for heirloom toys your kids will love now, and that you’ll be able to hold on to for grandkids as well! Something new: For this giveaway, I’m trying Rafflecopter. It’s a first for Design Mom. I hope it makes it easier for you to enter!.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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What Beauty Task Have You Never Tried? Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:11:28 +0000 Design Mom

Gabrielle Blair strawberry

By Gabrielle. Photo by Kristen Loken.

When I was in Salt Lake City in January, I was getting my hair done at the hotel spa, and the stylist and I started chatting about facials. She’s a huge fan of facials and tries to schedule one every month. It’s her big luxury/splurge. I was nodding along and thinking Yes! Facials! Amazing! The Best!, when I suddenly laughed at myself because I’ve never had a facial and don’t even have a clear idea of what actually happens during a facial.

From what I understand they can involve massage, steaming, exfoliating, masks, clearing of pores, and I’m not sure what else. I’ve also heard sometimes they take a long time, like an hour or more. I’m quite fascinated by the time factor, because that seems like a lot of minutes to spend on one not-that-big area of the body. Though I’m sure it makes sense while it’s happening,

Now, I’m not opposed to facials in anyway, nor am I opposed to whatever beauty routines or rituals that help you feel fantastic. And I’ve tried quite a few over the years. Hair stuff like color, cuts, and blowouts — even perms! And stuff like mani-pedis, waxing, and tinted brows. I’ve even tried laser hair removal, and as a teenager, I totally tried tanning beds. So I was surprised to realize I’d never booked a facial. I’m surprised again as I type this!

Then I remembered when I first met my sister-in-law, Lisa. Manicures came up and she told me she’d never had paint on her fingernails. I don’t know if that’s still true, but I remember being almost shocked. Never had your nails painted?!!! (Of course, someone reading this post is probably thinking, “Never had a facial?!!!”)

That made me wonder, what grooming/beauty appointments have you never scheduled? Maybe from simple disinterest, or maybe because you feel moral opposition to a certain beauty task? Is there anything you assumed you would do, and have been surprised you haven’t tried? Maybe you thought you’d color your greys, but never have?Also, on facials, what’s your take? Do you see a big difference in your skin when you get one? Or is it one of those more subtle things where you just feel better for doing it. I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Speaking of grooming, I had another hair appointment on Saturday and I’m platinum! You can see a peek on Instagram. I’m trying to put a fun photoshoot together that will show off the new do, and then I’ll write up a post about the whole process.

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A Few Things Fri, 27 Feb 2015 17:33:21 +0000 Design Mom

Treehouse Dining Area

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? It was a good one at our house. Nothing too exciting, just the daily satisfying kind of stuff. (I love that stuff!) Next week will be busier — we have two birthdays coming up, plus a baptism. And it’s time to think about Easter plans as well, because it happens really early in April this year, and I know it’s going to catch me off guard if I wait till the end of the month. (Been there, done that.) If you need some inspiration, I put a whole bunch of Spring & Easter projects in the sidebar.

I’m have some appointments today, so I’m heading out of the office soon, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Adopted as a Child, Now a Mother, Finally ‘Lucky’.

- This Onion article made me laugh.

- Oh no! Women are leaving the tech industry. Thanks, Allysha.

- Start Again. You are bound to be successful.

- Alt Keynotes! The videos from the Alt Winter Keynotes are ready to view. You can see Lisa Congdon‘s inspiring story, my entrepreneurial Q&A with Jess Lee & Susan Petersen, and Dallas Clayton‘s closing presentation that had everyone in tears. Really good stuff!

- My Aunt Robin shared this ad about PTSD guide dogs and I found it so impactful.

- A movie theater with a mission.

- Do you use Pinterest? Here’s a really good article about their new changes.

- Buying diapers on a budget.

- I’m not even sure how to comprehend this story.

- Have you ever tried to peel an egg like this?

- My sister-in-law, Margaret Blair Young’s Kickstarter is going so well! You can get in on the action here.

- I introduced a hashtag on Instagram this week and it has created the most delightful feed! Look up #DMlivingwithkids and see what I mean. Oh. And tag your own photos too — I’ll be sharing one or two each day.

I hope you have a fabulous weekend. We greet March on Sunday — that means Spring is on its way! For those of you who are up to your ears in snow and ice, I hope you the thaw begins asap. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


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Which Box Do You Mark? Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:16:58 +0000 Design Mom

National Geographic Changing Faces of America

By Gabrielle. Portraits by Martin Schoeller for National Geographic.

Last year, I was at the Mom 2.0 conference, and Karen Walrond (you might know her as Chookooloonks), and I had a discussion about how she felt about the term “black”. She said she prefers it, because she’s not from Africa and doesn’t identify as an African-American. She would be fine being called Caribbean-American because she grew up in Trinidad, but Caribbean-American doesn’t seem to be a common usage term.

I was thinking of that conversation as I filled out a survey from our school district this week. The survey asked what race or ethnicity my children identified as. And since we live in Oakland, and since Oakland is unusually diverse, there were like 20 options to choose from, or you could fill in your own. I checked the “white” box.

Checking that box reminded me of a conversation my high schoolers had with me not long after we moved here. When we registered, we learned the high school was 10% white, and wondered if our kids would stand out for their whiteness. After a few weeks, our kids said their classmates were curious, but it wasn’t about our kids’ whiteness, it was because they aren’t some sort of combo. Apparently, much of the student body at the high school identifies as multi-cultural or dual-race. Their friends and classmates are Chinese+German, or Filipino+Mexican, or Vietnamese+Arabic, or African-American+Balinese. Our kids felt boring being white+white.

My kids asked if we were really just white and I felt apologetic. Hah! I told them my dad’s side is Jewish, and reminded them my older brother is a Navajo. I asked them if that helped, but no, that didn’t really change things. So I went back further. I told them their ancestors came from Scotland and Sweden, from England and Germany. But no, that didn’t help either. At the end of the day, they still felt like white+white.

Something about it feels like progress to me — I mean them feeling out of the ordinary being white+white. It hints at a future where everyone is so mixed together that we get to choose what culture we want to identify with, which culture we want to celebrate, instead of having it, and all of its baggage, assigned to us at birth. It also aligns with what my kids have been taught in their high school biology classes: there is no such thing as race at a biological level. It doesn’t exist except in our heads. It reminds me of the National Geographic article about the changing faces of America.

Thinking about this also reminds me of how much America really is a melting pot. When I lived in Normandy, my local friends simply identified as French. But here, almost anyone I talk to identifies as an American, plus also as some additional ancestry.

And now I’m curious. Do you identify with a particular culture or race or ethnicity? What box do you mark when you’re surveyed? Or, if you don’t live in America, are you ever asked to mark a race/ethnicity box? Do you ever get mistaken for being a race or nationality that you are not? How about your kids? Do they identify differently than you do? And if you’re black and live here in the U.S., but grew up in a non-African country, how often are you called African-American by mistake? Or do you not read it as a mistake and think of the term African-American in another way?

P.S. — I’m unclear on how to make it happen, but I would LOVE to have more diversity among the Call It A Day and Growing A Family and Living With Kids series here on Design Mom. Whatever your race or ethnicity or nationality, I hope you will feel welcome to share your stories here! We want to hear your voices! It would be amazing if this blog reflected the very diverse community I see around me every day. 

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Design Mom Book: Cover Design Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:56:29 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photos by me and Sarah Hebenstreit.

As promised, here’s a post about how the cover design came to be for the Design Mom Book. (Did I mention you can pre-order it now?) It started with an email. My editor, Lia Ronnen, sent me a this stock photo — black hands in a pattern — and wondered what I thought about it for a cover idea. It was so striking! I loved it immediately. I had known I wanted a cover photo that did not show an interior space, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to use instead. The hand pattern idea was perfect! It was graphically interesting, made sense with kids, and felt timeless to me. So I started experimenting with handprints and hand outlines to see what might work.

Design Mom Book June Printing

Eventually, I decided to use actual handprints from each of my kids — I loved the idea of each print being imperfectly made with real paint. I bought a giant roll of white paper, the kind you use as a backdrop in photo shoots, and a few tubes of black paint. Then we cleared space between the sofas and the kitchen table, rolled out the paper and got to work. By the way, this all happened last summer — it was July.

Design Mom Book Roll of Hands

Once the paper was rolled out, it was time to make handprints. We started by practicing. It took us several tries to find the best consistency for the paint. Not too thick, not too thin. And it took some experimentation to find out how much pressure was needed when pushing the to paper. Once we had a handle on things, we made a ton of handprints. We started with Ralph, and went in age order. We did some handprints in sections — one area for each kids, and we did other prints in diagonal patterns, with all their handprints mixed in.

Design Mom Book Cover Shoot

That same day, Sarah Hebenstreit of Modern Kids came to photograph the prints. She shot from above because it was the best light.


For the final shots, once the paint was dry, we had little June reach in to the photo and touch one of her handprints to see how that looked. We loved it!

Design Mom Book Cover Drafts

Once the photos were processed, I sent them to the book design team at Artisan Books in New York, and they got to work designing the cover. They sent a ton of options! Pictured here are 4 so that you can get an idea of what some of the earliest drafts looked like. They tried several different colors that would contrast nicely with the black & white photo.

Yellow was by far my favorite, but I wanted MORE yellow. And I could see that I really loved the title bar on the left.

Design Mom Cover Drafts 2

Once we had decided on the left title bar, plus the color yellow, the design team started making variations. There were a bunch of these — I’m just showing two here — as we hashed out the details. I had strong opinions about fonts and placement and even what the subtitle should be. So we did several rounds of back and forth until we were all happy.

Design Mom Cover Semi-Final

At this point, the cover stayed like this for a couple of months, and I had time to sit with it. I sent it to a few friends for feedback, but I didn’t want to send it to too many people. I was afraid it would turn into design-by-committee which is never a good thing. I was also so invested in this direction, that I was afraid someone would tell me to do something completely different, and I didn’t want to hear it — mostly because I simply didn’t have time to concept any other options.

Design Mom Cover Photo Edits

During this time period, we also starting editing the photo. Should the hands be sort of scattered? Or in more formal lines? Should the paint be more black or more charcoal? Should we move them around in photoshop to make them closer? Or further apart? Are there any particular hand prints that are too smudge-y that we need to replace? That sort of thing. Luckily, we had about a million handprints to choose from, so we didn’t need to re-shoot anything. : ) It’s all in the details!

Right at the end, when the text and info were added to the back, and I was seeing the almost-final proofs, I panic-ed about fonts once again, and the book designer had to talk me through everything and calm me down. We made a few small adjustments and I was satisfied. And this is how the final turned out:


I’m so delighted with it! I love how it looks, and I love even more that each one of my kids is a part of it.

Anyway, that’s the story of the book cover. I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process. (I LOVE reading about creative processes!) Also, as the cover came together, I kept thinking what a pain in the neck it must be for publishers when they’re working with an author who is also a graphic designer. So many opinions. Hah!

I’d love to hear what you think. I can’t change the cover at this point, so please don’t tell me you hate it. : ) Have you ever gone through a process like this? And if you were writing a book, how involved would you want to be with the cover? Do you have strong opinions about stuff like this, or would you rather have a design team make these sorts of decisions for you?

P.S. — The book comes out April 7th, but is available for pre-order now.

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Living With Kids: Caryn Schafer Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:30:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Choosing to downsize from a large home in the suburbs to a much tinier space is probably not as difficult to handle when the much tinier space is in huge by anyone’s standards New York City! I think it would be the best kind of challenge, right? Keeping only what you love, organizing vertically by use, and ruthlessly overthinking every purchase. And the minute you feel a bit claustrophobic, Central Park is one block away. Marvelous.

I love this peek into Caryn’s small space and big thoughts. I’ve read it three times, and I find something new with each read. I hope you do, too. Welcome, Caryn!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello! We are a family of four. Mark is the solitary male of our home, who is actually quite fond of hot pink. He is a designer for a tech company, and has a passion for beautifully designed things ranging from type and furniture to letter openers, and salt and pepper shakers.

Our older daughter is almost three. She has a zest for life and would dance through it if opportunity allowed. Her height and vocabulary often fool people into thinking she is older, and she lives for social activities, working her charms on every person she can get near.

Our younger daughter is nearly one and is still quite a mystery to us. She has the biggest blue eyes anyone has ever seen and is already incredibly active, risky, and vocal. She is a snuggler and has a smile always at the ready. She is just beginning to walk, determined to figure everything out and taste it along the way too.

Finally there is me, Caryn. I am the wife, the mom, the cook, the book addict, the blogger, and the illustrator. I firmly believe bookstores are my Kryptonite, and I have an unhealthy obsession with stripes, polka dots, picture books, and French food philosophy.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: We live in New York City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The short version of this story is that we rented our apartment sight unseen. After about a year of feeling the desire to downsize from our house in the suburbs and convert to city life, Mark chased down a fantastic job change, pushing us to sell, pack, and move within two months. The short timeline, a month of training for Mark across the country, and me being in the third trimester with our second, resulted in us relying heavily on a broker to hunt down the perfect place for our family in a completely new city. We only saw a handful of pictures, but it had the most potential in its location and layout and we were running out of time for our move and my pregnancy, so we grabbed it.

It was a weird feeling walking into it for the first time knowing we had to make it work. It was better than I was expecting, and it has turned out to be exactly what we had hoped for. It is a one-bedroom, about 450 sq. ft. apartment on the fifth floor of a lovely brownstone. We are at the top of the building which means it is quiet, we get tons of light, and no one passes our door unless they are looking for us.

There are four flights of stairs, 77 steps to be exact, to get to us. That could be considered a downside, but every flight saves us money and serves the dual purpose of exercise. We have been here almost exactly a year and I do actually feel a marvelous sense of relief and joy when I enter our home. Perhaps it is only the effect of being winded from the stairs. Really though, I am overwhelmingly satisfied with how our hopes and vision have panned out.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: You know the gorgeous scenes and streets from You’ve Got Mail where brownstones abound, streets converge in cool places, hot dogs are singing, and Starbucks are on every corner? That’s where we live.

I probably should have mentioned my deep love for You’ve Got Mail in the intro. My joy, memorization, and watch-count verge on lunacy. Which makes our great move to the Upper West Side even more fitting. By some bizarre stroke of luck, we landed smack dab inside that picturesque world of Nora Ephron. Even 17 years after filming, this neighborhood is charming. Every day I walk down the streets to run some errand, quite possibly in Zabar’s, I hear The Cranberries singing in my head and ponder picking up some more daisies at the corner bodega. I desperately love this city and am always looking for the beauty.

I am realistic, though. We are a family of four living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in an ever-changing city. Thankfully we had been hoping to downsize because it is quite the necessity in Manhattan. Rent is pretty astronomical. But we were thrilled to sell our car and offload the carseats. Our transportation costs plummeted now that we get to walk and bike most everywhere. We hop the subway, bus, or taxi if time won’t allow walking, and we have the most lovely stroll across Central Park to get to church every week.

It takes Mark the same amount of time to either take the subway or bike to work each day. We live around the corner from a subway stop, half a street away from Central Park, and four avenues from Riverside Park. Central Park is a great escape from crowded city life and the best backyard we could have ever dreamed of. Mark celebrates every time he doesn’t have to mow. My oldest and I have made it our goal to visit every playground in NYC, starting with the 21 located in Central Park. There are hundreds of incredible restaurants to be experienced, shows to see, classes to take, free activities everywhere, and a museum for every possible interest.

As far as everything else goes, yes it does seem to cost more, but not in the way I thought. Groceries are basically the same as what I was paying back in the South, unless you make the mistake of forgetting something and have to pick it up at a corner store. You can get just about everything delivered, and I happily tip anyone who will carry things up to me.

I think the real change I’ve noticed is the pressure to spend to fit culturally. You don’t need as much or have room for as much, but you need and want nicer things in NYC. And you are expected to go out to expensive places, and see costly shows, wear the right kind of clothing, and have a nanny.

But, I’m so thankful for the downsizing as it has made us more mindful consumers and made us invest in more quality pieces rather than quantity. Instead of cleaning and caring for a big house, we spend our time exploring the city, visiting museums and parks, and just having fun together.

Oh, I love Manhattan! I feel like to some extent we are still in the honeymoon phase with NYC; but I don’t think there is anything better than being somewhere you know you are supposed to be. I once heard a quote somewhere that NYC has a tendency to embrace you at one moment and then slap you in the face the next. We have definitely felt those moments, but our years of desiring to be here seem to have given us a better chance of laughing at the hard blows.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you moved to a smaller home?

A: I do feel like my aesthetic has changed, but I think the move is a reflection of that rather than a cause. If I met my newlywed self now, I don’t think we would recognize each other. I have gone very modern, thanks to my husband’s design influence for sure; but also due to culling what I really want around me.

When we were feeling our desire to move, we started purging as some sort of preparation. Mark wrote the words, “Edit ruthlessly” on the chalkboard wall of our house inspired by a TED talk from Graham Hill. Living daily with those words had great affect.

It took us a year to actually have a reason to move, but in that time we focused heavily on getting rid of things that we didn’t need. We searched for better solutions to our essentials. We re-evaluated every item we owned, harshly critiquing whether we really wanted to give it real estate wherever we ended up. We sold our television and suddenly realized we never had time for it anyway. I said goodbye to things I thought had sentimental value, figuring out ways to remember them outside of the space they took up. It was an immensely helpful time, not only paring down our possessions, but preparing us emotionally for big changes.

Now, I would describe my current aesthetic as mid-century modern, a little obsessed with gray, and with an emphasis on displaying our favorite things – mainly books and art. We long for things that are both beautiful and functional. And there isn’t room for singular-purposed items here anyway!

Q: You mention the chaos in making sure everyone fits, but you seem to solve any space issues vertically! Tell us your best tips for turning a smaller space into a big enough home.

A: It has been an odd experience designing the space Mark and I want, while keeping in mind that the girls have to live here, too. Bins for toys sound like a great idea, but finding ones that fit perfectly, are easy to play with, and meet our design taste is not an easy task. We created a no-electronic toys policy before our oldest was born and I am so grateful in our tiny space. We focus on toys that are beautifully made so that we don’t mind having them visible.

Both Mark and I have a deep love for books, and we had to be incredibly creative to make it all fit. It took us a couple of weeks to design the solution we wanted and make it work within our budget. We walked through stores, scoured catalogs, and brainstormed exactly what we wanted while we slept on an air mattress in the middle of piles upon piles of books. And yes, I was very pregnant during this time. We wisely got rid of most of our furniture before moving, giving us a mostly blank slate to work with and a bit more cash to start fresh.

Thankfully, we do have tall ceilings which aids in space and in light. We also have NYC’s fantastic Craigslist which helped us sell a few pieces we shouldn’t have brought and get pieces that work so much better. There are only a couple of antique pieces we feel strongly attached to, and that gave us freedom to rethink it all.

Our wall bed was probably one of the biggest puzzle pieces to help everything else fall into place. Have you ever thought about how much space a bed takes? Once I gave up my need for a picturesque duvet cover and took delight in a beautiful, functional rug; life became much more spacious. I sincerely love our carpet tile rug. It functions as a room divider, the area where toys must remain, a soft ground for somersaults and learning to walk, and a cushion for my feet when getting out of bed. And I don’t have to feel precious about it since a tile can be picked up, cleaned, and put right back down.

Going vertical was a necessity, but also helps section things off. The girls’ books are easily accessible in their room or in toy bins in our main room; while our books are high up, but request-able. I organize items vertically by frequency of use in every room, and we bought a beautiful wooden ladder that we delight in having out in the open all the time.

We only have two closets total, so there isn’t that space to just hide things as easily. I ended up hanging the girls’ lovely dresses out in the open in their room and I’m so thrilled with that decision! It works as an excellent divider between their beds while it saves us closet space for the storage we do need.

Little things like that seem to be the key. We have closed shelf space behind the sofa, a toy box that functions as extra seating when we have company, and a rolling unit with drawers and bins to move away from our bed at night. Some of these solutions came quickly and others we agonized over, starring Pinterest photos and dog-earring catalogs until we found the right thing. In the end, we have an apartment that is fully customized to our family with a unique juxtaposition of brands and price tags. The key now seems to be blocking any more catalogs from coming in as we just don’t need anything else!

Q: Tell us about your work.

A: I am still on the steep learning curve of carving out work time for myself. I was a graphic designer for a couple of years before our oldest was born, but my passion has always been for picture book illustration. Shortly after my oldest was born, I began my picture book blog as an outlet for me to talk about books as much as I wanted. It has been a great source of inspiration and forced me to find space to think about books and my own illustration dreams.

As I hinted earlier, it seems to be the expected norm on the Upper West Side to have a nanny or at the very least have your kids in classes and preschool. But we just aren’t there yet, and I’m not sure we ever will be. The nanny culture is fascinating, but also expensive and not what we envision for our family. I honestly don’t know what we’ll do in the future, but if I’ve learned anything from motherhood so far, it is essential to stay overly flexible.

As our baby edges closer to her first birthday, I feel more time being given back to me. I am trying to have a goal of at least sketching something every day, even if my sketches aren’t worth anyone seeing. It is beneficial for me to do even a tiny bit of work each day rather than try to find large chunks of free time, which are pretty elusive when you have toddlers. I review picture books whenever inspiration and time allow. I’m constantly making lists and notes about books, and also jotting down ideas for illustrations and plots.

I have also realized that I require deadlines in my life. I can go months without really creating any paintings or even drawings, and then something comes up that I want work for and suddenly I am pounding out the pieces. I hope to find a more fluid way to make myself work amidst the daily tasks, but for now I am learning to create deadlines even when it is simply for the pleasure of creating something.

Q: Do you ever imagine you’ll outgrow this home? Or is New York City more than big enough?

A: We have already been told many times that we’ll outgrow this apartment, but our minds are open to whatever needs to happen. We truly love it here and already envision several room solutions we could make as the girls grow. A lot of this will depend on our rent, but this location is perfect for us. I like that the small square footage makes me overthink every purchase (except books, unfortunately) and I feel the need to purge every corner almost weekly.

I’ll gladly take the flights of stairs when I can walk around the corner to Central Park, down a couple of streets to the Ballet, Opera, and Theater, up a couple blocks to museums, and I am surrounded by gobs of fabulous restaurants and grocery stores. We tend to take life one year at a time and are focusing our energy on just loving all NYC has to offer. We would love to live overseas if opportunity ever allows as we strongly desire to share other cultures and world views with our girls, as well as continue to expand our own. New York is definitely big enough, but we’ll always be open to what’s next and strive to be content wherever we land.

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

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is finally having a visible excuse to read as many picture books as I want. There is a children’s book or poem for just about everything and every stage, and we are always on the hunt to find them. I love when my oldest quotes a book as a way to express something. Stories can give words to emotions when you don’t quite know how to process them yet.

I also love sharing new experiences with them. The joy of doing things for the first time is something I had forgotten. Experiencing those moments with my kids is like doing them for the first time again myself, but this time having the insight to realize how special it truly is.

One of the most surprising things to me about being a mom is realizing that I have to choose to love my kids every day. That feels so wrong to say, but I think it is true, at least for me.

When we married seven years ago, our minister counseled about love being something you don’t always feel, but promise to choose. I guess I always assumed that when it is your child, it comes naturally. There is something to that, of course, but they are still separate people from me. They are unique personalities that I have to learn and respect and choose to love as well. I will always feel love for them simply because they are my babies and I am their mama. But they grow up, and in those moments of attitudes or annoyance, I have to choose to love all of them even when it is different from me.

In all honesty, I’m still in a bit of mourning for the relationship I lost with our oldest daughter when we moved and the youngest came. It was such a crazy intense time of change and I tried very hard to make it as smooth as possible for her; but I didn’t really realize how different she and I would be after it was all over.

It is quite different the second time around. I don’t feel as panicky about rough nights or weird stages. I actually kind of miss the sweet, squishy newborn phase, but I’m thankful to be beyond the insane hormones and constant nursing. I think having our second daughter helped me slow down and enjoy it as it comes, knowing that everything passes.

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: Oh, I hope they remember how much we danced! Both Mark and I love music and we are all taking turns getting obsessed over one song or another. One of our oldest’s first phrases was, “I need music.” We try to dance for everything: a new day, cleaning up, making food, painting, venting frustration, and especially celebrating things like Daddy coming home.

I know it is supposed to be one thing to remember, but that second part about what they remember about me as their mom longs to be separate. While I sincerely hope they forget my impatience, angry moments, and occasional meal disappointments; I am desperately praying that I can pass on to my children a healthy body image. I despise all the back-handed comments we make about our bodies, the airbrushed women the media surrounds us with, and the guilt and binges of food. I hope to teach my girls that they have value because of who they are and that their minds are just as important as their bodies. And I want to teach them a healthy view of food, that isn’t related to rewards or punishments. I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that motherhood would be very, very hard, but that hard can be really, really good.

I had no idea how lonely it is to be a mom. No one really understands all the hormones, emotions, fears, worries, and intense hours you expend on your child. And yet, every other mom is experiencing her own version of that. Motherhood has revealed so many selfish and ugly parts of me that I find myself having to take my own parenting words to heart every time I say them. I, too, need to be kind, have patience, and express myself appropriately.

I just pray that somehow, through all my faults and inadequacies and especially how I deal with them, my daughters will see that we are all broken people who need love and grace.


Oh, Caryn! There is so much goodness in your interview that I resisted the urge to bold all your wisdom. But this is wonderful, and deserves to be repeated as many times as needed: “I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.” Yes.

From the nanny culture around you to not recognizing your newlywed-self’s style (so true!) to choosing to love your kids every day, it’s all incredibly thought-provoking. I really hope Caryn’s words added to your day! And, tell me: Did you find their bed?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Haiti Partners’ Language Hangouts Tue, 24 Feb 2015 17:48:45 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Video by Ralph Blair.

Last month, you may remember that Ben Blair and Ralph went to Haiti to help with the launch of Haiti Partners’ Language Hangouts, and to capture footage for an announcement video. Well, I’m delighted to share the video with you today! The program is officially launched, and Haiti Partners is ready to sign up anyone who’d like to volunteer a half hour of their time to video-chat in English.

The basic program is that you sign up to speak with someone for 1/2 hour per week for eight weeks. You’ll chat with the same person each time, so you’ll both have a chance to really get to know each other. You can watch the video to learn how it works.

This program is so fantastic!  If you’ve been looking for a way to volunteer or do some good in the world, this is such an accessible option. There is no cost to volunteer. There’s no special training necessary — if you can speak English, you can volunteer. You can choose a time that’s convenient for you. You’re only committing to a 30-minute spot each week, so it’s not a big time consumer. And you can do it from your own home, so you don’t even need to drive somewhere and find directions and figure out parking. Super easy!

Haiti Partners

Thirty minutes a week is such a small contribution of time, but what a big difference it will make in a young Haitian’s life. I think this would be an amazing thing for families to get involved in. I know my kids would love this, and it’s such an effective way to help children learn how to think about others, and to understand that the statistics they hear about represent actual real people. Beyond families, if you work with teenagers — perhaps in a school group or church group — this sort of volunteer work would be ideal. It would be an opportunity to for them to talk to their peers Haiti. Really, it would be great for anyone.

If you’ve been craving more good stuff in your life, I highly encourage you to sign up. I’m sure you already know how transformative it can be to use your time to do good. If you’d like to volunteer, you can find all the information you need here (click over, then scroll down to see the sign up bar).

P.S. — I’m going to brag about Ralph for a minute. This is a total Ralph project. He filmed, edited, incorporated feedback from Haiti Partners, met deadlines, etc.. He was responsible for the whole project from beginning to end. He did a fantastic job! I’m so delighted with the quality of the video, and couldn’t be happier that he’s using his skills for such a good cause. Gosh it’s fun to be his mom. If you’d like to see more of Ralph’s work, I highly recommend this short French film he made (there are subtitles). It’s super charming!

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Call It A Day: Christine Navin Mon, 23 Feb 2015 19:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photographs by Heidi Selch.

I know firsthand how hard and yet how rewarding it is to find your groove as an expat. There are different languages to master – at least enough to procure what you need at the markets, to say “Thank you” for when it all goes well, and “I’m sorry” for when it doesn’t! – and cultures to respect. There are also the things you’ve left behind and the things you’ve learned to love, and all the frustrating moments in between.

Today, we’re following Christine through her Hong Kong day. She’s learned enough Cantonese and Mandarin to survive, but also leans heavily on drawings and hand gestures and genius apps! She stands firm even when school is pressuring her kids to do more, and is currently plotting a way to kidnap her helper when she returns to the US in a few years. I can’t wait to spend the day with her. Welcome, Christine!

Q: Good morning! How does your family wake up?

A: Our eldest, Joseph, true to his premature start in life, is never late to any party. He is our human alarm, and greets every day with enthusiastic whistling and humming until met with his little sister Stella’s loud disapproval. We do not speak to Stella until our engraved invitations have arrived.

Joseph is our old soul. I know that’s tossed around a lot, but he is. He is intense and detailed. He loves conversations, and will hang on every word you say. He can tell you all the details about the Titanic forwards and backwards. And he can build anything with Legos.

Stella is nine and no longer likes pink because it is too girly. She searches for sticks and rocks while dragging her American Girl, Jessica. We all love Hong Kong, except Stella secretly wishes we could go home to Virginia sooner rather than later as we promised a puppy upon our return. And she already has a name picked out.

We are lucky enough to have a live-in helper, which makes the mornings run very smoothly – although there’s no longer any of that showing up to the espresso machine in a state of undress! Don’t ask how we learned that unspoken rule. Her name is Merly, and she is the master of being there and being invisible all at the same time. She knows what the kids like for breakfast and also helps pack lunches on days when I’ve lost the plot. I was one of those expats who showed up and scoffed at the very idea of a helper, but I appreciate her so much. Real life will be here again soon enough, so I might as well enjoy the life I’m living now!

Q: Can you share a typical breakfast? What are you all discussing this morning?

A: Stella would prefer a daily midmorning brunch at the most leisurely ladies-who-lunch pace versus her quick bowl of Panda Puffs. Meanwhile, Joseph inhales a stack of gluten free waffles. Todd and I sip coffee while alternately begging Joseph to turn down American news on his iPod before Stella starts a revolution.

It’s a funny thing to be expatriated; so many things happen while we’re sleeping, so the morning blast is often too much for any of us to handle. I usually scour the news beforehand so I can preempt any panic.

Joseph developed a funky rash a year ago and, much to our surprise, tested positive for Celiac disease. Locals somehow don’t seem to be affected by gluten the way we Westerners are, so now we are those most annoying foreigners quizzing the locals on menu ingredients. There is a lot of wheat in soy sauce, and a lot of soy sauce in Hong Kong! In a place like this, where a gallon of milk costs way over ten dollars, you can imagine the cost of gluten free foods.

Joseph carries his lunch every day, as his school cannot guarantee that any of their food is gluten free. He also usually has a few snacks on him at all times. He is a 13 year old boy who can eat an entire meal for an after school snack and still devour his dinner!

Q: How do your kids get to school?

A: Todd drives the children to the bus stop. To be honest, the bus stop is a walkable distance from our house, but for the majority of the school year it is way too hot, and with 100% humidity it’s impossible to walk that distance without your clothes becoming soaked with sweat. Not a great way for anyone to start their day!

We pay a private bus company to pick up the children at the stop. Todd sees them off, and then continues on his merry way to work. It’s still not 7:00 am.

Lots of children stay up late at night studying hard to get straight As, so it’s not unusual to see several children fast asleep with faces plastered against the bus windows. My kids are still not used to whispering on the school bus so as to not awaken the others, and the bus mom warns them everyday to please be quiet!

We feel like there’s enough pressure on the kids to acclimate into a totally different culture and lifestyle, so bedtimes in our house are still pretty early and our expectations are low. If I had a dime for every time I said, “I don’t care if you don’t get an A in Mandarin!” or “Your handwriting isn’t awful! I’m sorry I didn’t enroll you in calligraphy class when you were three!” or “Please remind your teacher that you just started the violin. Of course you’re not playing Paganini yet!”, I would take you to lunch and buy you a fake Louis Vuitton. (I’m kidding. Don’t buy fakes. They’ll just be taken away at the airport. Ask me how I learned that.)

Also, I think it’s difficult and exhausting for anyone to be in the minority. We’ve learned firsthand here how that must feel for others, so our empathy levels are at an all-time high. We are different physically and mentally from the locals, especially in the way we are raising our children, and you might be surprised how locals judge those differences. I wear a size nine shoe, and the giggles and pointing are sometimes too much to take. Our children don’t practice piano four hours after their three hours of tutoring every night, and their Mandarin could be better, and we hear about all that, too. Exhausting!

Q: What do you love about your kids’ school?

A: If there’s one word to describe schooling in Hong Kong, it’s pressure. The goal is perfection, which is something I fight against every morning before I send them off and every afternoon when they’re home again.

Schools are very, very hard to get into in Hong Kong. Most people start interviewing for schools when the child is two! It’s craziness! There are child interviews and separate parent interviews. The stress is so great that there have been cases where a family has sent in fake parents with their child to increase their chances of getting into an international school. Most international schools do not speak cantonese or mandarin as a main language, so they are looking for a family that can speak the desired language – whether that’s English, French, or something else altogether.

Asia consistently scores above US schools in almost every category, except maybe in art. When we arrived, Joseph and Stella were almost two years behind their grades’ coursework here. We have since caught up, but it hasn’t been easy. And we struggle to keep our head above water. I have had more parent-teacher-principal meetings than I ever did in the States. They are constantly pushing tutors and a litany of lessons, and we are constantly pushing back politely. We believe in a childhood.

Q: How do you spend your day?

A: First, I write a little, either on my blog or here.

And then, nothing’s better than meeting up with group of friends over a lazy susan stacked high with steaming baskets full of dim sum, and washing it down with jasmine tea and some bubbly. Most of my friends are foreigners who are now permanent residents in Hong Kong; staying over seven years grants you permanent residency.

We live in a development that is mainly expats from all over the world, and we are one of only two American families. I think the American stereotype is so strong – negative and positive, depending on who you ask – that other expats are hesitant when meeting one. I get a lot of, “You don’t act very American,” and I still never know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult!

It’s funny that I’ve never heard anyone say, “You don’t act very (insert any country other than America).”

Q: How do you errand?

A: I really struggled with how to get errands done when we first arrived in Hong Kong. Most stores do not open until 11:00 am, and there are no big box stores except IKEA. So I’ve learned to cross off most of my non-shopping to dos first thing in the morning, and then head to the stores afterwards.

I have to go to the local butcher for our meat and produce. As most of their products are gluten free. I need to visit the flower brothers for any bouquets I need for a dinner party. This sounds frivolous when I compare it to my usual life in Virginia, but there are a lot of dinner parties thrown here! I sometimes hit the wet market for produce as well, especially bok choy.

I have also finally figured out which American companies will ship to Hong Kong, as locating gluten free food I trust is rather tedious and expensive. Even though Joseph is the only one who tested positive for Celiac, we have taken the approach to all eat gluten free at home due to cross contamination.

I love finding tiny joys. Last week, I found Joseph’s favorite tea from the States. It only took two years! He was so surprised.

We have to mentally let go of hope of finding some of the items we once loved so much and had on hand with just a quick trip to Target. Sometimes we find a replacement. Sometimes we don’t. I’ve pretty much given up on finding Reese’s peanut butter cups! The result is that we end up finding new things to love like seaweed snacks.

Q: Do you carve out any personal time during your day? Do anything to recharge a little?

A: If I don’t have a lot on my plate or need to clear my head, I head to the beach first thing in the morning to recharge. Sometimes I feel the need to sit and think, and sometimes I need to walk it out. I have never lived this close to the ocean before and honestly don’t know how I will ever give it up.

When I have a free afternoon, sometimes I hit the little local shops and look for little gems. I love finding a plain beaded necklace in Hong Kong and schlepping it up to China and adding a big red Chinese knot or even a huge jade pendent at the jade market. My husband and friends think I should open a shop and sell all the jewelry I’ve accumulated! I’m thinking about it.

I have always always had an issue with leaving things in their original state. I cannot do it. I add glitter to seashells and sticks. Charms to plain beaded strands. Buntings and fairy lights to rental white walls. I am constantly dragging items home and then figuring out what to do with them. And I drive the folks up in China crazy. I ask them to do things they cannot understand. I draw a lot of bad pictures. Maybe I should learn more Mandarin…

But the thing I love about Hong Kong is that anything is possible. And I am learning how to do things I never thought I’d do: like bargain hard at the jade market, make traditional bubble waffles gluten free, and make yummy mango pudding!

Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family?

A: If Joseph doesn’t have too much homework, he will ride the public transportation home with his friends. This is something I would have NEVER EVER allowed in the States, but it’s so safe here. Otherwise, I usually meet the children at the school bus around 4:00 pm. Joseph usually starts his homework right away, and Stella runs the neighborhood with friends until we eat dinner. I am back and forth, either outside or assisting with homework. We all meet for dinner around six and hash out our schedules, problems, and accomplishments. After dinner, Stella starts her schoolwork. We usually all watch a silly American sitcom before the children head upstairs to bed.

Sometimes, Todd and I meet friends for dinner on a weekday. We could never do this in the States, but Merly’s here to be sure all teeth are brushed and bed times are observed.

Q: Describe your evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?

A: I love hearing everyone’s stories at the end of the day. Someone usually has a story involving the infamous Hong Kong cannot. (When locals steadfastly stick to the rules, they usually state they cannot do something…even if it makes more sense!)

Once a week, one of us usually has a crazy public transportation story. Oh! And the amount of people who stop to get their bearings at the bottom of an escalator – last week I narrowly avoided a domino-effect catastrophe, nearly taking down a small old man in the process! There are many public urination stories, but that just goes with the territory and, crazily, we’ve all become accustomed to the craziness. And very often, someone realizes they have been saying a Cantonese word wrong ever since we lived here, and what we’ve been asking for means something TOTALLY different than what we think it means.

Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…

I’m a late night owl anyhow, so that doesn’t exactly help me stop the night time catastrophizing. It just dawned on me that we are now closer to the end of our time in Hong Kong than the time since we arrived. I have so much more I want to do! It’s the weirdest feeling that I’ve never experienced before. I’m stuck between East and West. Every day I walk a balance beam where I constantly have my hands out for steadying myself. I never feel confident enough to lower my arms. And just when I think I’ve got it, I slip off.

We have been living a parallel existence, lucky enough to go home and see friends and family while stocking up on American goodies, and then living in The Kong like a tourist. Eventually, the Hong Kong life ends. And I’m so worried that repatriation could be far more difficult than living life as the expat. How do we give this all up cold turkey?

I constantly worry if I’ve done the right thing moving here. And how will I reintroduce the States to the children? How will they do back in the American schools? Will their friends remember them? Will it be easy to make new friends? The thing about expat life is that everyone greets new arrivals with open arms and an, “I get it. I’ve been there.” attitude, but that doesn’t really happen as much in our area back home. I’m scared.


Thank you, Christine! It’s inspiring to hear how much you’re enjoying such a new environment despite all the challenges. You are right: “Real life will be here again soon enough, so I might as well enjoy the life I’m living now!” For those in the same situation, I hope you’ve got Christine’s attitude!

P.S. – You can see all my Call It A Day posts right hereAre you interested in sharing your day with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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A Few Things Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:00:16 +0000 Design Mom

Blairs at Point Reyes

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Was it a good week for you? I hope so. We have a few things going on at the moment that I’m really happy about. Yesterday, we hired a crew to clear out several dead/ailing trees from our yard. We have wanted to do that since we moved in! We’ve done some fun yard projects so far — like the family swing installation, and the hideaway — but having the trees cleared means we can finally start landscaping in earnest. Yay!

Then, tomorrow, Ben Blair and I are speaking on a panel at the Dad 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. We’ve never spoken together before, but Ben makes everything fun so I already know I’ll love it. And lastly, I have a phone call with my book publicity team today and I think we’re close to announcing the book tour dates and locations. Which is awesome! If you missed the announcement, the book comes out April 7th and is available for pre-order now. A huge thanks to everyone who has already ordered!

My inbox is calling my name, so I better his publish on this, but before I do, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Loved this article, especially this quote: “And, to be clear, there’s no moral component to exercise, no matter what the magazines might try to tell you. You’re not a better person for doing it or a worse person for not.”

Black History in Its Own Words.

- “Trying on” Lent. Are you giving up anything for Lent this year?

- Why doctors die differently.

Hungry hungry hippos in real life.

School is about more than training kids to be adults.

- Have you heard about Every Kid In A Park? Starting this fall, every 4th grader in America will get a one-year pass for free admission to all of our public lands for them and their families.

What ISIS Really Wants. This is looong, but good. It’s the best article I’ve found to help me understand what’s happening with ISIS.

- My teens told me it was time to move on to high-waisted jeans. I’ve been wearing these and I love them!

Getting grief right.

- Lisa Congdon on getting older.

- Want to win a sofa? Don’t miss this giveaway I’m hosting.

- I call wedges “mom heels” — they feel put-together, give me that lengthened-leg look, but they’re easy to run around in. I’ve worn a black pair similar to these for years and I’ve practically worn them out. I need a new pair! (Also, Nordstrom is having a 40% off sale — lots of good stuff.)

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


P.S. — We spent part of last weekend at Point Reyes, where I snapped the photo above. Such a beautiful beach! Looking at the photo reminds me I’m still not used to California weather. It’s an odd thing to spend the day playing in the ocean while my Facebook feed is filled with images of friends shoveling their sidewalks. What a world!

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What to Wear to Pre-school & Middle School Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:30:52 +0000 Design Mom

Olive & June 2014-1541

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Here’s the next post in this school year’s What To Wear series, featuring 4 year old June and 13 year old Olive. It’s been an odd week — I intended to post this on Monday or Tuesday and here it is Friday and I’m just finding time. Hah!

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My afternoon is filled with meetings and phone calls, but I’m going to publish this now with just the photos, then I’ll come back in later today and add sources and other details.

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So be sure to check back in if you’re craving more info.

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Have a favorite outfit? Do you have a preschooler or middle schooler at your house? What are they wearing these days?

P.S. — I’ll update the post with more details later today.

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Growing A Family: Gifting Help Thu, 19 Feb 2015 19:15:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Never Ending Bracelet from The Giving Keys. Such a beautiful company.

Hillary Barton is like most of us, I’d say. Largely independent with a sometimes fierce aversion to being on the receiving end of help. But, as it always seems to happen, on the day that turned into many days of needing it, help found her. Her birth story reminds us that we’re so much more than ourselves in this big old world, and I quite like feeling that reminder today. I hope you do, as well.

Welcome, Hillary!

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew two things: this baby was a girl, and although this pregnancy would be different from my first, it would all be okay. And as the months went by and I found out what that all meant, I clung to that assurance tightly.

When we went in for our 20­ week ultrasound, we found out I was right about the gender. But then the tech told us we needed to wait for the doctor to come talk to us, which I was pretty calm about. He told us that the placenta was covering the cervix, which could be dangerous, but that it was still pretty early and it would likely move as my uterus expanded. And I somehow knew it wouldn’t, but I didn’t worry – then – too much about it.

Six weeks later, a week before Thanksgiving, we went in for another ultrasound, found out it hadn’t moved, and received the official diagnosis of placenta previa. If I went into labor and the cervix started to expand, I would hemorrhage and likely bleed to death. I would be delivering early by c-­section. And that if I experienced any bleeding, I was to go immediately to the hospital.

I’m an intensely independent person, so it pains me to ask for help. I’m blessed to live less than ten minutes away from my parents, and within 45 minutes of all my siblings and some of my husbands’, as well. So, at 28 weeks, when I woke at 3:00 am with heavy bleeding, I was relieved I could call my mom to come stay with my son, Nathan. There aren’t many people I would call in the middle of the night, but she tops the list.

We went to the hospital and explained the situation. They monitored the baby, and then after several hours, a doctor in the same practice as my OB came in to talk to me. Coldly and professionally, she explained to me, “You’re going to need some help. You can’t take care of your son by yourself. Once the bleeding stops you can go home, but if you ever have bleeding again, you will be in the hospital until you deliver.” I already didn’t like this doctor very much – that’s another birth story, since she’s the one who delivered my first baby! – but her clinical manner, devoid of any sympathy, shook me.

This was during the swine flu epidemic, so they weren’t allowing kids into the maternity ward. I was only allowed two people to visit in my room. Not two at a time, just two people total, so I chose my husband and my mom. My mom brought me some slipper socks and a fleece blanket, white with holly leaves and berries since it was December. I thought, as always, “Oh, mom, that’s not something I need,” but it was nice to have something more cozy than the thin hospital blankets.

The bleeding slowed down to a trickle, then stopped, then started again. Since I couldn’t go home until I’d been bleed­-free for two days, my stay kept extending with each new gush. They gave me a round of steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop. I had a lot of time to think. I’d always thought the phrase was hyperbole, but I woke early one morning, and my blood literally ran cold with the thought, “I could die. People die from this.” I pulled my fleece blanket around my shoulders and waited to warm up.

I got to come home after eight days. Unasked, our families had cobbled together a schedule for taking care of us. I couldn’t lift my nearly two­ year ­old, so we moved him into a toddler bed so he could get up in the morning. Every morning someone would show up to take Nathan for the day. My mom would take both of us to her house, put on movies for me and bring me lunch on a tray, like she did when I was home sick from school as a kid. It’s humbling to be the recipient of so much service, so many physical acts of caring.

I wasn’t strictly on bed rest, but I didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere. I didn’t want to be out in public when the next rupture would happen. I took to straightening my hair, since my super curly hair looks like a rats’ nest when I lay around too much. I snuggled in my new fleece blanket through the long days of that holiday season. I watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, and occasionally picked up the toys strewn everywhere, when I couldn’t stand the mess. This was always remonstrated by my husband, who was amazing. He’d go after work to pick up Nathan from wherever he was that day, come home, cook dinner, and do whatever cleaning or laundry needed to be done. He did it willingly, and I was grateful, but there was always the strain of waiting, and of not being able to pull my share. Around New Year’s I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Three days after New Year’s I woke up just as the bleeding started, heavy. This time it was nearly 7:00 on a Sunday morning, so I didn’t feel as bad about the phone call to my parents. At the hospital I explained the situation to the nurses, and they seemed so calm and lackadaisical that it calmed me, a little. They called the doctor on call from my practice; not my regular doctor, but I at least liked this one. When she arrived, the nurse joked about having checked my cervix to see if it was dilated. “You did what!?” They talked about checking me in to wait, to give the baby all the time we could. I was having small contractions, which I was too tense to notice, but the monitor picked them up. The doctor carefully checked my cervix and then announced, “This baby is going to be born today.” I was 33 weeks, seven weeks early, three weeks earlier than our already scheduled c-­section. She told me that the baby would spend probably two weeks in the NICU.

They had me walk back to the OR, where Frank Sinatra was playing. After the epidural was put in and they were getting ready, the song “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” came on. It made me smile. I was completely numb, but they warned me to expect tugging and pressure, and they weren’t kidding. When they pulled her out I heard with relief a small but robust squawk. That small cry was such a relief. They let me peek at her before the NICU team took over.

She was 4 lb. 4 oz., 17 1⁄2 inches long. Thanks to two rounds of steroid shots I’d received in the last month to help her lungs develop, she was breathing on her own. They took her to the NICU to be fully checked out; I didn’t get to hold her right away. While I was in recovery we filled out the birth certificate.

Early in the pregnancy we were joking about names, trying to come up with something funny. Since our last name is Barton, I jokingly suggested Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. We laughed; wouldn’t that be funny? And then I didn’t like anything else. I tried and tried to find a name I liked better, but just couldn’t. I learned my lesson: don’t joke about a name unless you’re okay with using it. And so she became Clara Barton. Several of our NICU nurses asked, “Did you know Clara Barton was a famous nurse?” Yep. Yep, we did. But it turned out to be appropriate, given where she spent the early weeks of her life.

I got to hold her that evening, when she was about 12 hours old. They kept me in the hospital for five days to recover. I spent most of my time lying flat, since that’s the only thing that kept the terrible headaches the epidural had given me at bay. Twice a day, someone would wheel me down to the NICU so we could give breastfeeding a try. Those first few days, she would do nothing but sleep. She was hooked up to monitors and had a feeding tube up her nose, but she was breathing on her own and that was huge. There were many sighs of relief and thankful prayers.

They gave me the option to room in the hospital so I could be close to her after they discharged me, but I had a toddler at home who had not had a regular home life for six weeks already, so I felt I needed to be with him. His already impressive tantrums had taken a turn for the epic lately, and he needed as much normalcy as we could give him, which wasn’t a whole lot since I was leaving him with a babysitter twice a day so I could go see Clara and try to feed her.

Breastfeeding her was very important to me. I spent a lot of time at home pumping, and then I’d take that frozen milk up to the hospital where they’d put it in her feeding machine. Twice a day I’d go and try to have her nurse. We had 30 minutes to get her to eat. If she would nurse for ten minutes, that would be considered a full feeding, and she wouldn’t need the feeding machine. We’d undress her, hoping the cold would wake her up. The nurses taught us to rub her spine and jaw with more force than we’d dared to use, to keep her awake. We strained to hear the small click, nearly inaudible, that meant she was swallowing milk. As the days went by, she got better and better, only to have a sleepy day where nothing we did was successful. Those two feedings a day were all she could handle; the other feedings were always through the tube in her nose. Family members continued to help out, with babysitting and meals and driving me up to the hospital in the early days while I was still recovering. They even cleaned the house for me before I came home from the hospital.

She became jaundiced, and we’d go in to find her in a bili bed, with a foam eye cover on that looked a little like sunglasses. She became slightly anemic, which only contributed to her sleepiness. All she needed to do was be able to wake up and eat all of her feedings, but it was too much. Her expected two ­week stay stretched longer.

At 17 days, I wrote this in my journal:

This morning Clara was wearing socks on her hands. This, the nurse informed me, was so that she did not have to repeat the adventures of yesterday when Clara twice pulled the feeding tube out of her nose and once got two good handfuls of nice yellow poop. She likes to wait until the dirty diaper is off and the clean diaper not yet on to finish her business. I think she’s staging her own little protest of still being in the hospital at 17 days old. Now if she would only realize that her lack of eating is the reason she’s still there…

She has been doing better and better at breastfeeding, and took a bottle well this morning. So we’re making progress; it’s just slow progress. The rest of us are coping pretty well, although I do confess that I’m just wishing for some good and simple physical exhaustion, and no more of this emotional and mental exhaustion mumbo jumbo. Because I’m just tired, tired of arranging babysitters twice a day, tired of a tired toddler whose schedule is skewampus, tired of always going and coming, tired, tired, tired.

I know we’ve been so blessed, that out of all possible outcomes we got the best one. We’re so blessed to have so many people willing to help us out. And we are so blessed to have a healthy little girl who will some day maybe soon get to come home with us.

After 25 days in the NICU, she came home. I was told to only try to breastfeed twice a day, and instructed on how to mix breast milk with a preemie formula to give her extra calories, and with a thickener to help her keep it down since she had a little trouble with reflux. After a couple of weeks at home, I gave up on breastfeeding. It was too hard, I was too tired, she just preferred bottles. They were so much easier, and we needed a little bit of easy. So I didn’t let myself feel guilty, but I was a little sad.

Nathan didn’t get to see his little sister until she was home. He didn’t express any jealousy of the being who had taken so much of his parents’ time and energy for the past two months, and who would still dominate the household for several more weeks until we settled in to life as a family of four. He just walked up to her, took the binky out of his mouth, and welcomed her: “Cwara!”

She’s nearly five, and apart from being small for her age, has no residual effects from her preemie days. And every December, as I pull that holly fleece blanket out with our holiday decorations, I am tangibly reminded of those anxious days, my mother’s love, and the ways my family continues to take care of me, even if I don’t ask for it. And I am again humbled, grateful.


Thank you, Hillary. My favorite part – besides Nathan’s nonplussed welcome! – is your admission that you all needed a little bit of easy. I get it, and I’ve been there, too. Plus, I’m just wishing for all my readers to have experienced that feeling you describe in your last paragraph. To be able to gratefully look back on a stressful time in our lives, and be reminded of the joys that were right there next to us…well…that is perfect.

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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Introducing Interior Define — Plus a 3 Sofa Giveaway!!! ($3000 value) Wed, 18 Feb 2015 17:00:12 +0000 Design Mom

Interior Define9

Photos and text by Gabrielle.  //  This post is brought to you by Interior Define — find the epic giveaway, plus a discount code below.

Okay you guys. If you are couch shopping these days, you definitely need to check out Interior Define. Seriously. Interior Define offers a collection of custom sofas and sectionals at exceptional (actually attainable) prices. They can do this because of their online focus, and the fact that they make every piece to order.

Basically, shoppers can customize the size, configuration, material (most pieces are available in 40-60 fabric options!), cushion fill, and legs on almost every piece of furniture, so they can get exactly what they want. And because buying furniture online can be intimidating, Interior Define offers complimentary fabric swatches, too.

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I ordered a whole bunch of fabric swatches, furniture info cards, and even two throw pillows, so that I could see what the ordering experience is like, and it’s easy as pie. The order came quickly, the swatches are high quality, and the furniture cards really helped — they keep all the pertinent info front and center so it’s easy to compare options. I also love that on the website, you can see many of the sofas in real settings to get a better idea of their style and proportions.

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When you’re on the site, you’ll see a whole bunch of custom options available, but if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, no stress, because additional options are available by phone through the company’s customer concierges, or in person at their flagship Chicago showroom.

Design Mom Favorites Interior Define

If you’d like to see my favorite Interior Define picks, I curated a page just for you right here. Bonus: through March 4th, you can get $100 off any order over $1500! Simply use the code: DM100 at checkout.

Interior Define Sofa  Interior Define Sloan Profile Interior Define Sloan 1

Now to the giveaway! Interior Define is offering 3 Sloan Sofas as the mega prize. That’s right. Three winners will each get a gorgeous Sloan Sofa! And the winners get to choose customization options too. They can choose: 3 sizes — 63″, 67″, or 71″, nearly 60 fabric options, soft or firm cushions, and metal or wood legs.

Interior Define Sloan Blue

To enter:

1) Visit Interior Define and join their email list.

2) Then, pick your favorite Interior Define product, and comment back on this post with the link!

Oh my goodness. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a beautiful new sofa? And you’ve got three chances! I really hope you win. Good luck!

P.S. — Here’s the giveaway fine print: Giveaway open to continental US readers only. Entrants must register their email address. Giveaway ends 1 week from post date. Giveaway winner will be randomly selected from the comment section, emailed by Design Mom, and announced on Design Mom’s site. Giveaway winners must place their Sloan sofa order by Dec. 31, 2015. Winners’ orders are non-refundable, and not eligible for exchange or store credit.


The winners have been contacted by email. I’ll announced them here as soon as it’s official.

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DIY: Color Coded Towels Wed, 18 Feb 2015 15:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

By Gabrielle. Photos & styling by Amy Christie.

When more than one person shares a bathroom, towels become an issue. No doubt you have noticed this as well. You step out of the shower, grab a towel, and realize it’s soggy. Yuck. I do not like sharing my towel, but I get that it’s hard to keep things straight, especially if the towels are all the same color. Happily, there’s a simple solution: add a loop of ribbon — a different color for each person!

Assign a color to each family member (and another color for guests!) and proceed with confidence that next time you grab a towel, you won’t be accidentally sharing it with someone else. Plus, there’s a bonus feature. Instead of towel racks, use wall hooks in your bathroom and use the loops to hang the towels on the hooks. No more towels slipping to the floor! And hooks are space saving too.

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

I generally gravitate toward white towels in the bathroom, but for this tutorial I chose a neutral grey that I thought would both look good in photos and contrast nicely with colorful ribbon loops. Different colors of grosgrain ribbon or cotton twill tape work wonderfully for this project, or you could go with colorful or patterned towels, and then use a neutral colored loop. The choice is up to you!

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

Let’s get started. The towel confusion is over!

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!


- ribbon – cotton or grosgrain
- towels
- sewing machine or needle and thread

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

Create a loop in whatever size you’d like, and cut your ribbon accordingly. The loops pictured are 6″ in length. Fold the towel in half the long way. Pin the loop on the fold with the loop hanging over the edge.

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

Sew in place either with the machine or by hand. Trim the excess threads. Make sure the attachment is good and strong. Optional: If your ribbon is fraying, apply Fray Check to the ends.

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

Hang and use! Easy as that.

DIY: Color Coded Towels. Assign a color to each family member and say goodbye to towel confusion in shared bathrooms!

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Living With Kids: Sara Davis Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Melody Carpenter.

Meet Sara. If you’ve got a chalkboard in your house and you’ve scoured Pinterest for cute ideas on how to get it looking like…well…the cute ones on Pinterest, chances are you’ve already met her! I asked her a few questions and she answered them all perfectly, but I sensed that there was more content in her than charming chalkboards and fabulous DIYs. The only problem was that Sara didn’t really know it! It took some convincing and more begging for a few more words and honesty, which resulted in a lot of hard work on Sara’s part to open up. I am thrilled to say that one of my last emails to her read, “THERE YOU ARE!”

And so, here she is: the brave Sara who took a leap outside her comfort zone to share herself with us. I really hope you enjoy her.

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi there! I’m Sara, and I live in “the middle” with my amazing husband Steve and our three children: Bryant is nine, Benson is seven, and Lena is three. I’m originally from Illinois, but I came to Indiana for college where I studied marketing and art & design. It was in college that I met and fell in love with Steve, and I have been here ever since!

Steve and I have completely different interests, but we work well together. Well, most of the time! He is an attorney and thinks carefully and thoughtfully through everything that comes out of his mouth. I, on the other hand, just tend to blurt things out. Steve is extremely social, loves spreadsheets and sports, and hates being hot. I prefer small groups of people, I love creating anything and shopping, and could sit in the sun all day.

Bryant is inquisitive and prefers book club over sports. He avoids confrontation and will walk away when the youngest two begin to fight. He’s incredibly sensitive and is basically an old soul. Benson, my middle, is incredibly obsessed with fairness. He’s loud, energetic, and extremely loving. He’s artistic, and my biggest creative cheerleader. Lena is the youngest and is obsessed with the color pink. She loves to wear my heels and play with my makeup. She also loves to dance and thoroughly enjoys life. She does not want to wear pants. Ever.

Q: How did your house become your home, and what makes it perfect for you?

A: We live just outside of Indianapolis, and we moved into our current home about a year ago. My husband switched jobs and that required us to move to a different town. I was in love with our home the minute I found it online. Then, when we actually walked though the door, Steve knew he had lost all bargaining power…

It is a two-story cream painted brick home on a hill. And it is symmetrical. Although I consider myself a creative person, I also need order. I describe myself as middle-brained because I’m not sure where I belong. If you look, you’ll notice my decor is always balanced – almost to a fault.

Our home’s layout is very traditional, and I’m one of the few holdouts that still has a formal dining room. I think this is hilarious since I am horrible in the kitchen. Our home also has lots of light and the first floor has transoms above many of the windows and doorways. I need light.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I complain about the Midwest all winter long. I love sunshine and warmth and hate our gray and cold winters. However, when it comes down to it, I love the Midwest in spite of its weather flaws. I love the people, the community, and values we have here. I love raising my children here. The town we moved to is small and quaint.

We’re also within four hours of our entire immediate family, which is wonderful. My kids are growing up really knowing their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Plus, a lot of us have the luxury of large yards in the Midwest, and the cost of living is also amazing here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? You mention on your blog that this home was a blank slate; has it been more difficult or easier to find your style when there are no cues or restrictions leading you in another direction?

A: I have a hard time describing my aesthetic. I like sophisticated traditional with a twist of fun. I try not to be too serious, and most of my pieces have a story. I love frequenting antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales. I also love giving outdated or worn furniture a new chance at life! My house is filled with a variety of items that fit this decor.

Q: You’re truly a DIY huge talent, and you share your skills with your readers. Tell us why you started your blog and your someday hopes for it.

A: After college, I worked as an art director at a greeting card company and absolutely loved my job. Once Bryant came along, we decided it was best if I stayed home. Steve was working crazy long hours, and I had a ridiculous commute. I’m thankful I was able to stay at home, but I also went a little crazy with three little ones. My walls became my creative outlet (and sanity) from the kids. I would paint and repaint and stencil and freehand – my art was in every room.

Looking back, I did some crazy things to those walls. But, it was paint and could be repainted, which I’m sure has been done now that that house has new owners. And I have an amazing husband who let me do what I needed to do. His only complaint was that we were losing square footage because of how often I painted the walls! I really do feel I was created to create, and how I create has evolved over time. However, the need has always been there.

My parents are big DIYers, and as a result, my two sisters and I do the same. It’s just what we know. We hang our own light fixtures, install our own faucets, and do all kinds of other things that many people hire out.

I grew up with the assumption that you attempt whatever project you have on your list before you call someone. I have had many successes with this philosophy as well as many (big time) fails.

Once we moved into our new home, I decided to start a blog as a creative outlet and as a way to help others. I realize that not everyone has my mind set, and I want to give my readers the confidence to just go for it. I want to equip them with the knowledge they need to create a pretty space where they can feel satisfaction that they accomplished it themselves AND without a lot of money.

Over the course of the past year, I have loved getting to know my readers. If you had told me one year ago that my blog would be where it is today, I would be overjoyed. I love blogging, and I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I have some of the most supportive and encouraging readers and have received lots of sweet emails and compliments.

And I do have a super fan. I send out a weekly email recapping my blog posts from the week. My father-in-law always replies to that email with an encouraging note. It’s not just a generic note of encouragement. It’s obvious that he has read each and every one of my posts.

Q: What project started it all? And what has been your most popular, home-changing project so far?

A: Moving to our new home is what really drove me to blog. Also, my two oldest are in school, and I’ve been given the gift of time with just my three year old home.

I wanted to document my DIY home decor endeavors. I have a love affair with chalkboards, and I am sure I overuse them throughout my home! However, they’re versatile, useful, and just fun. My most popular tutorial on my blog is my perfect chalkboard lettering. For a while, almost 75% of my traffic was coming from this post. I was excited to see so much interest over one tutorial, but it also worried me once everyone on Pinterest learned my secrets!

But I honestly don’t stress about giving away too many secrets. I stress more about if I can discover enough secrets and come up with enough projects to sustain my blog. Pinterest drives the majority of my traffic to my blog, so I need to create content and images that bring people to me. I go through cycles of high creativity and tons of ideas. And then, I’ll go through a dry spell. The creative process is exhilarating and exhausting.

Q: How do you involve your family in deciding on the decor of your home? Are they just happy to be on the receiving end, or do they really want to help with the decisions and execution of it all?

A: My husband is amazing. I will ask for his advice, but he usually tells me to go for it. After being married for almost 14 years, he says he trusts me.

For example, I went to a local antique store and found the mail sorter that I have since then turned into a shoe cubby. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time, but I knew I had to have it. And the price was amazing. I couldn’t fit it in my car, so the seller offered to deliver it to my house.

Steve was home with the kids and here I come driving home with a strange van in tow painted with the words Mystery Machine. Steve helped unload the piece, and it was in terrible shape with a thick layer of dirt and tons of wasp nests. I’m sure he doubted me at the time, but was incredibly supportive even if didn’t see my vision.

The kids have some opinions, but they’re still young and don’t weigh in a lot. Lena’s only request for her room was that it was pink, and the boys wanted to share a room while having their own spaces. They get excited when they see a new project, and Benson says he loves that our home is “constantly changing.”

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? 

A: Like all moms, I think my kids are awesome. Steve and I have parented the same way with three COMPLETELY different outcomes. They are all special in their own way.

As amazing as being a mom is, it’s also the hardest and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. When the kids were younger and I was home with all three, I would run away evenings to have me time. Maybe that meant going to the grocery store, but I just need to be alone to recharge.

I have really enjoyed the kids getting older. I miss not having a baby on my hip, but there are so many new adventures we can have with the kids now that they’re getting older. Life is getting easier in many ways – and I need fewer and fewer run away evenings – but at the same time, new challenges arise as the kids get older.

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 my kids remember me being there. I’m a list checker, and I always have a million things I need to do. Whether that’s laundry, cleaning, cooking, working on my blog, DIY projects – I have trouble slowing down and just being with them. I’m here physically, but I struggle to pull myself away from my tasks and just be.

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

A: I wish someone had told me to not worry about what others think or say about my parenting. My first year of being a mom was extra tough because I was insecure in my new role. It’s amazing how many people (and strangers) voice their opinions on what’s best for my children.

I try to be the best mom I can be in spite of all my flaws, and I often wish the mom community would be more supportive of each other. We’re all trying our best. I succeed at many things as a mother and fail miserably at others. However, through the years, I’ve gained confidence as a parent in spite of being fully aware that I’m not perfect.

I am incredibly impatient and have an overwhelming need to do everything NOW. Whether that’s preparing for a blog post or folding the laundry, I have trouble stepping away from my to-do list. Unfortunately I’m not good at just being with my kids – playing, coloring, or reading with them.

My mind is always thinking about something else I need to do. I have a quote hanging in my kitchen: “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize they were the big things.” It is SO hard for me to do this. Unfortunately, blogging has fed my need to do things – especially now that I have blog post deadlines. However, my kids have so much grace. They think I’m awesome (and famous!) because I have a blog.  They are so forgiving of me, even when I fail with them.

My husband and I are trying to do the best we can to raise three joyful and loving adults. In our mind, you don’t raise kids; you raise adults. We also find it important to step back from the kids once in a while and focus on each other. Date nights are so important for us! They give us renewed love bursts for each other and provide the sanity we need to come back to the kids and happily step back into our role as parents.


Sara, I smile so hard when I compare your first responses to the ones above. Your candor is a jolt a lot of us may need today. It is hard to tear ourselves away from our lists – they carry such urgency with them, don’t they? I can’t help but think that chalkboards are the perfect decor item to describe our less than perfect moments as parents and people: easily erased and waiting for new artwork tomorrow. Thank you for taking this project so seriously for me.

One thing I wanted to discuss was Sara’s point about was the stress of sharing our ideas with each other; do you ever feel like you shouldn’t give it all away for fear that you won’t have any content tomorrow? Are you scared of dry spells? How do you step away from the Pinterest and recharge? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I always do!

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

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A Few Things Fri, 13 Feb 2015 17:00:37 +0000 Design Mom

Oh Happy Day & Design Mom as kids

By Gabrielle. Photo is me holding my sister Jordan of Oh Happy Day — such a festive shot!

Hello, Friends! How are you? Oh my goodness I am surely excited to greet the weekend. I pretty much love that Valentine’s Day is on Saturday — it means we can sleep in and enjoy a lazy brunch. And then no school on Monday! I swear, three day weekends feel like gold at the end of a rainbow.

What are your plans this weekend? I know in some parts of the country they call the next 7 days “ski week”. Any of you headed to the slopes? Or maybe a romantic date for Saturday night? We haven’t made plans for Valentine’s night at all. Our older three are all babysitting for other families, so I’m guessing we’ll stay in. Takeout + a movie sounds about right. Any favorite romantic comedies you’d recommend? I’d love to watch something we haven’t seen before! But maybe a re-watch of You’ve Got Mail or While You Were Sleeping is in order. (I would add Notting Hill as an option, but we just watched it on Sunday. Also, Sunday was the first time I realized Lord Grantham is in Notting Hill! He’s so young!!!)

I’ve got appointments for much of today and need to head out, but before I do, there are few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Oh man. I can’t stop thinking about this article on public shaming. I feel like this could happen to anyone. It’s so easy to assume the worst of people.

- And the opposite, a feel good story!

- My sister-in-law, Margaret Blair Young, launched a kickstarter for a really cool movie she’s working on based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Take a look!

- Are you a shoes off house? (Our house is so indoor/outdoor, I find it almost impossible.)

- If Stanley Tucci were your boyfriend.

- Every major Snape scene in chronological order.

- “Christianity did not “cause” slavery, anymore than Christianity “caused” the civil-rights movement.”

- She de-vamps dolls and gives them a new life. Thanks, Kirsty.

- A cute little video + Valentine printable from my friends at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

- They’ve been dating for 8 years but have never said, “I love you”. Thanks, Mary Karen.

- I’ve never been into tumblr much, but my teens are big fans — Maude keeps two tumblrs, one for funny stuff, and one for photos she loves. Do you have an opinion on tumblr?

- Need Valentine breakfast ideas? I pinned some of my favoritess. (Are you following me on Pinterest? It’s lots of fun.)

I hope you have a truly fantastic (long) weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy President’s Day! I hope you get a welcome break from your routine. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


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What to Wear to 3rd Grade & 4th Grade Fri, 13 Feb 2015 02:14:45 +0000 Design Mom

Oscar & Betty B2S 2014-1544

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Well here is a post I don’t think any of you are expecting. Hah!

Last fall, I never got the chance to shoot our annual What To Wear To School Posts. There was Sweden, and a move to France and England for two of the kids, and it simply didn’t happen. The kids were bummed, but understanding. Then, throughout September and October I kept getting requests from readers for those annual posts, and I decided that maybe I didn’t have to abandon the posts after all. I mentally filed away the idea that we might shoot them in January, when everybody was home again.

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So we did. There was a Saturday in January between my trips to DC and Alt Summit where we happened to have a laid-back schedule, and we made it happen!

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This week, I finally started processing the photos and I have to say, I’m so glad we did the shoots! Partly, it’s the satisfaction of keeping the tradition, but it was also a reminder of how often we end up using the photos throughout the year — for ID photos, for social media profiles, for school projects. We used one for June’s preschool valentines this week!

All that, plus the kids LOVE having an overall snapshot of how they looked on any given year — their clothes, how they stood, the way they wore their hair. They like to see which pieces get handed down and then make an appearance in a future shoot. We end up referencing our What to Wear To School posts frequently.

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I realize it’s February and “back to school” is far from anyone’s mind, but I hope you’ll indulge me as I share the images. I’m going to publish the photos in 3 groups — today is Oscar & Betty. Then, next week, I’ll share a second post with Olive & June, and a third post with Maude & Ralph. I hope you enjoy them!

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Betty is wearing 3 hand-me-downs — a dress and socks from Gap Kids, and a yellow jacket from Ismodern (sadly, it’s no longer in business). Shoes are by Cole Haan (similar here). T-shirt from Target.

Oscar is wearing a plaid button-down (similar here), lined trousers, and a puffy vest (similar here) from Gap Kids. Shoes are Adidas from Crewcuts.

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Betty is the third person to wear that yellow jacket. It made its first appearance on Maude in our Central Park photo shoot so many years ago. It’s fun to see how great it still looks!

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Betty is wearing a flannel dress from Gap Kids. Layering tee and tights are from Target. Shoes are Cole Haan (similar here).

Oscar is wearing a raglan tee from Target, dark wash jeans from Old Navy, and grey hoodie from Gap Kids. Shoes are black Vans.

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The bike was Oscar’s Christmas gift.

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Betty is wearing hand-me-down jeans from Old Navy, plus a hand-me-down western-style button up — if I remember right, we found it at TJ Maxx when we lived in Colorado. The jacket is from H&M, and the shoes are the same Cole Haan suede low boots (similar here).

Oscar is wearing a graphic tee from Gap Kids, yellow jeans from Old Navy, and a grey striped hoodie from a French shop called Sergent Major. He’s also wearing the same black Van slip-ons shown earlier. His socks are from H&M.

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Layering is pretty much a daily thing here — tees over or under other shirts or sweaters or hoodies.

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Betty is wearing a pale pink jumper and striped pants, and New Balance sneakers, all from Crewcuts.

Oscar is wearing an Oxford button-down from Old Navy — with painted cuffs he added himself. The striped top is Mini Boden, and the green khakis are from H&M. Adidas are the same as shown earlier.

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I should note that I especially love the details on Betty’s pink jumper — the diagonal zippers have tiny ribbon pulls!

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Betty is wearing a yellow striped sweater, and cropped jeans from Mini Boden, a navy polkadot top from a French grocery store called Carrefore, and socks from H&M. The sneakers are New Balance for Crewcuts.

Oscar is wearing green jeans and a navy striped top from H&M. His button-down is from Old Navy — it’s covered in a pattern of eye-glasses. Cute! He’s also wearing the black Vans you’ve seen earlier.

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Voila! This is what my kids are wearing to 3rd Grade (Betty), and 4th Grade (Oscar) in the school year 2014-15. I hope you enjoyed the tour. It was interesting for me to see how little French clothing we have left. Time for another trip! : )

I’d love to hear, do you have a favorite outfit? And would your kids like wearing clothes like these? If no, what do they like to put on in the morning?

P.S. — You can find all the What To Wear To School posts from over the years here.

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Dragon Kites Thu, 12 Feb 2015 00:07:42 +0000 Design Mom

Dragon Kites4

By Gabrielle. Photos by Charlotte Smith Beck, from my Mother’s 70th Birthday Party in Mendon, Utah.

Have you ever been given an especially thoughtful gift? It’s the sort of pleasure that keeps on giving. My sister Rachel gave me one of these kites (the kites in the photos on this post) last August, and I just grin every time I see it. She actually gave one to each of my siblings as well. And as you might guess, there’s a story behind them.

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Growing up, my parents had a kite like these pictured, with a dragon face, and colored panels making a rainbow of the tail. We called it the Dragon Kite, and it was well-loved. My father grew up in the Bay Area and my parents had picked up the dragon kite at a San Francisco kite shop (there’s so much good kite-flying weather here, that there are whole shops dedicated just to kites).

The thing about this kite is that as a kid, it was even fun on a non-windy day. Just running with it made the loooong tail fly behind. One kid would run with the kite and the other kids would chase it and try to catch the tail. When I was older, it was great to entertain younger kids on babysitting jobs. And it was good for actual kite-flying too. We’d take it to Lake Powell every summer and fly it off the top of the house boat.

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And then one summer, it caught on something, or got caught by a gust of wind, or I don’t even quite remember. But the kite was lost somewhere over the lake. This was a sad day. We loved that kite.

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Then, on the day Ben Blair and I married, we received our own dragon kite! A gift from my Aunt Robin & Uncle Mark. They knew about my parent’s dragon kite, and they lived in Northern California and could get to the kite shop. (Remember, this was pre-internet when it was hard to find things.) What a great wedding gift. My eyes absolutely lit up when we opened it.

Ben and I loved that kite! Though we called it the dragon kite, ours didn’t have a dragon face. It had an arched rainbow and clouds, with the same rainbow tale as the dragon kite I grew up with. And my kids loved the kite too. During our New York years, we kept in the car so it was at the ready anytime we stopped at a park.

But one fall day we were flying it over the Hudson River at a park called Rockwood Hall, and all of sudden, it was gone in a gust of wind. Another sad day.

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When we moved to Oakland, we thought: Let’s buy a dragon kite! But we looked and looked and did some research and they’re no longer in production. Turns out, my sister Rachel was doing the same kind of hunting. She wanted a dragon kite for her family as well. And she found out the same thing we did. They’re no longer available. Sad face.

So you know what she did? She made her own! A dragon kite for her own family, and a dragon kits for each of her brothers and sisters. Every one with a different design. Then, when we were all gathered last August to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday, she surprised us with them.

Isn’t that the coolest?! Such an amazing gift. I treasure our new kite. (Thank you again, Rachel!)

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The other day, I finally downloaded images from the party, and the kite pictures made me so happy! I couldn’t wait to share with you. For those of you who are in the middle of winter snow drifts, I hope these sunny photos warm you.

Now back to the question of thoughtful gifts. Have you ever been given something super thoughtful like that? Or maybe you gave something that was particularly awesome? Have you ever lost an object you loved — even one that wasn’t considered expensive or lavish? I’d love to hear!

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MM.LaFleur Tue, 10 Feb 2015 21:12:02 +0000 Design Mom

Dress by MM.LaFleur

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ben Blair.  //  This post is brought to you by MM.LaFleur.

We’ve talked before how challenging making time for clothes shopping can be. Often, many of us keep a schedule that’s so full of tasks and errands that we don’t have time to shop for ourselves. Then a party or meeting or job interview or event or even conference comes up in our life and we have absolutely nothing appropriate to wear. So we panic and buy the first thing that sort-of fits at the closest clothes store, and it’s not quite right, and we’ll probably never wear it again, but oh well because we’re out of time. Anyone else relate? : )

MM.LaFleur Clothes Shopping Service. Luxury delivered to your door.

So when I hear of services that help with this sort of thing, I’m all ears. Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to MM.LaFleur. They aim to “take the work out of dressing for work”. If you’re someone who gets up every morning and ponders how to look professional and polished, pay attention. This company was made for you!

Sweater by MM.LaFleur

Their wares are all about really well made pieces that go easily from office to dinner. And they focus on easy care too — creating items that are machine washable, travel-friendly, and totally comfortable. Pieces that will look good for a long time.

To start, you fill out a style profile, then MM.LaFleur will send out a Bento Box — at no cost to you! — filled with 5-8 luxurious wardrobe staples based on your profile. You try things on, keep only what you love, and send the rest back. Oh. And a return shipping label comes with your package, so it’s simple as can be to make returns immediately. Nothing fits? No stress and no shipping or processing costs to you. MM.LaFleur only charges for the pieces you decide to keep.

Luck Favors the Brave notebook by MM.LaFleur

These are higher end pieces, meant to feel at home in even the most chic of New York offices. You can read the story behind the company here. Their goal: To make the purposeful woman look and feel beautiful, without having to work too hard at it.

They currently carry size 0-16, and they offer dressesskirtstops and sweaterscoats, plus accessories like beltsscarves and jewelry. Oh. And MM.LaFleur also offers a few luxurious objects — I want to give this Luck Favors the Brave notebook to every woman I meet! Not interested in a Bento Box? You can also shop the store directly.

Dress by MM.LaFleur

The quality of this service really stood out to me — from the packaging materials to the website to the clothes themselves — every detail feels special. And the ease of ordering and returning can’t be emphasized enough. I know shopping for clothes online can be tricky, but MM.LaFleur has made it as easy as possible. As I mentioned, the return label comes with the box of clothes, you don’t even need to print it out. You simply try on the clothes, box up anything that doesn’t fit, and send it back.

MM.LaFleur sent a box of clothes that I could try on and photograph for this post, plus a return shipping label so I could send everything back after the shoot and experience for myself how easy their return process is. I’m in the market for a new black dress, so they sent 3 different options to try on — plus a gorgeous sweater that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, but that I fell in love with. Here’s a little photo tour of what they sent.

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The first dress I tried on is probably my favorite. It’s called The Annabelle and it’s machine washable! It totally gave me that little black dress feel, but also looks completely professional. I felt dressed up, and also relaxed, because the dress is super soft and comfortable. There was no fidgeting or adjusting as I moved around.

Dress by MM.LaFleur

And the fit was forgiving as well. The draping gathers at all the right places to distract from the fact that I don’t sport abs of steel. And the neckline is effortlessly elegant! I felt fantastic in this dress. I could instantly see how versatile it is. I could wear a dress like this to work meetings, on a dinner date with Ben Blair, to Alt Summit, even to church. This would also be a perfect dress for traveling.

Sweater by MM.LaFleur

The next dress I tried is called The Karen and it’s a subtle peacock blue. It’s stretchy and comfortable, with simple lines. Alas, it didn’t fit me at the chest, so I’m showing this dress paired with the gorgeous sweater.

Sweater by MM.LaFleur Sweater by MM.LaFleur Sweater by MM.LaFleur Sweater by MM.LaFleur

This sweater! It’s called The Morandi and just holding it felt like a luxury. It’s thick and soft and drapes beautifully. I did not want to take it off. I could imagine keeping this hanging from my office chair — the perfect warmth layer when I can see a storm moving in. And I could also imagine basically living in this over the weekend too. It’s so cozy!

Dress by MM.LaFleur

The third dress hit a sweet spot between casual and dressy. It’s called The Claudia. The fit is definitely more casual, but the materials and details — including the most fabulous gold “button” that feels like a piece of jewelry — really elevate it.

Dress by MM.LaFleur Dress by MM.LaFleur Dress by MM.LaFleur Dress by MM.LaFleur

This dress comes with a self tie, but it can also be worn without it for more of a swing-dress look. I immediately thought how smart this dress would be as maternity wear. It’s roomy enough that it would get you through those first 6 months or so gracefully, when true maternity clothes still feel too big. And would be just as wonderful in those months after the baby arrives.

What do you think? Do you make time for shopping, or do you find it nuisance? Have you ever tried a shopping service like MM.LaFleur? I’d love to hear. I shipped back my box today and it was truly a snap. They even include a piece of packing tape so you can reseal the box!

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Living With Kids: Christy Casimiro Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

Photo Oct 11, 3 34 59 PM

By Gabrielle.

If you needed a dose of unbridled happiness today, here it is. Between her rainbow decor and kids really do live here style and her vigor for life, Christy’s joy is easy to spot from a mile away. There’s so much in her interview, too, that will inspire all of us to stop overthinking it all and not be so hard on ourselves and get off the couch. She is so persuasive about loving life right this very minute and doing things that you can’t imagine you could ever accomplish that I found myself considering joining a triathlon club.


Friends, please welcome Christy. You’re going to adore her.

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi! I’m Christy Casimiro. I’m a wife, mother, and triathlete. I also have recently launched my own side business selling Younique cosmetics and have been hired by some friends to assist them in their interior design dilemmas. After six and a half years of not making any money, it’s an absolute thrill to contribute to the household a tiny bit doing two things I love!

My husband, Matt, is a fabulous Welshman and my best friend. He’s a breast cancer researcher at a university in Philadelphia, and a completely devoted and active father. We met on an online dating service 12 years ago. He contacted me on a Friday, our first date was a Monday, and within a week we’d taken down our profiles and were a couple. One year later we got married in a castle near his hometown in Wales, and the rest, as they say, is history!

We have three wonderfully wild little kids: Fiona is almost seven and the best big sister you could dream of, Callum is almost five and has a wonderful imagination whilst being a silent mischief maker, and then there’s Beckett, a real love bug whirling dervish.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We live in what was the first post office in our region. The house was built in 1883. Can you believe that? I can’t. Anyway, we moved to this very small town of Mickleton after living in Cherry Hill, a crazy-busy suburb of Philadelphia, for almost eight years. I grew up in a busy suburb of Washington DC, and Matt grew up in small town Wales. Last year we decided it was time for a change; our yard was minuscule, we could smell cigarette smoke from our neighbors’ houses when we opened our windows, and we wanted a different life for our kids. So, we searched and we searched and we literally stumbled upon this old farmhouse situated on 1.25 acres right on the main street of a quaint little town. It wasn’t in our price-range – it was well below it, because it required SO MUCH WORK – but we took a gamble and immediately put in an offer.

And then, the next morning, we panicked and took it back! I mean, the house needed EVERY room updated. The kitchen was teeny tiny and we LOVE to cook and eat. It didn’t have a dishwasher! AND there was no AC and our summers are HOT here in South Jersey. The previous owners had moved into the farmhouse in the 1940s and hadn’t done that much to it since then. The wallpaper! The fixtures! The wall-to-wall carpeting covering GORGEOUS hardwood floors though out! Oh, and I did I mention it was COVERED in wallpaper?

So, we slept on the idea of renovating this great old home another night, then resubmitted our offer the next day. Lo and behold we got the house. The sellers had rejected something like 12 other offers, but we wrote a letter and might have even sent a picture of our darling kids. The end result? The house was ours.


We have three very active little kids and NOT a lot of time, so we decided to hire a general contractor to oversee the renovation. Best decision ever. There’s no way I could have done all of this on my own. I know some stuff about renovating – I mean, I AM HGTV-obsessed – but the day-to-day stuff was best handled by the pros.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live in a wonderful little town called Mickleton, and can walk to our kids schools, the bank, the salon, and even our local pork shop. We’re in the heart of rural Gloucester County, and Mullica Hill, the town where my triathlon club (Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club) is based, is right down the road. We have horses and sheep and goats for neighbors, and a small private airfield right past our backyard. I grew up the daughter of a private pilot, so we get a real kick out of seeing the small planes take off and land literally right over our heads!

Oh, and have I mentioned the local farmers markets and shops and wineries and restaurants? Out of this world delicious, and run by our friends, or people who WILL become our friends, because that’s what people do in this small town atmosphere. I LOVE it here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?

A: I would say my style is bright and eclectic. HAPPY! I love to mix colors and patterns, and surround myself with things that make me smile.

I absolutely adore our farmhouse table in our kitchen. I discovered the craftsman on Facebook, and reached out to him. He made the table to our specifications and was just awesome to work with.

Our fireplace is surrounded by these gorgeous bookshelves that took me literally weeks to get exactly right. I have all of our favorite books arranged in them, (by color of course!), and have my most favorite possessions there, too. Matt and I were fortunate enough to take a long European honeymoon, and some of our treasures from there grace our mantel. I also cherish a gift made just for us: a super-delicate painting of a momma and papa bird, snuggling their three little chicks. It was given to me after the birth of our last child by one of my dearest friends who I don’t get to see nearly enough, as she lives in Utah and has three children of her own. But every time I see the painting I think of Chrisy and smile.

I also have a collection of five brightly colored vases scattered amongst the shelves that make me ridiculously happy. I purchased them on my 40th birthday girls shopping spree in the quaint town of Charlottesville, Virginia last year with one of my best friends in the world. And one shelf of my books contains books written by my friends. I love that my friends have published books! Gives me hope that one day I may do the same!

And then there’s our bedroom. It’s like my dream-come-true-room. The wall color, the brightly colored duvets, the art of our favorite cities – London, Stockholm and Amsterdam – over my dresser, the inspiring wall quotes, and my triathlon medals. It’s ME.

Q: You are done renovating! Tell us what you’ve learned about reinventing a house. The good, bad, and the just plain awful!

A: OH MY GOODNESS. We are done! FINALLY! When we bought the house, the kitchen was teeny-tiny, there were only two bathrooms, and the third floor attic, while HUGE, was totally unusable. But the house had oodles and oodles of charm and a massive yard. There are beautiful archways between rooms, old leaded windows (with killer storm windows so there’s no draft! Yay!)  and these beautifully crafted huge moldings even inside the closets.

We sat down with our contractor and established a budget. We decided to do a rather large numbers projects, in a relatively short amount of time. We bought in July and hoped to move in in August. Oh, we were naive. The contractor warned us that might not be realistic, but ever-the-optimist, I believed we could do it! Or THEY could do it if I was persistent enough. Whoops.

In the end we installed central heat and air, switched from oil to gas heat, totally gutted our kitchen, designed and built a new kitchen (with the help of a wonderful interior designer, Ken Endt of Chroma Design, who also helped with paint colors and window treatments throughout our home, changed a tiny existing bedroom to a second floor laundry room/powder room/HVAC closet, and finished off the attic to make it not only usable space, but a kid paradise! We ripped up all the carpets and had runners installed on the stairs. We painted every. single. wall. in. our. house.

Would I do it over it again? In a heartbeat. But I’d be MUCH more conscious of the budget and how things just add up and add up! We started out expecting to spend X dollars, and ended up almost spending X times 2! Majorly over budget! And I’d be much more realistic about how long renovations actually take. I had to give up my entire triathlon season while we were homeless. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that yet had I? We bought this house on July 27, but didn’t move in until early September. In between we went on vacation, then stayed in friends’ houses, then stayed in hotels, then we freaking CAMPED. The camping was brutal, and I even love to camp! I was the president of the outdoors club in college. But camping out of necessity with three little kids? Not so fun.

Q: You’re a triathlete! Can you share with us what inspires you, how you train, and what this activity adds to your life?

A: Oh my gosh, I love being a triathlete! Triathlon is my passion! Joining Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club is the best thing I’ve done for myself as an adult…aside from marrying my husband and having my children, but you know what I mean! Our club is full of the most wonderfully supportive, loving, caring, inspiring women you could find anywhere. We’re just getting ready to start training again full time in March. During the season, I train 4-6 times a week, or more, depending on what race I’m training for. This year I’m going to do three sprint triathlons on the Jersey Shore.

Sometimes I swim, bike, and run alone, but I much prefer to do so with three girls who have dubbed ourselves Team NOLA after competing in a Half Ironman in New Orleans last year. Those woman inspire me and push me to keep going, as I am naturally a couch potato. With them, I get off the couch and to the gym and to the lake and to running path. We chit and we chat and we make the hours fly by. It’s my ME time. My girlfriend time. My I’m-not-just-a-wife-and-a-mother time. Really, it changed my life. I’m a better wife and mother when I walk in the door from a training session. Ask my husband! Even though it means leaving him home alone with the kids for sometimes hours or days on end, he encourages me to do so. It’s the best thing ever.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope they remember how very much they are loved and cherished by us and by their grandparents who try to visit from Virginia at least once a month. These children are the center of our world, and we do everything for them. I hope they remember playing out in the yard for hours and hours, catching lighting bugs in the summer, and jumping on the trampoline in the winter all bundled up like snowmen. I hope they remember me yelling DINNER for them while ringing my dinner bell. Oh, yes I do. I hope they think of hopscotch and coloring and me encouraging them to play tag indoors. I hope when they think of home, they think love, safety, family, and great big hugs.

I hope they forget that I sometimes have a tendency to yell, and that we’re not always on the schedule that I set and intend to keep for us every day. I hope they don’t remember the mornings when Matt has already left for work before they wake up or is still at work when they go to bed. And I certainly hope they don’t remember my un-parenting days when I just have had it and plop them in front of the TV all day while saying yes to all their requests for fruit snacks and pretzels!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Honestly, the biggest surprise was that I love being a mom. And a stay-at-home-mom, at that! Before having kids I’d never babysat or changed a diaper or really wanted my own children. Marrying Matt brought out my maternal nature, and I just couldn’t wait to have children with him.

Before Fiona was born I honestly expected to hire a nanny and return to the office when my maternity leave was over. I was a corporate communications writer for a Big Four accounting firm. Instead, I immediately fell madly in love with Fiona and we cut corners and changed our budget and did everything in our power to ensure I could stay home and care for her. It was a huge surprise to us when we got pregnant again before she was even a year old! I had gone through years of fertility treatments to get pregnant the first time, and had been warned that I might not be able to. So, surprise! Baby #2 just 20 months after baby #1. Then, guess what? Same thing with Baby #3! All three were born within 39 months of each other! What a blessing!

Each time, I fretted that I might not love the next baby as much as I loved the prior. I needn’t have worried. The love in my heart just multiplied. I had also worried I wouldn’t be able to love our first baby as much as I loved Matt! In retrospect, I find this rather hysterical. I love them all mightily and fiercely!

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

A: Well, they DID tell me, but I didn’t believe them. It gets easier. They don’t all stay in diapers forever. They don’t need you for their every movement and requirement forever. Fiona is already tying her own shoes. Callum pours his orange juice. Beck picks out his own books and sits around reading by himself. They’re all so young but they’re already becoming their own independent little beings and thinkers and they’re just growing up SO FAST.

I look back at baby pictures of all of them and simply cannot fathom that they are no longer in that stage. I will never again nurse a baby. I will never again have to do midnight feedings. In many ways, it’s wonderful, but it also gives me a real pang in the middle of my stomach.

So fellow moms, and women who want to become moms, when they tell you the days are long but the years are short: BELIEVE them. They know what they’re talking about!


See? Don’t you want to get out and run and bike and swim a hundred miles? Or at least paint a wall in your house a candy coated color? Me, too. Thank you, Christy, for adding your joy to this space today. I know we all appreciate it!

Triathlons seem hard. (Is that the biggest understatement of the day?!) Have you ever trained or worked toward a difficult goal like this while trying to juggle everything else in your life? Where did you find your support and how did you fill in the gaps? I’m always curious how everyone else manages, aren’t you?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Call It A Day: Sara Jensen Mon, 09 Feb 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Sara Jensen.

I was speaking with a friend who had recently spoken with her friend whose everyday activities seem so – for lack of a better word – difficult! It isn’t that she’s building rocket ships or cooking dinner for a queen or even saving the world; it’s more that her daily to do list takes her places that are literally and figuratively completely foreign to most of us. And yet, she manages to accomplish everything she needs to accomplish. (More on her later!)

It got me thinking that we are all on this same path of doing what needs to be done, and that our daily to do lists are probably equal parts similar and so very different. My intrigue led to this new column, Call It A Day, where we follow friends through an average 24 hours and hopefully learn a little something along the way. You know, the whole walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes thing! I’m hoping it will become a real day-changer, philosophy shifter, and all around happy-maker.

I’m starting the series with the super talented Sara Jensen. Sara and her husband Thor live on a little island in the Pacific Northwest, and are parents to Henry and Rose, who are both seven and just two months apart. And I have to mention that as huge as her talent is, it’s got nothing on her heart. I like her so much, and her last line made me crumple. I hope her day makes yours even better.

Q: Good morning! How does your family wake up?

A: Typically Thor and I wake up about an hour before the kids. Food is an important part of our day, not only because we love to eat well, but because our son’s life depends on it. He has Type 1 Diabetes, and every single carb counts in our house. We have to measure everything we make to make sure that we are giving our son the proper amount of insulin to handle his food. Too little insulin creates high blood sugar that in the short term can make him really grumpy and sad, and too much insulin can cause his sugar to drop rapidly and cause him to pass out, fall into a coma or, best case scenario, make him act like a crazy drunk fratboy. Your brain operates at about 50% capacity when you are low. Long term high blood sugar can also lead to death, coma, DKA, loss of limbs, organ failure, and blindness. 

Q: From your Instagram peeks into your meals, you are a fantastic cook! Can you share a typical breakfast? 

A: We rotate meals a lot. We find that if you serve kids the same thing all of the time they don’t like change. Our kids LOVE change. A lot of people comment that it is too late to change the way that their kids eat. We met our daughter Rose when she was just three. Her diet largely consisted of fast food or no food, and she thought that weird Kool-Aid juice that comes in barrels was actual juice. The first full day we had her at our house we made her a kale salad and she asked what it was, observed Henry eating it, and just went with it. 

We feel so passionate about good food. We feel lucky to be educated enough about it and always want to learn more. We try and teach others, too. Our kids have thick skin and sometimes other kids with four Twinkies and a piece of meat with two dry slices of white bread make fun of their salad, but they shrug and keep eating. Henry even told another kid that was making fun of him that he would “probably not live his full life span if he didn’t eat vegetables.”

For breakfast we like to make oatmeal, whole oats, fresh berries, hemp hearts, sliced almonds or walnuts, and a splash of unsweetened almond milk. Sometimes we do cocoa nibs and a teensy bit of banana and unsweetened coconut chips. 

Other days we have eggs with baby kale, and an “ice cream drink” which is just a banana, almond butter, macro green powder, hemp protein powder, and frozen raspberries. 

Another new favorite sounds super weird but it’s a toast that my friend Sam Talbot, an amazing chef who also has Type 1 Diabetes, makes. It’s whole grain toast topped with peanut or almond butter, and then we put sliced bananas in a bowl with fresh mint leaves and mix with fresh lemon juice, and put that on top of the almond butter. It is so seriously good. We serve that with eggs, too. 

Sam and Henry Facetime each week and come up with healthy recipes. 

Q: What’s next? How do Rose and Henry get to school? 

A: My office is in town, close to school. Thor works from home. It’s a good thing that we don’t work in the same place – people can spend too much time together. I try not to contact him during the day unless it’s urgent. I have to be able to get to the school really quickly in case Henry needs help.

I drive them to school and walk them to their lines and usually wait for them to walk in. Normally, I need to update the teacher and Henry’s PDA (someone who can give Henry insulin at school and check his blood sugar) about anything abnormal going on. Maybe he was up a lot the night before because we had to treat him for low or high blood sugar, maybe his insulin is being stubborn and he is running a little high. Diabetes is a manageable disease, but you have to really manage it. Sometimes, though, no matter what you do, you can’t. It’s very frustrating. 

What I love about our school is that everyone knows everyone. In smaller towns every person matters. You never know if someone is related to a friend of yours, your best friend might be your server at the local pub, and another good friend might be your dentist. There is a good amount of respect since we are all so connected to each other. A lot of people know what both Rose and Henry deal with or have dealt with, and are really sensitive to their feelings. Today I am letting my kids walk ALL ALONE like four blocks from school, but I know they will be safe and are dying to do this big kid thing. I’m probably going to hide in the bushes and follow them. I guess I’m the creep.

Q: Tell us how you spend an average day at work. 

A: Every day tends to start pretty early. I struggle with not feeling this frantic urge to check all my messages the moment I wake up. Since I have a lot of east coast clients, they are already rolling when I am just starting my day. If I haven’t had to wake up every two hours to check Henry’s blood sugar (sometimes we have stable nights and they are glorious), I go to Pilates mat at 6:00 am. 

I work as a creative director with a number of clients. I make sure that their creative vision comes out in they way they need it to. Often they are so busy with multiple projects, TV shows, or opening restaurants, and they need to be able to trust someone to manage all of it and organize inspiration. I prefer to work with clients who have a design background or understand it; I am no longer able to work with people who don’t respect design. I have a background in graphic design, surface design, production of textiles, and even design of retail spaces, so I have a number of things I can offer people that I work with.

I have to be working on really different projects in order to feel happy. This is a good thing in general but sometimes I can feel overwhelmed. I’m working really hard on trusting my gut this year and saying no to things more readily and giving quotes that are very fair to me. I think that when I was younger I tended to undersell myself, and frankly I think this is something that a lot of women suffer from, but I’m working hard on it. I really really think that your gut knows best. Every time I have tried to force myself to work on something I don’t want to or force myself to be friends with someone I have a funny feeling about, it always goes wrong.

A few projects that are close to my heart are working with a new non profit group called Beyond Type 1, some new exciting home lines with Genevieve Gorder, who is a design genius and all around awesome person, and an apron line with Sam Talbot called Sam + Beatrice. Recently I designed a site for Lisa Congdon, who is so great it almost makes me cry when I think about how much I love that lady.

Q: Lunch plans? Do you talk to anyone that really makes your day better? 

A: For lunch I take an old school boxing class. The first day I went, the directions were literally “behind the auto body shop, take a left at the broken toilet, and listen for 90s hip hop.” You aren’t allowed to swear in class, and that was a big struggle for me. I put a lot of money in the swear jar.

I’ve gotten so much better in boxing class. It’s pretty brutal. Today my arms hurt, and yesterday my legs hurt from booty barre, which is a little fancier looking but just as terrifying/amazing. After that class, I usually meet Rose for lunch at her school. Henry has his lunch with this T1 group he started on Wednesdays, so my husband and I switch off having a special lunch with Rose. There is so much focus on food and insulin all the time at meals, and we want to makes sure that Rose doesn’t feel ignored.

Q: How do you errand? 

A: We have no stop lights here – just one four way stop sign – so getting around is very quick. Lines are usually pretty good but be prepared to have conversations with at least five people while out running errands. It’s a small town. We have one grocery store here, and there is also a smaller one but it’s mostly for tourists. 

I cook dinner 90% of the time. I tend to throw something in a marinade in the morning or the night before, and think about salads that go with it. On the fourth of every month (the day that I am writing this) it’s “Hot Dog Night” as declared by Rose. I’ve always found hot dogs kind of trashy, but Rose LOVES them. So don’t think that we always eat like hippies.

Tonight we made Applegate hot dogs with melted swiss and crunchy onions, and the other was a vietnamese style hot dog. Both super good. The seventh is “Hand Roll Night” which was Henry’s idea. We like to make sushi hand rolls with daikon rice instead of sushi rice. Sam and Henry came up with that idea. So great!

Q: Do you carve out any personal time during your day?

A: At first I was like I HAVE NO PERSONAL TIME and realized that exercise is my personal time. I had a brutal and surprising double spinal surgery a couple of years ago and gained a lot of weight. I felt pretty depressed, squishy, and ashamed. My back was so bad my husband had to help me off the couch all the time. It was awful.

It’s pretty easy to slip into a depression following a surgery, but I tried really hard to break out of it, first by going to a boot camp then transitioning to more Pilates based stuff and boxing. I’ve never been this strong in my life. I love it. If I don’t exercise, I am pretty crabby. 

Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family? 

A: Thor and I switch picking them up from school. Sometimes we are so busy that we arrange playdates for them after school. They also take ballet together, Henry takes Taekwondo and they are getting back into music. Rose LOVES sports, so she’s all up in the basketball, and they both are on soccer. I even coach the team after someone said “You are great at yelling at kids! You should be a soccer coach.”

Rose wants to be on the football team next year. Thor or I pick them up at school and they do homework and have free time while we wrap up work. We try to spend as much time with them as possible – you can’t get it back. Sometimes after they go to bed (most times), we have to work until we go to bed, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Q: Describe your evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?

A: We eat dinner together, and we try to only talk about positive things. We ask them the best part of their day, and the kids like to review my food. Also, I made a memory game for them out of their memories, using Moo to make a 50 pack of those square cards. They love it. We play Monopoly, too. Rosie and I always end up in the poor house or jail, and Henry is like a crazy land baron. Thor swoops in and beats all of us. Rose and I are working on our strategy.

Many days after dinner we have to change one of Henry’s two medical devices. That takes a little while. And we like to read to them. I usually read to Rose, Thor reads to Henry. Sometimes they want to read alone. 

Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…

A: …please let Henry live through the night. It’s a real fear and I feel emotional even typing it.


I warned you about that darn last line, didn’t I? Sara, thank you. I love the way you live, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing your day with us. I read this line three times: “We try to spend as much time with them as possible – you can’t get it back.”

Friends, what do you think? Did you enjoy this peek into someone else’s day? I really, really did. If nothing else, it inspires me to be more thoughtful in how I’m spending my own hours! As you may remember, I’m trying to figure out how to use Design Mom to give a voice to more women, and I hope this is another good way to do that.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your day with us? Let me know! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! 

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