Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:39:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reclaim Those Memories! Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:00:45 +0000 Design Mom

Legacy Box Sept 2016 - 10

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Legacybox. Get 40% off when you give it a try! Find the code below.

It’s been almost a year since I first tried LegacyBox (remember when I was blonde?), and a couple of weeks ago, I sent in another box. I’m in a total nostalgic mode these days. As we prepped for Ralph’s mission, we were pulling out old scrapbooks, and family history records, and digging through old files. It was delightful! But it was also this reminder that so much of what I have isn’t very useable or shareable. Some of of it is sitting in dusty boxes, mostly inaccessible. Some of it is in a format that I can no longer access (I haven’t had a VHS player for a decade, but I still have VHS home videos).

Let me guess. You’re in the same boat. Old family videos you can’t watch. Family photos shot on film that you can’t share easily. A box of negatives or slides that you’re not sure if you should keep or toss. It’s a fairly universal problem for families everywhere. And that’s where Legacybox comes in. They digitize your memories and send them right back to you — with the originals intact.

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Legacybox can handle pretty much any old, outdated format you can dish up. Sign up at Legacybox and they will send you a kit which includes a guide, round-trip shipping, a crush proof box, and access to a personal concierge so you can talk to an expert at any time. You fill the box with any formats in your collection — tapes, film, image negatives, whatever you’ve got — then send it back with their pre-paid label. Then, you go about your business. In a few weeks you’ll receive your originals back, along with DVDs and digital files ready to share and enjoy! I’m telling you, it’s magical.

Speaking of originals, if you’re worried about them, don’t be. To make sure nothing gets lost or mixed up, the Legacybox kit includes barcode labels. You add a barcode to every single thing you put in the box, and then you can track it all online to make sure your memories stay safe through the whole process.

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In our last box, we put all sorts of stuff — but this time I focused on a few cassette tapes and VHS tapes, but mostly photo negatives. I sent back a bunch. We have so many images of baby Ralph that exist on negatives only. I want to be able to include some of our older photos (from our pre-digital-camera family life) in the photo books I create, and this is the perfect way to make it happen.

I’m also pumped because getting things digitized now, makes me feel like I’m ahead of the game for the holidays. Being able to share a priceless old video is the perfect gift for Grandparents who have everything. Or using old photos that no one has seen in ages, to create a calendar or a photo book, is another fabulous gift idea. Gifts that focus on memories are such treasures!

Which reminds me, another gift idea is sending a Legacybox to someone you love. Do your parents have roles of old family films that need digitizing? Send them a box and they can fill it with whatever they like.

I was waiting for our box to come back with huge anticipation. On the day it arrived, I waited until the kids were home from school, then we opened the box, and popped in the DVD. We watched old videos they had never seen, and scrolled through photos from a life they can hardly remember. Then I posted favorites in my family’s Facebook group. Such a treat for me to be able to see and easily share these images!

Some of our newly digitized photos (I love that I can crop and edit them easily now):

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This is Ralph at 3 months old (and I’m sporting basically the same haircut as I have now).

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This is my brother Jared, my mother, and Ralph at 7 months old. This was the day Jared left on his mission to Japan.

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This is Ralph at almost 10 months old. His hair really started growing and he had blonde curls for miles. People would tell us how cute our daughter was.

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Want to give it a try? I’ve got a BIG discount code for you! Click HERE, then use the code: CREATE at checkout to receive 40% off your order! Offer expires 11/15.

Tell me, Friends. What’s your status with old files? How many different formats do you have in storage that you can no longer use? Did any of you inherit a box of old family footage? Have you had a chance to watch it yet? I love this kind of thing!

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Living With Kids: Shauna’s Beach Cottage Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:00:07 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s just something so happy about homes-away-from-home. Maybe it’s that they’re used primarily for getaways, so families arrive already excited and optimistic. Or maybe it’s because vacation homes usually aren’t overflowing with the day-to-day equipment and accessories that get us through an average week; instead, there might be a shed full of surfboards, a trunk full of floaties, and a fridge just waiting to be filled with barbecue fixings! Oh, that does sound enticing.

So when Shauna asked whether I’d like to see her family’s home or their getaway, I chose getaway! And I sure liked what she had to say about her Naples cottage.

Welcome, Shauna!

Hello! Welcome to our family of five! I’m a girl in the midst of all boys. I think that God was preparing me for boys as I was growing up, spending my summer days hanging out with my older brother and his friends. We were quite adventurous scaling the sides of cliffs, hiking, swimming in canals, and shooting BB guns. I guess that makes me equipped for boys of my own now!

My husband and I met in college and have been married almost 19 years. Turns out he’s quite the handy guy and can build or help out with any and most of my ongoing, never ending design projects. I got so lucky with him! Our three boys complete our world and we feel so incredibly blessed to be their parents.

Austin is our oldest and is a senior in high school. How is it that I have a man-child that old already? He is so wise and has made parenting a teenager actually quite easy.

Ethan is our middle child and is a freshman in high school. He takes after his dad in that he can build anything and he has already helped out in some of my big design projects, including helping build our bar in our Colorado home. I keep telling him that I need to hire him to be my personal assistant. Of course he asks, “How much will you pay me, Mom?” Is there no such thing as free help these days?

Dylan is our baby and just started middle school. Okay, now I officially feel old since I no longer have any kids in elementary school. Those were such fun days for us! He has a heart of gold and greets us every morning with big hugs. I look forward to those.

Before I started in my design world, I was a neonatal ICU nurse. But once our second child was born, I realized that I just wanted to be home with my boys full time. Those were some of the most rewarding years of my life when they were babies and toddlers.

It was during those days, that I really tapped into my design creativity. I painted every wall in our home, wallpapered ceilings, and learned how to sew custom drapery. Over time, my passion and love for design turned into a side job of interior styling for clients.

Last year, I launched The House of Silver Lining blog with the intention of it being a portfolio of my design work in my home and in clients. The idea of starting a blog really burned in my heart going back to the year we bought our beach cottage in Naples, Florida. This home inspired me in so many ways and I wanted to share our journey over there with everyone. It’s quite the story.

We live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but have been blessed to have this vacation home in Naples. I lived in Naples in my early twenties while attending college for a few years, so this little beachside community has always been near and dear to my heart. Eight years ago, after taking my husband and the boys on our first vacation to Naples, my husband and I decided that this would be the place we would want to have our boys build childhood memories. A place to build family vacation memories. A home where they would spend holidays and long, hot summers. So very different from Colorado. I guess you could say we really live in the best of both worlds.

After that first family vacation to Naples, we returned once again for a fast weekend of touring over 20 homes that were on the market. I had seen our little cottage online before going, but unfortunately it wasn’t anywhere near our price range so I told myself to move on. However, our realtor still encouraged us to go see this little gem because sellers in the area we’re willing to drop their prices. So we set up the showing and when I woke up that morning I was feeling giddy just knowing I could actually go see this adorable little house, even though I knew it was only a dream to own.

We loaded the boys in the car who were three, five, and eight years old at the time, and we drove to the house. When we pulled up to the brick paver wraparound driveway, my heart literally skipped a beat when I saw the white picket fence. At that moment, I knew I had to have this home. We didn’t want to buy just any home. There were plenty of homes on the market at the time in much better condition and that needed hardly to no updating all, completely move-in ready. To me, that felt boring and my husband and I both wanted a project home. One that we could put our personal touch on over the years.

That day, as I walked through this sweet 2600 square foot home built in 1964, which I refer to as our beach cottage, I fell completely in love with its charm. The yard was so big and green and nothing like we have in Colorado. Our boys were out in the yard picking the grapefruit and avocados off of the fruit trees, and it was at this moment that I could see them growing up here.

Yes, we knew that this home would need work…a lot of work.  The roof was old, the pool was crumbling, it even had mold and termites. Yet, I could see the diamond in the rough and I knew it was worth restoring.

The past eight years have been filled with frequent trips to our little cottage with family and friends. The memories we have there are priceless. We’ve been through some really tough times as well during the renovations. My husband, bless his heart, spends a lot of our vacation time there just repairing things that are falling apart and even huge jobs like trenching our front yard and replacing all the old plumbing that the tree roots were growing into. This past year, we did a complete house renovation from the inside/out and now we can breath a sigh of relief that all the big projects are behind us. Now we can truly enjoy our little gem and relax like we should be on vacation…until the next project cultivates in my mind.

Naples is situated right along the gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. What I love most about this area is that it truly is so beautiful. The beaches are clean with light color sand. We have a private beach area less than a mile from our home. We love to hop on our bikes and ride to the beach along beautiful tree lined streets with gorgeous homes in all styles and sizes. The landscaping is truly a work of art! The restaurants are such a treat and our favorite little spot is walking along 5th Ave in Old Naples. Our boys love to fish and they love to fish off of the pier, beach, or an occasional deep sea excursion.

Every time we arrive at the cottage after being gone a couple of months or sometimes even longer, we love walking into a home and seeing memories of the past. Right after we purchased the home, Dylan, who was three at the time yelled, “Honey, we’re home!” when we walked through the front door. I have no idea why he said that at the time, but it has stuck and now every time we arrive, someone yells, “Honey, we’re home!”

Photos of the first year we bought the home, filled with memories  of our boys on the beach adorn our walls and remind us of how many years we’ve been coming back to this special place. Collections of the hundreds of seashells gathered off our beach from our walks are collected in jars and trays throughout the home. Old furniture we bought our first summer there when we moved in with nothing but a blow-up air mattress in our suitcase still stand in every room of the home.

Although we renovated it last year, I still held on to those sentimental pieces like our blue antique dresser in our living room and my youngest son’s tiny antique rocking chair that he claimed at a local thrift store. The books the boys have read over the years still remain in baskets beside the sofa in the family room. I hold onto sentimental things quite dearly and I think this has been passed down to our boys as well. They love to return to the cottage and explore their storage bins in their bedrooms that hold trinkets they’ve collected over the years.

Our beach life is quite different than our Colorado life. When we are at the cottage, we are taking a break from our normal busy lives. This is where we can take pause in life and enjoy stepping back from the normal hustle and bustle. Granted, as the boys are older, it is more difficult to get away here as often as we used to. With their busy school and sports schedules our time here definitely is not as frequent as it was when they were much younger. But we know that this is always a place we can escape to and relax when we can break away.

Since Naples is a prime spot for seasonal rental, we now rent our home during high season which is January through March or April. That has been nice since it offsets the costs of maintaining the home and keeps the home alive while we’re not there. We have a property management company that handles all the renters, which is nice since I couldn’t ever be a landlord.

Owning a vacation home, especially one that is 3,000 miles away like ours is, can have it’s challenges and expenses. Even though we are not in the home all the time, our air conditioner has to run year round. It’s hot and humid year round in Naples, so keeping the home cool enough and the inside humidity level low is absolutely necessary to prevent mold. We also have a lawn maintenance company that manicures our yard every week. Everything grows like weeds in Florida so lawn maintenance is an absolute must.

Fortunately, we formed a relationship very early on with our lawn guy who does more than take care of our yard. He really looks out for the home and we can count on him if anything urgent arises. Actually, one year we had winds so high that it snapped one of our large trees in half. Our awesome neighbors called us right away (they keep watch on our home, too) and then the next day our lawn guy had it all cleaned up and repaired my beloved white picket fence that had been damaged by the tree. We’ve been really lucky to have him.

There is expense in watering the yard daily, too. Even though Southwest Florida gets a lot of rain, especially in the summer, the grass, trees, and shrubs still need routine watering. Likewise with the pool, we have weekly maintenance on that. It’s kind of funny that our cottage is actually more maintenance than our Colorado home. Some may even think we are crazy to own a home so far away.

I definitely love a well styled home that looks pretty but I also believe in comfort and functionality, especially with three boys. We have a white sofa, but it is slip-covered so throwing it in the wash for a quick clean is easy! I like to add a sense of nostalgia to every room like I mentioned before. Collected seashells, art made by the boys, family photos are scattered in each room.

This home is much more easy living than our Colorado home. My dining room chairs are old and thrifted. So many times we come in from the pool with towels wrapped around us to eat a quick lunch. I don’t worry about ruining the chairs with damp towels. I know that I can easily recover the seat cushion down the road if need be. I want our home to be livable and comfortable both for our family and for when extended family and friends come to visit.

The boys have always been raised in homes that I have decorated and they have been taught good manners in respecting the home. Many ask how I keep my home so clean with boys. Well, I don’t think that boys are the only messy ones — girls can be just as messy, if not more. I believe in teaching your children when they are young the rules of the home.

Our rules are no shoes in the house, no jumping on the furniture, and no eating on the furniture other than foods that won’t stain like popcorn for those fun movie nights. Our home definitely does not always look like it does on the blog in the photos. We live in our home. That means the pillows on the sofa are most often thrown on the floor and the ottoman may be scooted out of the way for games to spread out on the rug.

Although having a well designed home is so very important to me, I don’t want it to be stuffy where my boys would only have memories of a home they couldn’t live freely in.

The beach cottage furniture is cozy which is important for all the movie nights. The rugs are inexpensive because I realize that spills can happen. I don’t believe that a home has to be filled with expensive items to look good. Our beach cottage is the perfect example of that with the eclectic look of thrift store furniture combined with new pieces.

My best secret for styling my home memorably, especially for my boys, is to keep sentimental items they’ve made on display. Not every art class vase from school is on display but maybe one item from each child. I love to watch my boys randomly walk by that piece and pick it up and say, “I remember when I made this for you, Mom.” I think it’s important for kids to know that they can contribute to the story of the home design.

I love to pull out old framed photos of them for the holidays, too. The first Christmas at our beach cottage we didn’t have anything to decorate our tree with. So one day we walked to the beach and gathered a ton of sand dollars that happened to be all over the shore that day. We strung some twine through each sand dollar and have had those be the only ornaments on our tree every year since. The boys love pulling them out of the storage box and reminiscing about that day we discovered them all on the beach. I believe it’s so important to fill your home with pieces of sentimental value because those are what hold the stories.

When our boys grow up and start families of their own, I hope they can fondly look back at the many years spent at the beach cottage. Our hope is that they will want to bring their own families here one day. A lot of firsts happened in this home…

Our youngest learned how to ride his bike along our brick driveway and our oldest took his first roller blading venture down our tree-lined street. They learned how to fish and identify the different species. This home has been a place of discovery and exploring. Picking the fruit off of the trees and making fresh squeezed orange juice from our baby oranges is one of my fondest memories. Swimming in the pool on Christmas day, while there was a blizzard back home in Colorado, is up there, too.

Not all memories are the best, however. At one point, I remember and I know the boys will never forget, I wanted to burn the house down. This was before we renovated it. All in one night, the plumbing backed up making the toilets overflow, flooding the bathrooms all while the termites came back in full force swarming the house. That was a breaking moment for me when I didn’t want the house anymore (after owning it for five years). But I’ll never forget the tears and pleas of my young boys begging me not to sell the house because they had too many good memories here. At that point, I knew that this home was special to them, as well. The next year we started planning the renovations AND got rid of the termites. Thank goodness!

I think our boys have learned some really good life lessons through this journey of owning a second home. Yes, it is a wonderful blessing to have this home and one that not many people can say they have. We don’t undermine that privilege by any means. My husband owns a business and is the hardest working man I’ve ever known. He has taught our boys that hard work can be exhausting but also rewarding. Our boys have watched him tackle everything that went wrong with the cottage head-on and with integrity.

I wish I was as patient as he was with all the mishaps we’ve had with this home. The day the toilets overflowed and the termites arrived, I admit, I kind of lost it! He did the opposite. He grabbed towels, cleaned up the mess, rented a plumbing snake, and fixed the plumbing clog which was tree roots, and then proceeded to shower and clean up to take us all out to a nice dinner. How does one do that? But that is my husband.

He’s a hard worker and believes in fixing and tackling projects himself if he has the time to do so. I hope our boys grow to be like him someday. I hope they forget how I cried and said I wanted to burn the house down and remember how their dad tackled the problem with his own skill and saved us a ton of money by not hiring a plumber.His resourcefulness has served us well and a trait that I can see appearing in our boys. For that, I’m very grateful.

Being a mom is the most undeniable affection of my heart. I think as parents we feel it is our job to teach our children and that they should learn from us. I have learned the opposite of that. They have taught me in so many ways! To love in a way I’d never known. They have opened my mind to think in ways its never thought before. I see life differently now, through the eyes of a mother.

Most importantly, I hope our boys always remember how much we value family and spending time with each other. Life is busy but it is so important to break away and spend time with your kids. Even if it’s going for a walk, hike, bike ride, or playing a game.

That is why our cottage place is so special to us: we have uninterrupted time with one another. I cherish walking on the beach with just one of our boys and getting into their heart. I’ve found that they open up more when we are actively moving. If I corner them in their room and say let’s chat, they cringe. I don’t like to fish, but I love sitting on the beach by my son’s side watching him fish. Those quiet moments are absolutely priceless.

I realize now, having a son who is almost 18, that time does go by so fast and that our children grow up before we know it. Looking back, I wish I would have paused even more for those moments with my boys. Getting through those young baby and toddler years was exhausting but I’d do it all over again if I could. My husband would tell you the same.

Being a mom of all boys is heart-melting and it also keeps me adventurous. They challenge me to go beyond my comfort level with outdoor excursions. I love it though because it keeps me feeling young. They are the greatest joy to me.


Shauna, I loved hearing about your beach cottage and the memories you’ve made there. Even when things go awry, and your vacation time turns into “THIS HOUSE WAS THE WORST DECISION WE’VE EVER MADE!” It’s all part of the memories, isn’t it?

Has anyone else dipped their toes into vacation property? How did you fit it into your budget? Is it as dreamy as you thought, or have there been some nightmares? I’d sure love to hear your experiences and feelings about your home-away-from-home. (You already know our story!)

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Random Thoughts Mon, 26 Sep 2016 18:21:04 +0000 Design Mom

Oscar Band

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Welcome to September’s installment of my random thoughts. I can’t believe we’re in the last week of September already! This month has been a life changer for sure. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

- So we only have four kids at home now. But you may remember, we’ve actually had a four-kids experience during the fall of 2014, when Ralph and Olive went to France for a semester. But this definitely feels different. Because of the ages and stages of our two oldest, this feels so much more permanent. Like Ralph and Maude may not ever really move back. Just a summer break here or there. Or coming home between projects. Still hard for me to wrap my head around.

- Now that Olive is the oldest one at home, one of the first changes I noticed is that the music has changed. With Ralph and Maude no longer adding their playlists to the mix, pretty much all we hear lately is Hamilton. Hah! Olive happens to be obsessed with Hamilton at the moment. Are you familiar with it? It’s the latest, greatest, impossible-to-get-tickets-to Broadway show.

This has been a reminder of how much my kids influence what I listen to. Is that true at your house? Do you like the music your kids like?

- Another change: the kids are already talking about switching up rooms. Oscar Betty & June are thinking about rooming together, which means Olive would have a chance to have her own room. It’s fun to think about how we can revamp the bedrooms — especially because we wouldn’t need to move walls or update electricity this time around — it would just be decor, which is much more enjoyable for me. But I told them we need to wait until we know for sure if Maude is heading back in January.

- This weekend, I took advantage of the Elfa sale going on at the Container Store and ordered shelves and drawers and hanging rods for the new Master Bedroom closet. I did a bunch of research on closet organizers and the consensus was that Elfa was the way to go. Have you ever used it or tried it? This is my first time. Our supplies get delivered this week and I’m crossing my fingers that the install will happen this weekend. So excited to have a closet again! (Which reminds me, I need to give more updates on the construction! We’re nearing the end.)

- Related to my current lack of closet, I’ve ended up accidentally having a capsule wardrobe for the last 3 months. When I packed up for our summer in France, I stored everything else because of the construction. But I’ve been home for a month and I’m still using only what I packed for the summer — because everything else is still inconveniently stored.

It’s been interesting to have limited choices and makes me curious about keeping a minimal wardrobe. But one thing I’ve noticed is that my clothes are experiencing much more wear and tear than they normally would. After 3 months, many pieces need to be replaced. Have any of you tried a capsule collection? Is it normal to have to replace items quarterly?

- I didn’t mention it at the time because I was totally pre-occupied with other things, but a few days before Ralph left on his mission, we took the family to Disneyland for a couple of days. Many years ago, when there were only 5 kids and we lived in New York, we took them to Disneyworld once. (The younger ones don’t remember that trip at all, and the older ones only have a few memories.) And once, a couple of years ago, Maude and Olive got to go to Disneyland for their cousin’s birthday.

But we’ve never taken the whole family to Disneyland before. This is surprising to me because a) we live in California, and b) Disneyland played an influential role in my childhood. I love it there and went many, many times as a kid. And I assumed I would take my family many times as well. But somehow we haven’t.

It was a short trip during a busy time, but I really wanted to fit it in. I think I was trying to give my older kids one last “childhood experience”. And I also wanted to make sure the younger kids had Disneyland memories that included the older kids.

I’m so glad we went! It was as wonderful as I remembered. Actually better even, because I had never been to the California Adventure park. As a bonus, we were there on a really good week. We went the Tuesday and Wednesday after after Labor Day and the park was (relatively) empty.

- A little hair update: I’ve decided to try going gray. I’ve had 2 haircuts since we arrived home and didn’t color my hair at either one. My stylist think the gray will be completely trimmed off in maybe 2 more haircuts (that’s about 2 months). I’m curious to see how it will look. I know I might hate it, and bring back the dye. But who knows?

I’m also very curious to try a high-quality wig. I think I would like the option of switching my hairstyle in an instant. I’ve been doing some research and it turns out wigs are a whole world I know nothing about. Have you ever worn one? Not as a costume, but as everyday hair?

- Last Tuesday, Oscar played the trumpet with this school band at the Oakland A’s game. They played the National Anthem to open the game. Many of the kids have been following the NFL protests and felt conflicted about this performance, so during the last line of the song about 75 or 80% of the band members — including Oscar — took a knee in protest while they continued to play. The crowd gave a big cheer and it was covered in our local news. (I saw on Facebook today that it’s now going viral.)

- In other Oscar news, he was just cast as Tiny Tim in the musical Scrooge! He’s very excited. It’s happening on a big stage in a huge auditorium and he has a solo song. He is so into it! He’s had a realization that his small size is an advantage in this instance. He has the confidence and experience of an older kid, but looks like a younger kid. (As we get closer, I’ll announce dates of the play for any locals you might want to attend. Tickets are free!)

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

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A Few Things Fri, 23 Sep 2016 19:17:10 +0000 Design Mom

Colombian Flag Straws

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? How was your week? Anything fun planned this weekend? At our house, I feel like we’ve been going non-stop from the moment we got home from France. But now that Ralph and Maude are both prepped and safely on their way, I noticed that over the last couple of days, our schedule has calmed down considerably. And I’m very much looking forward to the weekend with less of a must-do list, and more of a want-to-do list.

As usual, to greet the weekend, I have a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- He gets paid to cuddle with strangers.

- The women of Atenco. (NYT)

- Woah! Wild goldfish. I had no idea. (NYT)

- Dear Cilantro, Why are You the Worst?

- I found Trevor Noah’s thoughts on racial bias in the U.S. really compelling.

- So impressed with these Kung Fu Nuns! ”We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”

- What teens need most from their parents.

- Debunking the cul-de-sac.

- Have you experienced this? Female intelligence is a turn-off for low-self-esteem men.

- Really helpful explanation of cognitive bias (which we all suffer from).

- Hah. We’re only one day apart in age, but our generational differences killed our relationship.

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


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Sock Hops, Stomps & Friday Night Dances Thu, 22 Sep 2016 21:52:26 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Can we talk high school dances for a minute? Apparently, they are disappearing. Or have already disappeared when I wasn’t looking.

I grew-up in a town, St. George, Utah, that had a whole lot of dances. There were big school dances almost every month, with titles like Homecoming, Sadie Hawkins, Senior Ball, Preference, Junior Prom, and it seems like a couple of others that I’m not remembering.

These were not dances that you went stag to. They were date dances. Two were specifically girls-choice (Sadie Hawkins and Preference), and though it wasn’t stated, the rest were assumed to be boys-choice. For each of those dances there was usually a royalty — Prom King & Queen, Most Preferred, etc. — nominated and voted on by the student body.

Tickets to these dances were bought ahead of time and the events were usually held off-site in a heavily decorated space (though once in awhile they were held in a heavily decorated school gym). There was always a portrait photographer at these big dances (ours was my friend Jill’s mom, Jackie Andrus), and it was traditional to get a photo with your date, plus a photo of your group (if you went with a group of couples). In fact, I have a whole high-school photo album that is nothing but photos from these dances.

These big dances were also usually accompanied by big invitations. Something clever or funny, or something that made a big statement. You couldn’t just ask someone to the dance, there pressure to make a big deal of it. The dress code for the boys-choice dances was formal (that’s a lot of fancy dresses or tux rentals required in one year!). Preference was semi-formal, and Sadies was matching shirts.

But those were just one category of dances. A more frequent category was Friday Night Dances. They weren’t really called that, they were just called dances. (As in, “Should we go to the dance after the game on Friday?”) And they didn’t require a date. You could definitely show up solo, though it was most common to show up with a group of friends.

These dances were held in the school gym, and there was a DJ (ours was named Paul Hancock, and the song he played to test the speakers before the dance was “Boys Don’t Cry” by the Cure). Sometimes they were held following a school football game or basketball game, and sometimes they were just because. In my memory they happened a couple of times a month, though that seems like a lot, so maybe I’m remembering wrong. To enter the dance it was like $2 at the door; you didn’t need tickets ahead of time.

There was no photographer, no decorations. The dress code was casual — mostly kids just wore school clothes. The whole thing was very simple, and I much preferred these regular dances to the big ones — I never loved the stress of wondering if I would have a date, or having to ask one.

A third category of dances in my hometown were church dances. They were rare — maybe quarterly — and were basically the same format as a casual Friday night dance. But they were free, and the DJ had to be more careful about what he played. There was always a big one in the summer and a big one on New Year’s Eve, but otherwise, I don’t remember church dances much at all.

Ben Blair’s high school was similar. He grew up about 4 hours from me in Provo, Utah and says he had a similar calendar of big dances and more casual ones. He says his high school called the Friday night dances Stomps.

Here in Oakland, from what I can tell my kids’ high school holds only two dances. Homecoming in the fall and Prom in the spring. Both are formal affairs. Both require tickets ahead of time. Asking a date is common, but you can also show up with friends.

There are no casual Friday night dances. The school doesn’t host anything like that. And I assumed that was just how it was done here. But then, a couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Robyn was in town. She still lives in St. George, and she was here visiting with her teens and they started talking about school dances.

Turns out at her kids’ high school, they still have the big monthly dances — with dates and fancy dresses and decorations and photos and clever invitations. But they don’t have Friday night dances anymore. At all.

I was so surprised! No casual dances? Where did they go? What happened? When did they fade away? Were dances an 80′s/90′s thing? Or was it just my town?

So now I’m wondering, is this true everywhere? Are casual Friday night dances a thing of the past? And what about big prom-type dances — how often does the high school in your town host a big dance? I always felt like monthly was too much, but maybe it’s common in other places too. What was the dance scene like for you when you were in high school? I’m so curious. I can’t wait to read your responses!

P.S. — Maybe I’ll go track down my Dance Photo Album and see if there’s a good pic to add to the post. : )

P.P.S. — When I was growing up, our town had two high schools, and both had similar dance calendars. If there wasn’t a Friday night dance at our school, we knew there was probably one at the other high school across town, and it wasn’t unusual to go to dances at both schools.

P.P.S. — Pretty in Pink turns 30 this week. Remember the homemade prom dress? Did you love it or hate it? (I loved it!)

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The Health + Sleep Connection Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:00:30 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Photos by Heather Zweig and Sarah Hebenstreit. Taken in my sister Jordan’s house (and featured in my book). This post is sponsored by Sleep Number®.

I’ve been working with Sleep Number® this year on a quarterly series of posts. We’ve talked about how many hours of sleep per night we need. We’ve talked about what time we put the kids to bed. And today, I want to talk about fitness and health and how they relate to sleep.

When we arrived home from France this summer (I can hardly believe it was one month ago!), we expected to endure the usual jet lag. And I wasn’t worried about it at all — I find that going from France to the U.S. is a much easier jetlag situation than going from the U.S. to France.

But this time, something different happened. Instead of easing back to my usual schedule of staying up quite late and getting up at the last possible moment, I went with the jetlag schedule and ended up using it to my advantage. Because of the jetlag, I found I was naturally waking up at 4:30 or 5:00 AM — which is very early for me — and would pop right out of bed, fully rested, and get to work. This meant 2 or more full hours of work that I could put in while the house was quiet and still. I loved it! Plus, it was early enough that it wasn’t work day hours on the East Coast, and it meant I could stay ahead of things, and respond to inquiries before my inbox was filling up for the day.

It also meant I was droopy and sleepy by 8:30 or 9:00 PM. That’s very, very early for me — on my usual schedule, it’s not uncommon for me to hit the grocery store at 10:30 or 11:00 PM. But somehow I didn’t mind the early call to sleep. I gladly crawled into bed and zonked out immediately. I vowed to stick with the new sleep schedule for the whole school year. I felt great!

But alas, it didn’t last. I was going strong for the first couple of weeks, but eventually, I stayed up too late too many times. A good conversation would linger till midnight, or we’d start a movie, thinking it would “help me fall asleep,” and then I’d watch the whole thing — plus check in to Facebook.


Then last week, the lack of sleep ramped up, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. For me, a lack of sleep is my number one cause for getting sick. It’s as predictable as the sunrise. Take two nights without enough sleep, add an intense schedule that has my brain going a mile a minute, and I am guaranteed to wake up with a scratchy throat.

The scratchy throat is just the warning. If I heed the warning, take care of myself and get some sleep, I can ward off the coming head cold. But if I don’t heed the warning (and last week I didn’t), then it will take over my life, and I’ll find myself slogging through a week of work in a head cold fog. Working at something like 50% capacity. Sometimes less. And letting the house totally fall apart. I end up paying for the lack of sleep for weeks — behind on work, behind on parenting duties, behind on the house.

So you can imagine, I rarely ignore that scratchy throat warning. I’m actually really good about making sure I get enough sleep. It’s not worth it to me to risk getting sick. I know those extra hours I stay up will be completely lost (and then some!) when I’m unable to work because I’m sick. Like I said, not worth it. So last week’s head cold was rare for me.

Sleep Number doesn’t just make beds, they also study sleep — and everything related to sleep — in an intense way. And I know their solid research aligns with my anecdotal sleep experience. In fact, their research confirms that sleep drives one’s overall health and wellbeing. Quality sleep is as important as a healthy diet and exercise.  And Sleep Number’s national sleep survey shows 96% of adults agree sleep is key to healthy living.

Sleep Number is dedicated to providing solutions that offer quality sleep. Like their SleepIQ® technology (available on all of their beds). It automatically gives you the knowledge to adjust for your best sleep. Sensors inside the mattress measure average breathing rate, average heart rate, movement and bed presence to show you the quality of your sleep. I’ve tried it and it’s super easy to use — nothing to wear, nothing to turn on. All you have to do is sleep. They know that better sleep ensures a healthy mind, body and soul — sleep is what restores people at night so they can be their best, most productive selves tomorrow.

What about you? Have you experienced a direct connection between sleep and health? What does that look like for you? For those of you with chronic sleep problems, do they seem to lead to chronic health problems as well? What about fitness? Do you find you sleep better when you’ve put in some exercise that day?

P.S. — Curious about what your personal Sleep Number is? Visit a store and you can try a bed and find out for yourself. Very cool.

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Living With Kids: Natalie Olsen Tue, 20 Sep 2016 16:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ashleigh of Red Aspen Photography.

Natalie lives in Portland, Oregon — she happily admits she moved there after it was cool, which reminds me of a friend who lives in Texas who always says, “I wasn’t born a Texan, but I got here as soon as I could!” — with her husband and their four children. Debt-free. No mortgage, even. I had to hear more!

She is an absolute delight to read, and I truly found myself nodding vigorously as she extolled the virtues of a debt-free life. It sounds so appealing!  Come see.

Welcome, Natalie!

Hi, everyone! We are a family of six. Comprised of a ballerina-rope-climber, robot-building-racecar-driver, gymnast-collector-of-interesting-things, a magician-filmmaker, HGTV Property Baron Personality, and a one-year old baby. Yes, I’m embellishing, but hyperbole aside, we are a family with diverse interests that celebrates individuality.

Zach’s 9-to-5 is at Portland’s own Columbia Sportswear. He is the best magician inexpensive gimmicks from Amazon can buy. His magician alter-ego, The Great Shahrivar, shows up for all our kids’ birthdays. His interests are as long as his attention span is short, including: podcasting, novel writing, songwriting, blogging, filmmaking, and a solid foray into a t-shirt business — that is to say he adheres to the long lost art of working to live rather than living to work!

I’m Natalie, a realtor licensed in both Oregon and Washington State. I daydream more than anyone I know – too bad I can’t get paid to dream! I am always coming up with new plans, ideas, and house renovations. My latest dreams have led Zach and I to start a new project making our own show on YouTube. We’re hoping to show what it’s really like to buy properties while at the same time dispelling myths and giving advice on how to make a good investment. I love real estate and personal finance, and Zach loves making stuff, so with our powers combined we hope to make some entertaining stuff and have fun in the process.

Our offspring, in order of appearance, starts with Jane, at seven years old. As the oldest child she has the most pictures of herself and the most saved pieces of art. We’re not sure if this has anything to do with her hoarding tendencies, but we sneak into her room when she’s not looking to throw away her ever-expanding collection of anything she gets her hands on. When she’s not collecting things she’s dancing, doing cartwheels in the kitchen, pirouetting in the hall, or balancing on top of the couch.

Up next is Michael at five years old. Give him a cardboard box, a bucket of crayons, scissors and tape, and you’ll have a race car/robot in no time. This one has no volume control and after listening to a song one time can sing all the words — on repeat, mind you. We’re excited to get him into choir — or anywhere out of earshot. We’re also thankful for the prestigious title Michael carries with him in our home of being The Good Eater.

Olive is four and doesn’t see the nuanced difference between monkey bars and our stair banisters. Some parents are proud of their kids’ artwork or their prowess on the soccer field — our Olive is really good at hanging off of stuff! In an age of parenting one-up-ism, we’ll take it. Seriously though, my mom is constantly timing her and she will hang for, like, five minutes! It’s really bizarre and also entertaining.

Nolan is almost one! As the youngest of four we plan on letting him get away with everything. Once he was born we knew our family was complete. And if we didn’t know it then, we definitely knew it when we tried to get four kids in and out of a van for the first time.

We moved to Portland, Oregon after it was cool to live here. (Sorry Portlanders for adding to the housing market and traffic!) They say the most important thing in real estate is location. That’s true, but it’s important to realize that location means different things to different people. Location for us means the ability to spend the most time together as a family. We are squarely in suburban Portland, but despite its suburbia feel we have everything close by.

The elementary school is in our neighborhood, a totally decent athletic club is behind our house (Literally…we have a gate out our back fence, which unfortunately limits our excuses for not getting to the gym!), Olive’s preschool is right behind the athletic club, Zach’s office is only two miles away so he bikes to work rain or shine. (Note: He is also fond of saying that misery in life is directly proportional to the amount of time spent in traffic commuting to work.)

So our unsolicited advice to you? Instead of the biggest house or the most valuable house, pick the house that is in the location that lets you walk your kids to school, ride a bike to work, and spend less time getting to where you’re going. Home is where you live and you don’t want to spend too much time getting there.

We were a two-income household when I became pregnant with Nolan. We were already pulling our hair out attempting to meet the demands of three kids ages six and under while working so I knew that the time had come for us to move closer to family and a full-time grandma — my mom. Zach considers himself a Coloradan, plus deciding to move meant deciding what to do with our current home and three rental properties. We went on a trip to Mexico with just the two of us to be alone with the topic and came back in agreement. We’re moving!

Fate was on our side and a job opened up at Columbia Sportswear for Zach that was a perfect fit. All of a sudden our timeline for moving had sped up exponentially. I was determined to rent a place first, get the lay of the land, find the perfect neighborhood, and then purchase. Then one night, I got a call from my mom, then a text because she just couldn’t wait — she was more excited than anyone of our decision to move closer — saying she found the perfect house for us online. It was a fixer upper and it needed a lot of work, but it was four bedrooms and really close to Zach’s work.

I didn’t think much of it. But when I got home, Zach, who doesn’t get excited about houses easily, came out and said, “Natalie I found the perfect house for us.” It was the same one my mom had just called me about!

We had my parents do a FaceTime call with us as they walked through the home. Based on our past experience of fix-up’s, I didn’t feel threatened by the idea of buying a fixer-upper without walking through it first; I know how to make a house my own, I just really hoped the neighborhood would be a good fit.

It was listed at $315k and we found out there were two other offers already on the table. Without seeing it firsthand we crossed our fingers for good luck, made an offer with an escalation clause, and got it for $325k. On top of that we’ve put approximately $50 to $60k into renovations.

Living debt-free is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a consequence of financial choices. There is such a thing as feeling satisfied from buying nothing. This approach is obviously not represented very often in advertisements and the media. But arriving at the other end of a gift shop with both hands still empty can be exhilarating. Analyzing extra payments on an amortization schedule to see the years evaporate from a 30-year mortgage is thrilling. It’s one thing to show up to the ski resort feeling cool in the latest, most expensive gear — a similar if not equally satisfying feeling is to show up wearing the stuff from many seasons past and having just as much fun.

Our interest in getting out of debt came to a head when we decided to move to Portland. We had, for the previous seven years, bought three rental properties and were living in our fourth purchased home. Each property was bought as a primary residence to avoid big down payments. (If you’re buying as an investor, you need to put down 20% to 25%. If it’s your primary residence, you can get standard 30-year loans for as little as 3% down.) Which means we had been moving every two years.

With the market soaring high, we decided that rather than being distant landlords from another state we would sell all four. So the decision needed to be made: what to do with the profits from the sales of our four properties? Ask any financial advisor and the rational decision would have been to roll the profits from the sales into more rental properties to avoid tax and take out another mortgage for the primary residence in Portland. With interest rates still at record lows in the 4% to 5% range, money doesn’t get any cheaper and the tax savings would have been considerable.

But for us, the value of being debt-free was worth more than the extra money. Instead of getting another mortgage we took our profits and bought our 1,800 square foot, four bedrooms and three bath house with cash…and swallowed the bitter tax pill. You may be shaking your head at me right now but for us, it’s a lifestyle — not a race to accumulating more. And quite frankly, it’s the nicest, largest house we’ve ever owned! We also have money left over for some down payments on rental properties, which we are excited to get back into.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you can internalize that quote you’ll get out of debt and stay that way. Being smart with your money isn’t just about gritting teeth and self-deprivation, but leads to a higher self esteem. It’s also fun. If using a library card was an Olympic sport, my husband would be a contender for the gold.

We’ve learned there are two ways to be rich: earn more or want less.

Since Zach and I have never paid for TV, I often go to the gym solely to watch HGTV. I LOVE HGTV. One Saturday I was walking on the treadmill watching Flip or Flop for the first time. I was blown away by the risk they were taking — buying homes at auction without seeing them beforehand! It was on a Saturday and Zach and I were on a date when I got a notification for a house that had just come on the market listed for $300k only a couple blocks from our current house at the time. I knew it right when I saw it that the price was at least $50k lower than it should have been, even as a fixer-upper.

I immediately requested a showing and became the worst date-night participant ever, checking my phone every minute to see if we got in. Then I couldn’t handle waiting anymore and ended up calling. I learned that they weren’t allowing showings until Monday. Since I was still on a Flip or Flop high, I had it my head that I didn’t need to see the property before I could make an offer. So I called the listing agent, asked if their client would entertain a full price offer without us seeing the house…and we got it!

We spent the next six (sweaty) weeks fixing it up before moving in. This was by far the best real estate transaction I’ve ever had. It felt like we were stealing! I can’t remember how much we put into fixing it up — I want to say between $30 to $40k – but we sold it a year later for $416k.

The best lesson learned (the hard way) is that before buying a house, you should ALWAYS talk to the neighbors. They know a lot about the house you are about to buy and have a lot of valuable information! We bought our current Portland house in June, completely remodeled it, then on Halloween night it down-poured and our house flooded! Turns out this house had known flooding issues that no one had ever fixed. Our neighbors knew all too well about these issues but we never bothered to meet them before buying. So, it cost us a new driveway with a french drain leading to the sewer line. We’re nervously waiting rainy season again to see how the new setup fares. That was a hard one to swallow.

No matter how much we try to make the basement the designated play-room, they have a tendency to migrate to the space within a three foot radius of wherever I’m standing. The kitchen counter, the coffee table, and the living room couch are all play areas from their perspective, and the furniture is constantly covered with their notebooks, crayons, coloring books, and handmade crowns and masks.

As much as the mess in the main living areas can drive me crazy, I try to remind myself on a regular basis that these are the good ol’ days. I love seeing out of the corner of my eye the kids playing house, re-enacting their parents’ conversations, and (occasionally) sharing. I know that the days they spend at the counter while I’m trying to make dinner and the hours spent huddled around my feet while I’m sitting on the couch are someday going to be some of my fondest memories.

Whenever we go on vacation we rent out our entire home on Airbnb. It helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways. The first reaction we get from people who learn we do this is, “Aren’t you worried about all your stuff?” We respond with the following:

1. We keep a closet locked where we stash anything really valuable (there isn’t much) or dangerous (old tax forms, prescription drugs).

2. Airbnb allows you to vet anyone who requests to stay in your place. You can see reviews from other places they’ve stayed at and ask them questions before you agree.

3. Did we mention it helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways?

Recently, we found out our friends are renting out a bedroom and bathroom in their basement and making over $1,200 a month. That’s crazy! Anyone can do that! So, we decided to give it a shot. We got the room all ready to go, posted on Instagram that we were going to list our bedroom on Airbnb, and then shortly after we got a call from my sister-in-law. Her nephew had lived in Portland with his family and then just a couple weeks ago relocated to Arizona. He was just about to start his senior year and wanted to be able to attend college in Oregon with instate tuition…so she asked us if we’d consider renting the room to him. We talked about it and a few days later he moved in!

So, we now have a 17-year old roommate. He is actually really great. Our kids love him, and he is a hardworking kid. We are renting it to him for $400… which is less than we could have gotten for a full time Airbnb, but that’s ok. When he moves out we’ll give renting out a room in our house on Airbnb another shot.

By the way, a lot of people think that only places downtown or in really neat and unique locations are worthy to be Airbnb rentals. Not so. People are looking for places to stay all over. So, if you are thinking about renting out a space, just do it! If you don’t like it, stop. It’s as easy as that. (Oh, and tell us about it!)

I am about as frugal as you can get. Only in the last year or two have I bought things that are a little nicer and pricier, but to this day I don’t think I have a single item in our house that cost more than $500.

Our leather couch in our living room is a $3500 couch that I got used on Craigslist for $500. Our dining room table was $300 from World Market and was an item they were closing out so it was super discounted. Our nightstands were hand-me-downs that my brother and his wife never liked. Our coffee table is a $60 Target table that was the right size for the space. I mean, everything we have was either used or we got it for a steal. But they are all items I really like and fit my aesthetic.

Everyone always says, why have nice things when you have kids? They’re bound to ruin everything. Which, let’s be honest, is totally true. I used to think that one day, when my kids are grown and out of the house, I would finally get nice furniture. Then it hit me, oh wait, by then I will start having grandkids. And I want them to feel comfortable at my house and be able to play and not be worried about breaking something. So, I’ve decided that I want to live in a place NOW that feels the way I want.

I’m not going to go out and spend $10k on a sofa, but I’m also not going to just have furniture that I hate for fear of it getting ruined. Clearly we don’t spend a lot of money on our furniture, but I do want each thing that’s brought into my home to bring me joy.

And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

When we moved into this house in July of 2015, our tradition of Fancy Brunch was born. Every Sunday for the last year I’ve made fancy brunch. It’s always delicious but sometimes it’s something new and other times it’s a family favorite.

We get out goblet glasses for the kids to drink out of and we all eat on glass plates and have silverware and fabric napkins and play fancy music. It’s such a fun tradition that we’ve created and it’s something that our kids absolutely adore.

When the weather is nice it’s the rule that we have to eat out on the back deck. When we sit out on the back deck as a family during these times, Zach and I just look at each other and say “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” And we really believe that. This tradition, the time we spend with our kids and being out in the beautiful weather is truly what our dreams are made of.

I wish I had known that motherhood wasn’t always smiles and sunshine, that it’s one of the hardest jobs that you can ever have, that sometimes you want to crawl into your bed and hide the second your husband comes home from work. That each kid is an individual and as much as you you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. Because their needs are constantly changing.

Luckily there are enough wonderful moments to make it all worth it. No matter how hard it is, I would never undo any of the choices I’ve made that has landed me exactly where I am right now.


Loving the idea of Fancy Brunch, and totally on board with the concept of enjoying your decor now: “And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” You’ve got the cutest way of thinking about living with kids, Natalie; you’re really speaking my language! Thank you so much for being here today.

So, debt-free? How many of you enjoy the same sort of lifestyle? How does it make you feel to not owe any money? How did you train your mind to stop consuming more than you actually needed? How do you leave Home Goods with not even one. little. pillow. You know I love your stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Maude in Paris! Tue, 20 Sep 2016 01:41:21 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

I just got back from the San Francisco Airport. That’s twice in one week I’ve been a teary mess leaving that place. It’s possible I might be out of tears at this point — I told Ben Blair that everyone who is at home needs to hold still for a second while I catch my breath.

As promised, I wanted to tell you more about Maude’s opportunity and how she ended up flying to Paris today. The whole thing happened very quickly (holy cow so fast!) and I’m still wrapping my head around it. Because Maude LOVES her high school. The high school itself, and the experiences she’s had there. Maude has excellent grades. She’s active in student leadership. She’s been the captain of the Cross Country Team, and the Track team. She has an amazing group of friends that I adore. She loves school. And I wouldn’t have predicted this change of events for her.

But this summer, she went on a pilgrimage, and it really seemed to get her thinking about a different trajectory for her life. She started bringing up the idea of trying an international experience instead of returning to high school for her senior year. At first, I wasn’t sure she was serious about not returning, because like I said, she loves high school. But she was persistent about bringing it up.

As she looked to her senior year, she craved a new challenge. She knew if she returned to high school, she would make the most of it, and jump in with both feet, and take a challenging course load, and be super involved. But she had already done that. All of that. She had accomplished those things. She had been successful at those things. And she didn’t feel like there were many new challenges waiting for her. I would ask her what about Prom? What about senior year traditions? She wasn’t worried about missing them. She said, “I’ve been to Mormon Prom. That’s plenty of prom for me. If I’m in Oakland, of course, I’ll want to go. But Prom isn’t worth more to me than trying something new.”

There were a lot of really good and interesting people on the pilgrimage and hearing their stories, I think she started to think about her life in the third person, like she was observing her life. How did she want to describe herself. What experiences did she want to have that she could tell people about?

She kept bringing up the idea of an international adventure, and eventually we said, well, if you’re serious about this, there are a lot of things to work out. The biggest two: 1) What would you need to do to graduate? And 2) Where would you go, and for how long?We told her to start with those two, and if we can figure them out, we’ll take this seriously. But until then, we’re just considering it a fun idea.

Maude started searching for opportunties. Japan was high on her list. Also Norway. She liked the idea of learning another language. But no options seemed very solid. So it just remained an idea. Then, the day we arrived home from France for the summer, she got a text from her cousin — a family in France was looking for an American to work as an Au Pair/English Teacher for 18 hours per week, in exchange for room and board. Maude’s eyes lit up at the news.

There were two kids, age 7 and 9. She would pick them up from school, take them home on the Metro, help them with homework and make them dinner. And she would speak only in English with the kids (because their parents want them to learn). One night per week, she would put them to bed so the parents could have a date. Other than that, her time would be her own.

She would have her own studio apartment in Paris! She’s visited many times, but never lived in Paris. What an opportunity! It sounded perfect. She was definitely into it, but there were still a lot of unknowns. Would they want to hire Maude? What dates did they need her? And what about high school???

On the first day of school, just two days after we arrived home, she went straight to her guidance counselor and told her about the opportunity in France. The counselor was super supportive and very excited. She went through Maude’s schedule and attended to any missing details — like some PE credit that she earned from Track & Field, but that hadn’t made it onto her transcript. And she added up everything Maude still needed to graduate. Turns out it was only two classes! Just English and Gov/Econ.

So then we all talked together about Maude’s options. Maude’s transcript is in great shape to apply for college and we all (counselor, Maude and parents) want to make sure it stays that way. The counselor said there were online classes Maude could take to complete the two missing classes. Once finished, Maude could show the documentation to her counselor and the classes would be added to her high school transcript.

The counselor specifically mentioned there were certain online classes offered through BYU that are UC-approved (UC = University of California schools). We laughed that it was BYU, because she didn’t know that’s where Ben Blair and I went to school. (Funny coincidence.) The counselor said that if Maude completed her online work, she could come back and graduate with her class. This was music to Maude’s ears.

Maude wasn’t positive that she for sure wanted to do this, she was still exploring options. But once she had her school situation sorted, she started talking with the French family in earnest. She officially expressed interest and starting asking for more info. What kind of experience did she need to have? What dates did she need to commit to? What would the living situation be like? What neighborhood does the family live in? Could she get an Au Pair Visa — meaning, would she have permission to stay in France for the length of time needed?

The family was interested and wanted to hire her. They needed her to commit for a full school year. And they didn’t know anything about the Visa but were willing to write any necessary letters or contracts.

Maude started researching Visa options. And she hit a dead end. She couldn’t even get an appointment with the French Visa office here in San Francisco until the end of October. Alas, the host family needed her by September 2oth! Another bummer: from what she could tell, the French government won’t allow her to apply for the Visa when she’s already in France. The appointment needs to take place here in the States.

So then she made plan B. She would go to France from September 20th to December 20th — she can legally stay for 3 months without getting a specific visa — and then, when she’s home for Christmas, she’ll have her appointment with the Visa office here in San Francisco.

She communicated the Plan B idea to the host family and they approved. (Though admittedly, everyone involved is not quite sure what will happen if her Visa doesn’t get approved in December. Can she go back for another 3 months? Which would give her host family time to find a replacement? Not sure. She’ll do everything she can to prepare for the Visa appointment and then we’ll all hope for the best.)

Now that she had options for school worked out, visa questions sorted, and she knew the host family wanted to hire her, she had a big decision to make. Did she really want to do this? Or should she go ahead and continue her senior year?

I say “continue” because she’s been going to school every single day since it started. This has all come together very quickly and she wasn’t sure if it would really work out, so she wanted to keep going to classes just in case. That, and she loves her friends and loves high school and hates to miss out. : )

Ultimately, she had two good paths available to her and she knew it. She thought long and hard and decided Paris was the path she wanted to take.

She came to us with her decision and we talked out the possibilities. This was all happening very fast. As you know if you’ve been reading for awhile, we’re quite enthusiastic about International experiences, but when Ralph and Olive did a semester abroad, it had been planned for many months — over a year in Ralph’s case. And this was all happening within a couple of weeks.

Ultimately, we said yes, but we had four conditions: 1) She needed to reconfirm with her counselor that she could graduate with her class. 2) She couldn’t go unless she had her college applications in order. 3) She would have to have a daily Skype check-in with us while she was there — part of which would be us nagging her about her coursework. And 4) She needed to enroll in a local class of some sort while she’s there. Something that would help her make new friends in Paris.

Speaking of her college applications, they are coming along. She’s done with the UC apps except for her 4 essays, which she won’t submit until after November 1st (which is the earliest she can submit them). She has solid drafts of all four essays. She works on them on a google doc and every time she completes a new draft, she’ll share it with us and we’ll suggest edits.

But as for her non-UC applications, she hasn’t started yet, because the other schools she’s interested in don’t open applications until mid-October. But I’m not worried. All the info she’s put together for the UC applications (like her extra-curricular info, job experience, etc.) will help her finish her other applications more easily. We mapped out all the due dates and a task list before she left, and our daily check-in will (hopefully!) make sure deadlines are being met.

Maude is amazing, and I’m so excited that she has this awesome adventure ahead of her. But emotionally, I’m all over the place. This definitely feels different than a mission. I can talk to her or text her whenever. And we already have her return ticket for December 20th, so we know we’ll see her in just 3 months. But it also feels like she’s officially moving out. Assuming the Au Pair Visa works out and she’s there all year, then what? She’ll be home for a couple of months and then head to college? So strange to think of.

I really thought I had another year with her, and I kept having this feeling at the airport, with panic-ed heart beats: This is it? This is the whole amount of time I had to parent you? The clock has already run out? What if I forgot to teach you something? What if I didn’t hug you enough? Or say enough kind things? It’s too fast! I already miss you!!

Ben Blair had to keep talking me off the cliff on the way home. Between tears, I asked, “What if it’s the wrong decision? What if we should have said no? What if it’s awful?” Ben said, “Then she’ll come home.”

Then I asked, “What if after all the research and planning and checking, this still messes up her transcript? She’s worked so hard for so many years!” Ben answered, “Her applications are due before this this semester is finished. France or no France, her transcript wouldn’t change for the college applications. And even if by some fluke she doesn’t get into her favorite colleges right now, there are other pathways that can get her there.”

Then I asked, “What if she can’t go back in January because of Visa issues?” And Ben said, “Then she’ll go back to high school and finish with her friends. She’s actually fine with that.”

And we basically had conversations like this all the way home. It’s not that Ben Blair isn’t worried too. We were just taking turns. I would voice the worry we both felt, and he would respond with the voice of reason that we both know, but that sometimes I’m not very good at summoning.

On a happier note: I think Maude is really going to thrive with this new independence. She hasn’t ever had an experience like this and I think she’ll really love it. She’s smart and responsible and loving and she’ll be an excellent au pair. She’ll love having her own little studio apartment in Paris (who wouldn’t?). She’ll love managing her own schedule, managing her own money. I think it will be a formative adventure. And I’m sure her French will get even better. I’m betting she’ll come back in December with a big dose of confidence.

Also happy: I love that we know lots of wonderful people in France, so that if she’s in trouble there are friends who can help her even though we’re far away. I love that her cousin is across town being an au pair too! I’m so glad they’ll have each other.

That was a long post. If you have thoughts or questions, feel free to comment. And I’d love to hear from any of you who tried an international experience in high school!

P.S. — Thinking about Maude and her senior year, there was a definitely a turning point that I think changed her senior year no matter what. It was after that first appointment with her counselor. Once Maude realized that her schedule could technically just be two classes, I don’t think she ever would have been willing to go back to the original punishing schedule she had planned for her senior year.

P.P.S. — The photo at top was taken by my sister Jordan when we all lived in France. It’s Ralph, Maude and cousin Roxcy on the Seine. Maude and Roxcy can recreate this photo — they’re both in Paris for the year! Roxcy is the cousin who told Maude about this terrific opportunity.

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A Few Things Fri, 16 Sep 2016 15:00:59 +0000 Design Mom

Oscar Oakland Cranes

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? How was your week? I have so much to tell you, but very little space in my day at the moment to write it all out. As you know, we sent Ralph off on Tuesday (and I still have thoughts about that to share), but our prep work isn’t done yet. I have some news I haven’t even told you about: Maude is moving to Paris — and she leaves on Monday!

Maude is an amazing person, and I’m super excited for her — I think she’s going to LOVE her time in that gorgeous city. Her already independent nature is sure to flourish. But as you can imagine, our collective family heart is bursting with the double-whammy of sending off two people we love so much.

Maude’s opportunity came up fast, I’m still wrapping my head around it. I promise I will tell you all about it, but right now, I’ve got a daughter to spend time with, and a packing list to tackle. So I’m going to leave you now with a few things I’ve wanted to share, and then tell you more next week:

- A mesmerizing mini-documentary about the war on drugs.

- The conspiracy behind your glasses. I had no idea this was a thing!

- Living without breasts.

- Scroll the date slider to see when fall foliage will peak across the country.

- Though-provoking photos of people who live alone in the wilderness.

- The free-time paradox in America.

- New York City vs. San Francisco. Having lived in both places, I found this funny and true.

- Related: San Francisco becomes the first city to ban the sale of plastic bottles.

- 17 statistics about our shopping habits.

- 50 years ago, the sugar industry paid off scientists to put blame on fat.

- A strategy to help women amplify their voices in male-dominated spaces.

- Litterbugs publicly shamed using portraits created from their DNA.

- Best thing I read all week. A text conversation between mom and daughter about buying tampons.

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


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Growing A Family: A Precipitous Birth Thu, 15 Sep 2016 15:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. This reinvented cuckoo clock by Dorothée Loustalot found here.

Colette brings up an interesting point in this week’s Growing A Family account, and I’m wondering how your experience matches up. If you’ve experienced childbirth, have you forgotten the not-so-lovely details? Or do you remember every single moment no matter how many years or subsequent births have gone by? I’d love to hear your opinions on this!

Until then, here’s one of the fastest births in the history of my Growing A Family posts! Welcome, Colette.

They say that we forget the pain, details, and strong emotions of childbirth…otherwise, we would never do it again. I say that simply is not true. Every detail of this birth is burned into my mind and heart and I have since given birth two more times. Each time I tell this story, I almost feel as if it isn’t mine, that it happened to a different young, unsuspecting, about to be mother in some strange movie.

This is from my journal the morning of her birth.

Today has been a crazy day and it is not even noon yet! I woke up this morning at about 1:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was having strange contractions! I woke up my husband at about 4:30 and he tried to rub my back to help me relax. Though painless, the contractions continued. We called the doctor at about 6:00 am and he told us since my due date was still a month away to go to labor and delivery just to be safe. The baby looked great. Her heart rate was everything it should be. However, I was still having contractions. The nurse checked my cervix and it was 3.5 cm dilated and 80-90% effaced! Crazy! I started feeling a little nervous. It was a big shock! I wasn’t expecting to hear something like that until closer to my due date. The nurse had us wait for an hour while in bed before she checked again to find no change. The doctor then had us go and walk for an hour to see if that would make me dilate more. (It’s really fun walking around in a hospital gown…not!) We went for a long walk, ate some food, and came back to still no change. That is so good because this baby needs to fatten up before she comes out. The doctor now wants me to stay on bed rest at home until the contractions stop or the baby actually comes. If they stop, then I should be able to go back to work. That would be nice to help make the time go faster.  

This whole experience today has opened my eyes a little more to the reality that we will be parents very, very soon. I am going to try to sleep now. I am pretty exhausted after waking up so early.

Little did we know just how very, very soon we would have our baby girl.

Naturally, I started bed rest by getting in bed to take a nap. I must admit that I was happy I didn’t have to go to work that day, and that family and friends could come and entertain me during my down time. An amazing friend prepared a bed rest basket with all sorts of goodies for entertainment and snacking she had planned to bring in the next couple days.

Well, the contractions continued and prevented me from taking that nap. It was starting to get so frustrating since I hadn’t slept since 2:00 am. I decided to take a warm bath because that seemed to stop contractions for some people. The water felt so nice and relaxing, except that the contractions continued. I got out of the tub and got dressed only to realize that the contractions seemed to be getting stronger but still painless.

By now it was about 4:00 pm. We were planning to have my husband’s sister and her family over for pizza and a movie. I continued my bed rest on the couch while he was getting ready for our guests. We ordered the pizzas at about 5:00 pm and got ready to go pick them up around 5:30. I suddenly had some very painful and intense contractions that brought me to the floor on my hands and knees. I knew that we had to get back to the hospital ASAP! There would be no pizza party with our family that night.

The timing of the contractions still altered with my activity level, but they were so intense that I couldn’t talk during one. Here is the kicker, I still didn’t think I was in REAL labor! The doctor and nurses were so sure that the timing would remain the same regardless of change in activity and told us to come back when they were steady and unchanging. They were still about 5-11 minutes apart and 40-60 seconds long when lying down and two minutes apart and 20 seconds long when standing. Big difference!

It was all so confusing since the timing didn’t match how intense and painful they were. I cried as I told my husband that we needed to go back to the hospital because I really didn’t want to go back and then be sent home again and I wanted to spend time with his sister and her family.

After hitting very few red lights, we pulled into the hospital parking lot around 5:50 pm. We got a great parking spot which was one of the last spots in that lot. I had a strong contraction as we were getting out of the car and another right at the doors. We made it to the elevators and a guy in green scrubs held it for us. I was starting to have another one, but we opted to get on the elevator anyway.

The guy smiled and said, “Floor five?”

“How could you tell?” we answered.

He actually worked on Labor and Delivery and let us go right in, no picking up the phone to explain why we were there and then waiting for the doors to open. Since we had already been there that day, they had us sign one more paper that we forgot to sign earlier and then the clerk took us to a room, instructed me to put the gown on and then lie down and wait for the nurse. I remember thinking it was so far away from everyone else and the nurse’s station. I had two more contractions while checking in and then one in the hallway as we were walking to the room.

My husband helped me into the gown and I had another one, except this time I felt the slight urge to push! It finally sank in that I was actually in real labor and was about to have our baby. I must have been in transition as I felt like I was going to throw up. My husband grabbed a garbage can. I had another contraction and told my husband, “I feel something coming out!?!” I was in total shock! My husband looked and could see the amniotic sac!

Since we were completely alone in the room, he ran out to the hall and yelled, “We need a doctor in here!” A nurse poked her head out of a room and he told her, “Doctor. NOW!” While he was out in the hall getting help, I was in the room half screaming through clenched teeth, terrified that I was going to have the baby all by myself. In seconds, a ton of people came rushing into the room. Contractions were on top of each other at this point. I had another one and could feel her head coming out. I couldn’t resist the demands of my body to push. I don’t think anyone tried to stop me. I was squeezing my husband’s hand on my left and some nice blonde nurse’s hand on the right, poor thing. Another contraction came and her head was out. Another one immediately followed and the rest of her came out. She was born at 6:04 pm, less than five minutes from when we arrived in Labor & Delivery.

They whisked her away since she was so small and came so fast. They call it precipitous labor. I was definitely in shock and was grateful when they put the oxygen mask on me. Amazingly, immediately after she was born the contractions stopped and the pain was gone. My husband said, ”That is our daughter crying. Can you hear her? She is alright.” I remember crying because I was just so relieved that she was okay.

My doctor arrived just two minutes after she was born. He finished everything up, and then they brought my tiny, sweet baby girl to me. In my shock, all I could say was how beautiful she was over and over. We attempted breastfeeding, but her little mouth just couldn’t latch on before she fell asleep. She was so small and precious with a full head of medium brown hair. I cannot begin to describe my feelings as I held my daughter for the first time. Joy, relief, elation, words cannot suffice.

Despite the unexpected and traumatic delivery, I still felt a strong maternal bond with that new, little person. The nurses kept saying how cute and tiny she was. My husband went with her to get examined in the nursery, while I was taken to the postpartum room. As I waited for them to get to my room, I remember being in awe that our baby actually came because mentally I wasn’t expecting her for a few more weeks. She was born a whole month early at 35 weeks! At four pounds seven ounces and 16.5 inches long, she was perfect in every way. She didn’t require oxygen and amazingly never spent time in the NICU.

We asked the doctor why she came so early and it turned out her placenta was deteriorating. The doctor said it looked like a three week old overdue placenta and it just couldn’t support her anymore. It forced her to mature faster. She knew she would be safer outside than in her mommy’s belly and that is also why she was so small.

The next few days were pretty much a blur between feeding, changing, and just loving on our new baby girl. She ended up staying an extra night just for monitoring before we brought her home. Since she still couldn’t latch on to nurse, we were sent home with a supplemental nursing system. We would slip a tube attached to a syringe full of pumped milk or formula into the corner of her mouth. Each time she tried to suck, we would press the syringe a little. She eventually learned to latch, but it took her almost a month.

I am so grateful that everything went so well as I am very aware of what could have gone wrong. Our Heavenly Father was truly watching over us that day. Looking back, all the little things turned out to be huge things. We would not have made it to the hospital in time if we had hit one more red light, hadn’t gotten that last parking spot, or without the nice guy in the elevator. I am so, so grateful we made it to the hospital, as I know my husband is, too. We love this little girl with all our hearts! She and her two brothers continue to be the center of our everything.


See what I mean? Colette remembers every tiny detail, which is pretty hard to do during such a fast delivery, don’t you think? Thank you for being here, Colette!

I’m also so interested in all the angel moments popping in to situations like this one. The green-lit drive to the hospital, the open elevator…it’s all fascinating and reassuring to me. You, too?

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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Can You Read Music? Wed, 14 Sep 2016 18:54:58 +0000 Design Mom

Design Mom Music Nook 3

By Gabrielle. Image by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

I’m working on a companion piece to yesterday’s post about missions. But my emotions are still quite raw and I need to pause for a minute on it. So instead, today I have a different topic I want to talk about. It’s music. My big questions are: Do you read music? Can you sing parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)? Did you ever take music lessons? Do you play an instrument?

I guess I’m curious about how common it is. I grew up doing all of these things. I took piano lessons for many years. I sang alto in advanced choir in both middle and high school. I sang weekly at church — as a congregation and in small groups. And of course, there was the recorder in sixth grade. As a kid, none of this was unusual. It seemed like most people around me were having similar experiences.

As an adult, I can read music, but only sort-of. Meaning I can easily find the notes on the piano that are on the page of music, but I can’t sit down and sight read a new piece. It would take many, many hours of practice to play a new piece — not even a particularly difficult one. And I rarely play at all — maybe once a year I’ll sit at the piano and play something. Honestly, I don’t seem to miss it or crave it. I don’t think it was ever particularly important to me to be able to play piano. It was just something I was signed up for as a kid.

Singing is the same. I still sing with the congregation at church, but I have no desire to join the church choir. I’ll sing with the radio or if the kids turn on something while we do the dishes. But that’s about it. I don’t consider myself a voice performer in any way, and don’t value that for myself. And parts? I can only sing a harmony if I have learned and memorized it ahead of time. I definitely can’t pick out a harmony on my own, or in the middle of a song. In fact, I can’t sing a harmony by looking at notes on the page — I can play a middle C, but I can’t sing one unless I hear it played first. Does that make sense?

That said, I loved when my siblings would sit around with guitars, or whatever instruments we had on hand, and have a jam session. I love when my kids do the same thing. And I love listening to music. I feel like I value music very much, even if I don’t care to be the one who performs it.

In contrast to me, there’s Ben Blair. He took far fewer lessons than I did, but enjoys singing and playing music (guitar, mandolin, piano, and everything else we have in the house) far more than I do.

What about you? What sort of role did music play a role in your childhood? And what role does it play now as an adult? For those of you who like to perform (either sing or play), do you have opportunities to do so? Did you ever get the chance to learn how to read music? And did you have formal lessons, or are you someone who is naturally musical and can play by ear, or sing a harmony the first time you hear a song?

P.S. — As a parent, I for sure value music for my kids. Each one of them has lots of experience with music lessons and performing with bands and choirs and during recitals. I know music helps with brain development, and I love the skills they learn from lessons — things like how to perform, how to do your part within a group, how to be disciplined and practice. But sometimes I lose sight of what the goal is. Or wonder if there’s a goal at all. How long should they take lessons? And what skill level should we be aiming for? Is the idea a music profession of some sort? Or just the ability to engage in and enjoy music throughout their life? I have no idea. Hah!

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So What is this “Mission” Anyway? Tue, 13 Sep 2016 20:34:26 +0000 Design Mom

Ralph Airport SFO

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I’m a wreck today. Partly because I’m fighting through a head cold, but mostly because the whole family woke up at 3:30 this morning so we could take Ralph to the airport and send him off with a giant family hug. He’s flying to Mexico City today for six weeks of training and then it’s on to Bogota, Colombia. His mission assignment is 24 months, and we won’t see him again for two years. (I’m absolutely crushed to write that sentence). He can call us on Mother’s Day and Christmas, but other than that, the only communication we’ll have with him is a weekly email, or maybe an actual written letter now and then.

Though we’re delighted he has such a huge adventure ahead of him, we are all feeling pretty heartbroken to see him go. There are lots of tears and lots of tissues at our house. And sweet surprises too. After we returned from the airport and went back to bed for a few hours, we woke to find that Ralph had left a personal letter for each sibling and each parent. Really thoughtful, lovely letters. I already treasure mine.

Lots of cryfests happening. There was one last night when Ralph was officially made Elder Blair by one of our church leaders. Another as we drove to the airport this morning. A big one as we said goodbye at security. And another one this morning as we read his letters. Those are the family cryfests, but really, I’ve personally been a big teary mess at random times — grocery store line, driving kids to school, doing dishes — since we got home from France. It’s not just the mission, it’s also the very real fact that this marks the end of an era for our family.

While I’m dealing with the tears, I thought this was a good day to write up a few notes about missions for those who are curious. I need to start by saying that I’ve never been on a mission. So I’m going to tell you what I know, but I can’t pretend to be an expert.

What a mission is:
Missions have been happening since the Mormon church was established. But they’ve changed over time. Back in the pioneer days, it was often married men with young families who were sent off all over the world. But a century and a half later, it’s mostly young men and young women in their late teens and early twenties. Beyond that age range, there are also couple missionaries that head out when they retire — for example, my parents and Ben Blair’s parents both served a mission in retirement. There are currently about 74,000 LDS missionaries. Here’s a list of the trivia that I think you’ll find the most interesting:

- Young men can go on a mission beginning at age 18. They must be single. They are asked to serve for 24 months.

- Young women can go on a mission beginning at age 19. They must be single as well. They are asked to serve for 18 months. There are lots of theories about the different age requirements, and time requirements, but I haven’t heard any official word on why it’s different for men and women. Also, these ages are relatively new. For most of my life the age requirements were 19 for young men, and 21 for young women. But that changed about 4 or 5 years ago.

- You don’t get to choose where your mission will be. With the exception of a few countries where they don’t allow missionaries, it could be literally anywhere. My siblings did missions in Cambodia, Brazil, Japan, Colombia, and South Dakota. My dad’s mission was on the Navajo reservation. In retirement, my mom and her husband went on a mission to Ykaterinburg, Russia (so cold!).

Being able to speak a second or third language doesn’t necessarily affect where you are asked to serve. Ralph is fluent in French, but has been asked to learn Spanish. There is a spot on the application where you can indicate your language skills and your willingness to learn a new language. But still, you get assigned where you get assigned.

- You have to apply to go on a mission. It’s not an automatic: YES, you can go. A mission is hard work, and you have to be up to it physically. So just to apply, there are doctor visits and dentist visits and blood tests and immunization records — with the goal of making sure that anyone heading out on a mission is as healthy as possible.

- Mission applicants are also interviewed by their church leaders to make sure they are living the Mormon lifestyle — no drinking, smoking or drugs, no sex before marriage. That sort of thing. If they have done any of those things, but still want to go on a mission, then they work with their church leader to repent/recommit, and then they can apply for a mission.

- Missions start at a training center. Typically for 2, 6 or 8 weeks. If you are not learning a language, training is for 2 weeks. If you are learning a language, training is for 6 or 8 weeks (Ralph is training for 6). There are training centers in many places, but I believe the biggest one is in Provo. Ralph was originally asked to go to the training center in Colombia, but then they switched him to Mexico City for training. From the training center, missionaries fly to their mission destination — there’s no stop at home first.

- Missionaries are assigned a companion. They are with them pretty much non-stop, and they don’t get to choose their companion. New companions may be assigned every 3 to 6 months, although some pairs work together for longer periods. From what we can tell, most missionaries in Ralph’s mission are from South American countries. Very few are from the U.S.. Which means most of his companions may be native Spanish speakers. I’m sure this will really help speed up Ralph’s Spanish skills.

Many men and women who have served missions gave Ralph advice, and almost every one of them said dealing with companions — learning to be patient with them, to work with them, to love them — is the hardest part of the mission.

- Missions generally cover a large area. I think Ralph’s mission covers about half of the geography of Colombia — including the coldest and hottest parts. Missionaries don’t get to choose which area within their mission to work in. It’s assigned to them, just like a companion, and can switch around just as often. This can be challenging — just as they are getting to know an area and making good friends, they may need to pack their bags, say goodbyes, and start all over again hours away.

- Often, it’s two missionaries in a small apartment, but sometimes there are 4 or 6 missionaries sharing a bigger space.

- Missions are not paid, and they are not free. Missions actually cost $400 per month for the whole 24 months. Many kids save up for their mission for many years. Or their parents or grandparents might pay the cost. Other times, a congregation will sponsor a missionary and cover his or her costs. The fee covers housing, food, toiletries, and transportation. If the missionary wants to buy clothing or souvenirs, those purchases come from personal funds beyond the $400 per month. Also, cost of living ranges around the world, but missionaries all pay the same rate — the idea is that it’s an average cost of all missions. (It didn’t used to be this way. If you were assigned to an expensive part of the world, then bummer for you, your costs were simply higher. The average cost makes so much more sense.)

In addition to the monthly costs, prepping someone for a mission is also an expense. Luggage, suits and wardrobe, sturdy shoes, and other supplies can add up to $1000 or more easily.

- Missions are very strict. You can’t go to movies, or to concerts. You can’t use the internet (except for sending a weekly email), you can’t have a cell phone or any internet device. You can’t date. You’re not supposed to read anything beyond the scriptures and a very short list of approved church books. You can only listen to uplifting music (think: Mormon Tabernacle Choir). You get up every morning at 6:30 AM. As I mentioned, you can’t call home, except for twice a year — on Christmas and Mother’s Day. Your energy is supposed to be concentrated on the mission and nothing else. No distractions.

- The dress code is also very strict. Missionaries are supposed to look professional and well-groomed. Ralph will be wearing dark suits with a white shirt and tie. Shoes need to be polished daily. Hair must be worn very short. No beards allowed. Women have more flexibility and don’t end up looking so matchy-matchy with their companion, but they must wear long skirts or dresses (that hit below the knee), and blouses with sleeves. They can’t dye their hair unusual colors, or wear extra piercings beyond a simple set of earrings. Missionaries wear name-tags from the moment they enter the training center.

- So what do missionaries do all day? The main goal is to find people who want to learn about the gospel and teach them. They get up early, study the scriptures, pray, get ready for the day and then head out to work. They may have back-to-back appointments to teach people about the gospel. Or they may set up a street board and try to engage passersby in conversation. In many places, they are discouraged from knocking doors because it’s invasive and generally not effective, but depending on the area, sometimes they may choose to knock doors anyway. A portion of their time is reserved for service — they might volunteer or help someone move. In some places, missionaries hold English classes. They may head home in the evening to make dinner, or a family in their assigned congregation may host them for dinner. They are always with their companion.

- Once a week, they have a P-day or preparation day. On this day, they can do laundry, buy groceries, maybe play a pick up game of soccer or basketball. They don’t have to wear a suit or typical missionary clothes on P-Day.

- There is a culture of shame for missionaries who come home early. This is an awful thing and as a church it needs to be worked on. Prevention efforts are made — the interviews with the church leader when someone applies for a mission are partly to make sure the missionary is serious about wanting to do the mission. But still, sometimes a young man or young women heads out there and finds that it’s just not the right fit at all. Or maybe they are breaking some big mission rules (like no dating) which means they have to go home, or maybe they’re having unexpected medical problems. Whatever the reason they come home, as church members, we need to work harder to make sure they can change directions and come home without making it a big deal. We need to make sure these kids know they are loved with or without missionary service.

- An advantage of missions is that they often become a crash course in adulting. Missionaries are given a specific amount of money each month and they have to budget it for food and other expenses. If they haven’t already before they go, they have to figure out laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking and shopping for themselves. They have to learn how to get along with others (specifically their companions). They have to keep a strict schedule — get up early and go to bed early. They have to be responsible with their time and resources.

A disadvantage to this, is that many missionaries feel compelled to jump into serious adulthood — marriage and parenting — as soon as they return. As someone who married at 21, I know marrying young can work out, but it’s not okay with me that many missionaries feel serious pressure to marry as quickly as possible after they return home.

- Missionary work can be disruptive to a college education. Some missionaries like to go on a mission before they start college, but many like to do a year of college first and then return to school when they are done. As you can imagine, if you start college with a tight-knit freshman class, and then disappear for two years, and then come back and all your peers are seniors, while you are a sophomore, then that is really challenging.

Related, at the Mormon-church-owned BYU schools (in Provo, Idaho and Hawaii), having students leave for missions is commonplace and the schools accommodate those changes easily. But at other universities, students have to defer for a couple of years and make sure their university paperwork is in order before they go on the mission.

- There are exceptions to everything I’ve said. I’ve heard of shorter missions and longer missions. I’ve heard of missions being served at unusual ages. Sometimes there are non-proselytizing missions — missions to do service only, or missions where you are assigned to work in the mission office. I’ve heard of missions that allow movies at certain gatherings and parties. I’ve heard of missions that use iPads. But I think in general, what I’ve written here holds true. And you can definitely read more about this stuff on the LDS website.

- As I mentioned, Ralph received lots of advice, and one of the overarching themes seems to be that missions are really hard and that they are deeply formative. Also, that even though missions are difficult, there are moments that are so rewarding that it makes all the hard work worth it.

I think that’s it for now. If you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. I know there are many Mormons who read here, and if I don’t know the answer, I’m sure someone else will jump in. : )

I also have some thoughts written up about why this particular change in our family life is causing me such angst — I mean, Ralph has certainly gone off on other adventures before, but this feels different. This post is already quite long, so I’ll keep working on my other thoughts and try to share them tomorrow. Oh parenting, sometimes you kick me in the butt.

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Living With Kids: The Hardest Working Room in Trina’s La La Lovely Home Tue, 13 Sep 2016 16:00:00 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos via Trina herself and Yazy Jo Photography.

Whenever I catch up with Trina of the beautiful blog La La Lovely on Instagram, I’ve noticed one room in her home is featured a lot. And in very different ways.

Seriously, Trina’s master bedroom is the hardest working room in her home. It’s equal parts a sleeping, working, relaxing, and exercising space, which sounds like a whole lot when I write it out. I had to see it more closely, and hear all about it from the one who spends the most time in there. Of course, Trina agreed to show us around. She’s so good like that!

Welcome back, Trina! (Yep, she’s been here before, and is also featured on some of the cutest pages in my book!)

Hi everyone! We’re the McNeilly family. We are a wild bunch, mostly because the boys tip the scales. There’s Stephen: Everyone tells him he looks and sounds like Matthew McConaughey. Except for the one time someone said, “Does anyone ever tell you that you look like….Owen Wilson?”

I’m Trina. I’m known to break into a British accent at any given time. My children are no longer amused by this.

Our oldest and singiest is Ella. If she isn’t singing, something must be wrong.

Then comes Luke: He is our resident sports fanatic from black flips to football, and he has a few scars to prove it.

Liam Brave is an old soul who has been giving me lessons about life since he was two.

And Rocco Royal is our social bug. Last year, I found out that he had smuggled one of my necklaces to school and gave it to a girl named Scarlett.

Theodore is our kitty cat who likes to bring me presents, and not the kind I like to get. Because of him I’m now a part-time animal rescuer.

I live in my childhood home. I never would have imagined that I’d be living in the house I grew up in. Some days it’s weird, but most days endearing. We’ve spent the last eleven years slowly making minor updates and decorating room by room. The house has seen many changes over the years, and I have really enjoyed making it my own.

Now, it’s not just the house I grew up in, it’s also the home my four children grew up in. As you can imagine, each room tells many stories, from then and now. I love how my stories are mingling with theirs.

My master bedroom is the hardest working room in my house. I’ve been asked if it felt weird to change up the room from when it belonged to my parents, but it really wasn’t. I think because my parents had been out of the house for about a year before we moved in and I had gotten somewhat used to it being empty. But also because this room wasn’t my parents’ room for most of my childhood.

When I was a senior in high school my parents had an addition built, which included this master bedroom, a bathroom, and an office. My earliest memories go back to their original bedroom, which eventually became my brother’s room, then a guest room, a nursery, and now Ella’s room.

When I think of this bedroom being my parents’ I always picture my parent’s nightstands. Particularly my dad’s side, stacked with books. Some things never change, I suppose, because my nightstand is stacked with books, too.

I think it all started with a desk. My dad’s old desk, actually. I painted it and brought it into the room as decor and before I knew it became functional. I like to keep the bedroom as a place of rest and relaxation so it’s not my ideal to work out of my bedroom, but I really don’t have another space of my own in the house.

The room is used for sleep and relaxing (I’m a fan of watching movies in bed on cold winter days), working, writing, reading, and exercise.

I love to walk (and surprisingly run, but after a half-marathon I learned my feet aren’t cut out for running). It’s exercise, but it’s also therapeutic for me. I walk outside in the warmer months, and in the winter I walk on a treadmill.

I started exercising in my bedroom last winter when I was having some health issues. I have a good amount of space on the side of my bed, with a beautiful rug, and it just so happened to be the perfect place to do yoga.

While I adore yoga, I was advised to start Pilates and have really fallen in love with it. I joined Robin Long’s The Balanced Life Sisterhood which is a monthly subscription that offers workout calendars, exclusive Pilates routines, recipes and community. I’m a fan of Robin’s 10-minute workouts and have learned to be really consistent with this program. So in my room, I do yoga, Pilates, stretching, and sometimes light weights. If the my younger boys catch me doing yoga, they always join in — for about five minutes, that is.

There are no unspoken rules for who’s in my room and when. I’ve tried the spoken kind and they don’t seem to work too well for our room, at least not in this season of life. Since this room was an addition it is right off of the kitchen, the main hub of the house, where there is always a lot of commotion. Besides that, my husband’s office is on the other side of our bedroom which makes it feels like a hallway, at times.

I’m a bit of an introvert so it’s really important to me to have my own space to escape to. I like to be able to shut the door and retreat. My husband is not an introvert; I think he thinks I’m high maintenance. I think keeping this space “sometimes sacred” is something we will be working on this winter; just as I’ll be working on remembering that it is a season of life and one day I will miss the interruptions.

My desk used to be right next to my bed, where my dresser currently is, and that did not work for me. I’d be laying in bed looking at it and thinking way too much. Last year, I was quite ill and I just couldn’t work. Getting my groceries was a big task during that time. The whole ordeal put everything in perspective for me.

During that time, I just wanted to spend time with my family and get well. While things tug at me, I’m truly learning that things can wait. If I don’t get to blog today or even at all this week, then life will go on. Summer is always a great practice for this new rhythm. I have to prioritize what is most important, get a few things done when I have a sitter, and let the rest go.

On a practical note, It’s also helped to take down my inspiration board (which could get a cluttered and messy) and replace it with a beautiful picture – I chose this beautiful cactus art because it reminds me of Tucson, where my family vacationed for over twenty years. It’s home away from home and it reminds me of relaxing and happy times — as well as making sure my desk is cleaned off most nights. Now it kind of feels more like a hotel desk, in a nice hotel room, which feels kind of luxurious.

I don’t know if I can name a specific project on the horizon that’s inspiring me at the moment, but I’m really just excited to work on my writing. It’s always been about words for me. I’m looking to write more on my blog and let words drive the imagery rather than the other way around. While I’m pursuing other writing opportunities, I want my blog to be a place where authentic and inspiring words are written and beautiful images help to tell the story.

I also have a reading corner in this room. It consists of a small blue chair that was my husband’s grandmother’s, a side table, and many books piled on the floor. As I mentioned, I love words. I not only like to write them…I love to read them. I wake up early, before the kids, get a cup of coffee — decaf for me these days — and start my day reading my Bible, a little bit from a personal growth book (I’m getting ready to start this one), and journaling. I’m a much better mom and person if I have this quiet time to reflect.

I hope my kids remember this room as a beautiful lived-in room. I think they will remember our big bed that they love to jump off of and snuggle in. Mostly I hope they can almost feel rest when they think back on this space. That it will be the very type of space they want to recreate in their own way in their own homes. A big squidgy bed for cuddling, books to get lost in, serene decor, and more books to get lost in!

If I’ve learned one lesson about making a space for myself among all the chaos of the kids’ spaces, it’s accepting that it’s not entirely my space — as much as I wish it could be!

It’s our space, because it is our home.

Children get into everything and bring everything with them. I’ve learned to go ahead and decorate as I like, with lots of calming white and even a few touches of pink among lots of boys. I think it’s like a living juxtaposition. A really beautiful one. Create the calming space you dream of and let the chaos live within it…at least for an hour or so a day. Then when the kids go to bed, light a candle, make a cup of tea, and take the calm in.

But truly? Let’s just say I’m really savoring this space now that school has started again.

Life could’ve been a lot easier had I learned to let go a little sooner. I tried to hold onto perfection for too long. I’m learning to let the mess go, the stress go, the unrealistic expectations that I place on myself go. I can’t do it all, and honestly, I don’t want to.


Trina! This: “I can’t do it all, and honestly, I don’t want to.” Most of us, if we’re lucky, manage the first five words. But if we’re really, really fortunate, we can easily admit the whole sentence. Thank you for showing us the hardest working room in your home. It was a tremendous treat all around!

What do you think, everyone? Do you have a room with multiple personalities? I’d love to hear about it, and possibly share it! Let’s keep in touch, okay?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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A Few Things Fri, 09 Sep 2016 19:06:58 +0000 Design Mom


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Was it a good week? Looking forward to the weekend? We are in last-details-mode, getting ready to send Ralph off on his mission. We’re mostly ready, but there are a couple more errands, a few more bits of advice to impart. And we’re looking forward to enjoying lots of family time this weekend, as cousins and aunts and uncles and grandma gather for Ralph’s send off.

Ralph was asked to head out on his mission this coming Tuesday, but we’ve had some last-minute updates that have kept us on our toes. Right after we arrived home from France, we mailed Ralph’s passport off to get a Colombian Visa. And his passport hasn’t been sent back yet! But we heard word this morning that all the Colombian Missionary visas were approved today (hooray!), and his passport will be overnighted back. Which means Ralph finally received his official travel plans — just a couple of hours ago. He flies out first thing Tuesday morning! He’ll go to Mexico first for Missionary Training, then leave to Colombia after training is complete.

All very exciting! When we hadn’t heard anything on travel plans, we were wondering if they would postpone his start date, but it all worked out. And now, I’m off to prep for the big weekend. But before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Tim Gunn says, “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American Women. It’s a disgrace.”

- Why we should look past the horrid headlines and be cheerful.

- “Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.” (I want to read this book.)

- Quoting my friend, Matthew: “How does this make sense. Woman tapes boss requiring her to have sex to do well at job. Tapes come to light when she sues. He resigns and gets 40m. She receives 20m in settlement. His lawyer claims he pays no part of the 20m. Did I misunderstand something?”

- According to research, intelligence genes come from mothers.

- Interesting mini-documentary about the U.S. – Mexico border.

- 16 years ago, a doctor published a study that was completely made up, but had a massive effect.

- Equality creates excellence.

- 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy.

- Ikea is collaborating with Hay and Tom Dixon? Yes, please.

- No one (not even the world’s poorest) wants our cheap, old clothes.

- The best thing I read all week. A freed slave’s response to his old master when asked to come back to work.

- A call for a new definition of “happy”.

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


P.S. — I’ve had several requests to explain more about the mission. Working on a post!

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Call It A Day: Ali Kaplan Thu, 08 Sep 2016 15:58:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I found Ali Kaplan on Instagram. Her bio reads: “I shop. A lot.” So of course, I wanted to hear more about how she spends her days!

(Spoiler alert: She does shop. A lot. But there’s a lot more on her daily plate, including merging her boys pretty seamlessly into her daily work when she can. She has an interesting take on her reasons behind that decision, which really resonated with me.)

If you’re in Minneapolis, you’ll want to follow her. If you’re not, you’ll still want to peek in on her finds. I really hope you enjoy this walk alongside Ali.

Welcome, Ali!

After years of waking to the stares of small humans in need of food and cuddles, I’m pretty much always the first one up on weekdays. Summer activities for Oscar, 11, and Ezra, eight, start at 9:00 a.m., and I think I’ve had to wake them almost every day. Bedtime tends to creep later and later in the summer as we take advantage of every ounce of the day here in the Twin Cities.

I get up between 6:00 and 6:45, depending on how late I was up the night before (generally too late). I start thinking about what’s on tap for the day the minute the alarm sounds so I jump right up to get to it. I give myself one moment to breathe and clear my head…and then I fire up the phone while brushing my teeth. Email, social media, CNN headlines, The Skimm.

I relish the quiet time in the morning, when the house is my own and messes have yet to be made. I take few minutes to open up all the blinds and curtains — I love how the morning light streams in through the family room and touches the edge of the kitchen in our 1950s rambler. We live in Golden Valley, a quiet suburb filled with midcentury modern homes on the edge of Minneapolis. There are days it still weirds me out that I live in the ‘burbs, but this is the perfect compromise: we have the yard, the friendly neighborhood, the good school district, but we’re also five minutes from downtown, and just a few blocks from bike paths that will take you around many Minneapolis lakes, through downtown, to the Mississippi River, and even into St. Paul without ever getting on the road. This morning, like most, the street outside our house is quiet, save for the occasional dog walker.

I’d like to make myself a latte, but I don’t want to waste my precious writing minutes. So I tiptoe into our (who am I kidding? my) home office/extra bedroom. I’ve got a deadline today for a feature I’m writing for Delta Sky Magazine and it still needs some polishing. Often I can get more done in that early hour before the day gets going than I can all afternoon at my office.

On a day when I don’t have too much work hanging over my head, I’ll run over to the gym for a quick workout, and get back before the kids wake up. Ideally, that would happen at least three times a week. In reality, I’m lucky if it’s once or twice. Besides, today is Thursday — the morning of my weekly segment on the Fox 9 Morning Buzz — so I have to leave a little earlier than usual.

Okay, so that’s two gigs I’ve mentioned before 9:00 a.m., neither one of which is my full-time day job! I’m the senior editor of shopping and style for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. I’ve been with the magazine for six years. Prior to that I was a newspaper reporter and columnist. Early on in my career, I covered everything from city council meetings to trials to murder scenes, but in my last newspaper job, at the St. Paul Pioneer Press — which brought me back to my native Minnesota — I covered fashion and retail, writing a column and developing an expertise on the subject. That lead to my blog, Ali Shops, a radio show, Shop Girls on myTalk107.1, which I host every Saturday morning with my mother! And also to frequent TV appearances, like the regular spot I do on the Twin Cities’ Fox affiliate, where I talk about everything from fashion trends and cool products to new stores and best sales.

For a style editor, I’d say I’m pretty un-fussy. Only recently have I started wearing foundation, and only for TV. Blame HD. My friend, the makeup artist Fatima Olive recently recommended Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation when I want more coverage. Smart tip: she suggested I get it in two shades, darker for summer and lighter for the paler days of winter. It goes on smooth and without dreaded caking or lines that generally make me loathe foundation. Before applying that, I start with Origins GinZing eye cream, which is a great wake up call, de-puffing and brightening, like the label promises! Other essentials in my makeup bag: Bobbi Brown Corrector and Concealer, Sephora eyeliner (glides right on — I’m terrible with pencils!), and Origins GinZing mascara.

Perhaps even more important is what I don’t do, and that’s wash my hair. Never in the morning. And rarely even a day or two before TV (Yes, I do shampoo around my TV schedule. There. I said it). I’d say three days after washing is about when my hair is at its best, and I can generally get a week out of it, thanks to a few spritzes of dry shampoo on the in between days. It’s healthier for my thick, wavy hair, and saves me SO MUCH TIME!

I often listen to a podcast while I’m in the bathroom getting ready. I love StartUp from Gimlet Media. Also anything NPR, especially Planet Money. Pretty much all things media, tech, start up, retail and trend are fascinating to me. Oh, and for something totally different, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. It’s this whole other side of Alec, trust me!

So this brings us to about 7:45 and my people are still sleeping. I head into the kitchen to make lunches, which is a daily challenge. Both of my boys have recently declared themselves vegetarians, which I’m in no position to fight, since I’m a longtime veg head myself. Of course, I actually eat vegetables and get protein from beans and tofu, which I’ve pointed out to Oscar, who is really more of a noodletarian at the moment. Ezra loves salads and sushi and many vegetables, which is great, but he won’t eat sandwiches! Mind you: he eats bread; he eats cheese. Just never together! I’d like to tell you I’m whipping up arugula salads and deviled eggs like my cheffy friend Molly, whose beautiful Instagram shots @mollylherrmann of the lunches she packs for her son make me feel equal parts inspired and inadequate. On a real Mother-of-the-Year type week, I’ll make a batch of egg salad on Sunday night to pack in lunches. But today, it’s going to be cream cheese bagels. Carrots for Ezra, cucumber slices for Oscar, baked cheese puffs (thank you, Trader Joe’s), and apple sauce squeezies (how did we even function before fruit was available in tube form?!).

Then I slice up some strawberries and set them out on the kitchen table. See, if I ask the boys if they want strawberries for breakfast, they might say no. But if the fruit is in front of them, experience tells me, they’ll just eat it! I am about to finally make that latte, when I hear the troops stirring, so I go open their shades to speed things along.

Confession time. I still lay out clothes for my kids. Call me an enabler. Call me a helicopter parent. Call me a style editor. Whatever. I know my boys are quite capable of grabbing a t-shirt and shorts, and often, they do. They’re pretty good at matching, too! But on mornings when we need to be out the door on time, it’s just quicker this way. And here’s the crazy part: they will put on whatever I lay out! Could be a chicken costume. They don’t care! Note to self: I should test that chicken costume theory sometime. Just not on a school or camp day.

While the boys finish dressing, I scoot back to my desk to print my notes for TV and take one final check of email before packing up my bag. The boys come in and throw themselves on the couch, peppering me with questions about what’s going on today.

I usher them to the kitchen table, where they automatically begin gobbling those strawberry slices. This is when my groggy husband appears. I’ll cut him some slack because he was up late grading papers and he has to teach a class tonight from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. He’s a professor in a doctoral program where most of the students are professionals, so a lot of the classwork happens in the evening. This means he can be home in the mornings, but is often gone a couple of nights a week.

He offers to take over finishing breakfast and lunch prep, but the truth is, chaotic as the mornings can get and as many directions as I feel pulled, I like to have this early time with my kids whenever possible. I like talking to them about day will hold, and hearing what’s on their minds. I like quizzing them on spelling test days. Knowing what they’re eating. I like making sure all the details of the day have been considered (Water bottles? Check! Afternoon snacks? Check! Oscar’s script for theater rehearsal? Check! Goggles for swimming? Whoops! Go grab ‘em, Ezra!). My husband shakes his head and tries to reassure me he’s got it even as he thanks me for printing out the permission slip for tomorrow’s field trip, which he may or may not have forgotten.

One summer task I am only too happy to delegate: sunscreen and bug spray application. Rustin tackles that, and then drives the boys. Ezra to day camp; Oscar to rehearsal for Guys & Dolls, the summer musical at our community center. I take off for the TV station. All that time in the kitchen, and I never managed to eat breakfast myself, so I grab a banana and a granola bar on the way out the door. Still haven’t had any coffee.

I arrive at the TV station a few minutes after 9:00 for my 9:30 a.m. appearance. Today feels luxurious. Generally I have lots of products with me to assemble on the display table, but today, it’s just me, sitting on the couch with the hosts offering a preview of Target’s new children’s line Cat & Jack and explaining why it’s significant. I sent the producer product images to show while I talk.

Back in the Dark Ages when I attended journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you had to pick a track: print or broadcast. I was print all the way, and really never imagined I’d one day be on TV or hosting a radio show. Not to mention, writing a blog, working on a mobile app (more on that later) and broadcasting chunks of my life and work on social media! There are days I long for a couple fewer things to do, but overall, I love that I get to wear so many hats. Ultimately, everything I do relates to content: creating it, and sharing it. I appreciate the challenge of thinking about how I can tell a story in many different ways. I love that every day is different.

After TV, I head to the magazine offices in downtown Minneapolis. Finally, coffee! I treat myself to a skim vanilla latte from the Caribou Coffee in the lobby. Today, the senior editors are meeting with the new class of interns to tell them what to expect. I also need to check in with the events team. It may be summer, but my head is in fall because we are in the throws of planning our big annual fall fashion show, Fashionopolis. Tickets go on sale this week, and it always sells out!

Depending on where we are in the monthly cycle of putting together the magazine, I’m in the office probably three or four days a week, mostly for meetings. Making a magazine requires a lot of collaboration, but so much of what I do requires me to be out and about: interviews, store visits, photo shoots, media appearances. The relative flexibility is what keeps me sane. If one of my kids needs to see the dentist in the middle of the day, I know I can take him. The trade off is, I’m always working at night. That’s when I am finally able to sit down and do most of my writing.

Between meetings, I pick up sushi (vegetarian!) and eat it at my desk (it’s a cubicle, folks!) because I’m in a hurry to get out of the office…and go shopping. Seriously. I’ve got several photo shoots coming up for our September issue, and I need to see what fall merchandise is arriving in stores. As a city magazine, we love to celebrate what’s available locally. I head to the North Loop, which is just minutes from my office. If you visit Minneapolis, it’s a must! North Loop is the hottest neighborhood for sure, with nationally acclaimed restaurants like Spoon & Stable, and some of the best boutiques in town. For your hit list: MartinPatrick 3, D.NOLO, the Foundry Home Goods, and Grethen House. Grab a coffee at the Bachelor Farmer Café, where all the hipsters refuel throughout the day.

When I’m visiting stores for work, I try to stay focused and avoid shopping for myself – that would be dangerous. At the same time, as a working mom, the ability to multi-task is enormously helpful when I need to grab a birthday gift or, um, a new pair of shoes.

The thing about my job: it’s really a lifestyle. If I didn’t enjoy it, it would be miserable because I’m sort of always doing it; even when I’m running mundane personal errands, I’m observing shopping habits or trends or having experiences that make their way into my columns and blog posts. I know some parents try to draw a distinct line between work and home life. I’ve gone the opposite way. From the time my boys were babies, I took them shopping with me because it’s a part of my job I could do with them, and I’d always rather be with them. So I got very efficient about taking care of interviews and meetings and things that require talking to other people while they are at school or activities, and then grouping product pulls or checking out new stores for times when they could go with me.

Do they complain? Sure, sometimes. That period of time when my oldest was scared of mannequins proved especially challenging, but we worked through it. I think it’s good for the boys to see what I do, to learn how to behave during a professional interaction. And there’s the added benefit that they don’t expect to buy something every time we go to a store. They know it’s Mommy’s work.

Speaking of, I pick the boys up on the early side today because I want to swing by the Mall of America, and I figured that’s something I could do with them…especially on a night when Dad will be home late. Ezra’s baseball season has ended — of course, fall ball is right around the corner — but for now, we have our evenings back. Some nights, that means a bike ride or getting together with friends. Tonight, it’s the mall. An international tourist attraction, the Mall of America is our local mall and a place where I do a lot of work. It’s so routine for my boys, they don’t even bother asking if we can ride roller-coasters tonight.

After years of writing about the ins and outs of the largest mall in America, I decided to organize everything I know about the place — from nicest bathrooms and best bargain racks to free stuff to entertain kids — into an independent mobile guide called Ali Shops Mall of America. It’s kind of like the ultimate concierge in the palm of your hand. My goal is to eventually create editorial-driven guides at other major malls throughout the country. My kids think they are special correspondents, and in a way, they are. Seeing how they react to a new ride or restaurant or the interesting places they find to sit while I look at dresses often guides my recommendations to readers. Tonight, we visit a few stores, snap a few pictures, and as a thank you for their cooperation, I treat them to bubble tea.

We end up having dinner at the mall, at Piada Italian Street Food. No matter where we eat, we like to go around the dinner table and do roses and thorns, where we each tell something good that happened during the day, and something bad. I think it’s important to address both. I’m going to consider today a success, seeing as Oscar’s only thorn was downtime at rehearsal, and Ezra’s was not getting to play baseball at the park this evening…which I’m not going to feel too bad about, seeing as my husband and I have played with him every other night this week. Turns out, I’m not a bad pitcher.

We head home and still have about an hour before bedtime. Ezra sits down at the kitchen table to draw; Oscar heads to the computer to write. So fascinating to see how differently their brains work! I helped Oscar launch his own blog this summer, which has been such a fun project. I’m equally glad that Ezra has something of his own to take pride in: his artwork was accepted in the youth division of the Uptown Art Fair, one of the biggest art fairs of the summer in Minneapolis, so he’s been busily adding geometric drawings to his collection to get ready for that.

We end the evening on Ezra’s bed. He reads some Diary of a Wimpy Kid to me, and I read a few pages to him. Oscar practically knows the book by heart, but he joins anyway, for the cuddle time. Rustin gets home as we’re turning off the lights.

I give Rustin the highlights of the day as he eats a late dinner. It would be sooo nice to flop onto the sofa now and watch Silicon Valley, but I’ve got a blog post to write. He has papers to grade.

It’s after midnight when I get into bed, and I’m thinking about Arianna Huffington. Yep, Arianna Huffington: media tycoon turned sleep evangelist. I interviewed her recently, and as she described her elaborate sleep rituals, I ended up confessing that I go to bed in an old t-shirt, and finish my day by making a to-do list for tomorrow. The act of actually writing down what needs to happen tomorrow helps me go to sleep with a clear head rather than worrying that I’ve forgotten something.

To-do lists are fine, Arianna said, but she suggested I follow that with a gratitude list. Three things I’m grateful for to end the day on a positive note. Sure, the to-dos are never-ending, but today was productive. Moreover, it was fun. I’m so lucky that work takes me many different places and to meet many interesting people. I’m so lucky that I can do what I do and still be home most days for breakfast and dinner. I’m happy that I spent the evening with my kids, and even managed to sneak in a little work while making sure they had some fun. And ultimately, I’m excited about the man who is about to spoon me, and at peace knowing my kids are snoring just down the hall.

I’m asleep as my head hits the pillow. My husband says it’s my special talent.


Ali, you’re amazing. You’re so lucky to be able to spend some time with your boys while you work — you made it through Oscar’s fear of mannequins! — and I especially loved this parenting point: “I think it’s good for the boys to see what I do, to learn how to behave during a professional interaction.”

As for ending the day with a gratitude list, I’m remembering this tonight, for sure. There’s always a lot to add to my task list, but definitely many more things for which to say a heartfelt thank you!

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

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School Lunch Wed, 07 Sep 2016 16:08:29 +0000 Design Mom

turkey wrap with berries and cucumbers

By Gabrielle. Photo by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

How do you handle lunchtime now that school is back in session?

Do your kids pack their own lunches? Do you pack lunches for them? Or do they eat school lunch? (For older kids, maybe they eat off-campus?) Our routines change every year, and sometimes throughout the year. We’ve been in school 2 weeks so far, and the current routine is Mom or Dad or an older sibling makes June (1st grade) her lunch. Betty and Oscar (5th grade and 6th grade) make their own lunches. Olive and Maude (freshman and senior) either make their own lunch, or bring cash to buy something on campus (they have a closed campus and aren’t allowed to leave for lunch).

Last year was similar, but by the end, Oscar and Betty were buying school lunch once in awhile. Our elementary cafeteria isn’t gourmet, but the kids were definitely delighted when our school introduced a big salad bar. A good improvement! What is the cafeteria like at your school? Would it make a best or worst of list?

P.S. — For those packing lunches, I wanted to point you to our Lunch Box Series. It’s a month’s worth of kid-friendly menus, each one different and delicious. A little inspiration to get you going on slow mornings!

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Living With Kids: Liz Braithwaite Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I love the way Liz describes her smallish town — “Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of.” — and her simplified approach to decorating with kids: “I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.” A space where kids can grow and become who they’re meant to be is the best decorated space we could imagine, right?

And, between us, I think she’s wrong. Her up and down staircases are pretty spectacular! Come see. Welcome, Liz!

I’m Liz, living with my family full of boys. I’m a full-time mom, and I’ve grown to love being a homemaker. I also volunteer as a horticulturist and do occasional garden design and other projects. My husband, Joe, works as a physical therapist a few blocks from our home at a skilled nursing facility. He’s subtly goofy and has always made me laugh.

We have three boys. Our oldest, Peter tends to be heavily involved in his own interests and not always agreeable. He’s a brilliant kid, and will spend hours reading, often very difficult books. He also is constantly bringing me little notes that say, “I love you Mom,” and it makes up for everything else he does. Our second son, Curtis, has a smile that melts my heart. He enjoys playing alone and has always been an amazing builder. He tends not talk a lot and keeps to himself, so I have to watch him and make sure he’s being included or he can get wild.

Henry is the youngest. He loves hugs and kisses and books. He really finds joy over the simplest things, like jumping on a tramp or seeing a bird, and it’s easy to let that rub off on me.

All of us enjoy being active. We love to go places like parks, museums, geocaching, or disc golf. If we’re at home, we are probably working on a project.

We live in a smallish town in northern Utah. The community still has an old-fashioned feel: kids wandering around unsupervised, busy public schools, and tons of mom and pop burger or ice cream joints. The streets are lined with trees, and the traffic is amazing. Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of. We live within walking distance of plenty of stores, the library, and multiple parks. Many of the neighborhoods are filled with fun old houses that are all architecturally different.

There’s quite a bit to do even though it is a small town: several museums and plenty of activities at the library and fine arts center for the kids. We live near a bird refuge, hot spring, a couple of lakes, mountains, and within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake. It is a family oriented community, with plenty to keep my kids and I busy. It’s small enough that I can meet many people by frequenting the same establishment, but big enough that I can get lost a bit if I want to.

Our home was basically an impulse purchase. We bought it about three years ago. We weren’t house hunting at the time, but rather had a vague idea that it might be something we would like to do in the future.

The house was several blocks from the apartment we lived in. The owners were acquaintances of ours, and we decided to casually look at the home. The first time I saw it, I did not like it. It had these absolutely awful overgrown shrubs in front. When we walked through it, it was a complete mess inside as the owner was trying to upgrade a lot of the house and still had a lot of work to do.

The floor plan was okay except for the bedrooms; they were all separate from each other, which didn’t work well with young children.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. The size was right, the price was right and the more I thought about it, the more I started to see the potential in the home and garden. We went ahead and bought it without even looking at another house.

The next year we tried to figure out how to make the floor plan work for our family, but it didn’t ever work well so we started to think about remodeling. My husband, Joe, hated the low ceiling on the staircase the most. I came home one day to him knocking down a wall in preparation to reconfigure the staircase — without consulting me first!

The initial staircase re-design turned into a complete remodel of the lower level. We added bedrooms to better fit our family. We did almost all of the work ourselves.

After over a year of work, the inside is finally getting to the point where I’m happy with it. I wasn’t sure if I would like house projects, but I’ve grown from hating even the thought of painting a room, to finding the whole process rather addicting. Everything takes longer than I expect, but it also goes quick as long as we keep working at it. Getting it done is wonderful. It is fun living in an older home that will never run out of projects to do. It isn’t for everyone but suits my husband and me just fine.

We now all like our home. Our impulse purchase has turned into somewhere we don’t want to leave. But one worry is that we will literally outgrow the house. We have seven foot or lower ceilings in the basement and extremely tall young boys who could be hitting their heads down there before too long.

While remodeling, I was very critical of the quality of work. My husband did most of it, and I needed to trust him more instead of critiquing him. We learned that it is important to learn how to do it well. Just getting it done works, but we live in it and see our mistakes every day. It’s important to make sure the mistakes are as minimal as possible.

I’m also okay with many of the less than perfect things we did. We aren’t skilled laborers, but I enjoy looking at our work and know that we did it ourselves. It’s really a balance of trying our best, but accepting that it isn’t going to be perfect and that’s okay.

While working on the house, it was important to me to always put our children first. It was tempting to want to spend almost every weekend working on the home, but we would consciously choose to still go on vacations and day trips with the kids and take breaks to play a game with the kids. They were more willing to let us work if they knew we still had time for them, and occasionally they would love to pitch in and help with age appropriate tasks.

My kids and husband don’t care about how our house looks, as long as they have the space they need to play and relax. I’ve done more in the areas that I frequent, like the main living space and our bedroom. Other areas of the house I don’t worry about that much. I’ve always enjoyed doing things as inexpensively as I can, so I’m not too concerned when the kids end up draw all over the couch or knock over decorations.

By creating a home that I have areas where I like the style of and the way it feels, I can enjoy it even though it’s not that clean. I have to let go and be okay with the mix of hot wheels, Lego, and crumbs that are everywhere in my home no matter how much time I could spend cleaning. The good design also makes clean-up easier, and even when it’s a mess, the larger structure of the room still works.

I love home design. But at a certain point of my life, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and how my house wasn’t even close to approaching what I saw. I took a break from shows, blogs, and other inspiration out there. I started to do what worked for me and my family in my home. I created someplace that probably would never be featured in a magazine. But it worked for my children and family.

I filled it with things my family and I enjoyed and didn’t worry too much if it met any standard of design.

Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing. I made a home that my kids could litter with toys, could house lots of friends, and be the place for wrestling matches, yoga practice, and the energetic energy of three young boys.

I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.

The kids really don’t care what pictures are on the wall, or what trinkets I put on the shelves – as long as it was something they couldn’t break! The first thing my home needed was to just be functional, a place where kids could be kids, and we all had space to be ourselves.

Design for me is function first, and then beauty. It was important to create a place I like to be, and that included making it look good. After a while, I made a system for myself. I would change things as they bugged me, but stayed away from purposely looking for problems or changing things just because.

In my studies of horticulture, I learned how to observe what you have and then go off that to get what you want. It’s important to start with what you have and work from there, instead of starting from what someone else did. This is extremely true in gardening, and it transferred over to my home. I might want something really modern but I live in the home we bought, so I start there and build my vision and design off of what already exists.

Whenever I look at ideas and inspiration, I really have to abstract them instead of copy them. What I find sits in the back of my head and help me come up with my own creative ideas. I don’t try to copy one certain way of design or even a single project. I do what works for me. It’s creativity for me — not copying but kind of combining what I have with multiple ideas I see to create something new.

In order to get this state of mind, I try not to overwhelm myself with ideas. When I’m being creative, I’m not looking much at ideas online. I generally like to look for ideas either to clarify a project that is already in my head and needs a bit of refining or after I complete something and will file them away for future use.

My kids are energetic and independent. We can all be quite stubborn, so we’re butting head all the time. I really felt like I lost myself for a while. My life was no longer under my control and I felt stuck, unable to do the things I wanted to do.

What I didn’t realize is I would find myself again, and this time I would be a much deeper, better person. My interests have expanded as I’ve learned about dinosaurs, cars, disc golf, etc. I’ve gained qualities like patience and listening that eluded me when I was younger. We are all still a work in progress, but I’m learning more and more that it’s okay to be far from perfect, and I just need to keep showing up and trying again.

I’m a very task-oriented person, and the children have taught me the value of cutting back and being able to do less and enjoy it more. I might want to do another task from my list, but the kids need their mom to play with, too. My favorite game to play with my kids started when my oldest was about two. We played hug monster. I talk all in Roars and chase the kids around trying to trap them in a hug. After four years it’s still their most requested game.

My older children can work on the same project for hours at a time, like building with blocks, reading, or playing out in the sandbox. Sometimes we all get caught up in our own projects throughout the day, but we all love to read, and at the end of the day we will read books together for about a half hour before bedtime. It’s a good time to reconnect and spend time together.

The kids are brilliant, but it’s hard being a mom to strong willed children and I find I lose my temper far too often. I hope they don’t remember that as much as all the times we play together and tell each other, “I love you.” When they grow up, I want to remember this house as a place to play and create, and as a place they were loved and listened to. I want this home to be a haven for them, somewhere they can always come to relax and also learn responsibility in a non-stressful way.

My first response to thinking about doing it all over again is to let go — not care about the messes and my to-do list, but to be able to enjoy my children more. But on a deeper level, a lot of the reason I didn’t let go as much is because I wasn’t able to enjoy where I was. I was looking to find a life I enjoyed, instead of enjoying the life I’d been given.

I’m slowly learning more acceptance with my life, and learning that I can be grateful for where I am in life and enjoy it, even if it isn’t ideal. Accepting that I am not going to keep my house clean today…but I am going to spend time making bird feeders with the kids. I’m not going to stick to that routine I made…but I am going to spend time watching a praying mantis with the kids.

Enjoying something is not necessarily something that just happens. It can be learned by being present, grateful and working hard. I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.


Love this, Liz: “I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But somehow it’s super complicated — or perhaps we just make it complicated, yes?

And then there’s this for discussion: “Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing.” I wonder how much of our home decor is a stretch toward a life a little beyond our reach? Like, “Darn it, I’m having a white couch and white pillows and a white throw and a white rug and I don’t care if I have three babies under five…we’ll just have to eat only white food from now on! And maybe keep our black Lab puppy outside!” Hah! At a certain point, living with kids probably isn’t as much emulating a perfectly photographed life seen on the internet, and a whole lot of loving how you’re living with your kids. And as we’ve learned over the years, there are many, many, many ways to love living with your kids!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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A Few Things Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:45:09 +0000 Design Mom

Betty First Day of School 2016

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? My social media feeds are still filled with back to school images, and it sounds like by next week, pretty much everyone will officially be back in class. How are you feeling about that? Is it good to get back on a fall schedule? Are you sad summer is leaving? I think of Labor Day Weekend as the official end of summer and I’m hoping to make the most of it!

On my mind for the weekend: One of my very best friends from high school, Robyn Davie, is coming into town with her teens. We’re going to a Tame Impala concert, and we’ll hit some favorite tourist spots too. I’ll also be focusing a chunk of time on mission shopping for Ralph. Today we’re going to tackle suits and shoes. Very exciting! We’re told that in Colombia he won’t be driving and he won’t be riding a bike, but that he’ll do a ton of walking. So we need to find some really good shoes that will hold up. (He leaves on September 13th. That’s essentially 10 days away!)

I’ve got to step away from my desk now, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- As you suspected, dogs understand your tone of voice.

- Elizabeth Smart is working to tear down the purity culture. So important.

Who needs an address?

- David Lynch on where great ideas come from.

- Research shows, it all comes down to this: be nice.

- How Nextdoor reduced racism on their app.

- The last generation to remember life before the internet.

- Do you know anyone with a deeply sensitive personality? Or maybe you have one?

- The best time to start blogging is now.

- Have any of you tried this? Using a dryer sheet to clean pots and pans.

- Stop blaming the wife for her husband’s epic fail.

- You may want to start working at Target after reading this. Or you may want to find the author and try to be best friends.

I hope you have a terrific weekend. (For those in the U.S. I hope it’s a spectacular, end-of-summer long weekend.) I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.


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The Treehouse: Master Bedroom & Bath Remodel — Flooring Indecision Fri, 02 Sep 2016 04:55:16 +0000 Design Mom

mirth hardwood tiles

By Gabrielle.

Holy moly. I finally chose flooring for the bedroom today. It’s getting picked up from a local warehouse tomorrow morning, and the install starts tomorrow too!

I was supposed to choose flooring weeks ago. Actually, months ago. And I did. But then I changed my mind. Like a dozen times. I can’t figure out why, but this was by far the hardest choice I made as far as finish work goes. For anyone who is curious, I’m going to take you through my thought process.

First of all, I had some limitations to work within. There is radiant heat installed throughout the space, and my contractor recommended that I look for a “floating floor” option that would be heat compatible. From what I learned, floating floors are glue-less and nail-less. They click together and “float” on the subfloor, with a simple underlayment between.

If I couldn’t find floating floors, the second option was glue down installation, though my contractor told me that if I ever wanted to pull up the glued surface, it would most likely damage the radiant heat during the demoltion. So if I was going to pick a glue-down option, I should choose something I would love for a very long time. I also had to keep in mind that this flooring would go in our bedroom, our (new!) walk-in closet, and the landing/hallway too — which gets a lot of foot traffic. And of course, there were budget considerations too.

Mirth Floor Tiles_Flirt

The first product I looked at was Mirth Floor Tiles. They are hand-painted hardwood and they are gorgeous! I’m obsessed with this one and want to figure out a project where I can use it some day. For our space, I was thinking about the one called Pearl. I thought it would fit in well with the surfaces we already have going on downstairs (like the white-washed floors). But I waited so long that I had to leave this option behind. Production time on these floor tiles can be 5 weeks or more!

DIY Concrete Floors — Easy & Inexpensive!   |   Design Mom

Then I started to look at concrete options. I adore the look of concrete floors, and have since I was a teen. I feel like they are trendy now and I don’t even care. They can go in and out of style all day long and I would still love the look. Poured concrete wasn’t workable, so I wondered about doing the same DIY technique we used in the reading loft. It has held up beautifully there, but I finally decided against it for the remodel, because it seemed too risky over the heated floors — I just don’t know how it would hold up with the heat, and across a more high traffic area.


As a concrete alternative, I looked super seriously into concrete-look porcelain tiles. There are tons of gorgeous options out there, but my favorite ones were the Eleganza Firenze Grigo and the Vives Rift Cemento. The first comes in 24″ squares, and the other in 32″ squares. The 32″ squares were the best — oversize, and dramatic and industrial-looking! But of course, they were also over twice the price per square foot ($9.57) as the smaller ones ($4.40). Hah! In the end, I decided against these because the thought of someday removing giant, glued down tiles felt like a nightmare. They just seemed too permanent. (If you’re shopping, I tried lots of Bay Area shops and had the best luck, and found both of these picks, at Coliseum Tile.)


So then I turned my attention to floating wood floors. Generally, the options for floating wood are in the engineered hardwood category. But I did find one true hardwood version. The trick with wood (engineered or otherwise) was that many weren’t compatible with heated floors — it voids the warranty. This option from Jasper Engineered Hardwood is one exception. Isn’t it gorgeous? It made my top 5 list for sure, but was a bit too rustic for the look I wanted.


My floating wood floor searches sent me down the bamboo path. Turns out there are tons of solid bamboo, floating floor options that are approved for radiant heat. The bamboo pros: They’re highly sustainable. The price is right — my favorite versions all hovered in the $4.50 to $5.50 per square foot range. I’m told that because they are solid wood, they can be refinished, but apparently the factory finish is difficult to sand off. (Related, I found this youtube video that shows a tool that will take off a factory finish). Bamboo is super hard and difficult to scratch or dent. Hardness is measured on the Janka scale — Oak is around 1500 on the scale, Bamboo is 5000. Bamboo is highly recommended for families with kids or pets (or both).

Can you guess? Bamboo is where the hunt finally ended today. I had narrowed my choices down to 4 different bamboo lines that I liked — US Floors Muse Strand, Eco Fusion, Plyboo, and Cali Bamboo — and I had samples of each. All four lines offered a white-washed look (I already know I love the white washed look because of our downstairs floors). I called each supplier to confirm the price, availability, radiant-heat compatibility, and shipping times. Turns out one of them (Plyboo) has a warehouse about 20 minutes away. Jackpot!!! And that’s what I chose! So instead of waiting a couple of weeks for the floorboards to arrive, they are being picked up tomorrow morning! I was feeling dumb I’d been so indecisive, and was sad the install would be delayed, but tomorrow is pretty much the soonest they could have been installed at all. Yay! It all works out!


You will laugh at me, but after I placed the order this morning, I arrived home, and buyers remorse set in. I spent a good hour looking at Marmoleum floors and wondering if I’d made the wrong decision. Do you know Marmoleum? It’s the brand name of a linoleum line. I’m a huge linoleum fan. It’s natural, long-lasting, available in tons of colors, and affordable too. It’s amazing stuff. And I just discovered today that there’s a floating version! No glue needed!

But I finally stopped searching, looked at my inspiration boards and remembered that the whitewashed bamboo floors had been thoroughly researched, thoroughly thought out, and were definitely the right decision for this space.

Giant sigh of relief. I really can’t quite figure out why this was such a tricky decision for me. I’m typically pretty fast at this sort of thing. Too funny. I’m just glad the decision is made. I can’t wait to see the floors! Another timing bonus: the contractor told me that since the wood has been stored locally we won’t need to acclimatize it. He’ll confirm that with the warehouse in the morning. Crossing my fingers he’s correct.

That was a long report, but if you’re still with me, I’d love to hear: What’s your dream flooring for a master bedroom? And do any of you have floating floors? These will be the first ones we’ve had in any home we’ve lived in. I’ve heard they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Apparently they are easy to repair (simply remove and replace damaged boards), and super easy to DIY install.

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The Treehouse: Master Bedroom & Bath Remodel — Choosing Toilets Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:44:41 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Several times, I have attempted to write a blog post with a full update about the Master Bedroom and Bath remodel, but it’s too long and too rambling and if I keep working on a full post, I’m afraid the remodel will be finished before I ever share an update. : ) So I’ve decided to break it up into much smaller bits. I plan to share a bunch of these because I want to talk to you about lighting and tile and flooring and cabinetry and all sorts of fun stuff.

Today, let’s talk toilets. We needed two for this remodel — one for the powder room and one for the new toilet location in the master bathroom (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, feel free to check out the before and after plan drawings).

As I toilet shopped, the ones that appealed to me most were wall mount. I like them because they take up less visual space (how? the tank is in the wall!), and they seem like they will be easier to clean (both the toilets themselves and the area around them) because they’re not on the floor.

There are all different sorts for different styles of decor, but I had a modern look in mind and was intent on finding the simplest one I could. Again, thinking of cleaning, I’m hoping the simpler the toilet, the less places for grime to settle in.

Starck Duravit Toilets

So which one did I pick? It’s the Starck 3 by Duravit. It had great reviews and I really love the simple lines. There are several toilets in the Starck line, including a floor mount model, but I like the Starck 3 the best (by far!).

The one in the powder room has been installed and looks terrific! The one in the master bedroom will be installed tomorrow or early next week. Very exciting!

Though they look great in person and I’m still in love with my product choice at this point, I’m also a little nervous. I’ve never lived with an in-wall tank system before and I’m curious to know if I’ll like it for the long haul. With a traditional tank, if something goes wrong, and the flush doesn’t work, it’s easy to remove the lid and figure out what’s going on. But with these new toilets, if there’s a malfunction, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I feel like I would have to call a plumber immediately.

Wall mount toilets are used all over Europe, so we’ve encountered them a bunch, but I don’t see them often here in the States. Do you have strong opinions about toilets? Have you ever lived with a wall mount version? If you have, and you have any maintenance tips for me (besides choosing another toilet — too late for that!), let me know.

P.S. — If you’re ordering a Starck toilet, learn from my mistake. Each toilet requires a specific toilet seat. I know this from experience because I ordered the wrong ones. Hah!

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