Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

It’s been a whole year since I pulled out my wood burner/etcher. But I’m feeling the burn once again! So I was brainstorming possible wood-etched crafts with Amy, and she happened to mention there are metal initials you can use with your wood burner. They attach to the wood burner, heat up, and then “brand” the wood.

Well, that pretty much blew my mind, because trying to write with a wood burner is super hard and I generally avoid it, but now that I know about wood burning letters, it opens up all sorts of awesome possibilities!

wood-you-be-my-valentine 1 Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

Awesome possibilities like these wooden initial pins! We’re calling them heart flair. (Did you ever see Office Space?) And the concept is pretty simple. Take pre-cut wooden hearts, burn in the initials of your true love (or all your 3rd grader’s classmates), and then glue a brooch pin on the back.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

You’ll find links to all the supplies below. Plus! There’s a super cute FREE printable to go with the pins!! Wood you be my valentine?

Get your etching tool plugged in and let’s get started.

Full tutorial straight ahead!


By Gabrielle. Anthony Burrill’s upbeat artwork is lovely, isn’t it?

Steered by Flannery O’Connor’s own raison d’être — “I write to discover what I know.” — Carrie Willard’s writing normally centers around exactly that, which means her topics range from minimalism, healthy food and wellness, homeschooling, the science of happiness, frugality, and the economics of a large family. Large family meaning seven children, by the way.

It is the story of her seventh that brings her here with us today. She had stopped writing about parenting for the most part until she gave birth to a 27-week preemie. I’ll let her tell you the rest of the story. It’s pretty remarkable. Welcome, Carrie!

Carrie’s beautiful words, just ahead.


healthy baked salmon with kale salad

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

In the winter months, I’m all about soups, and chili, and slow cooked, hearty meals. They taste like cozy comfort and I find them so satisfying. But I’ve noticed that by mid-January, I’ll hit a saturation point on the heavy food, and then all of sudden, I’ll crave a meal that’s light and simple and fresh.

It’s like I need a clarifying break in the menu.

baked salmon with kale salad kale salad ingredients

I figured I’m not the only one that might be on winter-food overload, so I asked Lindsey to come up with a meal that would fit the fresh and light category, and she came up with this gorgeous salad, served alongside baked salmon.

Oh my goodness. I want a giant bowl of the salad right this minute! Don’t the ingredients look amazing?

blood orange and mint kale ribbons and ingredients for salad salmon with garlic lemon pepper oil

I also want to say, I loved reading Lindsey’s thoughts on this meal (see below). She’s all about getting as much nutrition from her food as possible. I love that thinking and want to be more intentional about the nutrition I’m getting from my own food. This meal seems like a good place to start.

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear: Is anyone else out there ready for a break from soups and stews? Do you get fresh food cravings mid-winter? If yes, what do you like to eat when those cravings hit?

Click here for the recipe and notes!



Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Alamo. Have you signed up for the Alamo Insiders program? Details below!

You may remember that I’m working with Alamo this year on some quarterly travel posts, and each quarter, I’m also creating a collaborative Pinterest board with a related topic. I hope you’ll come follow along! As I was working on my first post and pinboard, I started to get all meta about what vacations are for. What’s the goal? Why do we take them? Well it turns out there are as many reasons for traveling as there are people who travel. : ) But you already know that. So then I narrowed it down to our family, the Ben and Gabrielle Blairs. Why do we travel? Why do we put such an emphasis on it? Why do we make so much time for it?

I discussed it with Ben Blair and we both agreed that our primary motivation is family togetherness. Traveling together, vacationing together, it really, truly, helps us keep our family relationships strong.

And I know it’s not just in my head. We all feel more connected to each other when we spend undistracted time together. I can practically see the bonding happen before my eyes! And the only real way we can get a good chunk of undistracted time, is by leaving our house and normal daily schedule, or in other words, when we take a vacation.

So for my first post, I want to talk about 3 types of vacations that we love, and that are especially good at keeping our family relationships strong.


Vacation Type #1: Family Retreats.
This is a vacation where the main thing on the schedule is to talk about the goals and aims of your family. It’s where you discuss your family culture and what you’d like it to be. Essentially, it’s like a productive business retreat, but for your family.

This idea may not be a common one for family vacations, but they are well worth your time, I promise. They don’t have to take long, and if a “productive retreat” doesn’t sound appealing they can be combined with ideas from category 2 (below),

One of our best family retreats, happened during the 2014 holiday break. We drove 2 hours north to the Russian River area of California, and rented a house. We already knew the area and didn’t feel the need to be tourists; it was off-season there anyway. Instead, we slept in. Hung out and relaxed. Maybe took a walk. Made food together. Then in the afternoons and evenings we had family meetings, and we had a basic itinerary planned out beforehand.

We did role plays of conversations depicting healthy relationships. We talked about goals for the next year, and what we’d like to do together as a family. Stuff like that.

It was fantastic. After just a couple of days we could have gone home, because we all felt rested and connected. But. We happened to have the house for a few more days, so we turned the last half of our stay into a movie marathon. We watched all the Star Wars movies and all the Lord of the Rings movies. Woot!

Ben Blair and I did something similar as a couple for our 20th anniversary. On our trip to Lake Louise, we set aside time each day as our Couples Retreat time, where we pulled out notebooks and made plans together. What would the next 20 years bring? How can we be better parents? What can we do to make our marriage even better? Again, it was only a small part of each day, but it was so good!

Deauville, France | Design Mom

Vacation Type #2: Relax & Re-energize.

Think of this as the classic vacation. It’s meant to be an energizing break from your typical daily schedule, and ideally, the only things on the itinerary are things you really love to do. And maybe, there’s no itinerary at all!

A vacation with the goal to relax and re-energize will look different for every family. For some people it might mean sitting on a warm beach with nothing to do. For another family, it might be the same beach, but with a schedule of surf lessons, hula dancing, and hiking.

Or maybe a relaxing and re-energizing trip for your family would be in the city — taking in museums, or watching a live show, or taking cooking classes. For yet another family, it might be camping. Or remember the movie marathon I mentioned above? That was definitely a relaxing and re-energizing thing for our family.

The nice thing is, vacations with the goal of relaxing and re-energizing don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t have to be long. We’re big on squeezing in Saturday-Sunday mini vacations that are close to home.

For example, our reading weekend took virtually no planning, had very little cost, and we didn’t have to miss work or school to make it happen. Another example is the photo above, featuring the Deauville Beach umbrellas in France. Deauville was about an hour and a half north of our home, and anytime the temperature hit 75 or above, we’d hit the beach for the day. No plans. Just sunning ourselves and playing in the water, with a picnic lunch. No hotel, no dinner reservation. And no cell phone coverage! It was just a day, but the break from our schedule, and from the internet, would do the trick.

ben and ralph filming in haiti

Vacation Type #3: Make the World a Better Place Vacation.

This type of vacations is a family trip focused on service and working together. It might be building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or planting trees at a orphanage, or volunteering at a big event, like a marathon. Depending on the ages of your kids, this might be something you do with one parent and one teen. Or maybe you can take the whole crew!

We’ve had a few different experiences with this type of vacation and we’ve never regretted it. One of the best, was when Ralph and Ben Blair went to Haiti as volunteers to make a movie about a new language exchange program for Haiti Partners. It’s the sort of experience that can really change your perspective and get your family engaged around important work. Not only did they make the video, which was a big help, they also became life-long advocates. Ben Blair and Ralph, and really the whole family are now big supporters of Haiti Partner’s programs. Getting to see and interact with an organization up close makes it so much easier to support a cause with your available resources — both time and money.

There’s another aspect of this type of vacation that I love. It’s the working! In fact, I’m one of 8 brothers and sisters, and we find we relate best to each other when we’re working together on something big. If we all get together and just hang out, there’s a high probability we’ll start teasing and being obnoxious and we’ll hurt someone’s feelings. But if we’re working together — we used to put on Triathlons in Southern Utah, and now we work together on Alt Summit — it’s like it brings out our super-powers. We solve problems right and left, laugh a whole bunch, and feel like we’ve accomplished something worthwhile when we’re done. Working together can bring out the best in people.

Okay. Now it’s your turn. I have lots of questions. What are your thoughts on these 3 types of vacations. Have you tried all three? When it’s time to relax, what sort of vacation do you crave most? Forest, beach, library — or maybe a fancy spa? What about a volunteering vacation? What sort of volunteer opportunity do you think your family would do best?

Oh. Are you feeling ready to calendar your next vacation? Check out the Alamo Insiders program. It’s a loyalty club with free membership, that offers 5% off retail rental rates! You can sign up here.

P.S. — I know I mentioned the collaborative pinboard above, but I wanted to tell you a little more about my thinking behind it. Once our kids hit school age — say ages 5-18 — we only get 13 summer vacations, 13 winter breaks, 13 spring breaks, and maybe thirty 3-day weekends before they’re all grown up. Think of it as max 70 chances to share adventures with our kids. 70 is not that much! So I thought it would be fun to pin every awesome place I want to take my kids. And if we only hit some of them? Well, that’s better than none!


By Gabrielle.

Libby reached out to me about participating in a home tour more than eight months ago, and then — poof! — she disappeared. And then one day, she sent me this note: “Hi Gabrielle! I can’t believe it’s been six months since I reached out to you. Sorry for the delay! We have had lots of things going on! We thought we sold our house without even listing it, and so we had to deal with all the things that go with that, like house inspection, appraisal, and showings. I started packing up the house…and then we decided not to sell. Did I mention that all of this was going on when I was nine months pregnant and then home with a newborn? Throw my toddler into the mix and things were very hectic!”

Phrew! Welcome to the Living With Kids Tour That Almost Never Happened! (A lot of times, the living part of it all gets in the way of the tour, right?)

I think you’re going to melt when Libby describes her mom and the role she’s inadvertently played in shaping her own expectations about motherhood. It’s really sweet. I hope you’ll think so, too. So please, everyone, help me welcome Libby!

Hi! I’m Libby. I am the mother of two children, Hazel and Everett. I have been married to my husband Greg for seven years.

Greg and I both grew up in Franklin, Indiana. We attended the same high school, although not at the same time — he’s five years older than I am. We met one weekend when I was home from college.

I am half Indian, so I have dark hair and dark brown eyes. My husband is a red head. So, I wasn’t sure what our kids would look like! However, they are both little clones of my husband.

I do all of the hard work and they pop out looking like Greg. It’s not fair!

Libby’s lovely words, straight ahead!


A Few Things

January 15, 2016

Maude on her bed

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Happy Monday! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Is it a 3-day weekend for you? Are your kids out of school? Mine are. But I’m totally missing the chance to hang out with them, because I flew to Salt Lake City last night. Today, I’m working from my hotel room at the Grand America and finishing up a few things for Alt Summit.

This really is a lovely hotel. It was dark when my taxi drove up last night, and the twinkle lights were on in full force and the grounds looked pretty darn magical. My breath caught! This is the 7th January conference we’ve had here (and 12th Alt Summit total), but it’s our last year here at the Grand. We’re announcing our new location this week! Knowing this is our last year here, I am trying extra hard to appreciate all the details. Will I see you here this week? If you’re coming to Alt Summit, please come say hello!

On Friday, I didn’t get the chance to share my weekend link list, so before I turn my attention to Alt Summit, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- A Martin Luther King Jr. story read by LeVar Burton. It’s a great day to watch this with your kids!

- She confronted the doctor who missed her cancer.

- A breathing trick that helps you fall asleep fast. Have any of you tried this? Does it work for you?

- My friend Diana Prichard is a farmer in the midwest, and she just launched a campaign for a documentary called Farmworker: How Undocumented Immigration Feeds America. I urge you to go read the description, this is such an important topic. And if you’re someone who eats food (that’s everybody!), this affects you very directly and you may not even know it.

- An art project by Endia Beal puts middle-age white women in black hairstyles to explore gender, race, and generational gaps. Thoughts?

- Let’s all move to Bestie Row.

- New birth control methods for men. One is here, and there are more in the works!

- More research on praising kids for effort.

- Science myths that will not die.

- I’ve read this essay about Oprah and weight loss and trying 3 times over the last week. I think it’s so good — it’s funny and powerful and important.

I hope you have a wonderful Monday. I’ll be back here tomorrow. Can I still say, I miss you already? : )




January 15, 2016


By Gabrielle.

Guess who chopped her hair off!

I love the new cut so much!! It feels really familiar to me. Even though I haven’t had this cut during my blogging years, I wore it this way for a good chunk of my twenties and into my thirties, and I feel really at home with this hair style.

A little note: I started writing what a I thought was a quick post about my haircut, and it turned into a dozen+ paragraphs! So don’t feel like you have to read this. The summary is: I love the new cut and color, and my hair is 75% grey now, so this color is totally fake (the platinum was actually much closer to my current natural color). If you want the long version, feel free to keep reading. : )

Lots of hair talk ahead, and some pics of my natural grey!


Big Kid Birthday Parties

January 13, 2016

Oscar Harry Potter Party1

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

As I mentioned last week, Oscar’s birthday was on Saturday, and I thought it would be fun to give a little report. But more than the report, I have birthday parties on my mind and wanted to discuss them with you. I’m kind of worn out of them. Anyone else? I think it’s time for me to figure out a new strategy.

I’ve mentioned this before, so it may be familiar to you, but early in our growing-a-family stage, when I could see we were going to have a lot of kids, we put a sort-of “birthday party plan” in place. Certain birthday traditions would be consistent every year (breakfast in bed, putting up decorations, birthday cake with candles), family parties would be the default, and friend parties would be spaced out and would only happen at certain ages. I need to go review my notes, but I think we decided on ages 3, 5, 8, 12 and 16 for friend parties.

That worked pretty well for a long time. But in the last few years, we’ve had to switch things up. There are two main reasons. First, we’ve had some big moves. And depending on when the move happened, a friend party might not make sense. For example, we moved to Oakland a few weeks before Ralph turned 16. I always assumed we’d throw a big party when Ralph turned 16, but here we were, just moved to Oakland in the middle of the summer, and none of our kids had any local friends yet! So we made alternative plans. You may remember, we set up visits for film-loving Ralph at Lucas Studios and Pixar Studios. He felt celebrated, but a friend party just wasn’t in the works.

The second reason is that over the years, even though we’ve spread them out, I’ve started to lose patience with big friend parties. I’m not sure what it is. And I’m actually a bit conflicted about it. For many years, I really loved putting together a birthday party. The birthday kid would pick a theme, and I’d get to think of cute details and creative activites. It was always a fun thing to work on with my kids. You could see their imaginations going and see their eyes light up as they pictured the party. We never did big budget affairs, but it was fun and creative. And there was something like a high after throwing a good party.

But then something changed in my head, and it’s like I’m just craving a tiny gathering of friends, the simplest decor, old school games — like button, button who’s got the button — and a traditional cake. And for the finale, maybe we make hats out of newspaper (except we don’t even subscribe to a newspaper!). It’s like I’m picturing a Depression Era birthday party or something. I’m not sure what’s going on.

And this simpler vision? It’s not really real. Because I still love the planning part. I still love brainstorming with the kids on how to apply the theme to food or party games. My kids have amazing ideas! I still love the creativity of the whole thing.

I get really excited for them during the planning stages, and then I get progressively stressed out as we start to execute the plans. Picture me talking like an old codger, muttering about wasting time and money. Probably it’s me turning into an old, grouchy person. I’m not sure.

Is there anyone else yearning for really simple birthday parties? Is it a stage of life thing? Have I just maxed out my parenting creativity? My parenting energy? Or perhaps I’m just worn out this month in particular — January equals holiday stress followed by Alt Summit. Will I feel differently in March when our next birthdays come? Is it the age of the guests? Would I feel more excited planning a party for teenagers?

What’s your take? How do you handle birthday parties? Do you love them? Host them every year? Space them out? Avoid them altogether? I’d love to hear!

And, I really do have a little report on Oscar’s party. If you’re curious, feel free to keep reading.

Party description ahead!


easy homemade almond crusted chicken tenders

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom. This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds.
Ditch the chips and grab some Game Changing Flavors this football season! Enter for a chance to win the Ultimate Football Party Prize Pack, plus get great savings and ideas for delicious snackhacks at GameChangingFlavors.com.


Chicken tenders seems like one of those basic menu staples, beloved by all ages, that I should have mastered by now. But I haven’t mastered them, because I have this erroneous idea that they’re hard to make, or that I have to I have to cook them in a vat of hot oil. And I tend to avoid vats of hot oil.

So when Lindsey told me about her super easy chicken tender technique — she encrusts them with crushed almonds and bakes them in the oven — my ears perked up and I asked her to share.

game day snacks with almonds-2 Homemade Baked Chicken Tenders-2 game day almond crusted chicken tenders

This recipe would definitely work well as an easy weeknight meal, but I thought it would be especially fun for upcoming game day festivities!

You’re going to LOVE this recipe! Come see how quickly these come together.

Recipes and tips, including the easiest dipping sauce, straight ahead!


By Gabrielle.

I’m very excited to introduce you to Nina and Moses. I think they are going to change your Tuesday.

This is not a tour that focuses on product sources or fabric recommendations. Instead, it’s the sort of home tour where you might find yourself envying the sunlight that sneaks across Moses’ room. You might feel a pang of gratitude you’ve got a partner in parenting. You might even want to tell a well-intentioned stranger to keep his opinions to himself and stop bothering Nina, for goodness sake. Loudly, even. You may leave this tour feeling a little lost and yet a lot found, if that’s even possible. I did.

All this to tell you I hope you’re as moved by Nina as I am. Happy Tour Tuesday, Friends.

My name is Nina. I’m a single mother of a little boy named Moses.

It’s funny how that is always how I describe myself now, as a mother first and foremost. Growing up, people always asked what I wanted to be and I never knew the answer because, well, I wanted to be everything.

Now I work full time at a desk. and I still don’t consider it my career though the people I work for are good to me and I don’t see myself going anywhere for a while. I work for a towing company, of all places. I was basically a professional bartender and I wanted to branch out, and one of my regulars told me he could hire me at his office and I could learn how to dispatch. I did that part-time for a short time but ended up moving up to administrative assistant and now I do some HR work.

It’s a lot of paperwork in an industry I never really pictured myself being in, but it’s a great learning experience and, sometimes, a great practice in patience. I suppose though, first and foremost, I am a mother. Of a little boy. And we like to adventure.

I live in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s called the Lehigh Valley, made up of a bunch of little towns.

I always thought I hated it here when I was younger, but as I age I really love it. We are an hour from Philadelphia, two from New York City.

It can be urban in some areas and suburban in others, but there are these little pockets of wonderful restaurants and theater experiences you can find, and then these little neighborhoods full of people who are insanely close and have known each other forever, and then you drive north and all of a sudden you are in the mountains, or farm land, and even right outside of my neighborhood.

You can go one direction and find yourself in a little city or go the other and be in rolling hills.

Yoga studio and a lot of deep breaths, straight ahead!


Knitted & Felted Seat Pad | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Anette.

Remember that big knit mega scarf that I shared in November? Well, Anette sent me another chunky knit project, and I immediately wanted to share it with you. I continue to find big knit everything hugely appealing.

In this case, the project is for your home. It’s a thick wool cushion for your chairs, and it looks so cozy and easy to make — Anette knits these with her fingers!

Knitted & Felted Seat Pad | Design Mom Knitted & Felted Seat Pad | Design Mom

I want 8 of these, pronto, for our kitchen chairs. Or maybe to use as a stack of floor cushions!

Before we jump to the how-to, I’d love to know, have you ever knit something with your fingers? And do you know how to follow knitting instructions — chains, rows, casting on, etc.? I have experimented a bit with knitting, but I’m a complete novice. I usually depend on my daughter Maude to help me with knitting projects because she’s taken more lessons. What’s your take on knitting?

Click here for the tutorial!


A Few Things

January 8, 2016

mike stanley lake powell

By Gabrielle. Photos are my dad at Lake Powell, and my parents pre-kids, when he still had all his hair.

Well, it turns out I had a really tender day yesterday. It was the 19th anniversary of my father’s death, and one of the first things I read yesterday morning, was a sweet tribute to my dad that my brother wrote on my siblings Facebook group. It totally had me in tears. I sure miss my dad.

Mom Dad Porsche_500px

A bit later, I read this sweet article written by a young widow, which also left me in tears. And then I happened upon this fascinating article, which blew my mind and also left me tears. (I may write a separate post about this last one because I keep thinking about it.)

And then, throughout the day, I was so touched by your kind words and thoughtful feedback on my blog goals post. I know I haven’t responded to everyone, but I’ve read every comment and they mean so much to me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your sincere thoughts on how to make this space great.

So anyway, like I said, it was quite the tender day. Lots of feels!

Today, I woke up feeling a bit more practical, mostly because Oscar’s birthday, and birthday party, are tomorrow. And I need to prep. Eleven years old! Gosh I like that kid. It should be a good weekend — I always love when my family is working together on something. How about you? Anything fun going on?

I’m headed out to tackle my to-do list, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Being a Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

- Having a hard time healing after childbirth? It’s not in your head.

- She can fit two years of trash in 1 small jar.

- Girl Scout creates patch program to raise awareness of WWII Japanese-American incarceration.

- Women astronauts heading to Mars.

- Related, Nasa has tested an engine that would take us to Mars in 10 weeks.

- The forgotten history of autism.

- Silent, pet-friendly fireworks. I love this kind of problem solving! I remember learning that fireworks scared pets and feeling sad for the pets, and sad because I love watching fireworks. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. A good reminder there are multiple ways to solve most problems.

- New law in Arizona — pet stores can only sell rescues.

- This is super troubling and Dupont comes off as pretty dang evil. (Which makes me wonder yet again, is it possible for a large company to be virtuous?)

- The Seabin can clean the ocean.

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


P.S. — June’s first tooth came out on Wednesday evening! And she couldn’t have been happier about it. She had bent the tooth at an angle with her tongue and was stressed out because it was causing pain. I told her it would stop hurting if we pulled it out. She thought about that for awhile and decided she was ready.

So Maude quickly reached in, plucked it out and showed it to June. It happened so fast, that it took June a few seconds, and then her eyes went wide as she realized she was looking at her tooth!

This all occurred during dinner prep and the whole family was there to witness. You would have thought we’d won the lottery with all the excitement and cheering. Hah!


punched-paper-votives 1

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

I was brainstorming DIYs for this month with Amy Christie, and she brought up craft paper punches. And I basically responded, “Paper punches? I think I have like five. I used them to punch the edge of some stationery once, and now they’re just collecting dust.” And Amy told me she was about to blow my mind, because she’s been playing with hers and figured out how to really maximize their possibilities. To which I replied, “Bring on the DIY!”

punched-paper-votives 6 punched-paper-votives 11

So think of this as a double DIY. Yes, you’ll learn how to make pretty votives, but even more awesome: you’ll learn a whole bunch of new tricks that you can do with your paper punches.

And dang I love stuff like that! I love making the most of tools I already have, and re-thinking how I might use them.

punched-paper-votives 5 punched-paper-votives 9

If you are the proud owner of paper punches, then this tutorial is especially for you.

Click here for the tutorial!



Photo and text by Gabrielle. 

In July, this blog, this website, will turn ten years old. Double digits. I can barely fathom that fact.

And just so you know, for at least 8 of those 10 years, there have been articles published that talk about how blogs are dying. Sometimes those articles would induce worry in me, but they don’t anymore. Don’t believe the hype! Blogging is not dying. Though I admit, it changes almost constantly.

With every new social media platform, what we need from blogs changes. In the early days of blogging, a blog post might be 1 photo with 1 sentence. But now, that’s a Facebook update or an Instagram or a Pin. Blogs that don’t adapt well with changes shut down. Which is a bummer. But the good news is, new blogs start up just as frequently!

When I first started blogging, a blog was generally defined as an online journal, a simple place to write a log of your day on the web. A web log. A blog. But ten years in, launching a blog is pretty much the same thing as launching a website. A full website designed to be updated frequently — weekly, daily, or multiple times a day.

Sometimes I miss the simplicity, but I get that it doesn’t really work. You start with a no frills blog. Then readers want to find old posts, so you add an archive menu. Then, the archives are too deep, so you add a search feature. Then new readers don’t understand some of the things you’re referencing, so you put some highlight posts in the sidebar by way of introduction, and you add an “about” page. Then you get excited about a side project you’re working on (or your friend is working on), so you add that to the sidebar as well. Then the blog is taking up 40+ hours of your week and you have to monetize it in order to keep it going. Tada! Your simple blog is not so simple any more.

Honestly, all of this is completely delightful to me. I love how this site, Design Mom, has adapted. I love figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I love trying things out on social media, and discovering which platforms I adore and which platforms I ignore. I love communicating about changes to this site with You, the Readers. I love letting you know what’s happening and why. And I love your feedback and advice.

There are 4 things I’m thinking about for 2016, as far as this website/blog is concerned, and I want you to know about them:

1) I need a dang site redesign!!! It’s long overdue, and I want it done by the 10th anniversary. Preferably before.

2) I’m getting serious about looking into studio/office space. I have this idea that having an office to go to will help me make this a better website and a better business. I haven’t worked in an off-site office in a decade, so I might be dead wrong and hate it. We’ll see.

3) I want to feature more diversity here. Over the last few years, I made a goal to make Alt Summit a more diverse community and it’s finally working! I need to do the same thing here on Design Mom. I feel like the faces I see on Design Mom don’t match the diversity I see in my daily life and that doesn’t feel honest or authentic. They should match up better. Plus, I’m a big believer that diversity brings new perspectives, better problem-solving, and better overall ideas. Which translates to: better content. I’m not sure how to achieve this goal (because this blog has a different business model than Alt Summit), but I’m going to work on it and see what I can figure out.

4) I feel like this one is kind of a big one, so I’m leaving it for last. I think we need to find a new Design Mom. Not a replacement, but a partner. Think, me, but 10 years ago. : )

Why? Because I want to write about things like figuring out if Maude should take the ACT or SAT (I’ve got a post forthcoming), and what our older kid birthday parties are like. But I still want this site to be a place where I can host discussions, and take part in discussions, about figuring out how to get out the door when you have toddlers, and a place where we can learn about the latest and greatest baby gear (have you seen the new swivel car seats? genius!). I think it would be awesome to work with a younger Design Mom. I could continue writing about my older kids, and she could help make sure this site is still producing great content for young families.

To be perfectly clear: I’m not going anywhere. As you know, I adore working on Design Mom!! I absolutely love my job, and I realize this is not the only direction I could go in. But looking ahead, it seems like it could be a good direction. Because I’ve always felt like Design Mom was bigger than me. The site has never been my name, and has never been just my story. This is an amazing community and a safe place where all sorts of women can share their experiences. If I decide to retire from Design Mom at some point — say when June is all grown up — it would be a shame to see this happy, wonderful place disappear. So I want to take steps now to keep it going, so that even if I no longer wear the Design Mom hat, Design Mom will still thrive.

I don’t know how it would work exactly — the finding of the new Design Mom. But I’m thinking it would be fun to do some sort of nationwide search. Maybe turn it into a contest! In my head, it could be awesome!!

Okay. This turned into a much longer post than I was expecting. If you’re still with me, I’m definitely curious to hear your thoughts! What would you like to see happen at Design Mom in 2016? What sort of articles or blog posts are you craving? What sort of discussions do you want to have? What do you want more of? What do want less of? What do you think of these 4 goals that I listed? Feel free to share. Let’s make this place even better!


delicious Mexican hot chocolate mug cakes

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

In November, I introduced a new column idea: Dessert for Two. Based on your comments and emails, you love the idea! I love it too! So today, I’m happy to share recipe number 2 in the series, and my goal is to make it a monthly column.

cinnamon almond hot chocolate mug cakes

In case you missed the intro post, the idea behind the series is not necessarily romantic. I’m picturing a late night treat just for you and someone you love — your spouse, your best friend, your teenager who is up late hitting the books. Maybe eaten in celebration or sympathy after a particularly challenging day. (We survived!)

Mexican hot chocolate mug cake

This recipe-for-two is by Lindsey Johnson, and it basically looks like chocolate heaven. Plus, it’s made in the microwave! Can’t get easier than that. Thoughtful woman that she is, Lindsey also included notes on how to make gluten-free and dairy-free variations.

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love your thoughts. What sorts of desserts do you crave — especially late at night? Is chocolate your thing? Or do you favor fruit? Maybe something creamy? Caramelized everything? Light cakes or meringues? Dense brownies or fudge? Let me know in the comments. As I develop the column, I want to make sure it includes a lot of variety.

Click here for the recipe and notes!


Blue Apron Dec 201503

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — Design Mom Readers can get two free meals on their first order! Find the offer link below.

Any exciting food plans this year? I don’t have a particular food resolution in mind for 2016, but when I look back at 2015, I love that I cooked with a whole lot of new-to-me ingredients. Vegetables, spices, fish species — some I’d never even heard of before, let alone tried. And I have to say, Blue Apron gets full credit for expanding my menu options. I’m excited to be working with them again!

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I wrote several posts about Blue Apron last year, so you may already know this, but if you’re new to the idea, here’s how it works: Blue Apron delivers all the farm-fresh ingredients you need, right to your doorstep, in exactly the right proportions, to make chef-designed recipes at home. No trips to the grocery store and no waste from unused ingredients. Everything arrives in a refrigerated box so ingredients stay fresh even if you’re not at home when your package arrives.

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Blue Apron has a large selection of recipes that anyone can access — even if you’re not a customer — and they add new dishes to their menu every weekTheir meals are designed to be prepared in 40 minutes or less, shipping is always free, and there’s no commitment — you can skip or cancel the service at any time.

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But the biggest news? Blue Apron now offers a recycling program! You can use the recycling locator to find options in your community or return your packaging for free to Blue Apron via USPS. You can learn more here.

Between the holidays and Alt Summit, December and January might be my most fully scheduled months. Blue Apron saved the day several times last month, and I can see it’s going to save the day this month as well. I don’t have to plan a healthy menu. I don’t have to do the shopping. I don’t have to make decisions on quantities or feel guilty if I don’t use up extra ingredients. And the big bonus on top of all that: I learn how to cook with new ingredients and new techniques.

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I learned about two new-to-me ingredients in December. One was Gochugaru, which I used in the recipe pictured here, Chile-Rubbed Steaks with Quick Kimchi & Tomato Rice.

But the ingredient I was most excited about is Celeriac. I used it in this recipe: Chicken Meatballs with Braised Kale and Spiced Celeriac Mash. The whole meal was amazing, but the mash was definitely my favorite part. I loved it! I was a total hog and ate most of it myself.

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We’ve discussed this before and I know a service like this is not for everyone, but I’m such a fan! Blue Apron is a pretty darn ideal fit for my family.

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Would you like to give Blue Apron a try? The first 100 Design Mom Readers who click through will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order! Just click here.

Now fill me in. Any other celeriac fans out there? I want to learn more ways to prepare it! Also, what’s the most recent opportunity you’ve had to cook with a new ingredient? Any new holiday recipes you added to your files? Can’t wait to hear!


By Gabrielle.

It may be said without hesitation that Brittany Hayes has never met a pattern or a color that she didn’t completely and utterly adore. And whether it’s a burst of golden Dahlias plastering a bedroom wall, a shot of turquoise up high on a top shelf, or Ikats mingling with Suzanis, every one of them gets along picture-perfectly. You’ll see!

You might remember Brittany from her episode of Shark Tank. She has a few interesting bits to tell us about that whole process, plus what’s next up for her and her sweet family. I really hope they bring these bluesy stairs with them! (And please ignore the watermarks on the photos! Brittany began adding them to every photo when someone she didn’t know started Facebook and Instagram accounts claiming her home as their own. Oh my!)

Please join me in welcoming Brittany! Our very first tour guide of 2016!

Hello there! My name is Brittany Hayes, and I am a 34-year-old wife, mommy, blogger, and daughter of God. I am the proud mommy of two beautiful girlies: Addison is eight and Winter is three.

My husband and I are middle school sweethearts and have been together for 20 years in February! We started our business at age 20 and worked off our booties off every day since!

So much more, straight ahead!



January 4, 2016

Snowy scene at Sundance Resort

Photo and text by Gabrielle. 

Oh my. It’s late Monday night and I’ve been trying to post all day long. Getting back on schedule is rough! But before I head to bed, I wanted to check in and talk resolutions for a minute.

First of all, do you even call them resolutions? Do you prefer calling them goals? Wishes? Hopes? Dreams? Do you choose a word for the year? A theme? A mantra?

Do you find this sort of New Year thinking stressful or silly and skip it altogether?

Do you have a system? Maybe you read last year’s goals and evaluate how you did? Are you semi-scientific about it like Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project?

Me? I’m a fan of resolutions, though mine are more like goals. I really like setting some time aside to think about the upcoming year. I try to picture it — what I might accomplish, how my life might look different at the end of next December. Where do I want to go this year? Who will I see? What projects will I finish? What projects will I start? Do I have any big milestones coming up? I like being intentional about my life. Surprises still happen, flexibility is still required, but I like how to feels to have a plan in place.

Sometimes I lean toward more practical goals, but this year, I want to be really ambitious with my goal-making. I want to include ideas that I don’t think I can even pretend to accomplish. You know that quote about aiming high? “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” That’s the sort of thinking I want to encourage in myself (and others!) in 2016.

It seems like most years, I take time during the Christmas break to think about my resolutions, but this time, the break was jam-packed. There wasn’t much in the way of alone time. If I’m being honest, I feel a little thrown off that I started back to my regular schedule today without having my New Year goals settled. And if I’m being even more honest, I don’t want to admit that because I’m afraid I’ll jinx 2016.

But then again, I don’t really believe in jinxing, so hopefully the year can still be saved. It would be a shame to give up on 2016 on January 4th. : )

How about you? Raise your hand if you’re making resolutions this year! Have you made them already? Anyone else feeling a bit behind today? Any goals you are particularly excited about? Please share! I can definitely use the inspiration. And if you’ve decided New Year’s Resolutions are not for you, I want to hear that story too!

P.S. — Yesterday I had one of those awful/wonderful parenting moments. Little June, 5-and-a-half-years-old, proudly discovered her first loose tooth! She could not have been more excited as she announced her “loofe toofe” with wide eyes (pronounced loofe toofe because her tongue is wiggling the tooth while she tries to talk). And her excitement was totally infectious. She had everyone in the house give it a wiggle, and that got everyone sharing their own loose tooth memories. (It’s the bottom center left tooth, if you’re curious.) June was so amazed!

After sharing in her joy, I had to turn away as my eyes filled with tears. Oh dear. If there was ever proof that my little ones are all grown up, it’s the first loose tooth of the last child! What an emotional roller coaster in the span of 60 seconds. So much joy for her joy. So much heartbreak as I see the baby stage get farther and farther away. And then it’s back to joy as I realize that I have been able to experience the first wiggly tooth of six different children! Dang I’m a lucky duck.


A Few Things + Happy New Year!

December 31, 2015

Highway near Great Salt Lake

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Tomorrow is a new year! Happy 2016!! A clean slate! A fresh start! Feels so good! We are driving back to California tomorrow. It’s a long drive and I want to share a few things before we take off:

- This is horribly upsetting. Eleven years old. Playing at the park. When will we see our justice system provide justice?

- Related, “To The White Parents of My Black Son’s Friends.”

- I remember hearing about The Boy in the Bubble when I was very young.

- French models now have to show a doctor’s certification that they are a healthy weight.

- Reasons people take mental health medication.

- The future is now. A new process called IVG means that same sex partners will both be able to be biological parents to their kids.

- The Compassion Collective.

- The storm that will unfreeze the North Pole.

- The Fallen of WWII. This is long. 18 mins. But it’s really good. First it will shock you, and then it will leave you hopeful.

- The $500 million battle over Disney’s princesses.

- 14 compliments that aren’t about appearance.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend. Next week, let’s talk resolutions and plans for 2016! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



By Gabrielle. Exquisite embroidery from Thread Honey on Etsy. (Her Instagram feed is fabulous!)

Mariah has always been generous with us about her trials with infertility, so it’s especially uplifting to read the latest lovely development in her own personal growing a family series!

I know there are families out there just waiting to be grown — somehow, anyhow — and it’s often reassuring for all of us to read another parent’s account of the pain and process they endured. Even better, to share in their eventual success and restore our own hope, even just a little.

Here’s Mariah’s burst of hope. May it be contagious for you.

Mariah’s sweet letter to her son, straight ahead.

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