18 Tips for Traveling with Kids — From a Mother of Six!

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

I’m working with Alamo on a family travel series (first post here). And today, I want to tackle traveling with a big family (related Pin board here). But that’s a really broad topic! So I’m going to focus in a bit. This post isn’t about time on the plane or how to pack or where to go or where to stay. Instead, I’m going to share everything I’ve learned about what the days are like (and how to make them awesome!) once you are at your destination. Sound good?

I have lots of tips, so I put them in list form. And I hope as you read them, they’ll remind you of your own tips — which you should totally share in the comments, because I would LOVE to learn from you! Also, as the title declares, yes this is about travel with a big family, because that’s what I know best. But the reality is, most (if not all) of these tips would work for small families, too. So really, this is about travel with kids.

Traveling with Kids — 18 Solid Tips from a Mother of Six

Here it is! All my travel knowledge, in no particular order:

1) When thinking about your day, plan based on the lowest common denominator, meaning the youngest in the group. If you’ve got a little one, they can’t walk all day and they don’t suddenly have new or different schedule needs because they are in a new place. So keep the schedule really simple and be ready for lots of stops. In Rome, we’d take gelato breaks like 5+ times a day.

2) Only put ONE big destination/activity on the schedule each day. That’s it. Only one. “Visit the Van Gogh Museum.” “Go horseback riding.” “Take a city bus tour”.

Yes, if it was just grownups, you could pack the day and see a million things. But with kids, it pays to be less ambitious. Keep it simple. If things go wrong, and they often do — maybe you get on the wrong bus, or have a hard time finding a lunch spot, or the weather turns crummy — it won’t wreck your schedule. You’ll feel great that you accomplished your one big thing, and when you’re done, if the family still has lots of energy, you can always add on a bonus activity.

3) On the way to your big event or tourist spot of the day, stop at every park you encounter along the way. Why? Partly because it’s fun and part of seeing what this new place is like. There are so many different kinds of parks, big green spaces, urban asphalt parks, tiny neighborhood play spaces. Your littlest kids probably won’t remember the trip, but spending time at parks will make sure they have a wonderful day, and that helps the whole group.

It’s also a way of losing time, or of filling the day in a positive way, without stressing anyone with a packed schedule.

Traveling for Big Families. 18 Tried-and-True Tips!

4) Bring water. It should be the only heavy thing in your pack. If you don’t want to carry it, know where your water sources are quickly and easily. Having clean water on hand is essential. First, for thirst, but also for rinsing scrapes and cleaning off sticky hands.

5) Instead of packing them ahead of time, buy snacks in local grocery stores. It’s a small adventure in the larger day. Use it as an opportunity to explore a non-touristy piece of the place you’re visiting. There’s nothing like going to a grocery store — especially in another country — to give you a glimpse of what it would be like to live there. What do their milk bottles look like? Do they refrigerate the eggs? How are the fruit and vegetables packaged and sold? Any new veggies you’ve never seen? What does the toothpaste look like? Is it a huge supermarket or a tiny corner grocery? Any familiar brands? Maybe with different flavors/products than you have at home? How about the candy aisle?

6) Even if you’re past the diaper stage, always carry a package of wet wipes. They come in so handy! They can wipe down a table at a restaurant, and they can wipe down a bottom when the public restroom is out of TP. You already know how awesome they are.

Twelve more tips! Keep reading.

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By Gabrielle.

Today we’re peeking in on a lovely and talented friend of mine, Samantha Hahn, a Brooklyn-based illustrator and author (her newest book just came out!) and all-around interesting person. I get really inspired poring over her current work, and I hope you’ll feel the same; a little creativity is a good way to start the day, right?

Samantha mentions below that her daughter “never hesitates to ask for what she wants and needs in life.” I love that, and it happens to be one of the characteristics of Sam herself that I admire most! Asking for what you need, or in a business sense, asking for what you’re worth, is hard for so many women. And Sam is a great personal model for me in that regard.

Also, the way she describes the street on which she lives gave me a visual I can’t quite get out of my head! It’s been making me smile ever since. Welcome, Sam! I’m so glad to spend your day with you!

Samantha’s day, straight ahead!

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Custom Photo Charms for your charm bracelet.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Shutterfly. Celebrate mom this Mother’s Day with the perfect customizable photo gift made with Shutterfly.

Okay, Friends. Let’s talk Mother’s Day gifts. Gifts for your mom, your mother-in-law, your step-mom, your grandmother, your godmother — and maybe a little something for you, too! When coming up with gift ideas, my hope is always to find something equal parts pretty and practical. I love good-looking objects, and I love them even more if they are totally useable! For this post, I’ve partnered with Shutterfly, because they have lots of ideas that fit my criteria, plus they go one step further. These ideas are pretty, practical, and personal.

Custom Photo Charms and Initial Charms for your bracelet. Custom Photo Charms in squares and circles for your bracelet.

Idea number one: Photo Charms!
How about sending gorgeous charms with photos of your kids? You can get them as squares or circles, in silver or gold, or even surrounded with crystals. They are adorable! You can hang them from necklaces, or add them to a charm bracelet or bangle.

Personal Photo Charms in squares and circles for your bracelet.

And speaking of charm bracelets, you can create one from scratch! Pick the bracelet then customize it to your heart’s content. You could start simple, gifting the bracelet with one or two charms. And then, you could send new charms for each birthday and holiday. I find that so appealing, because it means you don’t have to keep thinking up new gifts. You simply send a new charm!

Custom Photo Charms in squares and circles. Would be fun to add photos of places we've traveled. Personal Photo Charm, surrounded by crystals. Personalized Photo Charm Bracelet, with birth stones and a Monogram Charm.

Or you could even create a full bracelet like I did here. I’ve got photo charms for each of the kids, an initial B for Blair, two birthstone jewels representing important dates to me, and a special one of Ben Blair, surrounded with crystals. Wouldn’t it be fun to team up with your siblings and create a special charm collection for your mother? You could have photo charms of all the grandkids, maybe birth stones or initials too.

Monogrammed Mason Jars - you choose the font

Idea number two: Monogrammed Mason Jars!
Talk about some super charming drinkware. I love these! I want to fill them with lemonade and add a striped paper straw immediately. They’re available in all sorts of designs — my favorites are the simple, crisp, two letter and three letter monograms, and you can choose different fonts too.

Monogrammed Mason Jars - you choose the font Custom Monogrammed Mason Jars - you choose the font

I went with the two letter option and had a set of 8 made — one for each member of the family. Since we have some repeat initials (Betty Blair and Ben Blair, Olive Blair and Oscar Blair), I used two different fonts, one serif and one slab-serif to differentiate.

Monogrammed Mason Jars - make one for each family member Monogrammed Mason Jars - cute personalized gift! Custom Monogrammed Mason Jars - cute personalized gift!

My thinking is that if we all have an assigned cup, we can use it throughout the day and lighten up our dishwashing. I’ll tell you how it goes. : )

If you’re into useable monograms, you can also try the stemless wine glasses.

Scented Candle with a Personal Photo added

Idea number three: Photo Candles!
This might be my favorite of the three ideas. Actually, I like them all, but this one is very, very cute! You can have any photo added to a candle and there are tons of designs to choose from. Again, I was drawn to the simplest one, the Photo Gallery Candle. I used a black and white image, but you can use color too.

Scented Candles with Personal Photos added. Great gift idea. Custom Candles. You pick the scents and the photos. B&W or color.

As an added bit of fun, you get choose a scent for the candle! And depending on the scent you choose, the candle will have a different color. For example, Grapefruit Blossom scent is white and Fireside Spice is red. The candles are high quality, made with an all-natural soy blend and essential oils, and they burn for 50 hours.

Add type to your custom photo candles.

I ordered two of these candles and added an Eagle Scout photo of Ralph to each one. As you can see, I included a type overlay (Ralph Blair 2016) on one of the photos, and left the other blank. There are tons of options and fonts!

Since Ralph’s grandparents couldn’t make it to his Court of Honor, I thought it would be fun to send them one of these candles to commemorate the occasion. And the scent I picked is Evergreen Forest. Perfect right? I think the green looks very scout-y.

Custom Candles. You pick the scents and the photos. B&W or color.

These make such a terrific gift! I like them because the recipient can use them up and then say goodbye. No pressure or guilt to have them out on display forever. And sending a new photo candle a few times a year, featuring a recent picture of your darling baby, to a favorite aunt or godmother, could be such a fun tradition!

Alrighty. That’s 3 ideas to get the conversation started. Now I’m curious, how do you approach Mother’s Day gifts? Do you have lots of people to buy for? Is it hard to come up with thoughtful ideas, or do you have some angst-free traditions in place (like the charms)? And if you’re a mother, what about gifts for you? Do you make a wishlist so your spouse has something to start from? Does your heart go pitty pat for homemade gifts from the kids? Or maybe all you want for Mother’s Day is a long luxurious nap?

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This post is sponsored by Shutterfly.

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By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Amy Christie.

Homemade earrings that don’t look homemade at all! And so easy that your kids can get involved too. How does that sound?

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Amy Christie, who is the established queen of polymer clay, sent me this idea for 3 different earrings and I loved it immediately. I’m perpetually on the hunt for sweet, pretty, usable, handcrafted projects. Ideas that are perfect for a rainy afternoon, or for a Ladies Crafting Night, or for a birthday party activity, or to make as a gift. And this project definitely fits the bill!

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Before we jump into the instructions, I’d love to hear: have you ever made your own jewelry? In my experience it takes a particular patient frame of mind from me, because the elements are so small and can escape my fingers easily. Maybe that’s why kids take to this kind of project so well — they have smaller hands!

Instructions for all 3 earrings straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Shannon Quinn.

Emily wrote to me after a friend introduced her to Design Mom. In her words, “I loved seeing real people living their creative lives with their kids. Seeing the lives people have put together throughout your Home Tours section — one beautiful map, accessible shelf, and cool color at a time, but all clearly real, worked for, and functional — has kept me up into the wee hours. And your invitation to participate has inspired me to write. I feel like your blog is filled with friends I haven’t met. I’d love to share my own home and story and join the party.”

There was a big yes from me, and crossed fingers that she’d send beautiful photos and more gorgeous words — and she sure didn’t let me down on either front! You’re going to find such love in this one.

Emily, welcome to the party!

Hello, everyone! I’m Emily. I live with my 11 year old son Jasper, and he lives with me, his 52 year old mama. He is passionate about soccer, has just listened to the Harry Potter series without pause, draws animals, is learning to put the salsa away after using it, and to take a shower more than once a week. He is also deeply perceptive, smart, and has won almost every hand of Rummy 500 he has ever played. We are both good listeners and are always in the mood for a good story.

Every night we read together at bedtime. It always feels like just the moment we have waited for, snuggling under the heavy covers talking about the day, asking questions. Was China an ally during WW2? If you have written a book about yourself is it a biography? We just finished Birds, Beasts and Relatives, the second in the series by Gerald Durrell about his family’s time on Corfu, just before the war. I loved loving this funny, articulate portrait with Jasper, laughing at the same passages, absorbing the same beautiful descriptions of the sea breaking into a galaxy of stars as the moon’s light shone onto its surface.

On my last birthday, a friend welcomed me to my full deck year, and that has felt both auspicious and right; Life feels very comfortable and sweet these days. I am passionate about my kid, my deep and many friendships, and my work. I have been supporting myself as a designer and maker of jewelry and of Judaica for 25 years. I am also a reckless but avid gardener who believes in moving things around, a lot.

Cooking for me is both reflexive and joyful. Standing at the stove feels like my rightful place, and when friends come over for dinner, it’s the spot from which I visit. At an early age, I was trained by my mom and my grandma to thrift shop and antique. So my house is filled with finds that tell not only a story of my aesthetic, but also of the day I found them, usually with my mom in some little shop or from the acres of Brimfield booths we visit twice a year. I find objects intriguing as well as pleasing. How they reflect their time or how their maker turns them into storytellers. Who made that sampler? Who originally — and perhaps without irony — owned that Native American couple statuette?

Though my mom, Joyce, does not live in my house, she lives near it and we drift in and out of each other’s homes on an almost daily basis. I could not have gotten luckier in the mom department. She is the most truly accepting person I know and throws the best dinner parties, with votives glowing in old crystal glasses and great conversation sparkling around the table. She has been a dancer, a teacher, a therapist, an artist, a saleswoman, and most recently an Airbnb host. And, of course, a fabulous grandmother with treasure troves of art supplies, a great sense of humor, and powerful love to give and give.

A million treasures, just ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Ralph Blair. This post is brought to you by Schoola. You can shop the Design Mom Schoola collection — 10 items from our family’s closets.

Last month, I introduced you to Schoola, and this month I’ve partnered with them on their Versatile Style campaign. They asked 3 bloggers to style a wardrobe essential for night and day. One styled denim, one styled an oxford shirt, and one styled a little black dress (that would be me). There’s an interview with me, too!

As part of the campaign, I donated 10 items from our family wardrobe, and you can shop the collection! I’ve been told by Schoola that they may sell out fast — apologies in advance if you click over and everything is gone. Though I’m keeping the school name private, the proceeds will go directly from Schoola to the awesome-but-under-funded Oakland Public Elementary School where Oscar, Betty and June attend.

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As you may already know, Schoola is part online thrift store and part fundraising platform. It’s well known that school programs like art and music and PE have had huge budget cuts, or been dropped altogether, and Schoola is focused on saving and supporting those types of programs.

This is how Schoola works: 1) Request a free donation bag. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, organize a school-wide clothing drive — any school in the contiguous US can participate! 2) Clean out your closet and fill the bag with gently used kids’ and women’s clothing. 3) Send the bag to Schoola and tell them which school you want to benefit. Oh. And the donation bag comes with a pre-paid shipping label, so there’s no shipping cost for you! 4) 40% of the proceeds from the sale of your clothing goes directly to your school to help fund programs like art, music, field trips and physical education.

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But back to the Versatile Style campaign — it’s all about everyday essentials! Pieces you can wear any season, over several years, for all sorts of outings. These are the real workhorses of your wardrobe, and I definitely consider a little black dress to be one of them.

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I confess, I have more than one little black dress in my closet (this comes as a surprise to no one). They truly are so versatile and wearable — and on days where I’m feeling a bit rumpled, they add instant polish. I pair them with tights and boots in the winter. I love them with sandals and bare legs in the summer. Here in Oakland, the weather pretty much always calls for a flexible layer on top, so I often pair a little black dress with a cardigan, or a denim jacket, or a wrap, or a blazer.

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And after wearing the dress around all day — at the grocery store, at the bank, at the school — I can throw on some heels and switch up the accessories, and I’m ready to meet friends for dinner or go to a show with Ben Blair.

When you think of your closet, what pieces come to mind that fit in the versatile style category? I have a pair of modern, stylish sweats that have joined my essentials, my black penny loafers definitely qualify, a simple light blue button down, my denim jacket too. What about you?

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green path redwoods

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Well, Hello! Welcome to April’s installment of my random thoughts. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

- With two new nieces on the way, I’m thinking of the sweet moment when siblings meet for the first time. One day they’ve never met, the next day, they encounter a person that will know them the longest of anyone in their life. So amazing.

- Ben Blair has two trips this month. As I mentioned, he’s been in Salt Lake City over the weekend, presenting at the Mormon Transhumanist Association conference. He’ll get home today. And then later this week, he’s heading to Houston. He and my brother, Josh, were asked to speak about Teachur at an education + technology conference.

And speaking of Teachur, a little update: it’s so awesome to see the company growing and forming. They are in true start-up mode. Lots of inquires from (like this article), getting asked to present at conferences (the Houston conference will be their 3rd so far), and more and more curriculum is getting built every day. Maybe the most fun, is that they are reaching out to professors and teachers to beta test the curriculum building software. Very exciting!

- While Ben has been in Utah this weekend, he had lunch Christopher and Lisa Clark. Topher is one of Ben’s life-long friends and was recently diagnosed with ALS. Which is mind-blowing. It’s impossible to picture him sick — this strong, happy man, in-demand director, father of 5, husband of Lisa Clark (one of my favorite people on the planet).

Understandably, everyone that knows him is heartsick about it. I had never even heard of ALS until the ice-bucket challenge came to be, and I still know very little, but apparently it’s the same disease that Stephen Hawking has. In Topher’s case, he’s been told it will be terminal. This is a hard thing.

- We’re having erratic spring weather, and I’m super into it. I know lots of places in the country are having unusual weather this month, but the Oakland version is pretty lovely. Last week, we had a hot day that felt just like summer. The next day, it was chilly and rainy, but not too chilly. Today is low 60s. Later this week we have some perfect high 70′s days on the schedule. The earth smells good! And if you drive toward Walnut Creek, the hills are green and misty and it looks like Ireland. It’s definitely the greenest I’ve ever seen it. I’m in love.

Oh. And the California strawberries are amazing at the moment! Go eat all of them before I do.

- I’m feeling a huge tension in my mind at the moment. I don’t think it will be a surprise to you if I say I have this non-stop drive to build and create. New ideas, new projects, whole new companies. But bringing them to fruition requires a high level of intensity and often stress. And when I’m in the middle of that stress, I react to it by wanting to shut everything down and just read all day for the rest of my life.

One part of my wants to build, build, build! To take on more, to fit in as much as I possibly can. I can feel the days and months rushing past, and I ask myself in a panic, am I doing everything I want to do? Are there ideas and projects that I will regret not exploring?

Another part of me has a vision of a simpler life. Where I’m doing less and less, and the days are filled with the calmness of a set schedule that requires very little decision making.

The building part of me is definitely stronger, but is it possible to build something big and amazing and worthwhile without the overwhelm? I long for models to study, to find people who are super engaged with their work, but somehow have a life of ease. I don’t really think they exist, but I long for them anyway.

- Our refinance closed last week. It ups our monthly payments, but lowers our interest rate, and switches us from a 30 year loan to a 15 year loan. I think it will feel like a burden at first, but am hoping it’s the smart financial decision. Who knows. I always feel like such a novice when it comes to decisions like this. Either way, it was a quite a process, and it feels like a big relief to have it marked off our to-do list.

- I’m craving some deep spring cleaning. And mostly de-cluttering. I walked into our living room the other day and just thought: What is all this stuff? Anyone else?

- I’m also craving some fresh media. I need a new show to watch or a stack of great books to tackle. But I’m not in the mood for anything too heavy. What are you reading and watching these days?

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

April 8, 2016

Decorist-founder-show-home

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Was it a good week? Will it be a good weekend? For me, it’s been a good week. Lots of projects marked off the list, and some solid time connecting with friends and family — I even got to meet the amazing designer and author, India Hicks, at the gorgeous home pictured above. There’s actually a ton on my mind at the moment that I’d love to discuss with you, so I’m working on a Random Thoughts post and will share it next week.

As for the weekend, Ben Blair is out of town — he’s presenting at the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference on Saturday. So I’m thinking I’ll stick around the Treehouse, and concentrate on making myself an ambitious list of at-home projects. I want to tackle the windows (we have a ton, and we’re overdue for a cleaning), and work on some Craig’s List outdoor furniture (scrubbing off the rust, priming and painting), and a dozen other things. I won’t do everything on the list, but I like making it all the same.

How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to this weekend? I’d love to hear! In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- A conversation with Asian-Americans on race.

College essay topic? Costco!

- Animal courtships performed by humans.

Charts on film dialogue from 2000 screenplays, broken down by gender and age.

- My lovely friend, Asha Dornfest, creator of Parenthacks, had a new book come out this week. It’s full of smart, simple parenting tricks. Super helpful and it’s under ten bucks. I’ve already bought 3 copies!

- So good. A post written in the middle of chemo treatments.

- It’s the weekend! Here’s a happy Bollywood dance version of Justin Bieber’s Sorry.

- Last month, I bought these white leather hightops with metal mesh detailing and I’m obsessed with them.

- Jonathon Adler is the new creative director of Mattel (awesome!).

- New York’s new family leave policy.

- 75% of tampon patents are held by men.

http://nytimes.com/2016/04/03/opinion/sunday/the-tampon-of-the-future.html

- On the art of self-censorship.

- Hah! Leaving baby with the grandparents — 1st child vs. 3rd child.

- Liz & Jared’s new baby comes on Monday. I’m going to be an Aunt (again!). I can’t wait to meet her.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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College Tour Report

April 6, 2016

UCLA library

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

While it’s still fresh in my mind, I wanted to report on our College Tour Spring Break Trip. I should tell you that as we drove to our first campus, I read every single comment on this post aloud to the whole family, and we put much of the awesome advice to use. So if you’re planning a campus visit, I highly recommend that comment gold mine. And I whole-heartedly thank you for the advice!

Here are my notes about our trip:

- We started by plotting out a schedule of which schools we would visit on which days. This was all based on geography and driving, and we booked hotels accordingly. But we built in lots of flexibility too, because having never done a trip like this, we knew we might want change our minds as we went. And we also know that traffic in California, especially in Southern California, can upset even the best laid schedule.

Our plan was to visit Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, USC, and UCLA. In that order. One to two campuses per day. But we didn’t end up sticking to that schedule. Here’s what we did instead:

Day 1: We skipped Stanford (they felt like they were already familiar with it) and went straight to UC Santa Cruz. This campus surprised me the most of any campus we visited. As you approach, the first thing you see is vast fields and grand old barns. Then you continue on into the redwoods where the campus buildings are practically hidden among the trees. At one point, the trees opened up and there was an amazing view of the ocean down the hill. The campus was gorgeous and relatively quiet. It felt like a place that would be easy to get alone time if you needed it. We spent about 3 hours on campus.

Day 2: We went to UC Santa Barbara. The kids were in love instantly. The campus is literally on the beach and the dorms have surfboard racks. Hah! Of all the campuses we visited, we spent the most time here — 4 or 5 hours, and that included a visit to Isla Vista which is the little college-town-neighborhood next to campus. After the beach, the thing I remember the most about our visit is the bikes. UC Santa Barbara is a flat campus, so it’s really easy to bike, and bikes are everywhere! It reminded me of Amsterdam. We also learned there are 9 Nobel Laureates on campus.

Day 3: We started with a visit to UC Irvine. I lived down the street from UC Irvine the summer after my freshman year. I would go running there and fell in love with the campus, so I was excited for my kids to see it. But neither Ralph nor Maude have any interest in attending, so we kept it short. We checked out the campus quickly, and then headed down to UC San Diego. Another gorgeous campus! Not quite on the beach, but close — we were told it’s a 5 minute walk. The most distinctive thing to me about UC San Diego’s campus was the architecture. I took so many pictures of buildings!

Day 4 and beyond. Click here!

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Blue Apron — get 2 free meals on your first order! Details below.

If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you know I’m a regular Blue Apron customer — and a big fan. Last month, one of the meals we ordered was Alsatian Spiced Chicken with Smashed Potatoes and Glazed Red Cabbage. It sounds pretty fancy, but it might actually be the simplest meal that Blue Apron has ever sent to our house. And in this case, simple equals perfection. We cooked it on a cold, rainy night and I’m telling you, it felt like it must be the comfort food of the gods.

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We kept saying things like, “Why don’t we cook cabbage more often?” And, “Let’s start saying Smashed Potatoes instead of Mashed Potatoes. It sounds so much more exciting!” The meal was a hit with everyone. Satisfying and delicious. Familiar and foreign (Alsatian Spice?) at the same time. I give it two thumbs up and highly recommend you give the recipe a try.

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If you haven’t had the chance to order Blue Apron yet, here is the rundown: Once you subscribe, Blue Apron sends a box right to your doorstep, and inside that box, you’ll find everything you need to create 3 chef-designed meals. We’re talking farm-fresh ingredients, in exactly the right proportions (which means zero waste from un-used ingredients), and they offer two types of plans — the 2-Person Plan and the Family Plan.

What if you’re not home when they deliver? Will the food spoil? No worries, the box is refrigerated! And after you’ve unpacked, you can use Blue Apron’s recycling locator to find local recycling options, or return your packaging for free to Blue Apron via USPS.

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Blue Apron has a BIG selection of recipes (anyone can access their recipes, even non-customers!), and they add new dishes to their menu every week. Don’t like what’s on the menu for the upcoming week? No problem. There’s no commitment with Blue Apron — you can skip a week (or two, or three), or cancel the service at any time.

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I know Blue Apron isn’t a fit for every family, but it’s been a major positive addition to ours. It’s a huge time saver for me, and big stress-reliever too. A delivery arrives and instantly I feel this weight slip from my shoulders because I know what we’re having for dinner — for the next 3 nights! I don’t have to plan a menu, or go to the grocery store, or figure out if I have enough ingredients, or think about what sounds good. Having the decisions made for me can be such a relief!

But beyond that relief, I also love knowing the ingredients are high quality, the meals are delicious, and that I learn new techniques, and try new-to-me food, with every single order. Sometimes I feel like Blue Apron is a cooking class in disguise!

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One other thing I love about Blue Apron is that they consistently work to improve their product and their company. Their goal is to develop a sustainable food system, while using high quality ingredients. You can see their mission page here.

Want to give Blue Apron a try? The first 50 Design Mom Readers will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order. Just click here. 

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Now back to the recipe. I’m curious: how often do you cook cabbage? I confess, I rarely buy it. But then I try a recipe like this, and wonder why it’s not a staple in my fridge. I think it’s because I didn’t grow up eating it very often. Pretty much my only interaction with it was as coleslaw at neighborhood barbeques. How about you? Are you a cabbage fan? If yes, were you always a fan, or did you discover the wonder of cabbage as an adult?

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Bentley Waters.

Some of you might remember Melisa from her days writing on The Lil Bee, a blog that was equal parts Sex and The City/New York style, as well as the diary of your best friend you’ve known for, like, ever. It was lovely, and so is she.

I asked if she would share her journey of living with her two daughters after a divorce, and she said yes. Please help me welcome Melisa, won’t you?

I’m Melisa and this is the home I share with my two daughters, Devon and Blake. Back in the day I wrote a blog called The Lil Bee, which was mostly about my two babies and other various interests. Those babies are now five and six (how?!) and are the girliest girls you’ve ever seen; everything is rainbows and pink all day and night and nobody leaves the house without at least six pieces of jewelry on at all times. I marvel at their big personalities and huge hearts, and feel lucky that I get to come along for the ride.

Sometimes I miss blogging, so I was excited when Gabby asked me to share a peek inside our world and, in particular, what life looks like post-divorce.

It’s been four years since we moved here and I can honestly say that it now feels like home. That took a while.

When we first moved in, all I was hoping for was a sense of calm and continuity. That this space has evolved into a place we look forward to spending time in is something I’m really proud of. Here’s a glimpse of what life looks like around here.

We live in a townhouse in the suburbs of New York City. I grew up in this area and moved to Manhattan after college. It never occurred to me that I would move back to the ‘burbs as an adult. Never! So when living in the city became unrealistic for several reasons — cost, outgrowing our space, planning a family — my ex and I moved with our dogs to a house up north.

More goodness, straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Amy Christie.

It’s April! Are you ready to think about working in the yard yet? Maybe planting some flowers, doing some landscaping, setting up the hammock? I’m am for sure ready! In fact, last weekend we cleared out the shed. Every single thing. Bikes, tools, buckets, rakes, old lumber, dutch ovens, camping lanterns, unused tile, and on and on. We dusted and de-cobwebed. We re-ogranized. We free-cycled the building materials. We bought hooks to make use of the pegboard wall. The whole family helped!

And the entire time, my eyes kept going to the gardening tools. The trimmers and trowels and gloves and watering can. I’m craving yard work like crazy!

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So when Amy Christie texted me a photo of some painted bricks she was creating for her garden, I said, “DIY please!”

I’m super delighted I get to share them with you, because I find them so darn happy-making. Can’t you just picture a little brick village nestled in among the flowers? Adorable!

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I also love that this DIY is a great way to use-up extra materials — the random bricks and cinderblocks left over from earlier landscaping projects.

Before we collect the materials and get started, I’m curious. Do you find yourself gravitating toward little villages? The kind people put out at the holidays? Or even toy village sets? I love them! I feel like when I’m shopping for travel souvenirs, I’m drawn to items that reflect that local architecture. How about you?

Click here for the simple tutorial!

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A Few Things

April 1, 2016

UCSB beach

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? And Happy April Fools Day! Did your kids play any pranks on you this morning?

I’m writing this from Southern California. We’ve been having a great time exploring colleges up and down the coast this week and I can’t wait to report on the trip. Which reminds me, your advice has been incredibly helpful! Thank you a million for the thoughtful, wise comments.

This is just a quick hello, because we’re off to see two more campuses today, but if you’d like to see what we’re up to, you can follow along on Instagram. And in the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

[NEW LINK] – For all you Bay Area readers, I’ll be at this toddler-friendly event, bright and early on Monday morning, April 4th. It’s all to celebrate my awesome friend Asha Dornfest and her super-helpful new Parenthacks book. Would love to meet you (and your kids!) if you can make it.

- Why I’m teaching prisoners to code.

- Have you heard of Anjiplay? It’s a fascinating new type of kindergarten in China. (Here’s a video if you want to see it in action.) Thanks, Kathryn.

- ” I go to a competitive high school in surburbia. The stress is killing me.” Thanks, Michaela.

- A manager’s job is to make sure employees have a life outside work.

- So great! A Down syndrome independence-building apartment.

- Before you take that leap of faith to follow your dreams.

- Woo hoo! My amazing friend (and Alt Summit Keynote speaker), Jane Mosbacher Morris, is in the NY Times. Article title: Pop-up Stores Thrives in a World of Failing Retailers.

- Artists being pushed out of Oakland.

- Out here, no one can hear you scream.

- Why is it still okay to be ageist?

- Edible eating utensils.

- Silly but made me chuckle — how to hug your teenagers.

- How millennials should deal with baby boomers at work.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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By Gabrielle. Happy cross stitch via Satsuma Street.

When Stephanie was scheduled for a repeat C-section, she felt conflicted and yet mostly at peace. I say mostly because there was still a part of her that was hoping for a trial of labor. It’s that hope that plays a big part in today’s birth story, which is yet another tale to file under the heading The Best Laid Plans! Isn’t that always the way with birth stories!

Welcome, Stephanie.

Stephanie (and Ezra’s!) story, straight ahead.

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom.

I asked the lovely Liz, “What’s an awesome egg meal that I haven’t tried?” In response, she came up with this fantastic concoction, and three factors have me giving it a big thumbs up:

1) Baked eggs. Wait. Baked eggs? I consider myself a full-on egg fan, but I’ve never in my life made baked eggs. Don’t they look amazing?

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2) Sautéed greens. I’ve definitely sautéed greens before, but I’ve never made them for breakfast. Love this!

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3) Liz designed this meal for breakfast, but it’s substantial enough that in my book, it could easily work for dinner too!

Before we jump into the recipe, please tell me I’m not the only who hasn’t tried baked eggs — and I’m not counting eggs as part of cake batter. I make them over easy, boiled, scrambled, poached. In frittatas and omelettes. Egg salad too! I wasn’t joking about being an egg fan. How have I never made baked eggs? : )

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by LOLA. Get 50% off your first order — see details below!

Okay, Friends. Without getting into TMI territory, can we discuss tampons for a bit? When LOLA, a new brand of tampons, reached out to me and wanted me to try their products, I said yes for two reasons:

First, I’ve been using the same-old grocery store products since I was a teenager. But in the last few years, I’ve heard about all sorts of alternatives. Menstrual cups and natural tampons and resuable pads and period panties. And I haven’t tried a single thing that’s crossed my path.

I keep meaning to — I really like the idea of trying something new, of possibly finding something that I like better, something that’s easier. I like the idea that people are innovating in this category. I think we need a ton more innovation! But then I forget, and my period comes, and I need supplies asap and just go with my usual box. So one reason I said yes, is that I wanted to finally, actually try something new.

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The second reason is that the first descriptor I read about LOLA is that their tampons are 100% cotton with BPA-free plastic applicators. And suddenly, for the first time in my life, I asked myself: If LOLA tampons are 100% cotton, and they spell that out as a major selling point, then what are my usual tampons made of? What exactly am I putting in my body?!

Well, it turns out, that’s not an easy question to answer. The FDA doesn’t require brands to disclose a comprehensive list of ingredients in their tampons, so most of them don’t. Certainly, we wouldn’t stand for this with our food or beauty products, but somehow we’ve let tampons slip under the radar. (I imagine it’s partly because we’ve generally been taught to speak in hushed tones about our periods, or anything that relates to our periods, and sort of pretend they don’t happen.)

But we do know that major brands use a mix of synthetic ingredients in their tampons including rayon and polyester. And we also know that their tampons are often treated with harsh chemical cleansing agents, fragrance, and dyes. Yikes.

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I admit that there was a time I wouldn’t have really cared. I would have said, whatever the ingredients are, surely they are in such a small dose, that it doesn’t matter. But then, when I started taking my depression meds, I had a realization. My pills are tiny. Like so super small. And I don’t even take a full pill. And yet, that tiny bit of chemical makes a massive difference for me. The difference between functioning normally and not being able to get out of bed. When that fact hit home, I finally grasped the drive some people have to use all natural/non-toxic products. Clearly, even small amounts of chemical can make a big difference.

You would think that since I have first person experience with this, I would be a real stickler for natural products. But I admit, I’m not 100% pure in my product consumption at all. As you may remember, I’ve tried several natural beauty products for myself, but often they are items that find their way to me almost accidentally. I haven’t necessarily sought them out.

I’ve wondered sometimes why I’m not more committed to all-wholesome-ingredients, all-the-time, and I can think of 3 reasons. Lots of times I make decisions out of convenience, and pick up whatever is close at hand. Other times, I just really like a product and how it works for me, even if it’s not totally pure and natural. And lastly, even though I know small amounts of chemical can wreak havoc on our bodies, sometimes it’s just easier for me to live in denial. Trying to purify every product in the house can be exhausting! (Anyone else feel this way?)

But that said, I do know when I find a natural product that works as well as whatever I was using before, and it’s equally convenient, that’s typically when I get on board. And speaking of working well plus convenient, here is what I like best about LOLA:

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1) It’s a subscription. LOLA makes your life a little bit easier, because it arrives every month, just like clockwork, just like your period. So you’re always prepared, and you don’t have to think about it.

2) The subscription is fully customizable. You can choose your preferred mix of light, regular, and supers. You can choose your number of boxes, and the frequency of delivery. You can get exactly what you need when you need it.

3) LOLA’s subscription is flexible — meaning you can change, skip, or cancel it at any time. Pricing is $10 for 1 box, or $18 for 2 boxes per month.

4) The packaging is really handsome. A box of these sitting on an open bathroom shelf? I wouldn’t mind at all.

5) Want to give LOLA a try? The first 100 readers to use the code designmom will receive 50% off their order!

What’s your take? Do you think about the products you use for your period? Or are you on auto-pilot as far as that goes? How about new products on the scene — have you experimented with anything? Found a new product you prefer? How much of a concern are ingredients for you? Do you go out of your way to find natural health and beauty products, or are you like me and try them sort-of accidentally? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — The code is for new customers only, and currently, LOLA only ships to the continental U.S.. That means no Hawaii or Alaska. Sorry!

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By Gabrielle.

Moving into a 200-plus year old home didn’t prompt Marjolaine to scour the shops for period-specific pieces and study traditional paint colors for months on end. Nope. She painted the whole thing white, added bright furniture and rainbow tiles as often as she could, and enlisted the help of her little ones in choosing bedroom wallpapers. I like her style.

Come see! Welcome, Marjolaine.

My name is Marjolaine Solaro, and I’m 37. I’m a French mum blogger and I write books about pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood. I’m also a freelancer who works with brands to help them in their relationships with bloggers.

I’m married to a wonderful man I met 15 years ago. At the time, we were both working at a local TV channel. He now runs his own business as a TV producer. Together, we have three joyful kids!

My eldest is a romantic blond boy who is eight. He loves gymnastics and he’s a quick learner, skipping a grade and curious about everything. My second one is a six year old sweet girl. She was born two months in advance so she is a fighter. She loves to wear what she wants and she’s the queen of the mix and match outfit! My last one is three and a half. She’s the funny one and she speaks a lot! She’s also passionate with gymnastics, like her big brother.

You must see the rainbow tiles!

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Campus Tours: Any Advice?

March 28, 2016

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By Gabrielle. Remember this photo? It’s Ben Blair and I on the day we graduated from college. I was very pregnant and Ralph was born a week or so later.

Okay, Friends. I need some advice. It’s our Spring Break this week and as I mentioned, we are heading out on a California campus tour tomorrow morning. The whole family is going, and we imagine the younger kids will get tired of campus visits pretty quickly, so we’re calling it a campus tour/ice cream tour. We’re hoping to visit 7 universities, and we’ll seek out the 7 best ice cream shops we can find. : ) We’ve also promised to work in lots of visits to the beach!

But back to the advice. The whole campus tour concept isn’t exactly new-to-me — I remember moving back East and realizing it was almost a rite of passage for many families. But it’s something I’ve never done before and I don’t know a single person from my hometown that went on campus visits or college tours. When I graduated from high school, it seems like 99% of my fellow university bound students went to the local college. And then there were a few of us who went north to Brigham Young University or University or Utah. Virtually no one left the state for school and I don’t remember anyone thinking very hard about where they would go to college.

I imagine that has changed now, but still, I’m left with very little personal experience in this area. The good news is that we’ve always liked exploring campuses with the kids and have done so wherever we’ve lived or visited, so we’re not complete novices. Usually, we walk around campus, and maybe visit the museum or the library. We check out the student center and peek in a classroom. We eat something at a university café or cafeteria. But that’s about it. We generally don’t have a specific goal other than hoping our kids will feel at home in a campus environment.

But this trip seems different. There’s more of a definite purpose to these visits. They feel weightier and less touristy. The whole thing is very exciting to us and we want to make the most of it! So I’ve got questions for you. First of all, did you get the chance to go to college? If yes, what was choosing a school like for you? Did most people in your area stick close to home? Did your parents take you on a college tour? Did you think long and hard about where you wanted to go?

Second, if you’ve done a multi-campus tour with your own kids, what did you find most helpful? Did you take an official guided tour at each stop, or wander on your own? How much time did you spend on campus? Did your kids’ area of study affect what they wanted to see on each campus? What if your child was undecided as far as a major goes? In addition to cost, what were the biggest factors that determined college choices for your kids: area of study? geography? dorms? social life? something else entirely? Is the visit mostly about getting a feel for the campus and helping your kids imagine themselves there? Did your kids end up picking a school from the tour, or did the choose a campus they hadn’t visited before?

If you were going again, what would you hope to get out of it? What other advice do you have for us? What questions should we be asking?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! I know some of you have kids that have just gone through similar experiences, and I know other readers are still in college and can remember their campus tours like it was yesterday (because it practically was!). I can’t wait to learn from all of you.

Happy Spring Break!

P.S. — Both of our oldest kids have been getting mailings from universities for years now. So many different schools! And more than half of them I haven’t even heard of. It’s no surprise to me that people often use geography to narrow the list of choices. It’s overwhelming!

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A Few Things

March 25, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my. This week. So many bombs. So much death and pain and heartache. Turkey, then Brussels, then Ivory Coast, then Nigeria. And I imagine I’m missing other bombings that I didn’t even hear about. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it all. Turkey and Brussels in particular hit very close to home for me. My sister Jordan and her family have been spending their spring break in Egypt, Turkey and France. The first time they went out into the city as tourists in Turkey, the bomb had gone off just minutes before. They were totally fine, but too darn close — the troops in riot gear ran past them as they returned to their hotel.

And in Brussels, a missionary from my hometown, Joseph Empey, was seriously injured in the bombing. His parents, Amber and Court, are good friends of our family — I went to high school with them both. In fact, if you’ve been to Alt Summit, you may have met the wonderful Amber Empey at the registration desk. Their son suffered 2nd degree burns to his hands, face and head, and shrapnel in his leg. He’s been through surgery for the shrapnel and the latest reports are good. But dang, that’s super scary. Everyone is completely shook up about it.

Seeing these new reports and knowing people I love are right there in the midst of all of it is pretty impossible to fathom.

In completely opposite news, today is the first day of Spring Break for us. We’ll dye eggs this weekend and go to our church Easter Egg hunt tomorrow morning. Next week, we’re thinking of driving south on a campus tour for Maude and Ralph.

Lots of contrary emotions in my head at the moment, but here are a things I’ve been distracting myself with:

- Boaty McBoatface was the highlight of my week.

- When did porn become sex ed? (I’m thinking this discussion should become it’s own post. Yes?)

- We should all become Jews.

- Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

- Do you agree? Has Pixar fallen from its throne? (I’m a huge Pixar fan.)

Against empathy.

- All 50 states imagined as food puns.

- A library for rare colors.

- How do you write about diversity?

- A teen designed and 3D printed his own braces.

- As we become cameras.

- More on gender: Her boyfriend is not very masculine and he gets called a “lady”.

- Great news for women who don’t have access to birth control — an easy to use IUD inserter.

- Hah! 1950s glasses for women. So subtle!

- Thoughts on Peace.

I hope you have a peaceful, beautiful, love-filled weekend. Happy Easter to all who celebrate! I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already. Stay safe!

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Ralph Eagle Scout11

By Gabrielle.

Would you indulge me in a little report about Ralph’s Eagle Court of Honor? It was held last Saturday and it turned out wonderfully. We loved it! Here’s are my notes about the event in list form:

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1) First let’s talk about his uniform (because I’m obsessed with it). It’s vintage from the 1950′s. We bought it last summer. As Ralph was working on his Eagle project, he happened to bring up the topic of vintage neckerchief slides and mentioned he’d seen some cool ones. I started searching for them on eBay and discovered the delightful world of old school Scout uniforms.

If you’re interested, here’s what I learned: There are tons! You can find single pieces, random pieces grouped together in lots, or sometimes a full uniform. And there are lots of bargains. Sizing is the tricky part. I ended up measuring the waist and length of a pair of Ralph’s pants that fit him well, and then comparing that to listed measurements for the items. Same thing with one of his button-downs. Of course, it’s eBay and sometimes there are no measurements listed.

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One note on length, the pants were designed to be hemmed and then let out as the Scout grew. So if the waist seems like the right measurement, but the pants are too short, they may have a long hem waiting to be let out.

We really like the pieces from the 1950s because they’re made a heavy cotton and they’re really sturdy and very washable. We found pants, a shirt, a belt, a scarf, a carved wooden neckerchief slide, a hat, and a badge sash. But they weren’t altogether, there were separate orders and some duplicate pieces. Also, his badge sash is from a later era — I think late 70s. But it still looks good with the rest.

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The badge materials have changed over the years — the current ones have a sort of stiff plastic backing — but the designs are the same. So if you buy an old sash and it has badges on it, you can reuse any your Scout has earned, and then just add new ones. They’ll blend right in.

I think he looks so handsome! That first photo feels super iconic to me.

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2) I want to tell you about this photo shoot. As we were planning the Court of Honor, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for decor, but I got this picture in my head of a photoshoot where Ralph was in full uniform, doing scout-y things. I wanted them to be very formal and posed — as if we were shooting them for an old Scout catalog. I wasn’t sure how I’d use the photos, but I knew I wanted to have them shot.

So we made a list of things he could do — archery, chopping wood, canoeing, using a compass, making a fire, helping a senior citizen across the street, tying a knot, whittling, etc..

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We gathered supplies, borrowing an ax and archery equipment, and called Katrina Davis. She’s a street-style photographer here in Oakland who I’ve worked with before, and I knew she would do a great job on this. Then last Monday, we shot in our backyard. The 6 portrait photos you see here are my favorites from the shoot. Aren’t they awesome! I think they turned out so well.

They ended up being a key part of the decor at the Court of Honor.

Keep reading to see how we used them!

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