mirth hardwood tiles

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

Six different flooring options I considered, straight ahead!



By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

Click through to find out which one I chose, and for a note on toilet seats.


Make Yard Yahtzee for Your Family | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom. This post is brought to you by Outshine® — Outshine wants to help you snack brighter

Oh my goodness. I love this project so much! Have you noticed the fun trend of turning childhood table games into oversize outdoor games? For the record, I am fully on board. Big interactive games that the whole family can play, and that get people outside? Yes, please. In fact, lately, my new favorite housewarming gift to give has been an oversize outdoor Jenga set. But I think I like this DIY Yard Yahtzee even more! And it’s a total bargain project too.

Yard Yahtzee: Perfect Family Game | Design Mom DSC_7752-2

Picture it now: You and the kids outside after dinner, making the most of the last sunny summer evenings, chasing around your lawn or at the park, playing an active game of Yard Yahtzee and enjoying an icy fruit pop. I’m thinking Outshine Fruit Bars, of course. They’re the perfect summer snack!


Why I think you’ll like them too? Well, the very first ingredient in most Outshine Fruit Bars is either fruit or fruit juice (love that!), and if GMO ingredients concern you, you’ll be glad to know they use zero in their Fruit Bars. Plus, Outshine has made improvements to eight of its most popular flavors by adding an average of 77% more real fruit or fruit juice and reducing sugar by an average of 11%. Check out the Grape, Strawberry, Pineapple, Mango, Peach, Pomegranate, Raspberry, and Tangerine flavors to see the improvements.

Fast, easy, delicious, and fruit-filled, eating one might make you feel like this gorgeous summer could last forever.

Make Yard Yahtzee! | Design Mom

Amy Christie put together this project, and you can find the full instructions below. But before we jump to the DIY, I’m curious. Is anyone else out there holding on to summer for dear life, or is it just me? My kids went back to school last week, and though I enjoy getting back to a regular work schedule, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the summer break.

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Luckily, there are still many warm weekends ahead. And Labor Day too!

How about you? Ready to jump back in to the school year? Wishing summer would last forever?

Find full instructions and notes when you click through!


By Gabrielle.

Four years ago — have we seriously been touring your wonderful homes since then?! — Rochelle showed us around her Harvard home, and it was dreamy. Think books and twinkly lights and more books and a burgeoning garden. Much has changed over the years, and Rochelle reached out to see if I’d be interested in seeing her family home’s evolution of sorts. My answer was yes, accompanied by many exclamation points.

Of course, there are less toys, different seating configurations, one less dining room, a flourishing garden and probably way more books. I for sure wanted an update on their lives today. If you’d like, you can peek in on her previous tour. Just be sure to come back quickly. It’s worth it!

Welcome back, Rochelle!

We are four plus one. Our plus one is an English Bull Terror (think Spuds McKenzie or the the Target dog) with excellent comedic timing who either thinks he is human or that we are all dogs. I can’t tell. Either way, the playing field is level according to him and he has gone from being a newbie puppy the last time I was a guest here to full fledged member of the family. Then from littlest to biggest, there is Isaac (ten), Meredith (13), me, and my husband Rob. We live in Harvard, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Since we last appeared on Design Mom, everyone has grown so much! We have a teenager now and the toys and the trappings of little kids have all but disappeared from our daily lives. I feel like everything has sped up and I want nothing more than the pace to slow down. But I don’t see that happening — I think it goes with the territory.

So much goodness, just ahead!


Big School or Small School

August 29, 2016


By Gabrielle.

A couple weeks ago we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of having your kids focus on one particular activity and getting really good at it, versus more casually trying a lot of different activities. Related to that discussion, I’ve been thinking about small schools versus big schools and the opportunities they offer.

It’s actually been an ongoing topic of conversation at our house for ages, but especially since Memorial Day, when we got together with our dear friends, Becky and Rob Lattin (parents of 7 great kids).

We know the Lattins from Colorado. While they lived there, their teens went to Arapahoe High School, which is quite big — approximately 2200 students. But about a year ago, they moved to a tiny town in Idaho called Weiser. It’s the town Becky grew up in, and now her kids attend the same high school she did.

The two high schools — Arapahoe High and Weiser High — are very different, and we were discussing what that meant for her kids, and what she remembered from her own experiences as a teen. I’m going to talk about both high schools, but I want to note that it’s all secondhand, because I’ve never had personal experience with either school. These notes and thoughts are just what I remember from my conversations with Becky, and if you know the schools, and I’m getting some details wrong, then I apologize in advance. : )

Arapahoe High School is an excellent school with high achieving students and a modern, up-to-date facility. The school has a ton of resources (including its own pool) so they can offer every team sport under the sun, a slew of AP classes, an excellent theater department, and lots of performing arts opportunities. But it’s also very competitive. For example, our nephews went to the same school and I remember being shocked to hear that they hadn’t made the school soccer team. They’re natural athletes, they’ve played on soccer teams since they were teeny tiny, and they practice hard. They’re really good soccer players–like maybe intramural champions at BYU? But apparently not good enough to make the team at Arapahoe. It’s that competitive.

Weiser is much smaller with not quite 500 students. People don’t necessarily choose to go to Weiser, it’s simply the default because it’s the only high school in town. Certainly, Weiser doesn’t have the same resources or campus as Arapahoe, but happily they do offer a wide range of sports and other extra-curricular activities. Though instead of competitive tryouts, at Weiser, to join any team or group or club, you pretty much just show up. Never played tennis before? No worries. You’re still on the team!

Becky mentioned that when she was a Weiser student, she participated in a ton of school activities and felt like she got the chance to excel at all of them — she was captain of the cheer squad, a school leader and an excellent student. She said high school gave her a lot of confidence. When she got to college (she went to BYU, a big campus with 30,000 students), she said she came in with the same confidence, but learned that maybe her Weiser experiences in excellence were relative.

She and a friend decided to go to the BYU cheerleading tryouts and when they got there, Becky was a bit wide-eyed and shocked. The tryouts were incredibly competitive, and many of the women trying out were super serious athletes with professional-level gymnastics skills. Becky’s experience on the Weiser cheer team had been a little different. A little more small town. And she could see that she wasn’t at all prepared to compete at the level needed to make the BYU team.

On the other hand, she was struck as she watched her own teenagers adapt to high school life at Weiser. She encouraged them to try out for lots of teams and groups, but based on their experiences at Arapahoe, they hesitated, feeling they weren’t good enough or competitive enough to even try out. Eventually, they learned that they could try pretty much anything they wanted at Weiser, but it took awhile to open up their confidence.

Watching and living all of this has left Becky wondering. Was it an advantage for her to attend a small school and feel like the queen of the town? Even though she found out later that being “the best” means different things in different places? Or was it a bigger advantage for her kids to attend a world-class school like Arapahoe, where there were tons of resources and the programs were excellent? Sure, maybe they didn’t make the football team, but the clubs they did participate in (like cross-country) were high quality and the kids had access to amazing coaching, and excellent performance at Arapahoe was probably a more objective gauge of excellence.

That wondering got us talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David & Goliath, which has a section comparing being the big fish at a small school and being a small fish at a big school. The example I remember most is about kids that make it into Harvard for undergrad but that find themselves at the bottom of their class rankings once they get there. These are some of the brightest kids in the country, but they end of feeling like losers being they’re not the top student. If they had chosen a smaller school or a less-competitive university, they would likely still be at the top of the class and continue with the confidence they learned in high school. (Have you read the book? I enjoyed it.)

Our conversations got me curious. I know for most of us, we’re not making a choice between a big, highly-rated school, and a tiny small-town school, but if we did get to choose, what would you prefer? What would you have preferred for yourself as a teen? And what would you prefer for your own kids? Also, can any of you relate to these different high school experiences? Do you have other thoughts to add to the discussion?


Photo: FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images | USC cheerleader Betty Brown in a stars and stripes outfit, Los Angeles, circa 1945. Via NYMag.


A Few Things

August 26, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? I think our whole household is feeling pretty accomplished that we made it to Friday on our first week back to school. I can hardly believe we were still in France last Friday. It already seems like it’s been ages. Hah!

Yesterday was Olive’s birthday and today is Ralph’s birthday, so we are feeling pretty darn festive around here. Breakfast in bed. Balloons. Wrapping paper. But we’re also feeling practical, because Ralph gets his wisdom teeth extracted today (what a birthday treat!), June has a vaccination appointment, and I’m headed out for a haircut.

Next week, I’d love to give you an update on the master bedroom and bath remodel here at the Treehouse. It’s mostly going along smoothly, but flooring has me stumped at the moment. I’ve made the decision on what to use at least 3 different times now, and then have had to switch gears for one reason or another (mostly timing related). Can’t wait to fill you in!

In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- A new way to visually think of the autism spectrum.

- A program for the homeless (created by a Republican Mayor) in Albequerque that seems to be working.

- Related, Houston’s solution to the homeless problem.

- Wow! These gloves translate sign language into speech.

- Another news organization removing the comment sections of their articles. Thoughts on this trend?

- Related, How Trolls are Ruining the Internet.

- Can empathy make you physically ill?

- An interactive map of every cargo ship in the world. So fascinating.

- “Crack baby” study unexpectedly find out that poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine.

- Photography exhibit featuring items seized from immigrants and thrown away by U.S. Customs and Border Control.

- 19 women who will make history if elected to Congress this year.

I hope you have a gorgeous, late August weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — I want to tell you how much I’ve treasured your comments this week. The amazing support on the #blogust post, the passionate comments about food insecurity, and especially your words on the post about the Act of Birth. Such smart, sage, thoughtful women you are. Thank you!


No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu No Cook, No Prep! Scandinavian Style Dinner Party Menu

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom. This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds

Our summer schedule is all but forgotten as we get back to the regular programming of school days, but the summer weather still lingers, along with the gorgeous late summer light. Which makes the end of August and early September a pretty lovely time to gather friends around an outdoor table and enjoy an evening meal together.

No cook, no prep! French Style Menu for an Instant Dinner Party. 3 No-Cook, No Prep Dinner Party Menus, feauring Blue Diamond Almonds

The tricky thing for me is, once school is back in session, it’s hard to make time to prep a meal for guests. So I thought it would be fun to come up with a few menus that are entirely store bought, requiring no prep, plus totally gorgeous and majorly delicious.

The idea is that you can swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, or after school (or you could even use a grocery delivery service), and pick up an instant meal that tastes amazing, is fun to eat and serve, and requires no apology.

No cook, no prep! American Style Menu. Perfect for late summer entertaining!

Does a no-prep, grocery store menu sound right up your alley? Then you’re in luck! I’ve got 3 for you today. One French-themed, one Scandinavian themed, and one filled with All-American flavors. A stop at the store, a few minutes opening bottles and packages, and boom, you’re hosting a stress-free dinner party.

Click here for all three no-prep dinner menus!


By Gabrielle. Owen’s sweet letter board series via Emily’s Instagram.

Infertility, an early delivery, and a husband more than 24-hours away is just the beginning of Emily’s story. Oh! And there’s also a second delivery much different than the first. Come see. It’s a really good one.

Starting my family was easy. My husband Nick and I met in high school and became a pair in college. Inseparable almost immediately, we had an effortless romance from the get-go and were married in 2009 on the shores of Lake Tahoe close to our hometown. Like I said, it was easy; we were a family just like that.

Baby-making on the other hand, did not come easily.

We decided to start trying for a baby about a year after we were married. I remember the feeling of hope I had in that first month of trying, and I remember the feeling of disappointment that followed. The hope would return each month, but its intensity tapered until nothing remained but desperation. The disappointment climbed, peaked and eventually turned to numbness.

After one year of ovulation tracking and timed intercourse, my gynecologist ordered lots of tests and referred us to a reproductive endocrinologist. We both started weekly acupuncture and an herbal regimen while we prepped for fertility treatments. Four rounds of Intrauterine Insemination ended in heartache and exhaustion and left us with a feeling of defeat. I felt like my young and supposedly healthy body was betraying me. We questioned whether more intervention was the right choice. Were we messing with nature? What if we weren’t meant to be parents?

More sweetness, straight ahead!


Food Insecurity in America

August 24, 2016


By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. This post is brought to you by Outshine®.

[ UPDATE: You can watch my Facebook Live interview on this topic here. ]

Fact: 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. And further, food insecurity exists in virtually every community in the United States.

Reading about hunger statistics in America is always a punch to the gut. I live in California which grows 1/3 of America’s vegetables, and 2/3 of the country’s fruit, and sometimes, as I’m walking around the city, or running errands in the suburbs, I’m struck by the abundance I see. Farmer’s markets and grocery stores piled high with good, healthy food. All that abundance almost makes it hard to imagine that those hunger numbers are real. But they are indeed real.

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And the profile of a family who struggles with hunger in America is different than what you might think. These are people who have jobs and are seeking education, but who also struggle with medical hardships and low-wages. They sometimes have to choose between buying food for their family and paying for transportation to get to their job, or choose between buying food and medicine. Sometimes they have to buy the cheapest, nutrition-lacking options, just to have enough food to feed their family (and that poor quality food can cause or exacerbate health problems.)

They are your neighbors. They are senior citizens in your community that you say hello to as you go about your day. They are kids at your school.

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Summer is especially hard on kids in need (or kids who struggle with hunger), because without a regular school schedule, they don’t have access to daily school meals — free or reduced breakfasts or lunches. And there are issues of food deserts too — whole neighborhoods that don’t have real access to fresh, healthy produce.

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In happier news, there are good people and good programs working to combat hunger in this country. Have you ever heard of Feeding America? Their nationwide network of food banks is leading the fight against hunger in communities nationwide. (You can learn more about hunger and Feeding America programs in this video.)

And this month, to support Feeding America programs, Outshine is donating 1 million pounds of fresh produce!

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Today, I’m visiting the Outshine office in Berkeley and I’ll be interviewing a member of their team about this partnership. You can watch the video on the Design Mom Facebook page. We’ll be going live at 11:00 in the morning (that’s California time, or 2:00 PM on the East Coast). The interview will be live, but you can also view the recording after the fact on the same page. I hope you’ll come and join the conversation! [ UPDATE: You can watch the interview here. It was such a good conversation! Let me know if you get a chance to watch it. (And you can also get a glimpse of my hair which hasn't been cut since the beginning of the summer. I'm dying for cut! My appointment is this Friday. Hah!) ]

Tell me, Friends, have you ever had the chance to learn about hunger in America? Do you feel like hunger is something you see in your community, or does it seem to be a hidden problem where you live?


gabby stanley easter bonnet

By Gabrielle.

This is me. Age two and three quarters. Eyes closed and a big grin. I’m wearing a new dress and a bonnet for Easter. Clearly I am looking and feeling fabulous! As you might guess, this will become my favorite dress, and a couple months after this picture was taken, I’ll wear it on my 3rd birthday too. In fact, this dress shows up quite a bit in my baby book. This photo was taken in my backyard on Gibson Street in Riverside, California (did I tell I was born in California and spent my first 5 years there?). My first Easter bonnet. Such a sweet little milestone.

Why am I sharing this memory? So I can highlight the fact that some families in developing countries unfortunately don’t get to experience this sort of milestone, because children lack access to life-saving vaccines. In fact, one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could be prevented with a vaccine, many of them before age five. Totally preventable deaths. Easily preventable deaths. Which absolutely breaks my heart to think about. And it’s the reason I’m participating in Blogust.

What is Blogust? It’s a month-long digital dialogue, bringing together online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions to change the world through inspirational imagery and storytelling. This year marks the fifth year of Blogust helping kids around the world reach their fifth birthday thanks to the power of global vaccines.

The Blogust 2016 digital relay participants will be sharing the story behind #TBT baby photos or videos of themselves, their kid(s) or a side-by- side comparison at important milestones — from first steps or first smile to fifth birthday.

Every parent everywhere should be able to experience these milestones, which is why every like, comment and social media share their posts receive (up to 30,000 throughout the month of August 2016) will trigger a donation by MAM to help provide a vaccine for a child in need around the world.

So I have a favor to ask: Will you please comment on this post? Every comment equals a donated vaccine to a child in need. So awesome! What should you comment? Whatever you like. How about a memory from your first five years, or what it was like to watch your kids hit a milestone, or even something simple like “I heart keeping children healthy!”

I can’t wait to read your comments. Let’s save some lives!

P.S. — If you’re not much for commenting, you could instead share this post on Twitter or Facebook with the #blogust hashtag. Any like, share or comment works! Also, you can find links to all the Blogust posts here.


By Gabrielle.

While I devoured Sara’s words, I underlined a few poignant lines to remember forever. She’s a psychologist! Of course! Of course she would possess all the answers to life’s — and parenting’s — burning questions.

But here’s what I enjoyed so much about Sara: She’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. She watches people she thinks are wise. She asks questions. And she says things like “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ve never been the parent of a six year old before.” I love it all.

So please come share in this goodness, will you? It’s so lovely to have Sara — and her fabulous hot pink dining room chairs! — here with us today. Welcome, Sara.

We live in a historic neighborhood in Wooster Ohio, two blocks over from the College of Wooster. Our street is lined with hundred year-old trees and joined by a red brick road. Growing up, I lived on a brick road in another town and have fond memories of hot sticky summers that began with bare feet on warm pavement and ended enjoying fireflies and crickets through the screens. I wanted the same for my future kids.

When we moved here for my job as a psychologist, I spent my lunch break canvasing this neighborhood for a For Sale sign. I loved that all of the houses were unique and when I spotted a sign in the yard, I made an appointment for a viewing that day.

More shots of bold color, just ahead!


The Act of Birth

August 22, 2016

uterus poster

By Gabrielle. Uterus print by Mathilde Cinq Mars.

I read an essay, called Monstrous Births, over the weekend and can’t stop thinking about it. The author, Sarah Blackwood, talks about the history of child birth and how it has often been moralized — like Eve being cursed and told that childbirth would be difficult because of her actions. Ms. Blackwood compares that with the modern ways we moralize birth — putting pressure on women to have a natural birth or even talking about birth as an empowering act. The author then describes the births of her own 2 children, which were very difficult, and suggests that maybe we should think of birth as an amoral (not immoral, but amoral) action instead of a moral one.

The essay really resonated with me. Unlike the author, I’ve experienced child birth six different times, and yet all of them fell in the “typical birth experience” range and didn’t require much intervention. For me the resonation came from the description of birth as amoral. I totally related to that idea, though I’ve never thought to use that word.

Child birth didn’t feel empowering to me. It didn’t feel un-empowering either. Instead it felt to me mostly like a biological process — a difficult one, but one that my body was designed to go through. I didn’t necessarily feel pride at what my body did because I didn’t feel like I could even take credit for it. (In fact, if I did take credit for it, then would that mean that women who couldn’t experience the relatively easy kind of births I had should feel the opposite of pride? Shame or guilt?) I remember thinking that in theory even if I had been passed out, my body could have birthed the baby. So why would I be proud of something that could happen when I wasn’t even aware of it?

Now I say all that, but I completely understand that other women experience birth, and think about birth, very differently than I did. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are women who feel very empowered by birth. I don’t doubt this, because I know many of these women and absolutely trust the experiences they’ve had. I simply think this is one of those cases where people are different and experience things in different ways. And of course, we all use different narratives to help our brains understand the world.

In the essay, the author mentions that sometimes we dismiss the hardships of childbirth and say something like, “Well, as long as the baby is healthy.” But she suggests that is actually a really misogynistic thing to say. I’d never thought of it that way, but I see her point. Why would the baby always have more value than the woman giving birth (especially considering some of the women giving birth are practically children themselves)?

What about you? How do you feel about thinking of birth as an amoral action, as more of a biological process than a moral one? Did you feel empowered by birth? Did you feel pressured to have a certain kind of birth (natural, home, water, epidural)? Or certain kind of birth experience (empowering, spiritual, wholesome, calm, dramatic)? For anyone who is expecting at the moment, are you looking forward to the birth experience, or dreading it? If you get a chance to read the essay, I would love to discuss this topic with you.

P.S. — I’m well aware that talking about child birth can bring out the judgey-ness in anyone. So I ask you now to please refrain from telling someone else how they should experience birth. Instead, feel free to share your own experiences and how you think about them.


A Few Things

August 19, 2016

gabrielle benjamin blair

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ralph Blair.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I am writing from Paris. We fly to Oakland first thing tomorrow morning (with a short layover in Oslo, Norway on the way). The bags are packed, the souvenirs are purchased, our summer in France is really coming to an end. I can hardly believe it.

Something fun: today is our 21st wedding anniversary — and we’re feeling so lucky that we get to spend it in Paris! I was newly 21 when I married, so I’ve officially been married for half of my life. So strange to think about. Happily, I can easily say that marrying Ben Blair was the best decision of my life. No doubt about it!

Our weekend plans consist of 3 things: fly home, deal with jet lag, and make sure we’re ready for the first day of school on Monday. How about you? Anything you’re excited about?

I’m off to spend our last evening in France, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Such a compelling interview. Consider the kitchen-less home. Thanks, Heidi.

- For back to school season, an NPR program about discipline in schools. What’s actually working?

- Please tell me you’re reading R. Eric Thomas’ olympic reports on Elle. Belly laughs for days.

- Also olympics related, I love Fu Yaunhui! She’s the Chinese swimmer who is breaking taboos right and left.

- My sister Jordan has been sharing posts about her amazing new studio. Here’s the craft area. I’m obsessed with the custom pegboard.

- This story is a good one. You could tell me it was completely made up and I wouldn’t even care.

- I behind on the news, and still learning more about what’s happening with the flooding in Louisiana, but I saw this article with helpful links.

- Anyone up for booking a vacation to Greece? Let’s go! (NYT)

- A fascinating study about white social media users and posts about race.

- “Is it really that hard, being a First World woman?” Powerful writing.

- Earthworms could be the new superfood.

- Related, teff could be the new super grain.

- 91-year-old Flossie Lewis says, “Getting old is a state of mind.”

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



By Gabrielle.

Nora makes me miss New York even more than I already do! A born and bred Queens gal, her love for her city is contagious. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live on Sesame Street?

I can’t wait to follow her around her jam-packed day. Let’s do this, Nora!

Let’s spend the day with Nora!


Random Thoughts

August 17, 2016


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Welcome to August’s installment of my random thoughts. Also, Hello from Paris! Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

- Today we left Normandy. It was a teary goodbye. I think it might be my favorite place ever. We are spending a few days in Paris before we catch our flight home on Saturday morning. Except for me, Betty & June, no one else in our family has been to Paris this summer, so everyone is excited to get a little time here. We’ll do some school shopping, see a museum or two, and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. I asked each kid to decide what their top priorities are for our few days here, and we’re working hard to see how many we can accommodate.

My pick is to visit Les Puces, the famed Paris Flea Market — which I’ve never done! But if I understand correctly it’s only held on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we leave early Saturday, which means we’ll miss it. Bummer! Have you ever been?

- School starts on Monday. Which seems almost unfathomable to me because this summer has gone so fast. But happily, we have lots of new school experiences to look forward to. Maude is starting her senior year, Olive is starting high school, Oscar is starting middle school. And Betty and June will return to our elementary school as 5th and 1st graders. (And you can bet we’ve picked up a bunch of adorable French school supplies to put in their back packs.)

- As for Ralph, he’s also got a big new experience happening. Ralph is heading to Bogota, Colombia on a mission! He leaves in about 3 weeks. As you can imagine, he’s super excited. He can’t wait to learn Spanish and he’s already falling in love with Colombia — mostly because he’s reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Such an amazing book! Have you read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez?)

When we get back to The States, we’ll be in serious mission prep mode, including a wisdom teeth appointment and tackling the packing list. Ralph will be giving a talk at church — it’s a missionary tradition — on Sunday the 11th, a couple of days before he heads out. (To our friends in the Bay Area, you are all invited! I’ll share details on Facebook.)

- Next week we have two birthdays. Olive on the 25th and Ralph on the 26th. We’re guessing that re-entry, and the new school year, may leave us feeling overwhelmed next week, so we’ll be keeping the celebrations simple, and pushing back friend gatherings by a week or two. Have you ever hosted a delayed birthday party?

- Remember the Treehouse master bedroom and bathroom renovation that has been happening while we’re in France? Well, it’s not all the way done yet, but we’re down to the finishing surfaces. So that’s awesome! As awesome as it is, I realize it still means we’re coming home to a not-wholly-useable house. Not ideal, but what can you do? These things happen.

I’m super excited to see the new spaces in person, and I’m over-the-moon-grateful that most of the work — and all the really dusty stuff — is already done. Woo hoo! Of course, I’ll be sharing lots of updates once I’m there and can take some photos.

- Related, we’ll be coming home to a little more added chaos, because it turns out our washing machine developed a leak while we’ve been gone, warping the wood floors it sits on. Dang! The washing machine and dryer came with the house, and they were already old when we moved in, so we knew they would need to be replaced eventually. And it looks like eventually has turned into now. : ) Has anyone reading researched washer and dryer sets recently? Is Consumer Reports the way to go? I’m thinking back, and I can’t remember the last time we had to buy a set. I welcome any and all advice about shopping for a new pair. Do you love your washer and dryer?

- Over the last couple of weeks, I was surprised to realize that I was slowing down and posting less on social media. I was thinking about why that might be and I’m not quite sure. But I think it’s something about this particular summer. It’s been really wonderful. Incredible and magical in so many ways, with a delicious concentrated dose of family time. There were dinner parties and old friends and gorgeous views and so many adventures, and yet I’m feeling hesitant about sharing it. It’s like I find myself almost hoarding the summer, or protecting it and wanting to keep it all for myself. Does that even make sense?

Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few weeks and write all about it. Or maybe I’ll end up just keeping some of these memories in my head. We’ll see. Have any of you ever felt like that?

- We’ve got a few big weeks ahead of us and I can feel myself mentally preparing. As I’ve mentioned, I really enjoy a full schedule, but I can always tell I’ve overdone it when I find myself looking at a future date on the calendar and thinking about how I just need to make it to that future date and then I can relax, instead of enjoying what’s actually happening. This morning, I realized I’m doing that now — looking ahead to sometime in September. So I’m trying to figure out what I can cut out or simplify or say no to. (I say that while being fully aware I’m not very good at saying no to things.)

- Even though I know the weeks ahead are going to be challenging, I can still say with ease and enthusiasm: I can’t wait to get home! Coming home is just the best. It feels so good. My own bed. My own dishes. My own desk. I’m really looking forward to getting on a good fall schedule. I really do enjoy back-to-school season. It’s such a great time for making a fresh start.

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.


By Gabrielle.

I love it when favorite guests from my Living With Kids tours come back for a revisit. Even better? When their stories take on a happily-ever-after element and we can all cheer them on while we peek in on their new home and their new life that’s changed for the beautiful in so many different ways. Even better than that? When they’re excited to share it all with the rest of us. It’s nice when that happens.

This is one of those stories. I’m so happy to welcome back Jen and the newest additions to her life. You’re going to enjoy this one. Promise.

I’m Jen CK Jacobs (perhaps better known by my old name, Jen Altman). I’m a mother to six beautiful children — my own three daughters, Adie (12), Aela (10) and Ari (9) — and my three step-children, Charlotte (11), Barrett (8) and Genevieve (5). My husband and I are truly outnumbered! We are a house divided by fire and water — three fire signs, three water signs — all female; and our boys make up the air that fuels us…

I started blogging about eight years ago. Both Nectar & Light (a predominately Polaroid blog) and Nectar (a lifestyle and cooking blog) earned a fair readership in their day…but life turned upside down and maintaining a blog became a bit cumbersome. My ex-husband and I separated in the summer of 2014, and my father died unexpectedly shortly there after.

Still reeling from an impending divorce — I truly — for the first time in my life, allowed myself to fall apart when my dad died. He was the greatest man I knew. His shared love story with my mother is what everyone wishes upon the stars at night to experience; his quiet strength, unconditional love and the core of his character helped shape the woman I’m still in process of becoming. The loss was so great that the gaping wound in my chest will likely never heal. It becomes a little easier to live with as the days pass, but a photograph, a scent, a song can send a gust of cold air through that space and it feels as if we lost him yesterday.

My focus became my mother and my family. My ex-husband and I made the life-altering decision to continue to work on our relationship outside of our marriage and we now have more love, patience, more gratitude and understanding for each other than we ever did when we were married. Healing was complex as it was intertwined with multiple layers of grieving and watching my mother try to function without the other half of her soul.

So much dreaminess! I can’t wait to show you!


A Few Things

August 12, 2016

round hay bale normandy

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ben Blair.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Did you have a good week? Did you see any meteors last night? We went out at 11:00 PM for about an hour, and then again at about 1:30 AM. The viewing was much better during the second shift. But all of it was super cool! At least two of our kids are planning to sleep outside tonight to see more of the show.

How about you? Any fun plans for the weekend? Has school already started where you are? Or are you still soaking up the last weeks of summer? We’re still in summer mode — one week left in France!

I’m off to take advantage of every last minute of being here, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- The problem with female protagonists.

- Super interesting article about one design style spreading across the world.  Thanks, Laura.

- 19th century French postcards that predicted the future.

- “[W]hite children with appendicitis were almost three times as likely as black children to receive opioids in the emergency room.” Racism is alive and well. (NYT)

- Related: It’s hard to get therapy unless you’re white.

- I’m participating in Blogust this month — every comment, like, or share helps provide a vaccine!

- I had no idea Frank Lloyd Wright designed pre-fabricated houses.

- Wow. A few years ago, our representatives worked with people across the aisle far more than they do today. My brother watched this and said, “It looks like osmosis.”

- It’s so easy to overlook this stuff. But gosh is it annoying.

- That awful/weird sound you hear when someone cracks a window in the car? It’s not just you!

- Women get it done. Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school.

- This internship program only hires women over 40.

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



A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky over Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain

By Gabrielle. Image via Reuters by Kieran Doherty.

Have you heard about the Perseid Meteor Shower? Tonight, as many as 200 meteors per hour could be visible from Earth!! It should be on display for the new few nights, but tonight after midnight is likely to be the best viewing.

“It scares you to the bone when you see it coming across,” Jackie Faherty, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History, told the New York Times. “If you get just one, it will be embedded in your vision for all time. I don’t think you forget things like this.”

At our house, Olive (our studier of deep space and black holes) has taken the lead on following news about the meteor shower. She’s over-the-moon that we happen to be staying in the countryside during the shower, where light pollution isn’t a problem. In fact, since we have such a good viewing spot, we’ve invited friends for a (late-night) star party this evening. Probably more of a gathering than a full on party, but should be fun whatever it ends up being. (What shall we serve for treats? Starbursts? Mars Bars? Hah!)

What about you? Will you be watching tonight or this weekend? Will your kids stay up for it? What are the night skies like where you live? As a child, my favorite spot to view the stars was at Lake Powell, sleeping on top of my neighbor Kjersten’s houseboat. No artificial light anywhere. The stars were always insanely bright! But in Oakland, to study the night skies, we head to Chabot Space and Science Center to use their giant telescopes. Can you see the stars in your neighborhood?

P.S. — This article mentions NASA has a livestream, if you’re in a place that’s not good for stargazing.


State Abbreviations

August 11, 2016


By Gabrielle. Scratch-off Watercolor Map by Kristin Douglas.

Oh my gosh, you guys. This stand-up set by Gary Gulman on Conan came my way today and it has me laughing so hard. Have you seen it? So smart and funny! Worth a few minutes, for sure. Especially if your Thursday is kind of dragging (mine totally is).

I haven’t seen clips of a Gary Gulman performance in ages, but back in our New York days, we once bought tickets to see him live at Caroline’s. He’s fantastic. I think we must have been going through a live comedy phase at the time because we also went to live performances by Demetri Martin, and Dane Cook. Bummer for me, I haven’t been to a comedy show since then, but Ben Blair and Ralph saw Brian Reagan when we lived in Colorado.

How about you? Have you ever gone to a live stand-up comedy show? Did you like it? If you could get tickets for any comedian’s show, who would be at the top of your list? I would love to see Amy Schumer and Jim Gaffigan. Last question: As far as comedy goes, would you prefer to see a stand-up show or an improv show?

P.S. — By the way, there’s one swear in the video.


Night Games

August 10, 2016

Night Games Blairs France

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It stays very light here in France until about 10:30 at night. And it just so happens that the yard of this rental house has a lot of great play space — a big lawn in front, and a big lawn in back. Which means that on many of these gorgeous summer evenings, you’ll find us playing Night Games. Sometimes the neighbors join us. Sometimes we invite friends over. Sometimes it’s just the 8 of us. Last night, we were a group of 16, speaking a mix of English, French, and Dutch!

Did you ever play Night Games as a kid? There was Kick-the-Can with Deanna Christian and all of our siblings — I liked hiding in the tree if I could. I remember playing Boston on Wednesday nights after cub scouts finished up at the church — though the boys didn’t always let me join in. And of course, Capture the Flag is a staple for all ages.

Some of the games seem to exist everywhere we live. What was called Boston in my childhood town, was called Pomp for Ben Blair, and has been introduced to our kids as British Bulldog. And it’s called Épervier in France. But other games seem particular to kids of the 80′s — especially Kick-the-Can. It always has to be explained. : )

June introduced us to Dragon Tag, and sometimes we add that to the evening games. Maude introduced us to the Hand Game (sort of a clapping pattern game), which you can do sitting down and makes for a good rest if people are worn out from British Bulldog. As a kid, Night Games were an after-dark summer activity. But here, we end up playing them in the light.

Just writing the words Night Games is bringing on the nostalgia! Any one else? Were your summer evenings similar as a kid? If yes, what were the names of the games that you played? And have your kids had a chance to learn? Is there a city version? Blocking off the street and playing games there?

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