Reclaim Those Memories!

September 27, 2016

Legacy Box Sept 2016 - 10

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

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

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

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Legacybox can handle pretty much any old, outdated format you can dish up.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Gabrielle.

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

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

Welcome, Shauna!

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

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

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

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

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

Ahh, the pool! Come see.


Random Thoughts

September 26, 2016

Oscar Band

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Few Things

September 23, 2016

Colombian Flag Straws

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

- He gets paid to cuddle with strangers.

- The women of Atenco. (NYT)

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

- Dear Cilantro, Why are You the Worst?

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

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

- What teens need most from their parents.

- Debunking the cul-de-sac.

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

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

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

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




By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Health + Sleep Connection

September 21, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Living With Kids: Natalie Olsen

September 20, 2016

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ashleigh of Red Aspen Photography.

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

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

Welcome, Natalie!

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

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

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

A debt-free life? It’s so possible! Come hear more about it.


Maude in Paris!

September 19, 2016


By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep reading for more details — it’s a looong post!


A Few Things

September 16, 2016

Oscar Oakland Cranes

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

- Living without breasts.

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

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

- The free-time paradox in America.

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

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

- 17 statistics about our shopping habits.

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

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

- Litterbugs publicly shamed using portraits created from their DNA.

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

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



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

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

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

Another wild ride, straight ahead!


Can You Read Music?

September 14, 2016

Design Mom Music Nook 3

By Gabrielle. Image by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ralph Airport SFO

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep reading for lots more mission trivia!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her reading nook is la la lovely, too!


A Few Things

September 9, 2016


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- According to research, intelligence genes come from mothers.

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

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

- Equality creates excellence.

- 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Call It A Day: Ali Kaplan

September 8, 2016

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

Welcome, Ali!

Ready, set, go! Ali’s day, just ahead.


School Lunch

September 7, 2016

turkey wrap with berries and cucumbers

By Gabrielle. Photo by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

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

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

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

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


By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sure which staircase I like more. Check them both out!


A Few Things

September 2, 2016

Betty First Day of School 2016

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

Who needs an address?

- David Lynch on where great ideas come from.

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

- How Nextdoor reduced racism on their app.

- The last generation to remember life before the internet.

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

- The best time to start blogging is now.

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

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

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

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



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.

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