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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I always love sharing new picture books with you! Here are four that we’ve brought home over the last couple of months, and I think you’ll love them!

First up, The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, by Pat Zietlow Miller, with illustrations by Frank Morrison. This is partly a book about kids learning to make friends, and partly a history lesson about Wilma Rudolph, three-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter. The story focuses on Alta, who is the fastest kid in town (even with holes in her shoes), and what happens to her when a new girl comes along who wants to challenge Alta for the “Quickest Kid” title.

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You’ll love it for the story — especially if your kids have a competitive streak. And the illustrations are outstanding, so you might love it for the images even more!

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Next, Duffy & the Devil, by Harve & Margot Zemach. This is an older book — first published in 1973. And it’s a Caldecott winner. Ralph knows I collect Caldecotts and he searched out a title I didn’t have yet, found it at a used bookstore, and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s a good one!

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I read on Amazon that Duffy and the Devil was a popular play in Cornwall in the nineteenth century, and was performed during the holidays by groups of young people who went from house to house. I had never heard of it before, but when I read the book, I realized it’s another version of Rumpelstiltskin.

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Then we have The Brownstone, with a story by Paula Scher, and drawing by Stan Mack.

Paula Scher is one of the most famous graphic designers in the world, and I’ve followed her career since I studied design back in college. So I was very curious to see that she had written (not designed) a children’s book. Happily, it’s quite charming!

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It tells the story of a brownstone building, split into six apartments, each one with very different tenants. And each of those tenants have very different needs. Is it possible for them to all live together in a happy way?

I really love this story because at it’s core, it’s about problem-solving and compromise. I’m a big fan of the idea that there’s always a way to make things work!

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Lastly, I want to tell you about Apples & Robins, by French author, Lucie Félix. This one looks deceptively simple, but as you read it, it feels like a visual marvel. With the help of cutouts, shapes transform into birds and houses and ladders and lightning. What will you discover on the next page?

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Also, if you’re craving spring, this is a book that will make it feel a little bit closer. I’m thinking it would be cute as an Easter gift.

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Now it’s your turn! Any great picture books you’ve seen or read lately?

P.S. — You can find all of the Design Mom book recommendations here.

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

Years and years ago, a tiny startup called thredUP reached out to me. They were trying to create a new, easier-to-access place to buy and sell high quality secondhand clothing. I thought their idea sounded really interesting! And I wrote about them here on Design Mom. Then somehow, they ended up falling off my radar. Cut to a couple of weeks ago when they reached out again. But now, instead of being in startup mode, they are a thriving company helping thousands and thousands of customers find awesome deals, while lightening their family’s carbon footprint with every order!

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I’m super impressed with the organization they’ve built. thredUP is the best resource I’ve come across for women’s and kids’ high-quality secondhand fashion. It’s like a well curated online consignment store with a range of like-new brands — brands like Madewell and Zara and Kate Spade — always up to 90% off the original retail price.

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I was so excited to place my first order. And it was every bit as satisfying as they promised! The adorable polka box showed up on my doorstep and I saved it until the kids got home from school, because I had ordered pieces for June, Betty, Oscar, Olive, Maude (and even a little something for me!), and I knew they would have fun opening the package.

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Everything was neatly folded and wrapped in tissue, and I kept thinking the packaging was comparable to high-end online boutiques — it definitely did not give the impression of secondhand clothing. There were even two pieces that still had their tags! The major feeling I had as we emptied the box is that it felt bottomless, because there were so many pieces of clothing. I spent $230 and there were 15 items in the box!

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The brands are names you know and trust. There were pieces from Ralph Lauren, Crewcuts, Kate Spade, Gymboree and Banana Republic, even a gorgeous dress from Theory!

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I have to tell you, Theory is one of my favorite lines, but they’re pricey, and shopping at Theory often feels like a too-big splurge to me. So to get this dress (the one Olive is holding above, that looks like it’s been painted) for $45, when it would normally retail for something like $400, felt like such a score! There really are a ton of bargains to be found on their site. In fact, thredUP has saved shoppers more than $40 million compared to what they would spend buying new!

thredUP has a TON of merchandise, because they get new items every minute. Which reminds me: you can also use thredUP to get rid of your own clothing! If you have pieces you don’t wear anymore, simply order a thredUP Clean Out Bag, fill it with the items you no longer want (tip: consult their website first to see what they do and do not take, and what the payout is), then place the bag at your front door for pick-up. It literally could not be easier to get rid of the things you no longer want in a responsible way. Not joking. As of the end of 2015, there have been 14,009,055 items upcycled using thredUP!

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With all those items, I confess, I was intimidated at first and thought it would take forever to dig through everything on the thredUP site, but it wasn’t like that at all. They have really easy search functions — you can toggle by brand, size, and color. Let’s say you need a one-shouldered yellow cocktail dress. Well, their search functionality makes it totally possible for you find one.

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If you’d like to give thredUP a try, I’ve got a generous discount for you! The first 100 Design Mom Readers to use the code DM40 will get 40% off their entire order! With the low prices on thredUP, plus that big discount, you’ll be able to stretch your clothing dollars much farther than you thought.

P.S. — Note: the code is valid only for first time shoppers, and the discount maxes out at $50. Have fun shopping!

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By Gabrielle. Photographed by Sarah Hebenstreit.

I really enjoyed this tour! From Lorena’s fond memories about her remodel’s architect to the serendipitous way they found their home, and on to her style of self-care (Spoiler: She’s working on it!), there are a lot of interesting ideas and heaps of optimism here.

But maybe the most wonderful is Lorena’s story about coming to the US from Buenos Aires. The timing of it all had to have been a test, but I love hearing that it made her fall in love with America even harder.

And just in case you need more incentive to take a peek into Lorena’s home, one of my favorite photographers — Sarah Hebenstreit of Modern Kids — jumped in to shoot the images. We’ve worked together a lot, and I always find her eye to be fresh and inspiring.

Welcome, Lorena! I’m so glad you’re here!

On to the tour!

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Wendy of Blue Lily Photography. Party props from Oh Happy Day Party Shop.

Look at these crazy photos of my family!

You may have seen them already, because I shared some of these on Instagram in December — just a couple of days after the photoshoot. But I just realized I never shared them here on the blog. Which completely shocks me when I think about it, because I LOVE how these photos turned out! I feel like they are one of my best collaborations ever and I’m over the moon that I get to share them with you. Here’s the story of how they came about — including all the thinking and work that happened behind the scenes.

Last fall, Wendy of Blue Lily Photography emailed me. She told me she was headed to Oakland in December, and I said, “Let’s do a photo shoot! Something awesome!” Wendy was the photographer for June’s newborn photos, and she shot our Vintage Car holiday photos too. It’s always fun to work with her especially because she doesn’t seem to mind if I think up crazy ideas.

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Before I worked on Design Mom, we would generally get a family photo shot about once each year. But these days, we end up taking family photos a few times a year — partly because of work-related requests and partly because it’s hard to pass up the chance to work with amazinly talented photographers! So when Wendy reached out, I wanted to use the opportunity to try something new.

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I collect photo inspiration on Pinterest throughout the year, and in 2015 I had been particularly drawn to photos that featured patterns-on-patterns-on-patterns. So I sent a few pattern-filled photos to Wendy and said, “What do you think about something like this?” She gave a big thumbs up and we put a date on the calendar for early December.

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At that point, I pretty much forgot about the whole thing because October arrived and as you know, once October hits it’s one big wave of holiday — Halloween-Thanskgiving-Christmas-NewYears, and the holidays also coincide with lots of Alt Summit deadlines too. So you can imagine my panic when Wendy emailed again to confirm, about a week or so out from the scheduled shoot, and I realized I had done exactly zero preparation.

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There was a part of me that wanted to cancel, or just go with something easier, something straightforward. But ultimately, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. And no surprise at all, once I made even the littlest effort, I started getting all sorts of energy and enthusiasm and forward motion for the project. I love when that happens!

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The trick was that I only had a few days to bring everything together. The first stop was our closets. I pulled out everything that had all-over pattern. Next, I hit thrift shops. I didn’t have anything in particular in mind, again, I was just looking for anything with lots of pattern. After that, I set everything out and stepped back and really studied it all for awhile. At that point I had several color palettes going on and was considering using a different one for each person. But I realized I didn’t have time to pull that off and that I needed to choose one color.

More photos from the shoot, and more details ahead!

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A Little Hello

February 22, 2016

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By Gabrielle. Another great photo of Robert Wallace Blair.

Thank you so much for the kind words about Ben’s father. Sincerely. Both Ben Blair and myself have read every word and feel very loved. Thank you.

The weekend was filled with funeral preparations. They continue today and throughout this week. On Thursday we’ll drive to Utah. The funeral and viewing will take place on Friday and Saturday.

I won’t be able to work much this week, but happily, I have lots of content already scheduled — new stuff every day. Including some really good posts I don’t want you to miss. So even if I don’t have much time to comment this week, know that I’m thinking of you and I’ll check in when I can.

In the meantime, for any who are curious, here is a link to my father-in-law’s obituary that ran in the newspaper yesterday. And here is a link to a longer version that my sister-in-law Margaret Blair Young has been writing on Patheos.

Again, thank you for the kind words. It means a ton.

P.S. — Benjamin Wallace Blair and Ralph Wallace Blair are both namesakes of Ben’s dad. 

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Robert Wallace Blair 1930-2016

February 19, 2016

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By Gabrielle. I love this photo of my wonderful in-laws!

We have some sad news. Ben Blair’s father died early this morning. He was 85 years old.

A little bragging about my father-in-law in the form of 3 trivia tidbits:

- Robert Blair was a linguist by profession and was incredibly gifted at learning languages. He could speak 8 languages fluently, and 40+ languages with a vocabulary of 200 words or more.

- For his doctoral thesis he wrote a dictionary. He moved to Mexico so he could learn Spanish. He needed to learn Spanish in order to learn Mayan. Then, he wrote the first Mayan-Spanish-English dictionary.

- I didn’t meet him until after Ben Blair and I were married. He was serving as a Mission President for 3 years in the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) and couldn’t return for the wedding. While he was a was there, he had missionaries who spoke Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Russian, Finnish, and English. He interacted with each of them in their native language.

A little more about him. He was a champion of all 8 of his kids. I remember how encouraging he was whenever Ben and I wanted to do something bold, like move to New York or move to France. He took great delight in his grandkids (and he had 33 of them! And 5 great grandkids too!). When we visited, he would challenge his grandkids with language puzzles that he had created himself, and send them home speaking new words in any number of languages. He adored his wife and loved being with her. I remember that when they were on their mission, Ben’s mom came back to U.S. for a week and Ben’s dad couldn’t wait for her to return.

He was on dialysis for a long, long time, and there have been at least a dozen times over the last dozen years where we thought we would lose him. There were emergency trips to “say goodbye to Dad” from New York, from Colorado, from France, and from California. But his will to live was so strong! He had projects he wanted to do! Language courses he wanted to write! Eventually, he would recover and get right back to work.

After so many recoveries, I suppose I sort of thought he would never actually die.

We received the phone call from Ben’s sister, Lisa, this morning. The kids had gone to school early, except for June, and we were getting her ready for the day. Immediately, we were plunged into the incongruities of mourning. Calling loved ones with the sad news, while packing June a lunch. Sitting on the sofa for a cry, and then answering the door for a UPS delivery. Looking at the calendar and considering dates for the funeral, while driving June to school. Putting a smile on at Kindergarten drop-off and answering, “Great!” when asked, “How are you?”, because the news is too new, and I’m not ready to talk about it. Thinking about the day ahead of us — do we clear our schedule? Or do we run errands as usual? What about the appointment at the car place? Hold on, I need to break for more tears.

The incongruities are not new to me, but even though they are familiar, they are ever strange. No doubt many of you have felt them too.

So here we are, reminiscing about this great man, trying to come to terms with the idea that he’s really gone, while also carrying on with our day. Thanks for being here with us.

Goodbye, Dad. We miss you already.

P.S. — More about Ben’s dad’s side of the family here.

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By Gabrielle. Drawings by Tierney Conner Design Studio.

I’m super excited to be sharing this post with you today, because it means progress is being made! Last fall, we met an architect, Erin Conner, who is a parent at our elementary school. We loved her work and right away asked her, and her business partner/fellow architect, Anne Tierney, to work with us on our Master Bedroom.

They did the initial drawings (pictured here) right away, because they knew we were hoping to get the remodel done before Christmas. They came over with their awesome laser measuring tool and made a note of every little angle — and they helped me problem solve a couple of instances where I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do. But alas, I couldn’t make the pre-Christmas timing happen on my end. As I mentioned, it’s been tricky finding a contractor! So I’ve been sitting on these drawings, waiting to share them with you until we had a contractor in place and could actually move forward.

But the good news is: We’ve got a contractor! Which means I can finally start talking to you about this awesome Master Bedroom & Bathroom Remodel. And first up, I’m sharing the fabulous drawings.

Above, you can see the floorplan as it exists now, and below is the floorplan as it will be after we’re done (click on the floorplans if you want to see them bigger):

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Here is a list of the major changes:

1) The toilet is currently in it’s own room with no sink, accessible from the stairway landing. I’m not sure what to call that. A 1/4 bath? We’re adding a sink, so that it can be an independent half-bath.

2) As it stands now, to access the Master Bathroom, you enter through the stairway landing. We are going to close that landing entrance, and add an entrance from the Master Bedroom instead.

3) In the Master Bedroom, there isn’t a good wall for a queen size bed, so we’re extending one of the current walls. I’m super excited about this! It means that when we wake up, we’ll be facing the giant windows and greet each day with a full view of the trees.

4) Right now, the shower is in one room, and the sink is in another room (and the toilet, as I already mentioned, is in a third room). We are going to reconfigure this in a very different way. The Master Bedroom will have a door that leads to a walk-in closet (which is great, because closet space is very minimal in this house!), and the room that currently has the sink, will now have the sink, the shower, and a toilet. Which means we’ll now have a full bathroom, only accessible from the Master Bedroom. This will be a major improvement! And it means The Treehouse will be have 2 1/2 bathrooms instead of 2 bathrooms.

5) Lastly, we’ll be adding more privacy to the Master Bedroom. You can’t tell from the drawings, but currently, the doorway wall leading into the Master Bedroom doesn’t extend all the way to the ceiling. We’re going to fully separate the space. I know that’s hard to picture — I think I should do a Periscope and give everyone a video tour!

Oh my. These drawings make me unreasonable happy. I’m not totally sure what it is, but I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that I’ve had these changes in my head for ages and ages, and I start and end each day in the Master Bedroom. So I end up thinking about this remodel way too much. And mostly, I can’t wait to see this space transform! When I see the drawings, it starts to feel real!! I love looking at them. In fact, every time I see the Erin the architect, at school pickup or dropoff, I have to hold myself back from hugging her. Hah! I really love working with both Erin and Anne — they have been super easy to communicate with I appreciate that they both understand the realities of family life and can offer insight accordingly.

I’m calling this phase 1, and the next phase will be going back to Tierney Conner to get started on the engineering drawings so we can get a permit from the City of Oakland. While they are working on the engineering drawings, I’ll be picking out tile and faucets and flooring and paint. I’m pretty excited for Phase 2! But I admit, I’m feeling intimidated about picking out the bathroom fixtures — I haven’t worked on a bathroom remodel for 15 years or so!

Okay. I’d love to hear all your remodeling advice. If you’ve been in this phase and have any tips, I’m all ears! Also, do you have a bathroom feature that isn’t common but that you love? If you were taking on something like this, would you want to do the interior design yourself, or would you hire it out or use an in-store design service? Anything else I should be considering at this stage?

P.S. — You can find all the Treehouse posts here.

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You Need A Budget!

February 18, 2016

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By Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by YNAB — Design Mom Readers who click the link and sign up get three months free!

In one of our earlier discussions about family finances, several of you mentioned being big fans of YNAB. If you haven’t heard of YNAB before, it’s an acronym for You Need A Budget. I was intrigued that it was getting so many recommendations from you guys, and I put YNAB on my list of services to try. Then, last month, they reached out and wanted to work with me, and I was like, “YES! I’ve been wanting to try your service. Let’s do this!” So I signed up and have been getting to know YNAB ever since.

I can’t pretend to be an expert, because I’m still pretty new to the whole thing, but I can tell you what I’ve learned so far, and what I love so far. Which is plenty!

First a basic overview: YNAB is a personal budgeting website with a coordinating app that can live on your phone. They aim to make the best budgeting software out there, but will tell you their philosophy is even more valuable — they teach “Four Rules” that absolutely change the way people think about their money. And, YNAB just launched an all-new web based version that makes it even easier to be the boss of your money. So if you’ve been thinking about signing up, now is the best time ever to give their service a try!

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Three things I especially love about YNAB:

The biggest plus to me is that they offer tons of complimentary training. There are guides available for anyone to look at and they offer free daily, online classes. Plus, the YNAB service is free for all students! I’ve tried lots of budgeting tips and formats and ideas over the years, and nothing else I’ve seen is like YNAB — and I think a big part of that is the thorough training. It feels like you have a coach or a cheerleader helping you along. I’ve found it really encouraging!

I started with their guide called Learn to Prioritize (you can find all their free guides under the Learn tab) and thought it was incredibly helpful. By the end of it, I was so psyched to link up my account details and get going.

Throughout all the training, YNAB teaches Four Rules to help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money faster. And they will tell you when they explain those rules that even if you just followed rule #1 it would totally change your life in a positive way. Rule One- Give every dollar a job. Rule Two- Embrace your true expenses. Rule Three- Roll with the punches. Rule Four- Age your money. Don’t know what those mean exactly? No stress. All four rules are covered and then some in the guides.

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Second, I LOVE how realistic and reassuring the service is. When I’ve made budgets in the past, I tend to start with “ideal” dollar amounts. I write down the numbers I think I should be spending on each category. But YNAB doesn’t care about an imagined ideal. They want you to be super honest about exactly how you are spending your money right now.

No judgement. No apologies. It’s your money and you can spend it however you like. YNAB simply helps train you to see the reality of how you’re spending your money. And then, if the spending doesn’t line up with your priorities, you can begin to make changes. But first, it’s all about making an accurate picture of how your money is spent right this minute.

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Third, I really love the focus on flexibility! With YNAB, budgeting isn’t about restriction and cutting back and doing without. I know those are big reasons for not wanting to create a budget in the first place. But with YNAB, it’s all about how to do more of the things that matter most to you, and helping you gain total control of your money.

With YNAB, if your plans change, or you change your mind, then your budget can and should change too. No guilt, just adjust and move on.

Ready to check it out? Use this link, because if you click the link and sign up for YNAB, you’ll get three months free!

Okay, now I’d love to hear from all you budget pros out there! Have you heard of YNAB? Have you tried it? What are your thoughts? And for those of you who hesitate (or run the other direction) when it comes to making a budget, how does YNAB sound to you? Have you given up on any sort of budget, or do you feel like you just haven’t found the right technique?

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

What’s for dinner tonight? How about a salad that everyone in your family will love — even if they’re usually salad averse. If you don’t think you’re a salad-for-main-course sort of family, keep reading, because this recipe could very likely win you over.

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I went to Liz with a request for an easy, flexible, use-what-you’ve-got sort of dinner idea, and she came back with this Deconstructed Salad. She makes this pretty much weekly and this is why:

- It comes together super fast. You can start this and be eating it within a half hour.

- It’s got a light flavor and is packed with health, but still fills you up (if you think salads do not constitute a meal, this salad will change your mind).

- It’s totally flexible. In the recipe notes below, you can read about the myriad substitutions you can make based on what you’ve already got at home. It’s also a great way to use up leftovers.

- The fact that it’s deconstructed makes it family friendly! Rather than a mixed salad that your kids might pick through and complain about, you can keep the salad components you know they’ll eat in their preferred separate little piles on the plate, throwing on a new component or two for them to try each time.

- It’s all all about easy clean-up. Beyond plates and forks, you only have to deal with a knife, cutting board, and the pan you bake the chicken in.

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Intrigued? Let’s eat!

Recipes and tips straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle.

Ania is a diplomat’s wife, among many other things, but that’s the part of her that brought them to this home in Denmark. It’s also the part that seems to be breaking her heart a little these days, as you’ll read near the end of her interview. She’s got some truly lovely, stick-to-your-soul thoughts about raising kids in a somewhat transient lifestyle, knowing full well your home won’t be your home in a few short years.

I really enjoyed this peek into her diplo-lifestyle, and I hope you feel the same way! Welcome, Ania!

Hej! That’s what they say here in Denmark, although they pronounce it “Hi!” I’m Ania, a thirty something who seems to be a little bit of everything. By profession, I’m an HR Consultant. By hobby, I’m a blogger and an enthusiastic, but still very amateur, photographer. By marital status, I’m a diplomat’s wife. And as a mom, I’ve got two little diplo-tots: Clara, age five and Stanley, age one.

We don’t have any pets in our family due to allergies, and this is much to our daughter’s terrible dismay. So we make up for it with a menagerie of animal toys and figurines that we seem to have acquired from all over the globe that stand in for the puppy she really hopes will join us some day.

My youngest is pretty easy going. He loves avocados and removing his socks and is always game for a laugh. He’s been a real joy for all of us, and I’m excited to watch his personality grow. He probably won’t remember much from Denmark, but life has been good for him here.

My daughter, on the other hand, has definitely two sides to her personality that come out in different ways depending on which language she’s speaking. She’s quite well integrated here and speaks the language fluently. We put her in a particularly Danish school — in a forest school — so she spends all day every day having adventures outdoors in the woods or on the beach, regardless of the weather. I found this all so fascinating that I started a second blog on it. When she’s in her Danish mode, she is more group oriented, more collaborative, more horizontal. When she’s in a more American mode, you can really see the more unique quirks of her personality shine, and her competitive streak really comes through. It’s funny how quickly kids can respond to the world around them.

We live just north of Copenhagen, Denmark in one of the seaside suburbs. We’ve been here for about two and a half years and have about six more months to go…and I have to say, we are going to be extremely sad to leave. Which is something I thought I would never say! We were so excited to come here to Copenhagen; there was so much said about the city, about the restaurants…about the design…about all the happiness. We got here and once the initial euphoria wore off, I had this realization that I didn’t love it all that much. I actually had a hard time adjusting. That was confusing for me since of all the places we have lived, this was the first time that’s really ever happened to me.

Part of that was the fact that we were giving suburban living a try for the very first time and I wasn’t used to all the quiet — all the hiding behind walls, which is compounded by the fact that Danes are naturally more reserved. Part of it was due to the fact that as I kept my own career going, I was traveling constantly — often times, three, or four days a week — so I never even really felt like I lived here the first year. I just had a closet here, and a family I didn’t see nearly enough, and I took that out on everyone else.

And part of it was due, I think, to having so many expectations. There are so many more articles and blogs and books and opinions about places now that you can read ahead of time. It’s good to know about where you’re going and to some degree, you’re expected to hit the ground running. But I was so busy thinking of how life would be in Copenhagen, that I didn’t make enough room to accommodate the way that life actually is.

The thing that really turned things around for me was perhaps the most Danish thing of them all. I received 14 months of maternity leave once my second child was born; I only recently went back to work this month. Ironically, I was having such a hard time in Denmark before he was born that I decided to deliver outside of Copenhagen, in Vienna, where we had our first. There was just something about having the same doctor and same midwife and same hospital that was very comforting at the time. So I took a bit of a hiatus. Everyone thought I might not come back at all, but the opposite happened. It was almost as if taking a break — a real break — gave me the opportunity to start over, and make peace with the city, and really take in all the good things that make this such a fantastic place to raise a young family.

More goodness, straight ahead!

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Weekend Report

February 16, 2016

Bolinas Beach Design Mom

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Happy Tuesday! I haven’t written one up in awhile, but I thought it might be nice to give a little report about our weekend. It was one of those weekends where California played the starring role and featured both snow camping and a sunny day at the beach — all in a 1.5 hour radius from our home. Not bad!

On Friday, Ralph went on an snow campout with his Scout troop. June had a Valentine’s Party at school — you know I love me some homemade valentines, but June opted for a box of Starburst valentines. : ) Oscar also had a Valentine’s Party at school, but he missed it because he wasn’t feeling well. Nothing serious, just the tail end of a lingering cold. Betty had a field trip to the Chabot Space & Science Center. It’s not far from our house and we like to visit on weekend nights. If the sky is clear, you can look through the giant telescope!

Saturday was laid-back. We ran some errands. A contractor came by to make a bid on our master bedroom/bath (hooray!). Maude had track practice. Olive went babysitting. Betty went to a birthday party. In the evening, Ben Blair and I went to dinner with friends at Kronnenburger. It’s a small restaurant, so if you want to go, plan on reservations. I had the crabcake burger and I highly recommend it. You should also get a double order of fries.

Our Sunday highlights included a Valentine’s Day breakfast and watching Moonrise Kingdom for movie night. That movie is pretty much perfect. Breakfast was French Toast made from a loaf of Apple Fritter bread. It was the best French Toast I’ve had in ages. Also on Sunday: Betty practiced for the spelling bee (which is happening today).

Monday was the best day of the long weekend — I shared a few photos on Instagram if you’d like to see. The kids didn’t have school because of President’s Day and we took full advantage. We slept in, then loaded up the car for a Beach Day. We drove to Bolinas — which is a small, unmarked, hippie town in Marin County (just North of the city). In mileage, it’s not that far. But it takes about 1.5 hours to get there.

The weather was outstanding and we spent a few hours at the beach putting the boogie board Santa gave Oscar to use. The water was cold! But, it’s pretty much always cold in the Pacific, so the kids all enjoyed the ocean anyway. Other activities included naps in the sun, collecting sea shells, digging holes, sprinting on the sand (my favorite!), cartwheels in surf, and long lazy walks.

Then we were all hungry so we packed up and walked into Bolinas to search out some food. I’m not sure where she learned this trick, but Olive had brought a canister of baby powder and she showed us how to use it to remove sand from our feet before we put on our shoes. It works brilliantly! Pat your feet dry with a towel or t-shirt, but don’t use the towel to try and wipe away the sand. Then, generously sprinkle baby powder on any sandy skin. Using your hands, wipe away the powder, and the sand will cleanly wipe away too. It’s fantastic!

For food, we ended up at the Bolinas town park with an impromptu picnic. There’s a market next to the park and we picked up crackers, grapes, cheese, sliced pepperoni and water.

We started back home after that. The traffic was insane for about an hour, then it opened up. We didn’t mind the traffic too much, because the views were lovely and we had good music. We decided to stop at Muir Woods National Monument on the way back. It’s one of my favorite places on earth — some of the redwoods there are over 1000 years old. Within the park there is a place called Cathedral Grove where they ask visitors to “enter quietly”, and it feels like such a sacred space. Every time I visit my thought is: Wow. I am really lucky that I get to be here.

Pro-tip: Muir Woods is always busy on the weekend, but if you arrive after 4:00 (which we did), it’s easy to park and it empties out pretty quickly so that you have stretches of boardwalk all to yourself. Muir Woods often has no entrance fee after 4:00 as well, or if you have a National Parks annual pass, it will get you free entry too.

After Muir Woods, we drove home, stopping for dinner on the way. We got home around 9:00 PM, which means after showers and pjs, the younger ones were getting to bed later than is ideal for a school night, but it was definitely worth it!

Everyone is at school today (Betty’s class Valentine exchange is today) and Ben Blair and I are back at work. The long weekend was lovely, but I confess, I’m missing the French school calendar like crazy. In France, the schedule is roughly 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off — and right now they are in the middle of a two-week break. I wish we were too!

How about you? How was your weekend? Did you work yesterday? Do anything fun for Valentine’s Day? Survive the record low temperatures on the East Coast? I want to hear your reports!

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A Few Things

February 12, 2016

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By Gabrielle. Photo: Crayon Hearts — still one of my very favorite Valentine projects!

Hello, Friends. How are you? Was it a good week? Do you have any Valentine’s Day plans for Sunday? And do you have Monday off for President’s Day? I’m looking at a 3-day weekend and it’s feeling pretty dang good!

Before I jump into my link list, I have a request for anyone who considers themselves a BIG fan of this blog. If you’re a long-time reader, if you love coming to the site, if you love talking about Design Mom, then I’m hoping you’ll help me out. As I embark on the website redesign, I’m doing some in depth market research about Design Mom, and I’m looking for 6 to 10 people to interview. It will take about an hour — so this is for people who really like talking about Design Mom.

I won’t be doing the interviewing, because the interviewer needs to be someone who can ask totally unbiased questions, but I will definitely be studying your responses and doing whatever I can to improve Design Mom. If you’re willing to volunteer your time, I would be forever grateful!! Please email me, let me know you’re interested, and we’ll get an interview time set up. Thanks in advance! UPDATE: So many volunteers! I can’t thank you enough! We’re all set. Woo hoo!

And now, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- French supermarkets banned from throwing away and spoiling unsold food.

- Make your own watercolors.

- This hit me in the gut. Can you imagine being your child’s organ?

This article says the college admissions process is poisoning our kids’ teen years. Do you agree?

- Why elephants don’t get cancer and what that means.

- Toyota was overcharging minority customers — and now it has to pay them back.

- A father and son challenging the stereotypes of autism.

- How China’s one-child policy led to 30 Million Bachelors.

- The slow death of purposeless walking.

- 6 women scientists who were snubbed due to sexism.

- When your baby won’t eat.

- Woman who is a man chromosome-wise, gave birth after doctors grew her a womb.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a Happy Valentine’s Day! We’ll do a sweet little pink-themed breakfast for the kids on Sunday morning — I’m looking forward to it! I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Growing A Family: Julia Ditto

February 11, 2016

By Gabrielle. (How cute are these Cocospots messages in a bottle?)

Julia’s notes to me were a hoot from the get-go. She’s the mom of six lively children, ranging in age from 12 to one, who “foolishly added a puppy to the mix this Christmas, which has been more difficult than having a newborn…because you just can’t put a diaper on a puppy!” She is also in the process of building her family’s forever home: a farmhouse sitting on 17 acres out in the country. When pressed, Julia admitted that her version of country is five minutes from the freeway! See what I mean?

You can imagine her account of her sixth delivery is equally humorous, so please settle in and enjoy her with me. Welcome, Julia!

Julia’s joy of a birth story, straight ahead!

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stamp-valentine 6

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Here’s another super cute option for your Valentines this year! All it’s an easy one too. Print and trim the free printable, and attach an inexpensive rubber stamp. That’s it! Yes, it’s candy free, and yes, it’s appealing to all sorts of kids. Who wouldn’t love a little stamp with animal feet!

And bonus, the printable is a little ruler, so your kids can measure any real animal footprints they come across. Best valentine ever!

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Before we jump into the instructions, I have a quick question. How are your schools handling Valentine’s Day this year? Since it’s on Sunday, will your classrooms be celebrating on the Friday before? Or the Monday after? For us, it depends on the teacher. One is skipping a Valentine’s party altogether (though the kids are allowed to exchange valentines), another is having the celebration on Monday, and I’m not sure what the third one is doing. I better go check!

Now, let’s get to it!

Printable and sources below. Click here.

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Oh my goodness you guys. This is the cutest little project! I’m basically in love with it. And even if you are not crafty, this is doable, I promise. Can you print things out? Can you buy chocolate? Do you have scissors and tape? Then you can make these! You’ll love writing sweet messages with them, and so will your kids.

As you can guess with the timing of this post, these wraps were originally brainstormed as a Valentine’s Day project. But once the chocolates starting getting wrapped, it became clear that these wraps would be adorable any time of year! Write messages for Mother’s Day, for birthdays, for book club, for a baby shower. Wrap up initials as place markers at a dinner party. Drop off a sweet chocolate note for a friends who is having a hard day.

You simply can’t go wrong with these happy little wraps!

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Amy Christie led out on this project and here’s what she says:

This project is probably one of my favorites ever. It’s the colors, the cuteness, all the possibilities of messages to write and it’s chocolate!! #winning to the max. And while this week is all about Valentine’s Day, like Gabrielle said, these sweet treats can be used for any occasion throughout the year! New babies, dad’s day, kid’s day, after-surgery day, teacher gifts, a treat for the mail carrier. Even a ho-hum date night. Everyone, EVERYONE, will love this.

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We picked fab colors and all you have to do is print, cut and wrap. If you sneak a few chocolates while you’re working, that’s okay too.

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Brush up on your proofreading skills and let’s get going.

Click here for instructions and the free printables!

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By Gabrielle.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and raise kids on the world’s only island city-state? Me, too. And so…welcome to Singapore! Today, we’re visiting the home of Justina and her family who reside in a high-rise apartment — think 40 to 50 stories high! — and homeschool from way up there, too.

Her life, to me, is pretty normal and yet so fascinating at the same time. I want to visit! I want to smell the aromas of Singapore, walk through the streets around her house, look out from her balcony, ride public transportation… Oh, today is one of those days I wish my home tours could be videotaped and watched over and over, like an episode on HGTV!

Please help me welcome Justina and her boys, plus one little girl who is set to make her arrival very, very soon. (UPDATE! She was born yesterday, on Chinese New Year! Congratulations, Teys!)

Hello, I’m Justina, hailing from sunny Singapore! I’m married to John, and we have three little boys: Jude, Jamie, and Josh, who are seven, four, and two. We’re also expecting a little girl, who will be joining the family really soon, probably by the time this tour goes live!

Come see Singapore! Many views, just ahead!

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Creating a Bathroom Pantry

February 8, 2016

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. Photos of me were shot by Maude Blair. This post is brought to you by IKEA.

So I’m totally into this project! I can’t wait to tell you all about it. IKEA issued the Daily Creativity Challenge: Take one area of your home, and organize it or make it more efficient, so that it frees up a few minutes of your day. Then take those minutes and use them to focus on a creative pursuit. Awesome, right?

I love this, because I’m always up for making the house run more smoothly, and because making the most of small chunks of time is something that has been on my mind. I have a lot of very different projects I want to take on this year, and I’ve been thinking about how to divide my day into small segments — each segment dedicated to a different project — in order to move them all forward. So this challenge really came at a perfect time.

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I thought about this challenge for awhile, and decided that at our house, something that could really help free up some brain space, and keep our mornings running smoothly, would be to create a “bathroom pantry” for the kids. If we don’t stay on top of our supplies, it totally causes preventable stress — like having Olive realize mid-shower there’s no more conditioner, or hearing Oscar report that we’re on the last role of TP and wondering if it will last until I can get to the store that evening.

Historically, we’ve been pretty good about staying stocked up on bathroom supplies, but in this house, we don’t have much in the way of cupboard space in the kids’ bathroom, and it’s been more challenging. So I figured we could use some blank wall space to add some shelving and create a bathroom pantry.

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Yes, it’s out in the open, which is tricky, because bathroom supplies aren’t necessarily handsome, but IKEA is actually perfect for that sort of challenge — they’re all about affordable storage solutions! That fantastic red shelf? It’s called VITTSJÖ and it’s $49 bucks! That green rubber laundry basket? It’s called TORKIS and it’s $4.99!

And it turns out there’s actually a big benefit to having everything out in the open: It’s much easier to stay aware of our stockpile. I’ve instructed the older kids to text me whenever they see any bathroom supply hit the 50% mark. Then I just copy the text to my ongoing grocery list and — tada! — we’re doing a much better job of staying on top of our supplies.

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If you’d like to use this idea, here are the products we’ve found most helpful. The VARIERA bins. We used these for the TP, and for general supplies. I like the red and blue interiors combined with the high gloss white — such a fun way to add a color accent. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but they coordinate really well with these GESSAN boxes. Plus I really like the nesting blue PALLRA boxes. These are great for storing things like first aid items and ointments that call for more privacy.

More product links, before and after photos, plus the project I’m working on with my newly free minutes — click here!

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You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

First of all, are you familiar with fingerlights? Basically, they are a tiny colored light with an on/off switch and an elastic band so you can wear it on your finger. A couple of Octobers ago, a neighbor gave them out to trick-or-treaters and I made a mental note of their awesomeness. I know they are just tiny little lights, but I find them quite irresistible and thought they would make wonderful candy-free valentines!

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

Happily, fingerlights are easy to find. I ordered these on Amazon, and asked Amy Christie to put together a happy little printable to go with them.

You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom You Light Up My World, A Finger Light Valentine | Design Mom

All you need to do is order finger lights, print out the cards, and pop on a glue dot! Done and done. Let’s get to it!

Click here for the simple instructions and the printable link.

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A Few Things

February 5, 2016

roses at the treehouse

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? I woke up today with the It’s Friday song going through my head. Hah! It wasn’t a particularly challenging week, but nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that the weekend has arrived! You too?

Compared to last weekend, we barely have anything on our schedule, which is fine by me. I think the biggest thing I’d like to do this weekend is sketch out built in shelf options for the family room and office. How about you? What are your plans? Will you be watching the big game on Sunday? It’s happening just across the Bay!

Also, I really appreciate all the contractor advice from yesterday’s post. After I sign off here, I’m going to make a bunch of phone calls and see if I can figure something out. But before I do that, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Oh wow! This made me catch my breath. Can you imagine the joy in the room?

- Something new. The DuVernay Test is like the Bechdel Test, but for race.

- In Oakland, this big-hearted and super-inspiring man is building tiny houses for the homeless.

- Save this link. A searchable catalog of the best kids’ books from the last 8 years.

- What it was like when women were not allowed to have their own credit cards.

- America’s oldest mall was turned into 48 charming, low-cost, micro apartments. Does your town have an empty mall?

- What Frida Kahlo wore.

- I came across this short history of Japan on Twitter, and now I want to watch one for every country in the world.

- Cool DIY laundry folding tool for kids (or adults!).

- Do our schools lack joy?

- My friend Kristen Howerton, has been the target of white supremacists over the last few weeks. The brutality is hard to comprehend. We like to think this doesn’t happen in our “post racial” society, but that’s not true. She writes about the experience here.

- Related, I’ve been thinking about this article putting forth the idea we need to make publishers more accountable for the comments on their sites. And this is where I also need to say HIGH FIVE to Design Mom Readers, because you manage to have big discussions and share diverse opinions, while also being both civil and responsible. Having to delete a comment is a rare thing for me. Thank you!

- Lastly, turns out trees have social networks too.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get 2 free meals with your first order!

So cool! Blue Apron has a new Guest Chef Series that I just tried. I think it’s an awesome concept, and I can tell you it tastes awesome in reality. Essentially, Blue Apron partners with a renowned chef who shares a special recipe. Then, customers can order the featured recipe as part of their regular Blue Apron delivery! This makes it possible for home chefs across the country (like me!) to make one-of-a-kind meals.

farm fresh ingredients chopping chives Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Blue Apron has partnered with chefs in California, New York, Dallas, and more, including Chef Melissa Perello and Chef Johnathan Adler. This year, they are working with Markus Glocker, an Austrian-born chef and restaurant owner. He recently won Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation for his restaurant, Batard. Such an honor!

The best part? Last night, I got to make Chef Glocker’s Schnitzel recipe — and so can you! If you want to try the Schnitzel, order within the next week, and it will come with your Blue Apron delivery on February 18th. Plus, the first 100 Design Mom Readers to sign up will get 2 free meals off their first order. Schnitzel for everybody!

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Chef Markus mentions this in the video below, but the schnitzel recipe is a classic Austrian dish that he had all the time growing up. It’s not officially on the menu at Batard, but he started making it for his Austrian friends when they would visit the restaurant and it’s become a crowd favorite. In fact, Pete Wells, the food critic for the New York Times, reviewed Batard, giving it 3 stars (an amazing rating!), and when he visited the restaurant, he specifically requested the schnitzel.

I think we can all consider ourselves lucky, because now we all know that Glocker serves this recipe off the menu, and we can request it if we ever get to dine there. Happily, in the meantime, Blue Apron will deliver it to our doors.

use a pot to flatten chicken when cooking schnitzel Making Schnitzel: flour then egg then breadcrumbs

If you’d like more from Chef Glocker, I’ve got good news. In addition to creating a video about the recipe, Blue Apron also created two “chef tip” videos that share Glocker’s secret tips to the perfect schnitzel and the perfect potato salad. These are really authentic tips, and I love that they give us a peek into the kitchen of a New York City icon!

peeling fingerling potatoes Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this! Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

I’ve written about Blue Apron before, so I know most of you are familiar, but just in case it’s new to you, here’s a quick summary: Blue Apron delivers all the farm-fresh ingredients you need, right to your doorstep, in exactly the right proportions, to make chef-designed recipes at home. No trips to the grocery store and no waste from unused ingredients. Everything arrives in a refrigerated box so ingredients stay fresh even if you’re not at home when your package arrives. I find it super convenient, especially on busy weeks.

Potato Salad Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this! Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

My conclusion? The schnitzel was delicious and so was the potato salad! Maude and Olive both said it was their favorite Blue Apron recipe so far. If you get a chance to try it, I want to hear what you think! I mentioned it above, but in case you missed it, next week is your big chance to order the schnitzel, and you can find the discount code here.

Now I’m curious. Do you follow any world-renowned chefs? Do you try their recipes? If you had the chance to choose which chef Blue Apron partners with next, who would it be?

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