Two Kitchen Tools

May 22, 2014

Electric Kettle & Mini Masher

Images and text by Gabrielle.

In March I wrote about the food habits we had picked up from our time in France, and since that post, I remembered two things in our kitchen that we wouldn’t own if we hadn’t moved to France. So I wanted to share them with you. Neither is particularly French, but we started using these tools because they happened to be in the kitchen of La Cressonnière, and we loved them so much, they were two of our first purchases when we moved back to the U.S.!

The best looking electric tea kettle.

The first is an electric kettle. Apparently, these are common as can be — like more standard than a toaster — in every Western country but the U.S.. And they’re definitely sold here, but I had never seen one used by an American friend, and I had never used one myself, until we lived in France.

They are so handy! The water heats to boiling super fast. It’s great for making hot drinks, for making ramen (or cup noodles, as my kids call them), or anytime you need a small amount of boiling water fast (like when we made dye for Easter eggs). Sometimes it surprises me how often we use it.

There are tons of options available. We use this ceramic one — I chose it for its looks (I thought it would be pretty sitting on the counter) but it works great too. : )

Mini Masher - the very best tool for making guacamole and egg salad

I don’t know the official name for the second tool. We call it a mini-masher, and it took me several searches to track one down. This is the one we have, and I found two others, here and here. Dang I love this tool! I use it for two things specifically: to mash avocados for guacamole, and to mash boiled eggs for egg salad.

If you don’t eat either of those things, I would not recommend this tool to you. But if you do eat guacamole and egg salad, this tool will make you about 75% more willing to make them, because it does the job so well, so quickly and so easily — even if the avocado isn’t perfectly ripe!

Of course, this made me wonder: do you use/adore any kitchen tools that you think are probably uncommon? Where did you discover them? What do you use them for? Also, have you used either of the tools I featured? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Travel season is here! If you’re headed to France, here are Five Fabulous Souvenirs Under $5. And here are 5 more!

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Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Text and how-to images by Gabrielle. Family portraits by Sarah of Modern Kids. | This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to tackle your own weekend projects, just in time for Memorial Day!  #springiscalling

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There are 3 reasons I’m super excited to share this project with you. 1) It’s awesome! I thought of it last fall, and the whole idea still makes me grin. 2) I’ve been sharing behind the scenes peeks on the Lowe’s Instagram stream for the last few days and it’s fun to get to finally share the finished photos. And 3) We haven’t had family photos taken since the Vintage Car photo shoot in France — 3 Christmases ago! We were long overdue and this was a great excuse/opportunity.

Sarah of Modern Kids did the portraits. She also did our French Greys portraits back in the day. She lives here in the Bay Area and it’s been wonderful to be able to work with her again!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Betty Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

The idea for The Family Swing Project came to me last fall. We had just started to get to know our yard, and Ben Blair pointed out how pretty the view of the stream was from under this particular tree. He mentioned we should hang a swing so someone could relax and take in the view.

I loved that idea and looked up to consider where a swing should go. And when I looked up, it hit me that there were a ton of options — ten or more branches growing horizontally.

There was a lightbulb moment and all of a sudden I could picture our whole family spending a warm, lazy evening under the tree — each child in their own swing, and Ben Blair and I sharing a bench swing. We could sway and chat and listen to the stream, and just be together.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Oscar Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

This vision has been stuck in my head for all these months, and this last weekend, we decided to bring the vision to life!

Ben Blair was the how-to master mind. He figured out how to build the swings and get them to swing properly. I’ve included a complete photo tutorial when you click through, so you can see what he came up with (and in case you’d like to build your own swings!).

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Ralph Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

They’ve only been hanging for a few days so far, but they are already a major draw for the kids, for their friends and for the cousins. It’s easy to see they are going to provide hours of entertainment, and a bucket full of memories for our family.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Maude Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Flora June Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

We hung the swings at different heights — one particularly low swing was hung especially for June. And all but two hang from their own branch. The bench hangs from the sturdiest branch and we tried to sort of center it — with the other swings hanging around it.

The project turned out wonderfully, and it feels good to have made a bit more progress in the yard. I already said this, but the whole thing still makes me grin!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Olive Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Man oh man, I like those kids.

Would you like to learn how we built the swings? Keep reading.

Click here for the full tutorial.

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By Gabrielle.

I’m not sure what’s most visually stunning in this tour: Mount Etna or the fireplace! (That shot above is the kitchen window view. Gulp.) But then there’s Becca‘s super intentional style of parenting and innate gratitude for her life, and the views somehow become secondary.

The Garbers are an American family on a military tour that ends this summer, so I’m glad we have the chance to tour their home before they head off on another adventure. Just one look out that kitchen window, and I’m sure it’s going to be incredibly difficult to say goodbye to this space and pace of living with their kids in Southern Italy. Friends, welcome to the Garber home!

Q: Please tell us all about this family living in Sicily.

A: This family started in Boston in 2008 with a blue-eyed, bearded veterinary student and a determined young nurse. Even before we started dating, we knew we’d marry each other….and we were right! We got married in a surprise snowstorm in 2010. Shortly after our wedding, Elliott left for a 12-month deployment with the U.S. Army, an experience that challenged us but also gave our new marriage a unique texture and fortitude.

Now we are the stretched-but-grateful parents of vivacious Lena (three) and curly-haired Gil (one). We also have an opportunistic Maine Coon cat named Siena.

We live in a yellow house on the edge of a cliff in Sicily. Elliott is a veterinarian in the Army, where he cares for military working dogs and runs a vet clinic on base. I’m taking time off from my career as a nurse to stay at home with our children, and in the meantime I’m pursuing my creative side with blogging, knitting, and photography.

Q: How did you end up living overseas?

A: After Elliott’s yearlong deployment away from his new bride, the Army gave him his choice of assignment. Starry-eyed, I chose Italy. The rural, quiet beauty of southern Italy appealed to us because of our love for the outdoors and our desire to live a simple life.

We arrived in July 2011 with three-month-old Lena. A few days later, I was looking at photos of potential houses, and I saw one with a spectacular view of Mount Etna, exposed brick, dark wood trim, a rustic fireplace, and a balcony overlooking a green valley. Right outside the front door was a Norman castle from the 12th Century. “I just found our house!” I said.

The fireplace is a work of art. Truly. Go see.

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By Gabrielle. Photo credits: United Nations Foundation | Amy Sussman.

I’ve been meaning to tell you a little about my trip to New York earlier this month. Ambassador Power was speaking at the Moms + Social Good conference and I was invited to moderate. What an honor!

We talked about fascinating things like the realities of her work and home life — bedtime stories interrupted by phone calls from world leaders (can you imagine?!). We talked heart-breaking things, like the kidnapped Nigerian daughters. And we got emotional as talk turned to the children that needlessly die as war intersects with their childhood. We talked about light-hearted things, too. I asked her about her strong name and wondered if she gave her kids similarly powerful names.

It was a really good talk. And that comes as no surprise, because Ambassador Power is terrific. Obviously, smart as can be and passionate about improving the world, but also delightful to talk with. Friendly and personable, she kept the whole room enthralled easily. The interview went much too fast and I found myself wishing I could chat with her for hours!

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This is the second year of the Moms + Social Good event — a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Foundation. The whole conference was live-streamed, so women could watch it and take part wherever they are in the world. If you’re curious, you can find images, video and reports about the day here.

The event was truly well done. It acted as the finale of the Global Moms Relay. The relay is new to me, but I’m already a fan of the whole idea. What is the Global Moms Relay? It’s this: from International Women’s Day through Mothers’ Day (March 7 through May 11), 30+ celebrities and community leaders from New York to Nairobi answered the question “How has a mom changed your world?”. Powerful stuff!

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If you’ve read Design Mom for awhile, you may know I’ve worked with other advocacy groups — like OneMoms and Every Mother Counts — that work to help mothers around the world. Both of these groups (and many, many more) were present at the Moms + Social Good event. It’s so important to me to keep talking about these issues, keep them in the news, make sure my elected officials know how I feel about them. And this conference felt like an amplification of all those things. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to attend.

P.S. — I know when I mentioned Ambassador Power earlier, there were comments that she is a favorite role model for kids. I love that! Are you familiar with her work? Maybe you’ve read her books? I’m so impressed with her — I feel like a fan girl!

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Craft Books09

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Another pretty craft book I wanted to tell you about. This one is by Petit Collage and it’s filled with happy projects for the home. So many cute ideas! I love the menu chart and the chalk family tree.

Craft Books11 Craft Books12

I’m a huge fan of the creator, Lorena Siminovich, and the whole line of Petit Collage products. I think Lorena is a creative genius — and I love watching her as a businesswoman as well!

When I first came across Petit Collage, it was a tiny online shop with a handful of sweet art prints. Now the line includes games, wall decals, mobiles, toys, prints, and the book! And each item is beautiful and made with attention to details and quality — the focus on design is so appealing to me! Plus, Lorena is a parent and creates her products with real kids and real families in mind — and yes, real kids really love them!

Is there a company out there you feel connected to that you’ve watched grow and thrive? It’s fun to witness!

Craft Books13

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A Few Things

May 16, 2014

Maude 800 meters

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you doing today? Good things going on in your life? We’re excited that our daughter Olive arrives home from her school trip to France today. Two weeks is so long! We missed her like crazy.

We still have several weeks of school left, but we’re definitely in that winding down period. Ralph took his first AP test yesterday. Maude’s track meets are almost done. Summer is getting close — we can all feel it!

This weekend, we’re working on a fun project in the yard, and having a get together with the cousins on Sunday — it will feel amazing to have the whole family together. How about you? Any fun plans?

I’m off to change into work-in-the-yard clothes, but before I head out, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Did you hear that Martha Stewart is speaking at Alt Summit Summer in Salt Lake City? Her keynote will be a Q&A, and I get to be the interviewer! I’m so excited about this I can hardly stand it. Will you be there? (Announcement here. Tix available here.)

Crayola meets STEM.

Random Correlations. Endlessly fascinating.

- Something fun: I’m taking over the Lowe’s Instagram Feed for 5 days. I start tomorrow. I hope you’ll follow along!

- A cancer doctor on losing his wife to cancer. Thanks, Mari.

Maps made from iconic, regional food.

- May is Bike Month! And this bicycle is revolutionizing lives in rural Africa.

- A reaction to red-carpet commentary.

- A citrus themed baby shower.

- A park to encourage independent children. Thanks, Kelly.

- Ben Blair posted an Instagram video of little June trying to wink. Little kids winking is the best! (Watch it in the app so you can hit play.)

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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Minted Giveaway

May 15, 2014

DMgiveawayBanner

I’ve got a really excellent giveaway for you today. Minted is the sponsor and they’re offering a $250 gift certificate! Plus, this post is extra fun because I’m going to share a few photos from Design Mom Readers — photos of Minted Art in their homes. I’m telling you, good stuff today!

Minted Art in Homes

You probably know about Minted’s excellent selection of customizable party invitations, birth announcements and gifts. But for this post, I’m going to talk about something you might not know they offer — Art Prints. They have a Limited Edition Series, and a Custom Art Series.

Minted Art in Homes

The Limited Edition Series is Created by independent artists, printed on archival paper, and available in multiple sizes. I featured some of my favorites in this earlier post, and can also include these Abstract Circles and Dandelions among my favorites.

The Custom Art Series is created by independent artists as well, and includes options for adding words or names, and changing colors, too. Animals Alphabet, Family of Oranges, and Summer Picked Poppies caught my eye.

UPDATE: To enter the giveaway click this link. Good luck! I hope you win. : )

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And be sure to keep reading to see what Minted Art is like in the homes of Design Mom Readers. Such great submissions! I wish I could feature them all.

Click to see Minted Art in real homes, plus the thinking behind how each print was chosen.

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beautyofdifferent1

By Gabrielle.

My friend Karen Walrond wrote an excellent post yesterday titled These People Are Nothing Like Me. It’s about her habit of seeking out and actively reading the blogs of people who are different from her. I love the post! I love finding names of people I respect on her list, and I love finding lots of new names to discover as well. Karen’s post had me reflecting on the state of diversity among the blogs I read, and in my own social media streams.

My question for you: How diverse is your media? If you consider yourself a member of the Tea Party, do you also follow people like John Stewart? If you’re an ardent Democrat, do conservative voices ever cross your screen? If you’re religious, do you read columns of any atheists, or scholars from other religions? When hot-button news is happening, is your Facebook feed a mess of differing opinions?  Do you follow people who are living all over the world? Are the faces and races you see in your Instagram feed diverse?

Is diversity important to you? Or do you simply consider it a nice bonus when it stumbles into your life now and again? For those of you who find yourselves with very diverse media around you, did it happen accidentally? Did it happen naturally? Or did you do something in particular to seek it out? And feel free to share links if there’s a blogger who is different than you that you want to recommend!

P.S. — Karen also wrote an excellent book called The Beauty of Different.

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Wool Car Blankets

May 14, 2014

Pendleton Wool Blankets National Parks Series

By Gabrielle.

I feel funny writing a post about blankets when the temperatures here are in the 90′s today, but I wanted to share these with you before I forget. And in reality, I end up using these types of blankets more often in the summer than I do in the winter.

I started looking into old-school wool blankets when my mom sent us a classic Pendleton blanket for Christmas. It’s the same one you can see on Ralph’s bed here. It’s the Badlands pattern, part of Pendleton’s National Parks series.

I was so excited about how gorgeous this blanket is, but I felt dumb too. For some reason, I assumed Pendleton was no longer making these blankets, and that I had to track them down at a flea market if I wanted one. But here they were on their website — the whole series! All totally classic. In fact, Pendleton has been making these National Parks blankets, in 100% wool, since the early 1900s!

Though I use them in several places, I think of these types of blankets as perfect for keeping in the trunk of the car. They fold up compactly so they don’t take up much space, the wool is water resistant, and they can really take a beating. I like them for last minute picnics, watching fireworks on summer nights, and if a cold front moves in, they even do a great job of keeping us warm. : )

But, the Pendleton blankets come with a big price tag. So I wanted to see if there was anything else out there that was more accessible, and I found some great options.

Woolrich Civil War Series Wool Blankets

Woolrich, another classic label, is also still producing traditional wool blankets, and at a lower price point than Pendleton. The Civil War series offers four designs that look like historical military blankets. The blankets are not 100% wool — they’re something like 85% wool and 15% nylon. But they’re certainly handsome. And they come in at about half of what the Pendleton blankets cost.

European Army Surplus Wool Blankets

Then, in my searches for military beds for the boys’ room, I happened upon some gorgeous European Army blankets, also in wool, that have a bargain price tag compared to both the Woolrich and the Pendleton blankets. I like this one from Italy, these two from the Czech Republic, and this one from Switzerland. I found French and German versions too, but I didn’t think they were as pretty. : )

Like I said, these are bargain priced — as low as $28!

Woolrich Allegheny Series Wool Blankets

Lastly, I noticed the Allegheny series by Woolrich. These are 100% wool, and I love the patterns, but I’m not as crazy about the blanket stitching around the edges. They’re in the same price range as the first Woolrich blankets I mentioned.

Tell me, friends, are you a fan of these types of wool blankets? Are you perhaps one of those lucky ducks who inherited a classic wool blanket from a grandparent or a great uncle? Or are you rolling your eyes and thinking: geez, Gabrielle, you must be the only person on Earth to not know that Pendleton is still making blankets? : ) Also, do you have any other sources I should know about?

P.S. — I suppose I find the National Parks blankets especially endearing because I grew up around National Parks and they continue to be some of my favorite spots to vacation. Do you have a favorite National Park?

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By Gabrielle.

We’ve got another family who has moved away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, this time to South Dakota. That’s interesting in itself, but then add the wide range in ages of the children and I’m completely hooked to the story!

With all boys and one lovely little girl and a husband who travels quite a bit, Michelle has created a home that fits them all. And don’t even think for one second that Lily, the youngest and only girl, has to live in a boyishly decorated space! Her bed is dreamy, dreamy, dreamy. You’ll see.

Welcome, Arnold family!

Q: Please tell us all about this cute family.

A: Hi there! Our family consists of my husband Rod and me, our boys – Ben, Bo, and Jackson – and our daughter, Lily. And I have to add our beloved family dog, Gracie, because she will feel rejected if I don’t include her.

Rod and I met and married in college 25 years ago. Can’t believe we’re old enough to say that! We have lived all over the place, which my kids have said is both awesome and not awesome, depending on the point they are trying to make with me at the time.

Lily’s room sure is cute. Click to see it!

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We Built This City

May 12, 2014

starship_knee

By Gabrielle.

Last month we talked about our first concerts, and this month I’m curious about music again. I was talking with Ben Blair and my kids about the music on our phones/iPods, and we were discussing whether or not there was any music we would be embarrassed of — music we secretly liked but that might not be considered cool by our peers.

And we talked about the reverse idea as well. Ben remembered feeling like a rock-and-roll purist in high school, and looking down on bands like New Order. But last year, Ralph got the whole family listening to Ceremony and Ben realized he really loves it.

My biggest shame song is one that makes every “Worst Song Ever” list: We Built This City by Starship. (Blushing just typing that.) I received the album, Knee Deep In The Hoopla, for my birthday in sixth grade and played it on repeat constantly. I LOVED that song. And the second song on the album as well, called Sara. I would fall asleep to Sara and thought it was so romantic! I still have nostalgic, happy feelings whenever I hear We Built This City — and I’ll sing along to the whole song and get totally pumped up.

Ben Blair says his shame song is Party In The USA by Miley Cyrus.

Ralph say his shame song is Who Says by Selena Gomez. He also says he spent the last week of school telling his friends, “I’m not a Belieber, but you really need to give the new Justin Bieber album a chance.”

So now I’m curious: What’s the band/song/album you’re embarrassed to admit you love? Come on now, confess. It couldn’t be worse than We Built This City. : )

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Slow Cooker Recipe: Rotisserie-Style Chicken  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.

Yay! Another installment in my Slow-Cooker recipe series. And I know you’ll love it. Ready for one of the easiest meals ever? Seriously. It’s almost as easy as picking up a rotisserie chicken from the store. : )

A good rotisserie chicken is probably our favorite quick dinner — just grab a baguette, some fruit and cheese, and maybe a few fun drinks, and you’ve got yourself an easy meal. Bonus: it’s also one you can take on the road for a picnic or to eat while you watch your child’s soccer game from the sidelines. And it’s so much better than hitting up the drive-thru.

Something about this meal always festive — casual + sophisticated at the same time. And it pleases everyone in the family!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Rotisserie-Style Chicken  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

The great thing about slow cooking a chicken this way is that it ends up very juicy and flavorful. True, you don’t get the golden brown skin, but you get just as much flavor as you would with traditional roasting methods. The parchment paper is a little trick that will help keep the chicken from drying out. This same trick can be used for cooking pot roast or pork loin in the slow cooker too, so file that away for later!

No liquid is added to the slow cooker because we don’t want the chicken to get mushy. It will release a lot of liquid as it cooks, and the slow cooker is lined with a sliced onion, which will also provide liquid as it cooks. This is a much shorter cooking time, but makes for a really juicy chicken that isn’t under- or over-cooked. No one likes over-cooked chicken!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Rotisserie-Style Chicken  |  Design Mom  #crockpot

The juices are really good, so be sure not to throw those away. Just like with Thanksgiving turkey, you can make a brilliant broth after all the meat has been removed. Just pop it back into the slow cooker and fill it up with water and you’ll have some amazing stock for soup or gravy.

Hungry yet? Let’s get started.

Click for the recipe and tips!

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A Few Things

May 9, 2014

New York City from the back of a Taxi

Image and text by Gabrielle.

What a week! It started for me with a very, very early flight from Atlanta to San Francisco on Sunday morning. We said goodbye to Olive as she went off on a two-week school trip to France. We welcomed Charles, a French friend of Ralph’s, to our home — he’ll be here for 3 months. I flew to New York so I could speak with Ambassador Power at the Moms+SocialGood conference. Little June had a birthday (more on that later). Ben Blair went to Los Angeles yesterday with Ralph, Charles and Victor for a mini-vacation. (I know I mentioned Charles above, but do you remember Victor? He’s another French student who has been staying with us for 3 weeks. He heads back to France on Monday. So this trip is a fun finale while all the boys are together. They’ll be back late Saturday.) And today, it’s Betty’s birthday. Oh, and Maude has a track meet today as well.

That’s a lot of juggling! I do like it when our life feels full and busy, but I confess, sometimes I miss the slower pace of life we lived in France. : )

How are you doing? Are you planning anything for Mother’s Day? Nine-year-old Oscar will be giving a talk at church on Sunday to the whole congregation — the topic is mothers, of course. Ben Blair and I have been helping him with the talk, but man, it’s hard. Mother’s Day is kind of the worst. There’s a lot of sensitivity and angst and guilt around the day — and around our cultural myths about motherhood — for so many people. I know there are people who love the holiday, but honestly, it would not hurt my feelings at all if it was cancelled forevermore! (Am I even allowed to say that? Did I just betray women everywhere?) How do you feel about the holiday?

While I finish up my work week, and run some errands for Betty’s birthday, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Remember the Electrify Africa bill I lobbied for? Well. Good news: It passed!

- A StoryCorps recording between a mother and her adopted son.

- I’ve never seen anything like the work of artist, Heather Hansen.

- A light, bright, Swedish-style nursery.

- Last call! Do you have any Minted artwork hanging in your home? I want to see! Snap a photo and send it to me, and I may feature it in an upcoming post.

- I have a board on Pinterest called Cabins, Tents & Treehouses — I swear, it’s all I want to pin to lately. What are you pinning these days?

- 271 years before Pantone, an artist mixed and recorded every color imaginable in an 800 page book. It’s gorgeous. Thanks, Rachel.

- The world’s smallest cafe.

- NASA is now live-streaming 24 hours a day from the outside of the International Space Station. It’s incredible.

- It rains diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn. Thanks, Carlos.

- Like you, I can’t stop thinking about what’s happening to the hundreds of girls kidnapped in Nigeria. #bringbackourgirls

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and I hope Mother’s Day is the best version it can be for you and yours! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Painted Boxes

May 8, 2014

DIY: Pretty Painted Pencil Boxes. Good looking on your desk, and they make a great gift!   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos and Styling by Amy Christie

Sometimes, I’m just in the mood to make something, so I come up with a project just because. This is one of those projects. Happily, this project happens to be stunning, and would make an excellent gift!

The boxes themselves are pretty fantastic, but fill them with some poppy pencils or note cards, and they’re even better. Make one for your mother. For your child’s teacher. For your best friend. Or just keep one on your own desk — they’re so pretty, they’re hard to part with.

DIY: Pretty Painted Pencil Boxes. Good looking on your desk, and they make a great gift!   |   Design Mom

I wish you could all come to my house to see these because, believe it or not, they are even more beautiful in person. I was even surprised at how lovely they turned out to be. And the how-to is so simple!

DIY: Pretty Painted Pencil Boxes. Good looking on your desk, and they make a great gift!   |   Design Mom

With a little tape and your favorite color scheme, you’re set to begin making beautiful designs.

DIY: Pretty Painted Pencil Boxes. Good looking on your desk, and they make a great gift!   |   Design Mom

Come see this simple project unfold!

Click here for the full tutorial.

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Garden Hideaway   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle (some of the photos were by Ben Blair too!). This project is brought to you by Lowe’s. Find everything you need to bring sunshine to your Mother’s Day in the Lowe’s garden department. #springiscalling

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I prefer a really low-key Mother’s Day, with my big request being that I get to sleep in. : ) But this year, I thought it would be fun to use Mother’s Day as an excuse to get a project done in the yard. I know I’ve been sharing lots of photos of the interior of our house over the last few weeks. But wrapping up the living room details marked a break in the interior work for awhile. Spring is here, and we’ve turned out attention to the yard. And the yard definitely needs attention!

Garden Hideaway   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

It is a wild, wild place. Last summer, just days after we moved in, we had a consultation from a tree expert and his landscaping crew. He told us that based on the layer of accumulation on the ground, he thought the yard hadn’t been touched for 20 years! I can totally understand that. The previous owners were in their 90′s, and it’s overwhelming to take care of. Plus, the wildness has its own beauty, and it can be appreciated simply by sitting on the decks that surround the house and taking in the view.

I confess, I am very intimidated by our yard. Tackling the interior is doable for me, but making a master plan for the yard requires a skill set I don’t have. So we intend to contact a landscape architect who will help us draw up a garden design — some thing that incorporates our ideas, plus the realities of the landscape and climate. We’d like the design to be something we can implement over a few years so we can budget accordingly.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

But in the meantime, we don’t want to ignore the yard, so we’ve been slowly, but surely cleaning up the thick layer of sticks and leaves and nature, and adding it to the community compost. And as we clean up, we get to know the property a little better, and get ideas of how we can make the most of it.

Off to one corner is a little shady grove that we thought had potential as a sort of hideaway — a place that’s off the main paths of the yard, where we could go to get a break from the sometimes-chaos that is life with a big family.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

So we started clearing it out. The whole family helped. We dragged fallen branches and lopped off dead ones. We raked and shoveled leaves. We climbed into the trees to shake down the fallen Eucalyptus bark that was caught in the branches overhead. The castoff pile grew and grew until it was about 6 feet high and 8 feet long and five feet wide. It was an impressive pile! And proof of the work we’d done. We we’re proud of it! But only for a couple of days — and then we hired a team to come clear that pile out. It was a bigger job than we could do ourselves.

Once it was cleared out, the little grove was really shaping up! With the old growth gone, the sunlight could filter through the leaves, and there were now pathways to access the clearing.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

Now it was time to make it pretty.

Click through for more photos and details.

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By Gabrielle. Studio Matryoshka Character Dolls from Rose & Grey.

There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in international adoptions, as Bre Vader’s journey affirms. There are babies of all ages waiting for parents, but governments and red tape can really get in the way. As Bre describes it, the process “takes a lot of patience, a lot of trust, and a grandiose amount of detachment.” Isn’t that funny? In order to endure all the frustration and wait it out until the very end when you’re finally able to forge a forever family connection, you must remain detached!

The Vader family is currently waiting for their two newest members to join their family from the Democratic Republic of Congo, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed that their detachment will soon be only a distant memory. I hope you enjoy Bre’s thoughts on adoption as much as I did. Welcome, Bre!

Adoption is a process. For me, it’s been a four-and-a-half year process in all respects, physically, emotionally, and spiritually…

The rest of the story, coming right up.

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By Gabrielle.

Never before have I asked a Living With Kids tour guide about her family and received a response like Nell‘s. It’s beyond lovely and lucky and all those words we use when someone is exactly where they should be in life!

And this house! Oh, what a house. In my imagination, Nell’s family home is just like the one in the game of Clue, come to life. (My best guess is James in the Music Room with a cello!) All of it is so interesting to me, from the family input into decor to the incredible sense of deja vu that must happen on a daily basis. Please, please enjoy this tour and help me welcome this sweet – and growing – family!

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

A: My whole family includes this clan of our parents, beloved four siblings, their partners, and their kiddos. We’re Irish Catholic and were raised to be fiercely loyal, and very much involved in one another’s lives. My parents have been together for 40 years this year! Both are doctors – dad a gastrointerologist and mom a psychologist. My eldest sister and her partner live in Minneapolis and are true urban farmers. My second eldest sister is a social worker who specializes in older adults and little kiddos, her nieces and nephews benefitting from her proximity of living in the Twin Cities as well; she’s the auntie who teaches them about the periodic table and splatter paint! The sister right above me is our New York star, a graphic designer turned herbalist whose organic skincare line is fabulous. Her husband has opened two successful bar/gastro-pubs in Manhattan and is burgeoning on his third. Their toddler daughter and baby girl are perpetually on our FaceTime feed chatting it up with my kiddos. Our little brother is an officer in the Army, though he’s a world traveler and adventurer (and still our baby brother) behind all that ordered life. He and his wonderful wife have a nine month old whom we all wish we could gobble up, but can’t as they live in Tennessee.

There’s me, the fourth, the creative writing major-turned-lawyer who married her law school love, and we have James who is almost four, Maureen who is two, and a little baby boy due to join us in early May. I’m haphazard about cleaning but love to tidy, my husband is a poet who’s an insurance coverage lawyer, and our children are obsessed with all things church and baseball related. We eat as healthfully as possible but also indulge on my mom’s homemade and certainly unhealthy caramels. Despite our children’s screen-free life, my husband and I love to curl up with fatty fatty ice cream and watch Netflix once the kids have gone down for the night!

Q: You’re living in your childhood home! Tell us about why you wanted to buy it from your parents, and any difficulties or second-guesses along the way.

A: All of us siblings had agreed growing up: somebody had to buy the house someday. I feel so lucky it ended up being us! We were the first to get married and have children, and once our careers had lined up so that it was financially feasible, we made the leap. The house has so much character and personality. It’s roomy but intimate, majestic but practical, stunning but humble. It had never really occurred to me that another family could raise their children in it, unless that family were one of ours.

The carpets…oh, the carpets!

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dead poets society

By Gabrielle. Image c/o Touchstone Pictures.  //  This post is brought to you by Office Depot’s #TeachersChangeLives program. Donate to your child’s classroom, so the students have the school supplies they need to succeed.

I’ve been working with Office Depot on a series of posts to get the word out about their #TeachersChangeLives program. This is my last post in the series, and I thought I would time it to go live on Teacher Appreciation Week — which started today!

Did you already know it was Teacher Appreciation Week? Are you doing anything special for your teachers this week? At our school, the PTO suggested a theme for each day: Monday - bring a flower, Tuesday - write a letter or a poem for the teacher, Wednesday - donate classroom or office supplies, Thursday - draw a picture for the teacher, Friday - surprise (anything from a coffee and scone to balloons).

I think it’s such a fun idea. And for Wednesday, I’ll be making a donation via Adopt a Classroom. If you’ve been considering making a donation as well, this is the perfect week to do it!

Thinking about Teacher Appreciation Week has me remembering my own teachers and the impact they had on me. I had many, many excellent teachers, but today, two specifically came to mind. My first grade teacher was Mrs. Perkins. When the popular girls told me I couldn’t be a movie star because I had freckles (crushing blow to my 6 year old heart!), she let me hang out in the classroom during recess so I could cry in peace. I would visit her classroom regularly throughout the rest of my time in elementary school — I even sent her a wedding announcement. : )

The second teacher I thought of today was Mrs. Wenzel. She was my high school English teacher. It’s different now, but when I was growing up my town was 99.9% Mormon. But Mrs. Wenzel wasn’t a Mormon so she was automatically quite exotic. From time to time I would wonder how she came to live in our little town, and if it was hard to live alongside our sometimes peculiar religion.

Mrs. Wenzel was gray-haired. I believe she was a grandmother, or seemed about that age to me. And she would spend her summers on a lake in Minnesota… water-skiing! I was astounded when I learned that. It hadn’t really occurred to me that you could still water ski when you reached your gray hair days. Mrs. Wenzel was smart and patient and assigned us good books to read. She taught me how to write an essay, the basics of debate, how to recognize symbolism, and everything I needed to get a 5 on the AP English test. I knew she was proud of me when I did things that expanded my world. When I watched Dead Poet’s Society the first time, I thought Mrs. Wenzel was the most likely candidate in my life to say, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” to. (Gosh I loved that movie. I should have my teenagers watch it.)

Because of Mrs. Wenzel, I started college as an English major. Pretty quickly I realized the Design Department was calling my name, but throughout university, I always did well on the papers I wrote. And I totally credit Mrs. Wenzel.

What about you? Are there any special teachers that dot your memories? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — As part of the #TeachersChangeLives program, Office Depot teamed up with Adopt A Classroom to highlight the stories of educators throughout the U.S. that go above and beyond in the classroom. These stories range from teachers in underprivileged and underfunded schools, to teachers that take innovation in the classroom to the next level, and everything in between. With teachers already doing so much with so little, think how much more they could do with support from the community. Go here and scroll down to see all the videos — they’re really well done, they had me in tears! Here’s one of my favorites:

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Criticism

May 5, 2014

Hugging Olive

By Gabrielle. Image snapped by Ben Blair.

How sensitive are you to criticism? I suppose no one loves to receive criticism, but it does seem like some people can handle it better than others. I know I feel my body brace when I’m about to hear or read something about myself that’s critical. And I think the weaker my relationship is with someone, the easier it is for me to hear criticism from them — meaning, a comment from an anonymous stranger on the internet is easier for me to handle than if Ben Blair decided to criticize me.

I was thinking about this as I flew home from Atlanta yesterday. While I was there, Laurie Smithwick was my roommate, and we stayed up late talking, talking, talking (the best part of these types of get togethers!). She told me about a couple, friends of her parents, who are both writers. The wife knew she was super sensitive to criticism of her writing, even construction criticism from her husband — a fellow writer who very much wanted her to succeed.

But she discovered a trick. She found that if her husband prefaced any suggestions or edits or critiques with, “I’m no expert, but…”, that she could receive the words more easily. Of course, as a writer himself, he is an expert, but using the phrase “I’m no expert” really seemed to help.

I thought it was a genius tactic! Simple and worth a try. When I’m feeling especially sensitive, or can see that one of my kids is, I hope I’ll remember to use it (or request it of the person critiquing me).

I’ve also heard sensitivity issues can align with personality test profiles (like Meyers-Briggs). I’ve been tested before, but I always end up in between two designations — and then never seem to remember what they are. Hah!

How about you? Do you know your personality classification? Do you consider yourself sensitive? Do have particularly sensitive children? Would this trick work for anyone in your life? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Yesterday, Olive embarked on a 2-week trip to France with a group from her school. Very exciting! It happened last minute. Another student dropped out on Thursday, and since Olive’s passport was ready to go, they offered the spot to her. Amazing! I was in Atlanta when this happened, so Ben Blair took care of all the errands and getting her prepped. He’s a champ.

I arrived at the SFO airport on Sunday morning from Atlanta, then Ben and Olive met me there and we got to hang out for a couple of hours before her school group checked in. We had a leisurely breakfast, and I trimmed Olive’s bangs in the airport bathroom. : ) The photo at top is me hugging her goodbye. We miss her like crazy already.

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A Few Things

May 2, 2014

peonies

Image and text by Gabrielle. The gorgeous peonies were a gift.

Hello from Atlanta! I’m at Mom 2.0 Summit, and feeling lucky as can be to get to spend time with so many inspiring women. There are fantastic classes, panels and workshops all day today. And tomorrow, I’ll be speaking in the morning. Laura Mayes does most of the programming for Mom 2.0, and she generally acts as the event MC as well. I LOVE it when Laura has a microphone in her hand. She’s so good on her feet. She puts the room at ease and you can see she’s in her element. It’s fun to see your friends shine like that.

I never get much sleep at these blogging conferences because I love talking with friends late into the night. In fact, last night, Laurie Smithwick and I were chatting in our hotel room well past midnight, and were surprised to find Hotel Security knocking on our door. Apparently we were talking so animatedly we woke the neighbors! Oh dear. But somehow, I still woke up energized this morning. It’s a good feeling to be here.

Before I get back to conferencing, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- 5 favorite motherhood tips — and one is from me!

- Gael Towey’s new site features beautiful and evocative Portraits in Creativity.

#HonorYourMom and help provide basic medical care for moms and babies in need.

- Two car commercials — a Cadillac ad, and a Ford ad in response. What do you think of them?

- I really enjoyed this post about traveling-without-fighting.

- Have you heard of Google Helpouts? I just learned about them this week. Here’s one for new parents.

- The coolest: Instead of wearing headphones while you’re running or biking or skiing or being active, try these hats that have speakers inside and connect to your phone/ipod wirelessly.

- So futuristic! Once you arrive at your destination, 3-D print everything you’ll need for the trip — including your bag.

- Whitney Johnson created Forty over 40 to celebrate women who are upending the perception that 40 is past your prime. Know someone who should be on that list? Nominations are now open!

- A beautiful little nursery with bright pops of color.

- Pretty + understated birthday crowns.

- My friend Allison (you may know her as Petit Elefant) has a daughter who has been severely sick for weeks, and no one knows what’s wrong. You can imagine the worry factor is through the roof. If you have a minute, maybe you could send her some love. If you see a heart, instagram it and tag it #hopeandloveforsofie

- Don’t forget — the Joss & Main Sale inspired by my Living Room ends on Tuesday.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Wishing you the same sunny weather I’m soaking up here in Georgia. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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