By Gabrielle.

No matter which corner of Melinda’s home I gaze upon, I can’t help but feel a weighty sense of tranquility. A hush, a calmness, much like the early pages in The Napping House! Isn’t that funny? Do you ever look at a home and become overwhelmed by a first impression? Like, Maureen’s house prompted thoughts of adding way more color, ModFruGal’s tour had me turning chairs to face our gorgeous view outside, and Lynne Knowlton’s treehouse…well…I love a treehouse!

But what’s most interesting to me is how Melinda’s home truly matches her. Read her words. Soak up her thoughts. You’ll feel a hush, a calmness come over you. I honestly love when that happens. When a home so twins with its owners that it all feels right and meant to be.

Welcome, Melinda! I can’t wait to share you with everyone.

When I was ten, my parents moved my siblings and I to Northeast Ohio for my father’s job. My parents bought a house built in 1931 that comfortably had the living space for a family of six, but needed quite a bit of work to say the least. Throughout the years, there were kitchen renovations, bathroom remodels, landscaping projects, just to name a few, that were all done in such a way as to honor both our family and the home.

My mom and dad never stopped working on that house the 26 years they lived there. It didn’t matter, though. It was beautiful, warm, and home which is how my husband and I felt when we first stepped into our own home almost 16 years ago.

We were young, newly married, and looking for a starter home. We both had gotten jobs in central Ohio, my husband in sports management and myself a position as a first grade teacher. Neither one of us were that familiar with the area which explains why when our realtor asked about neighborhoods we would be interested in we mentioned one well out of our price range.

After a few discussions about what we were looking for and our budget, our realtor mentioned a neighborhood that had tree lined streets, old homes, and character. Those words were music to my ears. We spent a number of days looking at these old homes, but were disappointed by the updates many of them had seen over the years. Homes built in 1922 had additions added on over time that did not suit the time period or home itself.

After seeing quite a few houses, our realtor drove into what was to become our driveway. I can remember falling in love with the charm of the front of the house, the original oak floors, and the large backyard. There were definitely many projects to be done, like ripping out wall to wall — it literally went up a wall — brown shag carpet from the sunroom, but it felt like home. It felt like a place we could start a family.

This kitchen. Oh my. Come see!

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Random Thoughts

June 13, 2016

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

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

- Like you, I woke up yesterday to the horrific news about the mass-murder in Orlando. Like you, I’m feeling all the feelings. I’m simply heartbroken for the victims and their families. I’m distressed and disturbed that in 2016 there is still so much hate directed at gay people, that coming out is a very dangerous thing, requiring more bravery than I will likely ever have to muster. I’m angry that there are still people in my life who aren’t willing to consider serious gun law reform. I’m sickened as I read the statistics showing plainly how much more gun violence there is in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world.

Like you, I want to take action, but feel daunted and somewhat helpless. What can I do? I talked my kids and wore my rainbow dress yesterday, I made calls to several senators on this list today, I’m looking up local blood drives to see where I can donate this week. Of course, none of it feels like it will ever be enough. What about you? How are you holding up? What do you do when you feel powerless in the face of tragedy?

I know this is a heavy way to start the post. The rest of my random thoughts are much lighter.

- Yesterday, I took Ben Blair and the 5 oldest kids to the airport. They flew to St. George for our annual Cousins Week. I’ve mentioned it before, but basically, any cousins 8 or older are invited to my sister Sara’s house in St. George for a camp of sorts. It’s a week(ish) of unlimited popsicles, movies whenever you’d like, swimming, sugar cereal, staying up late and bonding with cousins. Each day, some structure is built in with outings, crafts or activities. Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents help out with the structured parts and Sara takes care of the rest. Sara has been hosting Cousins Week since 2009.

Something fun this year: There are four new 8-year-olds joining the group!

- Our whole crew will arrive home from Cousins Week late Thursday night. Till then, June and I are the only ones home. It feels so strange. The house is super quiet and of course, June is missing her best friends. Things I promised June we would do this week in an attempt to relieve her broken heart at not being old enough for cousins week: get mani-pedis, buy a box of Frosted Flakes (her favorite sugar cereal), and shop for a “Chinese dress” (I’m not sure what this is, but she saw something in a window in Chinatown last time we were there and has begged for a “Chinese dress” ever since).

I rarely get extended alone time with one of my kids, so I’m really looking forward to our week together, just me and June.

- We leave to France on Monday. That’s right: 1 week to go! I’m a little overwhelmed by the task list ahead of me this week (and by little, I mean very much so), but I have high hopes it’s all doable — especially since most of the family is out of town. It sure makes a big difference. I have literally zero kid events, kid pick up times, or mandatory kid errands till Friday. That opens up a lot of time!

We’re not staying in La Cressonniere while we’re there, but we’ve found a couple of gorgeous places to rent that are in the same general vicinity — and not too far from our cottage.

- Speaking of which, I’m super, super, super excited to work on The Cottage once we get to France. Last week, we got in touch with our architect in France. We’ll meet with him soon after we arrive and see what we can accomplish over the summer. But I have to keep reminding myself not to get my expectations too high — everything takes longer than I think it will. Hah!

As I’ve mentioned, my daydream when 2016 started was that we would have tons of work on the cottage done from January through June. And then, when we arrived this summer, the hope was that we would use our time for finishing work — painting, choosing a fridge and stove, shopping for beds, etc..

Did that happen? Not even close! Oh well. We’ll see what we can manage this summer. One thing I know for sure: It’s always easier to put things in motion when we’re actually on site. And even with the much slower timeline, I still can’t wipe the grin from my face when I think about making improvement to our little piece of French countryside.

- My sister Jordan is about to have her baby, and I won’t be here to help. It is killing me! I’ve never lived close enough to watch the kids or bring dinner before, and now I do, but I’ll be out of the country. Unfortunate travel timing on my part! Do you live near any of your siblings? Have you ever been able to help them when a baby arrived?

- Tomorrow is my birthday. It will be a celebration for two — just me and June. I generally prefer a very low-key birthday, so that’s fine with me. I’m thinking we’ll get the promised mani-pedi.

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

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

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A Few Things

June 10, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! Happy Friday! Today is the first day of summer vacation, and every single member of the family slept in. It was heavenly.

It’s been an epic week. Ralph hit some major, major deadlines, had two full days of shooting, and lots of driving lessons — he’s committed to getting his license before we go to France. Maude finished her classes and student council responsibilities — with exams right through yesterday. She’s feeling emotional about saying goodbye to her senior friends. She herself will be a senior next year and we can hardly believe it.

Olive had an 8th grade promotion ceremony — during the program she gave an introduction in French and sang in the choir. (And did a fantastic job at both!) She’s headed to high school next year and is feeling teary-eyed about the big change. Oscar had a fifth grade promotion ceremony where he gave an excellent speech and had the whole audience in stitches. He heads to middle school next year and is feeling nostalgic and a little melancholy because he can feel how quickly he’s growing up.

Though she was allowed to leave school early yesterday, Betty wanted to stay until the final bell rang. She loves school much more than summer break. Saying goodbye to her friends for the summer just about kills her. June had a kindergarten promotion ceremony. It was adorable (as all kindergarten activities are), and I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that our family is done with kindergarten. Unfathomable.

Oh. And Alt Summit registration opened up yesterday, and then sold out by the end of the day!

And now, my attention is turning to our summer in France. We head out so soon! Today I want to work on a basic itinerary, confirm our accommodations and car rentals, and make a list of goals for our time there. But before I get started, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Are you okay with other adults telling your kids what to do?

- Hah! How to make toast for a toddler.

- My life as a sex object.

- John Oliver buys and forgives $15 million worth of medical debt. Super eye-opening.

- Why 70% of kids quit sports by age 13.

- A period ad that positions blood as a strength not a weakness. Thanks, Alison.

- Silly, but made me laugh – the real reason your food takes so long at restaurants. (Some cussing in this one.)

- Why talented Black and Hispanic students can go undiscovered. (NYT)

- Whaaaa!? These Japanese students hatched chicks outside their eggs.

- Your fat friend doesn’t need your health concern.

- LA is turning old hotels into apartments for homeless vets.

- A little dose of nostalgia for anyone in my age range.

I hope you have an excellent weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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By Gabrielle. Hotel photo by Jordan Ferney.

[UPDATE: The conference sold the same day! Email registration@altitudesummit.com to be added to the waitlist.]

The past few weeks, my extra attention has been directed to Alt Summit. I’m taking on a broader role with the conference and it’s been so much fun! I’ve been helping make arrangements with the hotel, writing newsletters, and updating the website — all to get ready for today: Registration for the next Alt Summit conference is officially open!

The conference is happening Tuesday, January 31st to Friday, February 3rd, 2017 in Palm Springs, California. It’s taking place at the super-cool, totally modern, incredibly colorful Saguaro Hotel.

Alt Summit has historically sold out very quickly. And today, we’re offering the lowest ticket prices we’ve had in years. Combine that fact with the affordable room rates at the Saguaro, and all signs point to selling out even faster than usual. So if you’re hoping for a ticket, you should definitely grab one today.

My dear friend, the insanely talented Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte told me she will, “100% not miss Alt Summit”. In fact, she attributes 90 percent of her incredibly profitable opportunities to the conference. You read that right: 90%!

The Handmade Charlotte collections for Anthropologie and Pottery Barn led to Pinterest, To The Market, and United Nations ambassadorships. Along came the tidal wave of gigantic product-centric programs placing Handmade Charlotte products in Paper Source, Michaels Stores, JoAnn Stores, Faber Castel, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, and AC Moore.

Hundreds of sponsored campaigns later with LG, HP, Ford, IKEA, Home Depot, Coke, Cannon, Twitter, Keurig, Target, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Plaid, Nestle, General Mills, P&G, and Similac earned Handmade Charlotte commercials! McDonald’s, Levi’s, Miracle Gro, Lysol, Subaru, and Ford featured the farm-living family of seven. If that weren’t enough this super publisher went to Africa last year twice with Kate Spade and ONE.org and launched Handmade With Love during the January 2016 Alt Summit keynote.

This is what Rachel said when I asked about her game changing Alt experiences:

GB: Your years attending and speaking at Alt have really paid off! Can you tell us a little bit about how you turn a friendly encounter at the mini parties into closing extremely lucrative long term contracts?

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RF: I’ve heard my father in law say “In the Room in the Deal” a million times. Nothing beats a personal encounter. Alt is super intimate and without a doubt you will get the chance to meet everyone you were drooling over on the speaker list, plus totally unexpected bonus BFFs. After the friendly encounter, follow up the very day by connecting on social channels. Then, follow up again with a short but sweet actionable plan, so that the recipient can easily get a contract in place…..fast. Strike when it’s hot — and Alt Summit is smoking hot!

GB: 90% of your success you attribute to Alt Summit? Come on??

RF: Oh my goodness YES! Alt disengaged our parking break on a very steep slope. Each time I attend, the momentum the conference fuels is multiplied by 10 throughout the year and simply can’t be ignored. Our Alt Summit investment far outweighs the expense. Alt Is For Like Real!

GB: Any last sentiments? We know you’re crazy busy.

RF: I can’t wait to see + meet everybody in California! Peace!

——

I love Rachel’s enthusiasm so much. It’s totally infectious. And I swear, it’s worth coming to Alt Summit just for the opportunity to meet her, and so many other smart, creative, ambitious women.

Have you ever been to an Alt Summit conference? Will I see you there in Palm Springs?

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Love & Friendship

June 9, 2016

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By Gabrielle.

Ben Blair and I caught a late night showing of the new movie Love & Friendship. Have you seen it? It’s based on a Jane Austin story called Lady Susan, which I’ve never read. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say I had never even heard of it until I watched this movie. But the movie was great — so super funny! — and now the book is on my summer reading list.

Here’s the trailer to give you a good mid-week laugh:

I feel like I’m pretty familiar with the writings of Jane Austen, but somehow missed this one. And now I’m wondering what other gems of hers I may have missed. Do you have any favorites among her lesser known works? I’d love your recommendations.

I’m also curious: Is there a book you love, old or new, that you wish someone would make a movie of? Our family loves The Great Brain series, and when I was in Arkansas, I met a man who has the movie rights for the books and is developing the screenplay. I just about died I was so excited! What about you? Any someday movies you dream of?

And lastly, now that summer movie season has hit, is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing? The next movie on our date night list is the The Lobster. Have you heard of it? The preview looks amazing.

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Summer with The Goods

June 8, 2016

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By Gabrielle

Tomorrow is the last day of school. Which means: It’s summertime! Which means: Bored kids! Are you ready?

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t despair. Amy Christie, a long-time Design Mom crafter, just sent me the link to a new subscription service she launched called The Goods. And it seems like the perfect antidote to summer vacation boredom! Oh. And you can try it for free!

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Amy told me she thinks summertime is magical. The weather, the flowers. Schedules are lax and moods are laid back. But as the mother of 3 very young kids, she also knows that summer poses a challenge for parents and caregivers of children: how do we fill all that time and prep all those meals?

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So Amy created The Goods hoping it would be a way to help. She’s put together several subscription options that offer support for summer break, including these two:

1) Summer Making is a 10-week email subscription of projects children can do. Each email delivers four projects, printable, illustrated directions, a printable materials list and links to materials for purchase. When the emails arrive, decide what you and yours want to make and do it! The Goods offer subscriptions for two age groups: 2-5 years and 6-12 years.

2) Summer Lunching is a 10-week email series to help with lunch menu planning. Combining the favorite recipes of your home with two new recipes each week, no one will go hungry. Subscribers receive printable recipe cards, a printable menu planner and printable pantry/grocery checklists.

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Sounds awesome, right? Want to try it for free? Follow this link and sign up to receive one set of projects at no cost, sent directly to your inbox. Four projects with printable, illustrated directions, a printable materials checklist and links to materials.

I love this idea so much! Sometimes, the best gift is when someone else does the thinking for you. You know what I mean? If you are stressing about summertime, or you’re just looking for something fun to do with your kids, check out The Goods!

Photo credits: The Goods

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By Gabrielle.

Ana first sent me a video tour of her home, with her guiding the way through it. Her voice could melt butter, her eyes are so kind, and I seriously wrote back, “WE WOULD BE GREAT FRIENDS.” The other day, she sent me updated shots of her kitchen, smack in the middle of cooking a Mexican feast as a thank you to her circle of moms. Again, I thought, “Wow. We would be really great friends.”

I love virtually meeting people whose first impressions hit you like that, don’t you? I really hope you enjoy this interview and tour. Who knows? Maybe Ana will invite us over for a Mexican feast someday!

Welcome, Ana!

We are the Bianchi family: Alberto, Ana, our six-year-old daughter Florencia, and our dog, Pepa Pug, named in honor of Peppa Pig since they both snore just the same. I am originally from Mexico and my family was from Spain. I always say I have 100% Spanish blood but a Mexican heart pumping it.

My husband is a more of a mutt, born in Argentina of a Californian-Scottish mom and Italian paternal grandparents. Needless to say, food in our home is a combo of Italian, Spanish, Mexican deliciousness mixed with healthy American farm-to-table.

Alberto and I met on a blind date on his birthday 12 years ago — nice gift! Since day one we knew this was it. We got married three times: downtown in City Hall (white dress), then in a church (I wore yellow), and a month later we had our “pagan” wedding at a beach in Mexico (blue dress that time!).

How many tomatoes are on your kitchen floor? Ha!

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Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad-2

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

It’s the last week of school at our house and I seem to have lost all interest in cooking dinner. So I asked Lindsey for a salad recipe that would feel like a meal. She suggested Cobb Salad, and I was like, “Cobb Salad? I always forget about Cobb Salad! But that sounds amazing.” Lindsey agreed. Here’s what she says:

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It’s easy to overlook Cobb Salad. I mean, it seems like it’s everywhere from restaurant menus to cold cases at grocery and convenience stores, to cookbooks and cooking shows. Why is this salad so popular? I think that the answer is simple: it’s incredibly delicious and makes good use of ingredients that are easy to find. Cobb Salad is the quintessential crowd pleaser.

The origin of this salad aren’t 100% clear, but it can be traced back to the 1930s. Cobb Salad is really nothing more than colorful rows of perfectly diced and chopped ingredients over a bed of lettuce, and the story about its creation being one that used up odds and ends from a restaurant or hotel kitchen seems to make sense.

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Traditionally Cobb salad would be served with a vinaigrette, but I am a huge fan of homemade Creamy Herb Dressing, a.k.a. Ranch. So I’m mixing things up a little and keep the classic salad ingredients but use my own dressing. And I think it goes really well with this salad. Of course, if it’s not your thing, totally use a vinaigrette made with balsamic or red wine vinegar.

Ingredients for Chicken Cobb Salad

Now, the key to a really good Cobb Salad is to use the best, freshest ingredients you can find. (Or use up some odds and ends from your refrigerator.)

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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A Few Things

June 3, 2016

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By Gabrielle. Photo by David Miller.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Was it a good week? I know it was a short work and school week because of the Monday holiday, but somehow it felt sooooo long to me. Like I woke up on Tuesday feeling like it should be Friday. So strange.

On our schedule for the weekend: a scout overnighter for Oscar and Ben Blair, a birthday party for a friend, a fifth grade pool party, and a dozen or so errands. How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to?

But before the weekend festivities start, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Hah! A new Saved By the Bell diner in Chicago.

- It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. As I’ve mentioned before, eating disorders have had an enormous impact on the Blair family. Take a look at these Nine Truths about Eating Disorders. And watch this video to get up to date on the subject.

- A balanced school needs a balance of volunteers. (NYT) Thanks, Cori.

- Have a baby? You can upload a cry to this worldwide data base.

- I don’t follow celebrity news much, but I read this essay on Amber Heard and I’m still thinking about it.

- A map of the hourly wage needed to rent a 2-bedroom apartment.

- “It’s MY responsibility, as a female, to not “provoke” you. But then you get to knight-in-shining-armor your way through life for those in your protected categories and I am expected to applaud you. Why the outrage now over bathrooms? Why aren’t you outraged every single day?

- This is new: Expectantly rents high-end baby gear to new parents. (It’s only available in the Bay Area at the moment.)

- Poverty is not a crime, and the impoverished are not criminals. Mississippi’s leaders thought welfare recipients were on drugs. They were wrong.

- What it’s like to grow up in the age of likes and lols.

Listen to the whisper.

- The damaging affects of shame-based sex education.

- Hah! Are you sure there isn’t something else I can do before the end of the school year? (Only one more week to go!)

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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By Gabrielle. Olive You Hoop Art, available here.

Robyn contacted me mostly about sharing her birth story with all of us, but she also told me my favorite story of the week. In part, she wrote, “I grew up on an olive farm and I always liked the name but I wasn’t confident about it because I didn’t actually know anyone named Olive. After discovering your blog with your beautiful (and beautifully named) children, I decided I’d name a daughter Olive — and I did.” How lovely is that?! Very.

This story is about the birth of Robyn’s second child — Olive’s sister — who has an equally meaningful name, by the way. Robyn just didn’t know it at first! I’ll let her tell you the story. Welcome, Robyn!

My partner and I always knew we wanted at least two kids, although it came as a surprise when I found I was pregnant again only 15 months after giving birth to our first daughter. It was an awful winter of sickness and flu combined with morning sickness. I was expecting the morning sickness; I was sick with my first baby, Olive, until 19 weeks. This time the morning sickness stuck around until 23 weeks. If you’d asked me how this pregnancy compared to my first, I would have said they were nearly identical. That is, until midway through my second trimester.

The rest of the story, coming right up.

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Have you ever heard of Winnemucca? If you’ve ever made the cross country drive from California to New York (or New York to California) on I-80, then you’ve been to Winnemucca. Or, at least driven through it. It’s right in the middle of Nevada and it happens to be the halfway point of our drives from Oakland to Salt Lake City. Mostly, Winnemucca has been a place to fuel up and grab some food on our long drives, but over the weekend, it turned out to be our destination.

Our closest friends from our time in Colorado are a family by the name of Lattin. They have 7 kids who line up pretty well with our six and we spent many, many, many of our Colorado hours hanging out with them. They’ve since moved from Colorado and now live in Weiser — a very small town in Idaho. After looking at the map, we figured out that Winnemucca was about a five hour drive for both us, and we decided to meet up there over the long weekend.

We’ve never done anything quite like that. Instead of making vacation plans for a specific destination (and then seeing friends and family if they happen to be nearby), the destination was an afterthought. The goal was to hang out with our friends, not to sight-see, so the destination didn’t really matter.

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Winnemucca isn’t a famous vacation spot, but it turns out that it was perfect for this sort of getaway! This is why:

1) We had zero things of our must-see list for Winnemucca. If we had met up in New York or San Francisco, or even in Yellowstone, we would have come with a destination-based agenda. We would want to see certain sites, or take certain hikes, or see certain shows. And that means we would have had to coordinate schedules and preferences and budgets and figure out what worked for both families.

2) We had no expectations for this trip other than getting to see our friends. We didn’t care what the hotel was (as long as it had a pool). We didn’t care about what food we would eat. In fact, as we drove up to the hotel, Oscar asked, “What are we doing on this trip?” And I said, “I have no idea. Let’s find out.” Starting with no expectations was ideal. If we did everything the town had to offer, then great! If we did nothing the town had to offer, then great! Either way, we would get to hang out with our friends.

3) Though we didn’t know this before we arrived, it turns out there was plenty to keep us occupied in Winnemucca — but not so many things that we had to make choices or labor over decisions. Again, it was just right. We found a pretty park by the river, sent the teens on a hike to the W on the mountain, found great Mexican food, and swam at the hotel pool. We also took full advantage of the Run-A-Mucca. It’s a 3-day motorcycle rally in it’s 15th year — with booths, live music, and motorcycles everywhere. And it happened to be happening while we were there!

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We loved it. The riders were friendly, happy to show off their bikes, and cute about inviting the kids to pose on the bikes for photos. The best part was the Memorial Day program that was part of the rally. On Sunday morning, the motorcycles lined up for a “parade” through town to the Veteran’s Memorial Park. There were hundreds of bikes and they went on for miles (I posted a little video of the parade here). It was amazing!

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When all the bikes had arrived at the park, there was a sweet and short program with a Color Guard, Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes, a talk about women in the military, a talk from the Mayor of Winnemucca, and another talk by a Veteran who motorcycled across the country on a memorial ride with the men he served with in Vietnam — he said they never had to pay for food or fuel on the whole trip because communities across the nation made donations to thank the men for their service. So great! After the talks, there was a “Blessing on the Bikes”, and Taps played on the trumpet. (Taps always makes me cry.) Oh. And there was a live cannon too! It was shot off as we said, “Amen” to the blessing on the bikes.

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Many of the motorcycle riders were veterans themselves, and everyone in attendance was moved by the words and music. It’s been years since I’ve been to such a good Memorial Day gathering! I felt lucky to be there, and lucky my kids got to see it as well. On the drive home to California, we talked a lot about the Run-A-Mucca and the Memorial Day service. We’ve never sought out a motorcycle rally before, and honestly, I’ve never given them much thought, but it was really wonderful to get a glimpse of this big supportive motorcycle community that I know nothing about. We were really touched by the cross-country memorial ride and want to look one up and see if we can contribute food or funds to the cause.

I know I’ve gone and on about the Run-A-Mucca, and it really was great, but even if it hadn’t been happening, it wouldn’t have mattered. Because by far, the very best part of the trip was getting to connect with our old friends, and knowing there was nothing else on our schedules but: hang out and catch up. It was heaven! And it was easy to see it wouldn’t have been as good if we were visiting their town or they were visiting ours — there are too many responsibilities and distractions when people are at home. Since we were both away, we could concentrate on each other easily. It was lovely.

Now I’m curious. Have you ever taken a similar trip to a non-destination just to spend time with friends or family? As I said, this was our first time, but we loved it so much I hope it becomes a regular thing for us. No distractions of home. No distractions of a popular vacation spot. Just quality time with friends. What do you think? Does it sound appealing to you, or does ignoring the destination seem crazy to you? I’m also curious if you know anyone who drives a Harley Davidson or other big bike. Do they go on lots of roadtrips? Does that appeal to you at all? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Did you get a chance to do anything to commemorate Memorial Day? We were back here in California on Monday, and Ben Blair took the kids to the city for a ceremony on a military submarine. Each time a name from the “eternal patrol” was read, a bell was rung, and then a child would throw a flower into the sea. It was beautiful.

P.P.S. — Olive has been on a school trip to Washington D.C. since Friday, so she missed our roadtrip. She gets back tonight and I can’t wait. We have missed her like crazy.

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By Gabrielle.

I knew Stephanie was a champion memory keeper, and that she’d have a lot to share with us to inspire even the most “Darn it! I forgot my camera again!” of us. (Not to mention the “Oh. Another year of art projects to organize. Hooray.” crowd, right?) And of course, inspire she will. But when I read about the reason behind her love of memories, I just about melted.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s words and gorgeous home. I’m honored to have her here with us today. Welcome, Stephanie!

Hi there! I’m Stephanie and I’m beyond excited to be here sharing my home with you! When Gabrielle approached me about being a part of this series, I had to email her back to make sure she had the right person. While I would love to think of my life as daring and thrilling, it’s basically just the opposite! I’m a homebody who spends most of my days toting my two children, ages five and seven, to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning up piles and piles of legos, and doing laundry. Sound familiar?

I’m a stay at home mama with many side jobs, including, but not limited to — milk cleaner-upper, lego organizer, stuffed animal rescuer, and lullaby singer. I’ve worked in several different professional roles over the past seven years, but decided to stay at home (mostly) full time after my son was born.

Being a stay at home mom has its ups and downs, as many of you probably know. Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together and other days I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Luckily, I have a handsome and hilarious husband as my sidekick to help me make my way through this crazy life. Our home can be a little crazy with lots of laughter and maybe just a touch of chaos sprinkled in as well!

Our oldest, Anna, is the heart and soul of our family. She has the kindest heart and the most amazing passion for life. She’s slightly obsessed with mermaids and has been since about age two. At her preschool graduation, she announced that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up and that idea hasn’t changed yet. From mermaid drawings to mermaid stories, our house is covered from top to bottom. We totally thought her mermaid obsession was a passing phase, but it hasn’t seemed to fade yet.  She’s also an avid reader and goes through book after book every day. My husband and I both are avid readers, but we surely can’t keep up with her!

The baby of the family is our son, Drew. Clearly he’s five, so he’s not still a baby, but one can dream they will stay little forever, right? Drew is a character and has been making us hysterically laugh out loud since he could talk. I’m always amused that my five year old son can make me belly laugh almost every single day. He’s quick witted and a math whiz who loves dinosaurs and Star Wars. Oh, and money. He’s obsessed with dollars and quarters for some reason. He’s my little helper and is always right there if I need a hand. He pulls out the chairs when I vacuum, makes his bed every morning, and helps with the laundry. I will most definitely have a mental breakdown when he starts kindergarten in the fall.

Inspiration overload, straight ahead!

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A Few Things

May 27, 2016

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? We have two more weeks of school left but we’re definitely in the winding down of the school year phase. The last elementary school choir concert was Wednesday. The last track meet was yesterday. The middle school yearbooks have been handed out. Ralph turned in his last term paper last night — freshman year of college complete! Has summer break already happened for you? My social feeds are full of graduation photos and end of year parties. It’s making me so happy!

Oakland public schools are off today, which means we have a 4 day weekend. I know. They are as rare as unicorns and must be appreciated. So we took a roadtrip! In fact, I am writing this from I-80. We are on a drive to the middle of Nevada to meet up with one of our favorite families, the Lattins, and spend the weekend with them catching up.

The whole family is feeling a bit nostalgic. Partly it’s knowing we’re headed to see old friends, and reminiscing about our Colorado memories as we drive. And partly it’s a general awareness of the transitions that are coming with the end of the school year. It’s like the whole family can physically feel the precious time rushing by. Are any of you feeling it too?

I’m going to sign off now — we have an audiobook of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and I want to listen in! — but before I go, I have a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

We weren’t that resilient.

- I love when people watch out for each other.

- Listen to the whisper.

- The Oppression of the Imagined Gaze. So good. Written by my nephew.

- Time lapse chalk art.

- The dangerous acceptance of Donald Trump.

- Boston sidewalks have secret poems.

- Stunned and sickened by this gun auction.

- A summer of nothing. What would your kids think?

- The taboo against screen time might be classist and sexist.

- How the other fifth lives. (NYT)

- A vineyard employs 900 ducks.

I hope you have a terrific long weekend and beautiful Memorial Day. I’ll meet you back here on Tuesday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — I know I use the flag photo pretty much every year for Memorial Day, but I love it so much. It was taken in France at the WWII American Military Cemetery. Each year they put these flags out at every headstone on Memorial Day and it’s incredibly moving to witness. Truly a sacred place to visit.

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By Gabrielle.

Amanda seems like the sort of person who is running through life with open arms, trying to take as much of it in as possible. Her day is a flurry of distinctly diverse activities and she seems to change hats on the hour, but she begins and ends with quiet intention, always. I love sharing people like her with all of you.

Welcome, Amanda! We can’t wait to follow you around today!

Good morning! My name is Amanda, and I’m excited to give you all a glimpse into my day! I’m a creative entrepreneur with my hands in several businesses, including interior design and jewelry design. Every day is filled with a mix of different activities, and the variety certainly keeps me on my toes.

I really enjoy slow mornings, and thankfully working for myself offers that freedom. I love it. My alarm is set for 8:00 am, but it generally takes me about 30 minutes to wake up if I have the luxury to take my time. (Snooze button, anyone?)

Every morning, I head straight to my cozy little chair looking out the balcony window to curl up and read through the day’s selection from my chronological Bible, and spend time in prayer and studying Scripture. I started this habit last year because I found myself reaching for my phone and scrolling before I even got out of bed, and I grew tired of email or Instagram being the first thing I digested.

I didn’t want my first thoughts of the day to be influenced by social media or work — I wanted my mind to be focused on weightier things. Prioritizing what I think about first in the morning totally sets a positive tone for the day, and it also gives me a filter for everything I think and do. The more of a habit it becomes, the more eager I have been to do it.

More sweetness, straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Photos from June’s baby shoot by Blue Lily.

The other day a friend of mine with 3 kids, aged 5 to 11, mentioned that she really misses the baby stage. She feels like she was really good at taking care of babies, but doesn’t feel as confident about parenting pre-schoolers or older kids, and she’s feeling apprehensive about the teen years too. (For the record, despite her worries, she’s an awesome parent and her kids are awesome too.)

I laughed when I heard her bemoaning the baby years, because even though I love holding tiny babies, and still have baby cravings, I feel like I wasn’t great at the baby stages. In fact I basically wrote off the whole first year after birth and just assumed from the outset that it would be pretty crummy. If a new mom asks for advice, you might hear me say, “That first year is really tough, but it gets so much better! So don’t be hard on yourself and try not to make any major decisions for at least 12 months.”

Babies are adorable, but parenting babies was definitely not my super power.

On the other hand, even though I was warned about how hard it is, I’ve actually really enjoyed parenting my teens. I like the conversations we get to have, and I like seeing them become whole and independent people. I like the music and shows and books they introduce the family to. I like seeing them make connections between things they’re learning in school and things they’re observing in the world.

I don’t know if it’s my favorite age to parent, and I certainly make parenting mistakes with my teens on the regular, but overall it’s been really good — much better than I expected. And really, I don’t know if I have a favorite age overall. I think for me, when I look back, I can definitely identify the hardest years so far, but it mostly has to do with when I was feeling the most overwhelmed. Three kids 4 and under? That was hard! But I think it was hard because of the number of kids more than the age of the kids. You know what I mean?

It made me curious: what age has been your favorite to parent so far? Or, what age do you think was easiest for your parents? If it helps, for categories I’m thinking: baby, toddler, pre-schooler, school age, pre-teen, teen, young adult, grown-up.

Did you like a particular age better for one kid and another age for another kid? Any surprises? Maybe you thought you’d hate parenting an athlete, then fell in love with the little league community? Anyone out there love the grownup years best? Anyone out there parenting a stage that they’re struggling with? Or maybe you’ve finished a hard stage but are loving the new stage? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

P.S. — The best way to fight with a teenager

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by TargetStyleShop the new Home collection in stores and online.

There is a balcony off of our master bedroom. It’s pretty much level with the rope bridge (which I still haven’t written about — I keep forgetting!), it overlooks the tiny stream that runs through the yard, and it’s completely surrounded by trees. It’s a gem of a spot.

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But. It has been completely empty since we moved in. I’ve had plans for it. I bought some used outdoor furniture for it years ago — a table and some chairs that coordinate with the chair from our front porch. Those pieces have been sitting in the shed, waiting to be de-rusted and painted. Alas, there have just been too many other projects and tasks that needed my attention.

And then, over Mother’s Day weekend, I finally did it! I recruited the whole family to help. We repaired and restored the furniture, then we filled up a shopping cart at Target, and put together a pretty little seating area on the balcony. For anyone who’s curious, here’s a tour and the thinking behind the design decisions.

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In my experience, there are 4 things you need to make an outdoor space inviting: soft/comfortable places to sit, surfaces to set your things (like magazines or sunglasses or lemonade), cups and serving pieces that are outdoor friendly, and lighting.

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We started with the vintage furniture — the round table and 3 chairs. All are metal and all are from an old line called Homecrest. It was widely produced in the middle of the last century, so if you do a search for “vintage homecrest patio furniture”, you’ll likely to find several pieces. I found these on Craig’s List, for sale by owner, about 45 minutes south of here. De-rusted, primed and painted, they’re good as new and will hopefully last another 50 or 60 years.

I knew I wanted seat cushions and throw pillows to soften up the metal. At first I was thinking all the same, and maybe in a sophisticated grey or black. That could definitely have been another good look for this space, but when I got to the store I couldn’t resist the color! I chose a mix of seat cushions in navyteal, and a fun orangey-red pattern.

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Then I added a mix of throw pillows too — a square one with a blue marker pattern, a long one with tiny teal triangles, and a rectangle in teal herringbone. The cushions and throw pillows are all made with outdoor fabrics and should hold up well on the balcony. (And they were total bargains by the way!)

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I also added this shiny silver side table. I love the look! It adds a fun new texture/element to the space, can be moved around as needed, and keeps a cool drink or a good book right at hand.

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Those are all the basics and make up the core of the seating area. And once all of that was in place, I could turn my attention to a mix of fun accessories — items that really make the space inviting, and that I can use indoors or out.

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For the tabletop, I added a low bowl (I love the rattan handles on the side!) and some simple vases in hand-painted stripes and polka dots. They’re looking cheerful on the balcony right now, but I’m sure they’ll make their way to the kitchen soon enough.

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I also included a good-looking acrylic pitcher that came with even better-looking ombre cups. All perfectly unbreakable and safe for outdoors.

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Last of all, I picked up this charming-as-can-be lantern in the same orangey-red as one of the cushions. Sometimes night comes on fast, and it’s nice to have a handy light source — one that’s prettier than a flashlight so I don’t mind having it out and on display.

I admit that even empty, the balcony was pretty inviting. These last years I’ve loved opening up the balcony door and listening to the stream rushing by. I’ve walked out early in the morning to listen to the birds, or late at night to watch a rain storm.

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But I’m so pleased to have this finished! Already, we’ve used the balcony 10 times as much as we were using it before. (Which is no surprise, because: seating.) My goal was to find fresh, modern accessories and cushions that would complement the mid-century furniture and make sense with the rest of the house. I feel great about how it turned out!

The next thing I want to add? A little cupboard where I can keep our electric tea kettle. Wouldn’t it be fun to start the day here, in my pjs and robe, with something warm to drink? Sounds heavenly to me!

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Tell me, Friends, are you working on your outdoor spaces? Maybe getting your yard ready for Memorial Day? Working on our yard and porch and balconies is basically all I want to do these days. Also, what’s your top priority outside at the moment? If you could buy one thing for your outdoor space, what would it be? Furniture? A bike? A trampoline? Plants? Lanterns? I’d love to hear!

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By Gabrielle.

When I asked Alicia for brighter photos of her dining room, she wrote back two paragraphs! Turns out, it is the darkest room in her home because of its complete lack of windows. Which makes it difficult, many days, since it’s the absolute heart of her home and where they seem to spend the most time. (And before anyone suggests a simple remodel, I should add that this is a 250-year old home with loads of history; knocking down a wall or two might not be in the plans!)

I’m sure we’ve all had a room like that in one home or another, right? One you want to hate for its lackluster features, but can’t help but adore it when you think about all the good times you’ve experienced in it? It’s nice to hear how Alicia has grown to love the space. This is a fabulous read, especially the ending, and I hope it makes your day a little brighter.

Welcome, Alicia!

Hi everyone! I’m Alicia, and I’m so blessed to be able to share my story with you! Thanks for having me.

When I think back to how my husband and I met, I would never have believed where we would be today and how we got here. I met Ryan in college through my roommate and best friend. I was 18 years old and in my first year of college. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or where I was going in life. Our relationship was short lived. We met a few months before summer, and that summer I decided I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of the relationship that Ryan and I had. To what I can only credit God for, we stayed in touch, became the closest of friends, and I slowly fell more and more in love with who Ryan was as a person and how our relationship was unlike any I had ever had.

I had a friend who once told me, “He treats you like a husband treats a wife.” That right there is what changed my life forever.

More goodness, straight ahead!

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve got four terrific book picks for you today. One funny, one sad, all gorgeous.

Let’s start with the sad one. It’s called The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown (yes, the same author as Goodnight Moon). You may already be familiar with the story, because it’s been around for a very long time. But this is a re-issue with new illustrations by award-winning artist, Christian Robinson.

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Some friends happen upon a dead bird in the park. They carefully bury it, cover it with flowers, and sing songs to send it on it’s way.

This sweet story had our June weeping — weeping for a pretend bird that was already dead when it was introduced in the pages of the book. I mention that as a demonstration that the author really excels at telling the story from a child’s point of view.

I know it seems like an odd subject for a picture book, but I find it to be a really sweet, matter-of-fact introduction to death and the rituals we have around death.

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Next, Bob the Artist, by Marion Deuchars. Bob’s legs aren’t quite like everyone else’s. The teasing really gets to him. So he decides to change himself to fit in.

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But it turns out trying to be like everyone else isn’t always the best way to thrive. (I’m guessing you already knew that!)

Click here for two more books!

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A Few Things

May 20, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? Anything you’re looking forward to? Our main goal for the weekend is to make some solid plans for our time in France this summer. If we get that done, I will feel both productive and accomplished! How about you? What’s on your plate for the weekend?

My inbox needs my attention at the moment, so I’m going sign off, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- One of the kid-napped Nigerian girls was found!

- Why cursive should be taught first. Interesting.

- On the “cult of motherhood“. I want to reread this. Lot’s of meaty quotes — “I think people are mostly kind and don’t know that, when they ask these questions of women, they are asking us to perform a kind of ceremonial subjection—that we’re not allowed our achievements without first denigrating ourselves or saying, with a sigh, “Yes, that’s correct, I’m a writer and a mother, and it’s so hard, and, no, I don’t do it well.” The truth is, doing these things is hard because being a good parent is always hard, but the difficulty of parenting is separate from the difficulty of work.”

- Art directors around the world design a deck of  ”the woman card“.

- Are social networks boosting conspiracy theories?

- I’m sure this is ruffling lots of feathers — the National Academy of Sciences confirmed genetically engineered crops are safe and possibly good for the environment. Do you have an opinion on the subject?

- I just heard about the TSA shortage. Have you been affected by it? We fly to France 1 month from today. Sounds like we’ll have to get to the airport early.

- I found this infuriating. No one seems to know how much birth costs.

- So inspiring! Meet the man who planted a forest bigger than Central Park. (It’s long, about 20 mins, but worth it.)

- Not just a death, a system failure (NYT blog).

- Poverty is not a crime. It costs much more to punish them than to let them ride for free. (Why do we make life so hard for each other?)

- I keep staring at these photos.

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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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Ghirardelli — join the Savor the Dark book Club!

Surely, this is the greatest idea ever conceived: A club that sends you Books + Chocolate! It’s called the Savor the Dark Book Club and it was launched a couple of months ago by Ghirardelli. Essentially it’s a new subscription box that comes with one of the most anticipated books of the summer, paired with three different varieties of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate.

You’ve heard of pairing chocolate with wine or fruit or cheese? Well this club is all about pairing chocolate with books! Brilliant, right?

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In the July box, subscribers will receive a brand new book from Terry McMillan called I Almost Forgot About You, plus three Intense Dark Chocolate flavors — 72% Cacao Twilight Delight BarCherry Tango Bar, and the brand new Cocoa Nibs Bar. Did I mention the book is signed by the author? It’s true! Oh, and the box also comes with surprise bonus materials that you can’t buy anywhere else!

Picture it now: A new ritual. You, eating amazing dark chocolate, while curled up with a great book. How does that sound? Heaven, right!?

I’m super into this idea. In fact, I think it would be fantastic to use this lovely box as the basis for an in-real-life book club! Invite your friends, gather around your coffee table, put out a stack of chocolate to nibble on/devour, and discuss the latest page turner. And speaking of devouring chocolate, check out Ghirardelli’s pairing ideas for suggestions and inspiration on what goes well with each Intense Dark flavor.

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Want to know more? Here’s a little about the book:

“Dr. Georgia Young has great friends, two beautiful daughters, and a successful career as a doctor; yet she finds herself feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes, she embarks on an exciting journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Radiant, free-spirited, and bold are all words that simultaneously describe acclaimed author Terry McMillan’s female protagonists as well as the Intense Dark flavors that we are pairing with her latest page-turner, I Almost Forgot About You.”

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I know it’s only May, but orders for the July subscription box end in a few weeks, so order soon if you want in!

Okay, now I’m curious. Have you ever belonged to a book club? Or, do you belong to one now? If yes, what is it like? Do you meet at a central location (like a public library)? Or do you take turns hosting it in your homes? What kinds of treats do you like to enjoy when you meet? Is it casual — like maybe not everyone reads the book? Or is it more serious — like people come with prepared notes? And how do you choose the book? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — I love book club! The ladies at my church have one, but I’m out of town, or over-scheduled so often, that I’ve only attended once since I’ve moved here. I consider it a good month if I get to go!

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