Animal Puppets from Playful - a book of creative projects for kids by Merrilee Liddiard

By Gabrielle. Images by Nicole Hill Gerulat for Playful.

I’ve got such a sweet little project for you and your kids today. It’s an Elephant! The most charming paper elephant you’ve ever seen. And it’s one of the many adorable projects in the Merrilee Liddiard’s fantastic new book, Playful. You can find the full instructions, plus a free downloadable template below.

Playful - a book of creative projects for kids by Merrilee Liddiard

Have you seen the book? Everything about it is scrumptious. Every project, every photo, all the little details. Buy it so you can make fun, imaginative, totally do-able projects with your kids. And buy it because the attention to detail will inspire you!

I’m a huge fan of Merrilee. Such a fan that I sought her out to work on our Olive Us movie titles and illustrations (see examples here and here). She’s endlessly creative and her ideas spark more creativity in everyone around her.

Animal Puppets from Playful - a book of creative projects for kids by Merrilee Liddiard

This simple elephant would be terrific to make with your kids. Hang it on the wall, add sticks to make it a puppet. Or make tiny ones as cupcake toppers. Yay!

Click here for the full tutorial and downloadable template.

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A Few Things

September 19, 2014

gourds

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you doing? It’s been a good week at our house. Nothing too eventful, but it was one of those weeks where it felt like things ran pretty smoothly. That’s always feels like such a bonus!

This weekend, I’m toying with the idea of getting started remodeling the girls’ bedroom. Pulling up old carpet, taking down the ceiling tiles — that sort of thing. But it’s a big job, and I really shouldn’t start anything new until the book is completely done. Hah! We’ll see how it goes. How about you? Any fun weekend plans?

I’m off to sit in the girls’ room and ponder the possibilities, but before I close my laptop, here are a few links I’ve been wanting to share:

- Rush hour in the Netherlands. Amazing!

- Did you know children with cancer can spend up to four months in isolation in the hospital? That means no playing with other kids. This kickstarter wants to fix that. (And the video got me teary.) Thanks, Macarena.

- I’m still laughing — Happy Birthday from Grandpa and Grandmaster Flash.

- This is what has happened in the 5 months since we found out about #bringbackourgirls.

- The spiritual art of saying no. Thanks, Laurie.

- This speech to a class of pre-schoolers was banned. Thanks, Gillian.

- Breathtaking photos of Ethiopia from an African-based female photographer.

- MIT is hosting a “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon.” Yes please! Thanks, Amy.

- Turn your Instagram photos into a light cube.

- A beautiful video on what ballerinas do to prepare their pointe shoes for performance.

- The new common core math is not fuzzy. Thanks, Cate.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — I snapped the image at top at the grocery store yesterday. When I saw them, I immediately thought of this cuss-filled but hilarious article. I know I link to it every year, but it’s funny every time!

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Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. I haven’t written a post about children’s books in months — the last post was in March! So I thought it would be fun today to share four in one post. Let’s get to it!

1) Bonjour Camille by Felipe Cano. Illustrations by Laia Aguilar.

Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom

Such a gorgeous book. You’ll meet Camille on a sunny Sunday morning. And get ready, because Camille has so many things to do! Eating cherries, jumping on the bed, talking to the wind, and on and on. The pages feel magical — like they’re lifted right out of child’s head.

Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom

2) Mix It Up by Hervé Tullet.

Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom

Oh. This book is brilliant! It’s interactive and teaches kids about the basics of color theory. They shake the book, turn the page, and discover the colors have mixed together to make something new!

Click here for two more – Lately Lily and The Baby Tree!

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Get Moving!

September 17, 2014

Jawbone UP24

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Let’s talk movement today. Ben Blair goes to the gym five days a week, but I’ve never been very good at incorporating official exercise — like running, or a class at the gym, or yoga — into my daily routine. That said, I think of myself as a someone who uses my body a lot, not because I’m exercising, but because my calendar is generally packed and my commitments keep me on the move. There are certainly weeks where that is true — during Alt Summit I rarely get to sit for more than a few minutes, and anytime I’m in the middle of a room remodel, I’m like a busy bee, constantly on the move. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that on many days, I do a lot of sitting.

Part of that is the nature of my job. Writing means sitting. Editing photographs means sitting. Attending to my inbox means sitting. Researching means sitting. Coordinating with photographers while looking at a calendar means sitting. Taking a phone call while writing notes means sitting. What can I say? If you have a computer based job the same might be true for you as well. But I also know that if I’m in true brainstorming mode and really thinking up ideas, I have to pace or circle the room. I seem to think better when I’m moving.

So, I’ve decided to officially jump on the fitness bracelet bandwagon! I just started this morning (only 250 steps so far!), and I think I might be the last person in America to join in. Hah! I’m partnering with Jawbone for this fitness attempt and using the UP24.

Jawbone Up 24 App

Right now, I have two goals I’m hoping the band will help me with. One is to get a better sense of how much I’m actually moving each day, and improve where needed. I’m really hoping that by being aware of how much I’m not moving on some days, that I’ll be encouraged to get up out of my chair and do some creative thinking on my feet.

And the second goal is to track my sleep and get a picture of what’s happening at night. I know it’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep is good for you, but I want to find out if I can really see the cause and effect. Am I more active after better sleep? Is the amount of sleep the key factor? Or is the time I go to bed? Related to the sleep goal, I’m also really curious about the Smart Alarm. It’s supposed to wake you up at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle so that you feel the most refreshed. I very much want to try it.

The band, paired with the app, actually does a ton of stuff. You can track food and drink, sync up notes with friends or family members, and set simple daily goals, like: Today I will drink 8 glasses of water. Feel free to check out all the features here. I’m going to use the Jawbone Up24 for a month, track everything on the app, and then I’ll report back in October what it’s been like. I’m very excited about this! I have a feeling it will really jump start my daily movement.

Now your turn. First, are you into working out? If yes, do you like tracking your physical activity? For those of you who are like me, and don’t love formal exercise, do you feel like a fitness band would jump start your daily movement? If you’re already a movement tracking expert, what are your favorite things about using a tool like this? And for those of you haven’t tried a fitness band yet, feel free to join me!

——

This post was brought to you by Jawbone UP24.

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Book Update

September 17, 2014

Design Mom Book Cover Photoshoot

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Ready for another update on my Design Mom book? I haven’t updated you guys since March, but there’s tons of fun stuff going on. Two things in particular I want to report, for those of you who are following along behind the scenes.

First, we shot the photo for the cover! You can see a sneak peek above. This happened in July, and since then, the book designer has sent over several different book cover designs. I’m going to check with my editor, and if she doesn’t mind, I’ll share the options with you guys and see what you think.

Second, in the book process right now, I’m responding to comments from copyeditors. This is how the process has worked for my book. Last March, as I mentioned, I handed in the first manuscript. My editor went through it, sent me notes, and the book went through some major revisions. Sections were removed, the focus of the book was refined, topics were reordered, more actionable advise was added in where needed.

That took a long time. And I had to break down the tasks chapter by chapter so that I could make it more manageable.

Then, the revised chapters were sent back to my editor, one by one. A team of copyeditors took the revised chapters and have been going through them with a fine tooth comb. They’re looking for simple things like typos and grammatical errors, plus more complex things like places that need clarification or simplification. When the copyeditors finish a chapter, they send it back to me with their notes and changes. I’ve received 3 chapters back so far.

Then, I go through the comments and changes and I respond to each one as needed.

What a process! And still lots more to do!!

For those of you who have written a book or worked in publishing, this sort of info is very likely old news. But to me, the process is brand new. Bloggers don’t generally work with editors. I’ll proofread my posts, or have Ben Blair proof one if I want some extra eyes on it. And my siblings are good about sending me a heads up when they see a typo I missed (even with proof-reading, I miss something in every post). But this process is very different, and I LOVE how it works. It’s amazing to see the improvement from the first manuscript to where the book is now.

Another exciting tidbit is that my book editor, Lia Ronnen, was just named Publisher at Artisan Books last month. Such a big deal!

Anyway, I thought some of you might be curious about how the book process works. I find stuff like this fascinating! Have you ever been through an editing process like this? If yes, what did you think of it? I find it incredibly challenging — and that’s an understatement for sure. : )

P.S. — You didn’t know I was writing a book? It’s been a looonng process. You can read the original announcement here. And you can read about why it’s taking me so long in this post.

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Living With Kids: Agnes Hsu

September 16, 2014

By Gabrielle.

Agnes would be a lovely friend to have, I think. She owns a cupcake shop, is a family photographer, and also runs a kids’ creative site. Life with her must be sweet, DIY divine, and photogenic. (As an extra bonus, she lives in my neck of the woods, so I call dibs!)

But with all those professional endeavors, something’s gotta give, right? If you’re struggling with your own overwhelming schedules, you might like to hear how Agnes deals with it all. From the division of duties, scheduled personal times that refuel the family’s energy levels, and effective out-sourcing, it’s good stuff. Friends, please meet Agnes! Hello, Wonderful!

Q: We can’t wait to meet you all!

A: Hi! I’m Agnes Hsu, mom to two feisty kids who keep me on my toes: Alia, five and a half, and Kian, who is three and a half. I’m married to my college sweetheart, Tim. We’ve been married for 12 years and together for 18, which seems like a lifetime but it’s all flown by so quickly!

I’m the entrepreneurial/creative spirit in the household. I run on energy and am a non-stop person. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t enjoy small talk, but can talk for hours one-on-one with someone because I love getting to know people from the inside. I’m inspired by those who take chances and have gone through trials in their lives. I am an avid reader, particularly biographies and memoirs. I’m typical type A, compulsive and frenetic. But thankfully, my husband Tim balances that out.

He’s an extrovert, super friendly, and people generally love him upon first meeting. He’s solid, laid-back, and is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. Our interests couldn’t be more different, too. He’s very much into technology and works in marketing at Twitter, and just prior to that he was at a gaming company. He’s extremely witty, funny, and a hoarder, whereas I’m serious and a neat freak who is scared of clutter. It’s a miracle we are married!

Our kids are the center of our amusement and love. Interestingly, they are also polar opposites like my husband and I. My little girl is like a mini-me. She loves arts and crafts, creative projects, and is also super neat (actually loves to clean her room!) and enjoys baking/cooking in the kitchen as much as I do. She’s also on the shy side and it takes her a while to warm up to people, but once she does she can’t keep quiet around them.

Pretty scenes and worthwhile words, just ahead!

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Maude Track

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Last year around this time I talked about the fact that we were enrolling our kids in an Oakland Public High School, rated a 2 out of 10 on the Great Schools website. Since we’ve entered our second year in the same school — now upgraded to a 3 out of 10 — I thought you might enjoy a little update. I don’t want this post to be a repeat of last year’s, so I’m going to focus on the individual experiences of Ralph and Maude at the school.

- I think one fear parents may have is that it might be hard for their child to shine in a big, urban school. But Ralph felt he experienced the opposite. Ralph loved the opportunities the high school gave him. In the fall, he tried out for the school play and won the part of the Italian Father in “Golden Boy”. Since he was a new student, and only a sophomore, he thought they probably wouldn’t consider him.

- He also found opportunities in music. Ralph plays trombone and he joined the Marching Band and Jazz Band. He’d always been pretty casual about his trombone playing, but found he had to really practice in order to keep up with his bandmates. Joining the band really pushed him in a good way, and gave him experiences he couldn’t have had any other way — the band performed in competitions around the state, parades around town, even a renowned jazz club in downtown Oakland. At the end of the year, he laughed when he received the award for Most Improved Band Member. : )

Keep reading. Lots more ahead!

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A Few Things

September 12, 2014

view from the couch

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How was your week? I hope it was a good one. As I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, September 11th is my father’s birthday. He died many years ago (I was pregnant with Ralph at the time. I was 22.). Yesterday, someone left a sweet little message about him for me, and it was like the floodgates opened — I could not stop crying!

It probably doesn’t seem that strange to cry on my father’s birthday, but it sort of is. Last year on his birthday, I reminisced with my family about fun dad memories, but I don’t think I cried. Sometimes the out of nowhere missing-him-grief catches me off guard. All these years later and the tears come less often, but are still so unpredictable. I’m sure many of you who have lost someone you love can relate.

Anyway, today I find myself a little post-weepy, if that makes any sense.

We have a laid-back weekend ahead. Some fun church activities, but that’s about it. It feels good, like we have time to hang out. What about you? Anything you’re looking forward to this weekend? I’d love to hear!

And before I sign off for the week, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- One method for preventing kids in the classroom from falling through the cracks.

- Piano staircase — 66% more people than usual chose the stairs over the escalator. (Oh Sweden, you’re so cool.)

- Hah! Sir Ian McKellen on acting.

- Ben Blair read this story to me yesterday and I couldn’t stop crying. (Lots of crying yesterday!)

- Best red lipsticks.

- Way beyond my post about online school, this article is about taking your kids out of school altogether.

A dollar store project to spark your (or your child’s) imagination.

- Dear Girls, life is too short for crappy friends.

- What giving birth looks like around the world. Thanks, Heather.

- Remember sticker books? What do you think about this?

- I didn’t realize there was so much turnover in teacher staffing. This is a really interesting article on why teachers quit — and why those who choose to stay do. Thanks, Laura.

- I really like combining textures and came up with these plaster-dipped carafes. Cool or weird?

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Olive Juice Kids Giveaway

September 11, 2014

DMgiveawayBanner

By Gabrielle.

Today’s gorgeous giveaway is sponsored by Olive Juice Kids. They’re offering a generous $150 gift certificate. Yippee!

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

I’m still working on my kids’ school clothes for this year — no doubt some of you are as well. And the planners among us are already looking ahead to the holidays. Either way,  Olive Juice has us covered.

They’ve been a fantastic sponsor of Design Mom for the past few years and I simply love their clothes! Their designs are consistently beautiful, high quality, and with style that will last.

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

If you’re looking for something with a European feel, something that feels unusual, Olive Juice will have the perfect thing. Take a look at their fall catalogue — it’s full of inspiration for putting together outfits! Best of all, their clothes truly are made to be worn by kids — the cuts and materials are comfortable and realistic.

Olive Juice Kids Fall 2014

As I mentioned right now, I’m shopping for fall clothes — the Tilda Shirtdress, Pop Pop’s Sweater, and the Bailey Top are all on my shopping list.

Visit Olive Juice Kids and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to know what pieces catch your eye. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

——–

Emily C is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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City Versus Suburb

September 11, 2014

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

By Gabrielle. Images from the New York Wooden Postcard DIY.

It’s September 11th, so of course, the great New York City is on my mind. And I thought it might be a good day to have a city-related conversation. Last month, I shared a home tour featuring a city apartment in Chicago, and in response, received several requests to start a discussion about how and why people choose to live in a city, versus a suburb, versus a rural area. I love that idea! Especially because this is a topic that comes up frequently among my friends and siblings.

Our year and a half in Colorado, when we lived in a suburb of Denver called Centennial, was our most true suburban experience. The house we rented had a two car garage. The streets in our community were wide and easy to navigate. Everything we could possibly need or want — schools, pediatrician and dentist, movie theaters, the mall, Target, restaurants (both sit down and take out), hardware stores, rec centers — was only a few minutes away by car. We never had to think about parking. Ever. Or pay for it. It was always easy to park. There was a ton of green space, yard space and park space. The kids in our neighborhood could play outside freely and safely. Ben Blair and I would often comment how life was designed to be easy there, and we truly enjoyed living there.

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

That said, our entire time in Colorado, we were constantly house hunting in downtown Denver! And in its closest neighborhoods as well. Turns out I like the action of a city. I like access to the restaurants, the museums, the instant variety of people, places and things. I was drawn to housing converted from old warehouses and factory buildings. I liked the walking district in Denver and the downtown festivals and events. I liked that public transportation is plentiful.

And I found I had some sort of emotional resistance to settling down in true suburbs. But I could never really pin point what the resistance was. Because I could honestly see how convenient life was in the suburbs, especially for a family of our size. And conversely, how inconvenient it might be in the city — the lack of parking, the tiny + expensive grocery stores, the smaller living spaces. It seems like the suburbs should have been a no brainer, but they weren’t.

Keep reading, more good stuff ahead.

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Meet Jibo

September 10, 2014

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by IndieGoGo.

—–

I’m totally fascinated by this Indiegogo campaign. It’s called Jibo — and it’s the world’s first family robot. I love this sort of stuff! Watching the video I got all sorts of Jetson’s goosebumps — like I was having a the-future-is-here moment.

Apparently, Jibo recognizes faces, and it will take photos of what’s happening around the room at your request. They say it can even act as a personal assistant — ordering dinner, taking down notes, reading a recipe aloud while you cook — that sort of thing.

Maybe the most interesting part to me is that the creators have built in natural social cues like giggling — the examples on the video seem pretty natural. It looks like Jibo will be able to chat with you. Which again, I find fascinating. It makes me want to discuss predictions from science fiction books, or topics like the Singularity.

jibo-with-woman-story-top

The fundraising project has been hugely successful. Anyone interested can contribute as little as $10 to help make it happen or actually pre-order their own Jibo. And there’s clearly a ton of interest in the robot — the goal was $100,000, and so far over $2 million has been raised.

Have you ever heard of Indiegogo? It’s the largest global crowdfunding platform, with campaigns that have launched from almost every country in the world. And there are millions of dollars being distributed every week due to contributions made by the Indiegogo community. It’s a powerful way to give people a platform.

Indiegogo wants to democratize the way people raise funds for projects, and it empowers people everywhere to fund what matters to them — could be a creative project, something entrepreneurial, or even cause-related. We’re talking all sorts of projects! In fact, here are links to 5 current campaigns — all very different — that I found compelling:

- The country of Palau wants to declare it’s entire island nation a marine sanctuary. This one blows me away.

- One million kids worldwide may never walk because of clubfoot. You can help change that right now.

- A recipe site taken to the next level.

- The Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center is fundraising to build a forested enclosure for an orphan baby chimpanzee.

- Control Devices and appliances in your home with gestures!

Have you ever tried Indiegogo? Either to launch your own project, or to contribute to someone else’s project? I’d love to hear! And I’m also wondering if any of you are ready to buy a Jibo. How do you feel about the idea of robots in your home? And is there anyone reading that feels this is one step closer to robots taking over?

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By Gabrielle. Love Of A Mother by the breath-stealing photographer, Dewan Irawan. (Prints available!)

Imagine working in a field where you’ve never personally experienced your specialty. Like a chef at an Italian restaurant who has never feasted on pasta. An artist who never stood in front of a Klimt and blinked away the dazzling golds. A sky-diving instructor who has never pulled her own cord. Or a policy-shaper who works tirelessly to improve maternal and child health services who has never experienced childbirth. I think experience changes everything, don’t you?

Julianne Weis would agree. She has spent the last ten years advocating for women. Clear in her purpose to eradicate preventable maternal deaths, it all somehow became even clearer when she experienced childbirth herself. This is a wonderfully eye-opening tale, and I feel proud to share it with you! Friends, please welcome Julianne.

I’m an American, but over the last 10 years I have lived in a dozen countries, including Niger, Brazil, and Ethiopia. In every place I’ve lived, I have worked on ways to improve maternal and child health services. I have counseled teenage moms addicted to crack in the slums of Brazil, helped clinics in the Congo adapt to the needs of handicapped mothers, and planned policy reforms to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria. I have witnessed a woman die from complications in childbirth.

Such a moving piece. Enjoy, Friends.

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happy meal

Image and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by McDonald’s.

Hello, Friends. Can you believe I partnered with McDonald’s for this post? Not the typical Design Mom sponsor, right? And before you jump ship all at once, know that when my ad network asked me about working with McDonald’s, my initial response was: no thank you. But I later reconsidered, because once I learned more about what McDonald’s is trying to do, I confess, I was intrigued. And also because I felt hypocritical — I felt like I was pretending I’m never a McDonald’s customer, when actually, from time-to-time, I am.

McDonald’s knows they have a bad rap with moms, and they’re attempting to see if they can upgrade their reputation by making some concrete changes — like being really transparent about the farms where they buy their ingredients, and being incredibly open about their nutritional information. I don’t know if they’ll be able to reach their #WinningMomsOver goals, but I do have honest opinions about McDonald’s, and they promised me I could speak openly. So here I am. Laying it all out on the table.

Here are my thoughts on McDonald’s in list format — it’s sort of a McDonald’s confessional:

- As I’ve written before, in France, it wasn’t unusual for us to eat at McDonald’s (see the reasons here), and the restaurants there are viewed differently than they are in the U.S.

- On family road trips, if we’re driving in the morning, McDonald’s breakfast is our preferred meal-on-the-go.

- I remember hearing about my friend Amber, who had a child who was having a hard time falling asleep, so at the spur of the moment, they jumped in the car late at night and went to McDonald’s. I loved hearing that! And I knew it must have made the best memories for that child. I vowed to copy her.

- During the last trimester of my pregnancies, I would consistently have cravings for Quarter Pounders with Cheese (hold the ketchup, please).

- When we lived in New York, one of my most stylish friends, Erin, would come pick up toddler Oscar and take him to McDonald’s with her own son, so I could have some quiet time with baby Betty. Oscar adored these trips to McDonalds! And I remember thinking at the time, that it was so refreshing that my friend openly and un-embarrassingly went to McDonald’s. And she was still cool! At the time, if I ate at McDonald’s, I felt like I had to keep it a secret.

- I think that feeling (of not wanting to admit of ever eating at McDonald’s) is kind of a national one — when my brother was recently traveling in Thailand, he stopped at a McDonald’s and his friend took a photo of him in line and posted it on Facebook with a caption: Caught red-handed!

Seeing someone you know at McDonald’s, or having yourself documented there, can be cause for blushing. My brother is actually quite the foodie, but sometimes McDonald’s is the best, quickest, easiest option.

Keep reading for more of my random thoughts, plus tons of excellent comments!

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By Gabrielle.

I have a soft spot for this home. Any home, actually, that provides a safe and sweet haven for someone who needs it most, which is exactly what the Anderton home does on the daily.

It’s been the spot for homeschooling and studying, wrestling and relaxing, dreams great and small – even Cher’s youthful goal that someday she would allow her kids to write on their walls! But maybe most significantly, it’s been the landing pad for their recently adopted son, making room for one more with just a few tiny shifts.

If you’ve ever thought about foster care adoption, this is the read for you. Maybe your home has room for one more? While you consider that, please welcome Cher!

Q: Tell us all about your family.

A: Jon and I started our family 16 years ago when we married, then became parents 14 years ago with the arrival of Ella, and added Will 12 years ago before adding Noah eight years ago. Jonny joined our family two years ago and is ten years old. We are in a short period of even numbers!

Jon works market hours as a bond trader with a small start-up on Mercer Island. My job history has been a little eclectic with short stints as an interior designer and property manager, among other jobs. I homeschooled our kids for five years before making the switch to public schooling last year so I could pursue a remote Masters in Social Work at Boston University. The process of adopting our son from foster care helped me recognize the huge need for therapists who specialize in trauma and adoption, so that is where I really want to focus my career.

More goodness, straight ahead!

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Ask Design Mom: Travel Camera

September 8, 2014

askdesignmombanner

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. The last time I posted an Ask Design Mom question was in December. Hah! It seems I mostly answer questions via email or blog comments these days. But I’ve received this question so often lately, that I thought writing up a post would make sense.

Question:
Hi Gabrielle. Would you mind sharing what camera you used for your trip to Sweden. I was following along on Instagram and the photos were beautifiul. Were they taken with your phone? — Sent in from several readers

Sony NEX 5T:L4

Answer:
Good question! I was originally planning to bring our Canon DSLR 50D which is what I use to shoot photos for Design Mom (including the photo here). But I wasn’t looking forward to it, because it’s HEAVY. Especially with my most flexible lens. Plus, knowing we were checking into a new hotel practically everyday, we packed light — one carryon size suitcase each plus a backpack. But a big camera, with a big lens, needs padded protection during transport and takes up a hefty bit of space. So I wasn’t sure how we were going to deal with it. I even wondered if I could get by with my cell phone.

I asked my sister, Jordan, for advice, and which camera she had taken with her on a recent trip to Paris & Morocco, because I new she had also needed to pack light for that trip. And she mentioned that she tried something new. A very small Sony NEX-5TL that takes DSLR quality photos.

So I bought one for the trip, and it was a hit!

Keep reading to find out why this is my favorite Instagram camera.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

September 8, 2014

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot

By Gabrielle. Images and styling by Lindsey Rose Johnson.

School has started. Fall is here. Life is as busy as ever. It’s a great time to start relying on slow cooker recipes to help get dinner on the table. And what could be better as cooler weather returns than a plate full of slow cooker Beef Stroganoff?

Stroganoff originated in Russia, but different versions have popped up all around the globe. This one is a pretty basic, traditional one made with big chunks of stew meat, flavorful cremini mushrooms, and red wine. The low and slow cooking time transforms the stew meat and it becomes super tender. All you need is a big bowl of buttered egg noodles and you’re set.

Slow Cooker Recipe: Beef Stroganoff   |   Design Mom   #crockpot

Any meat+sauce over egg noodles works as a comfort food for me, but I have a special fondness for Stroganoff because of a funny little childhood memory. My little brother Jared was making a spotlight poster about himself for an assignment — hobbies, favorite colors and foods, stuff like that. For the food example, he cut a picture of stroganoff out of a magazine, just to represent that he liked food in general — he didn’t know there was a name for the dish in the photo. But his teacher saw the image and recognized it has Beef Stroganoff and determined — to Jared’s surprise and confusion because he didn’t know what it was — that his favorite food was specifically Beef Stroganoff.

Throughout the rest of our childhood and into adulthood, any time Beef Stroganoff was seen on a menu, eaten in our home, or mentioned in any way, someone would be sure to comment, “Hey Jared, look, it’s your favorite meal!

A silly little memory that is making me nostalgic today. I hope it reminds you of a funny memory from your own childhood home. : )

This recipe makes enough for a large family. It’s great with some green veggies or a salad on the side.

Click for the recipe and tips!

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A Few Things

September 5, 2014

Bison near Grand Canyon

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Are you getting adjusted to your fall schedules? It’s been a good week for the Blairs — we’ve had reports from England and France that Ralph and Olive have started school and are excited to be there. So comforting!

As for me, the summer was unusually crazy, so I am trying hard to limit my commitments. I have the hardest time saying no to things, but I promised myself I wouldn’t say yes to any new travel or events until my biggest current project (which is my book) is complete. I said no to two invitations this week and it about killed me. But the result was some really good book progress. We’ll see if I can keep my promise to myself. : ) Speaking of the book, I feel like I haven’t updated you guys about it in ages. I’ll try to write a post this week.

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

- The one word men never see in their performance reviews.

- Also job related: He dropped one letter of his name, and the job interviews rolled in.

- Did you see this IKEA commercial? So clever!

- Why writers are the worst procrastinators.

- Are you discussing racism in America with your kids and your community? This letter to white moms is a reminder of why it’s so important.

- A playset that teaches your kids how to take care of a real car. Thanks, Aaron.

- An irreverent and hilarious post poking fun at Anthropologie’s furniture line. Thanks, Amy.

- As a protest, a Columbia student is carrying a twin size mattress with her wherever she goes.

- What pets actually see with the GoPro. Thanks, Rebeccah.

- I’m obsessed with these leather perforated Vans. Should I go with black or white?

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — I’ve heard from readers that my RSS feed and daily email stopped working last week. I believe it’s all fixed again, but please let me know if it’s not. Thanks! Also, I took the photo at top on our epic roadtrip. The herd of bison was grazing very near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped the car and watched them for ages.

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Pop & Lolli Giveaway

September 4, 2014

DMgiveawayBanner

By Gabrielle.  

As you may have noticed, I had a bit of a giveaway break while my summer traveling took over. But today, I’ve got a terrific one for you! It’s sponsored by Pop & Lolli, and the prize is a $100 store credit, so you can pick out exactly what you want. Hooray!

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Pop & Lolli is all about Larger Than Life fabric wall decals. Their selection is outstanding! Tons of themes — trains, robots, mermaids, pirates, family trees, flowers, animals, and on, and on. The decals are colorful, beautifully designed, and offer major impact in a room. They even have a recently launched collection by Sarah Jane, an artist you may already know and love.

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Another new product they just introduced is adorable Pop & Lolli Wallpaper! The argyle and gingham are probably my favorite, or maybe On The Go. So many cute options! And I should note: these wallpapers are fabric! They are eco-friendly and non-toxic. No glue, no mess, and no professional installation needed.

Made in the U.S.A., the decals (and wallpapers!) are removable, reusable and completely reposition-able — simply the BEST decals out there!

oversize fabric wall decals by Pop & Lolli

Pop & Lolli’s chic wall art will transform any blank wall into a space that encourages imaginative play. Their decals would be darling in a playroom, classroom, child’s bedroom, or boring hallway. Right this minute, I’m considering Pop & Lolli’s colorful World Map decal for our family room. I still need to take measurements, but I think the large one would be perfect for the wall I have in mind!

Extra fun: Use coupon code HAPPYDESIGN15 for 15% off! The code is valid for duration of giveaway.

To enter, visit Pop & Lolli and leave a comment below — I’d love to hear which decals you want most! The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

——-

Jen G. is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Kiwi Crate

September 4, 2014

Kiwi Crate14

Images and text by Gabrielle. // This post is brought to you by Kiwi Crate.

——

I first heard about Kiwi Crate a year ago, but I didn’t actually try one till this week. I wasn’t sure what to expect (would my kids care? would they be too old for it?) but Oscar, Betty & June spent the afternoon with the box of activities and LOVED it. (As a sidenote, the funniest part was when Betty accidentally made a puppet that looks like an evil dictator. See below).

The 411 on Kiwi Crate is that it’s an award-winning, monthly subscription service for kids. Each crate includes 2-3 hands-on projects — they cover things like art, science, games, and imaginative play. There’s a new theme each month, and the box also includes Kiwi Crate’s explore! magazine, which features bonus activities and kid-friendly recipes.

Kiwi Crate01

One thing I appreciate is that the activities are legit — before they send out anything, Kiwi Crate tests the projects with a crew of kids to make sure everything is developmentally appropriate, enriching, engaging, fun, and universally appealing. To get an idea of what they offer, you can see their most popular crates here. And best of all, if you’d like to try it, you can save 25% on your first month subscription with code DM25.

Kiwi Crate12

My main takeaways are 1) This is genius for tiny apartment dwellers. 2) This is genius for any parent who isn’t artsy/craftsy. 3) This is genius for parents who feel like their schedule is too full to run extra errands (that’s me.). 4) It’s also hugely appealing to me because there is nothing to store or use up when you’re done. It’s exactly what you need for the projects. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kiwi Crate07

I wrote up some notes about our experience with Kiwi Crate below in case you’re curious about how your own kids might react, or how different aged kids might respond. I hope it’s helpful!

Click here if you’re curious about the evil dictator puppet. Hah!

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Online School

September 3, 2014

ralphschoolclothes_201102

By Gabrielle. Photos from Back to School photo shoots in France.

I’ve been getting lots of emails on how we’re handling Ralph’s schooling while he’s in England and France, which is a really good question and has taken some figuring out. The whole thing is so new to us, I’m not even sure how I feel about it. For the first half of this school year (his junior year of high school), he’ll be attending the online school called K12. Then, when he returns to the U.S., he can either reenroll at our public high school, or continue on with K12 for the rest of the year.

We decided on this for several reasons. When we were in France, we had two different nieces come and stay with us. In both cases, they would attend class at our local school, but wouldn’t get graded or do French assignments — neither one knew much French so it wasn’t realistic to really fully participate. Instead, they continued with their American schoolwork using their laptops, and would spend some class periods in the school library doing their U.S. homework.

ralphschoolclothes_201104

Then, when our French exchange students, Charles and Victor, came from France to stay with us this last Spring, the same thing happened. They attended class with Ralph at our local high school, but they didn’t participate in class or get graded. Instead they would work on their French homework. (The exception was French class, where the teacher would sometimes want to involve them to model pronunciation or phrases or talk about culture to the American students.)

Keep reading. Lots more ahead!

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