By Gabrielle.

Austin! I think of Austin the same way I think of all those other cities where the locals love life in it so much that they hate the thought of ever leaving. Right, Portland-New York-San Francisco-Asheville-wherever you live, too? Miranda loves it there, and from the way she describes it, I think we all might!

Have you met Miranda? If you’re a crafty one who likes to sew, throw parties, eat yummy treats, or get your DIY on, you may have already met her. If not, please allow me to introduce our sweet tour guide today. She is lovely, as are her home and thoughts she’s sharing with us. Welcome, Miranda!

Our family’s beginning was love at first sight! Or as close as I ever imagined. I met Dave at church ten years ago in Utah where we both grew up. Immediately wanted to know him well, and within the first two dates was ready to say “Yes!”

At the time I was finishing my degree and nursing school, and Dave was playing Rugby for the USA Eagles. Soon after we were married, he decided to retire his cleats to focus on preparing for Law School. His degree is in Chemistry, and he went in to Law to practice IP law as a chemical patent attorney, which is a pretty unique and specialized field.

He is as much of an introvert as I am an extrovert, and we complement each other in all the best ways. He is calm, grounded, and diligent where I am excitable, ambitious, and somewhat reckless. I love him in the kind of way I always hoped to love my husband, and am a better person for all the time we spend together.

We had planned to start having children once he finished law school, so I could work full-time in my job as a RN Diabetes Educator to help support our way through. Instead, while on my graduation trip to Thailand we were inspired — after visiting a Buddhist tiger temple, though I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it! — to prepare to have a baby before law school had even begun.

More Miranda and more style, straight ahead!


San Andreas Movie Still

By Gabrielle. Movie stills from San Andreas.

Over the weekend, natural disasters were on our mind. First because we were watching reports come in from Chile. And second, because we did some hiking at Lassen Volcanic National Park (I’ll be sure to report on the trip soon!). As we hiked, we talked about what it would be like to live near an active volcano. The last time Lassen erupted was 100 years ago in May of 1915. At that time, it blew rocks and ash 7 miles into the air. Seven miles is so many miles!! Living near an active volcano seems like it would give such a feeling of uncertainty to life. But then again, I live in the Bay Area — a place that inspires movies like San Andreas.


It makes me wonder, how much do natural disasters come in to play when people consider moving? I’m thinking earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis — and maybe even super-harsh winters. Are there any that are a no deal for you? Or put another way, do you draw natural disaster lines for yourself? Like maybe you swear you will never live in California because here, it’s when not if, as far as earthquakes go. Or maybe you wonder why anyone lives in Kansas and Oklahoma when it’s a fact that tornados come with the territory. Or maybe you observe the annual hurricane watch from afar and promise yourself you’ll never live on the Gulf Coast. Or the East Coast. Or any coast!

When we moved to California, the earthquake situation crossed my mind a few times, but it wasn’t a big concern. My hometown, St. George, Utah, is also on a fault line, and I guess it just seems like a normal thing that people live with. Like some sort of really awful lottery.

We’ve been here for two years now, and I still haven’t felt an earthquake. Our kids felt their first one last month — but it happened to be on a day Ben Blair and I were away for our anniversary. So sometimes, I forget we even live in earthquake territory. Though it’s easy to imagine that if we ever live through a big quake, the fact of earthquakes will become ever present in my mind — or maybe even inspire (or require!) a move.

What’s your take? Have you ever thought of possible natural disasters when you were making a move? Or are there places you simply wouldn’t move because of known natural disasters in the area? Do any of you have a particular phobia around natural disasters? Or do you have kids that do a lot of worrying about natural disasters? Or maybe you feel like you live in a place where you never have to think about natural disasters? Is there such a place? Sometimes I feel like nowhere is immune, and it’s a matter of people having to choose their poison. What do you think?


A Few Things

September 18, 2015

San Francisco

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? Any fun plans ahead? We’ve got a roadtrip to Lassen Volcanic National Park on the schedule. We’ve never been before. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it until last month! I spent so much time at National Parks growing up, that sometimes I feel like I know all about them, and then suddenly I’m reminded that I haven’t even heard of most of them. Hah! How about you? What’s on your schedule?

I’m off to finish up a few things before I get packing, but first, there are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- You totally need to watch Ralph’s latest video, A Monday to Remember. This kids blows my mind. He thought it up, wrote it, filmed it, acted, edited, played the music, made the prop newspaper, and other things I’m not even thinking of. He did the entire thing completely by himself. And it’s so good!

- A new card game that teaches young kids about entrepreneurship and money.

- Hey! Did you hear my interview on Splendid Table? It’s my first interview on NPR!

- America’s newest hero.

- The Furiously Happy book trailer will make you cry/smile. Furiously Happy is the second book by The Bloggess, and it’s so GOOD! It comes out in just a few days. You will LOVE this book.

- I just heard about human libraries. Love this idea!

- The easiest (cutest!) tooth fairy bags.

- Politically correct Lord of the Flies.

- What to do with that old breast pump.

When should you give up on who you wanted to be?

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



Three Beauty Oils

September 17, 2015

100% Jojoba oil from Australia. For face, hair, and nails.

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Last year I talked about some of the “green” beauty products that have made in into my vanity. I still love all three of those products, but it’s fun to try something new. And these days, I’ve been love a few oil-based beauty products — as in 100% oil and nothing else.

There’s something about having only 1 ingredient on the bottle that really appeals to me. That simplicity brings trust and clarity. It’s the idea that if I breakout from using the product, I don’t have to guess what ingredient is responsible. And I like that there isn’t a looong ingredient list (ingredients that I should probably check against harmful chemical lists, but probably won’t because I generally don’t make time for things like that).

Now you already know that I do not claim to be a purist when it comes to beauty products. As I just mentioned, I’m not good about checking chemical lists and I continue to use many of my grocery store favorites. (Like Aveeno — I have lots of Aveeno products in my cupboard and I love them! Their daily moisturizer with spf is my everyday favorite.) But that said, when I read an article about a new product, or a friend recommends something awesome, I’m always game for trying something new.

Here are three oils I’ve been liking lately:

1) Jojoba Oil from Australia.
This is 100% Jojoba oil. And it’s good for hair, skin and nails. I’ve been using it for my cuticles, and I’ve been using it in place of night cream, after I take off my makeup in the evening. I really love how it feels. I feel like it’s similar to the Nuxe Oil that I love — but it’s only one ingredient.

My favorite part is that a little goes a long way (which is good, because it’s not cheap). It’s not a big bottle, but I can see it’s going to last a long time — one press of the pump does both my face and my hands. Another bonus is that the bottle is glass and quite pretty. The only thing I’m still getting used to on this one is the scent — it’s almost woodsy. Which isn’t what I expect from a product I use on my face.

Apparently, it’s also supposed to be good for removing makeup, but I haven’t tried that. (For makeup removal, I still love Bioderma the best. It’s another product I started using in France.)

This 100% coconut oil is unscented. A perfect moisture base for layering scents on top. And soothing for eczema too!

2) Coconut Oil Spray
I’ve been using coconut oil for oil-pulling and cooking for ages now, but this product is different. It’s 100% Fractionated Coconut Oil. What does that mean? I have no idea except that fractionating makes the oil odorless and colorless. The standard coconut oil I use is a solid, but this is Capriclear coconut oil is a clear sprayable liquid.

I like how it goes on — it rubs in very nicely, and leaves my skin feeling glow-y and moisturized, but not oily. I’ve used this only as body lotion (I haven’t tried it on face or hair). My favorite part is that it’s odorless. I like to wear perfume, but I don’t always like how my perfume interacts with my lotions. So this is perfect as a base of moisturizer that I can layer scents on top.

For those of you who have wanted to try coconut oil, but don’t like the scent of coconuts, this one’s for you! By the way, I linked to CapriClear above, but you can also find it on Amazon — it has different packaging than the bottle in my photo, but it’s the same stuff (I checked with the company to make sure).

Keep reading for one more recommendation!


Crispy Catfish & Freekeh

September 16, 2015

Recipe: Crispy Catfish & Freekeh. So good! And healthy too.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get two meals free! See below for details.

I’m curious. How often do you try new recipes for dinner? And related, how often do you try new ingredients, or new cooking techniques? At our house, when left to our own devices, we end up cooking from our standard set of family favorites that we’ve gathered over the last 20 years. That’s not a bad thing. We like those recipes — they’re favorites for a reason, and they’ve become comfort food to my kids.

Recipe: Crispy Catfish & Freekeh. So good! And healthy too. Recipe: Crispy Catfish & Freekeh. Have you tried freekeh? It's a grain.

But I have to say, one of the very best things about becoming Blue Apron customers, is that we’ve tried so many new foods and new meals over the last year — ingredients that it might never have occurred to us to try! And we’ve found meals that have become new favorites! There’s something about making new foods that brings a bit of adventure to an otherwise average day.

Earlier this month, our Blue Apron delivery included a recipe for Crispy Catfish and Freekeh. Well, it turns out I had no idea what freekeh was. (A vegetable? A sauce? Neither. It’s a grain!). And I confess, I’d never prepared catfish —I’m not sure if I’d ever even eaten catfish. To be clear, I really like fish, and we prepare it often, but for whatever reason, catfish hadn’t ever made our shopping list. So we were looking forward to trying these new-to-us foods.

Conclusion? We devoured every last mouthful!

Is that corn hand shucked? Prepping corn for a Crispy Catfish & Freekeh recipe. So good! And healthy too.

For those of you who are new here, I’ve been working with Blue Apron over the last year, and each quarter, I’ve shared a little update on our experience with their service. Blue Apron makes it easy for anyone to create chef-designed meals at home. They deliver all the (farm fresh!) ingredients you need, in exactly the right proportions, right to your home. Which means you don’t have to think up a meal plan, and you don’t have to hunt down ingredients at the grocery store, and you’re not left with any unused ingredients that you inevitably throw out the next time go through the pantry.

They offer two types of meal plans. The 2-Person plan means you’ll get a weekly delivery with three meals for two. With the Family Plan, you can choose one or two deliveries per week, and each delivery has two meals to serve family-style. Everything arrives in a refrigerated box, so if you’re not home when the package arrives, no worries — the food will stay fresh. They ship (free!) to most of the country and there is no commitment — you can skip a week or cancel at any time.

At our house, we’ve found that a delivery once or twice a month, on our busiest weeks, is perfect. If you’ve been wanting to give it a try, I have a handy discount code you can use. The first 50 readers will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order! Just click here.

Chopping Tomatoes for a Crispy Catfish & Freekeh recipe. Chopping Ingredients for Crispy Catfish & Freekeh. So good! And healthy too.

Like I mentioned, I’ve been working with Blue Apron for a year, but even when I’m not officially working with them, I’m a customer. Ben Blair and I were discussing the aspects that make us such big fans of their service and we concluded it was a few specific things:

1) Not having to make dinner decisions once in awhile is such a relief. As every parent knows, dinnertime is relentless, and coming up with meals that your kids will love, and that are healthy, and that encourage the kids to expand their palette, and that use quality ingredients — well, that feels really hard sometimes. For us, getting a break in the decision-making is like the best thing ever. It’s a mental break, and also a big time-saver — it saves us planning time, and it saves us errand time.

Keep reading for some of my favorite Blue Apron recipe links!


Pep-Talk Poems

September 16, 2015


By Gabrielle. Poems written and hand-lettered by Dallas Clayton.

Oh my goodness I had the hardest time getting out of bed this morning. I had to keep giving myself pep talks: You can do it! Maybe you’ll even get a quick nap this afternoon! If you get downstairs quick, you can be the one to wake up little June and be the recipient of her first good-morning hug!

Ben Blair teaches an early morning religion class to the teens in our church. They meet at our house and I try to get up and help. My help is more like moral support than actual help — I set out breakfast and try to smile and pretend to be high energy in an attempt to keep everyone awake. (It’s so early!) I am 100% NOT a morning person, so this feels like an accomplishment to me. Hah!


After the class, we made lunches and got everyone ready for school, dropped them off and stopped at the gym for a quick workout. The whole time, it was more pep talks: The gym will be so fast! It’s worth it! You’ll get to hang out with Ben Blair the whole time!


And now I’m back home, looking at a to-do list that seems quite unreasonable at the moment, and the pep talks directed at myself continue: You’re going to be so productive today! It will feel super good to cross some of these tasks of your list!

In case I’m not the only one out there who is needing a little pep today (some days are just like that), I thought I’d share some of Dallas Clayton’s happy poems. YOU CAN DO IT! GO WEDNESDAY!

Also, I assume I’m not the only one to give myself pep talks. Right? (Right??) What do you say to yourself to get going in the morning? Or when you get the mid-day blahs? I’ll take all the ideas I can get!

P.S. — You may remember I announced last month that I’ll be sharing more from this series over the next few weeks. I’m loving this these poems!  I hope you are too.


By Gabrielle.

Every once in a while, a former home tour guide checks in with a note that they’ve moved or redecorated or added a baby and finally there’s a girl in the house! And sometimes, there’s a note from one whose life turned a little sideways for a while but she’s happy to report she’s right side up again. That’s when I clap silently at my desk and offer up a “Yay, you!”

It is always good to check in on each other. I was especially pleased when Wendy did, and I know you will be, too. Hers was a popular, much Pinterested home tour! Yet somehow, this one seems even more fabulous. There are built-in bunks and a turquoise shade that makes me crave a turquoise wall. Come see, and please help me welcome back Wendy!

I am so glad to be back here on Design Mom sharing my new house with all of you! A lot has changed since the last time I visited, so let me re-introduce myself and my family. I am Wendy Hyde, an interior designer, blogger, and single mom of four amazing kids. Yes, single mom. More on that in a minute.

My oldest son is a sophomore in high school, an amazing film maker, and a talented violinist. My daughter is in junior high. She is good and kind. She loves to dance and can often be found tumbling in the living room. And I have two little boys only 18 months apart. The older of the two is in fourth grade. He is sensitive, but quick-witted and hilarious. He wants to be an author and illustrator when he grows up, and I have no doubt that he will be! And then there’s my youngest who is in third grade and loves sports of all kinds. He is full of energy and humor, and he keeps us all on our toes.

A lot more to love and celebrate, just ahead!


Instant Online Tutoring

September 14, 2015

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework panic sessions! Log-on to Chegg and get help in seconds.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Chegg Tutors — they’re offering an exclusive free trial for Design Mom readers! See below.

Oh my goodness, we are on week four of school and I’ve already found the BEST new service. It’s a total game changer, and I think it’s going to be a big help this school year. Seriously. It’s called Chegg Tutors, and I can already see it is going to save the day for my 3 oldest kids. It’s essentially an online service that gives students instant, on-demand access to real live tutors. Tutors on any subject you can think of. And not just any tutors, total pros! Tutors are vetted carefully, and many are either current students or recent graduates of top-tier colleges and universities around the world.

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework panic sessions! Log-on to Chegg and get help in seconds. Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework panic sessions! Log-on to Chegg and get help in seconds.

The platform is really cool because you can interact in different ways — you can text chat, or video chat, or even draw mathematical diagrams. This is important because as we all remember, different subjects require different interactions. Sometimes you need graph paper or a white board, and other time you just need someone who can verbally explain things to you in a way that’s easy to understand.

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework panic sessions!

The service is aimed at high school and college students. Maude and Olive both tried it last week, and the whole time I kept remembering stressful late nights from the last few school years — nights where my kids had a homework deadline, but were stuck on a concept that was beyond me and Ben Blair. The worst was when our go-to helpers weren’t available, or when it was so late at night, that we couldn’t call someone for help at all. You just feel so STUCK. Chegg Tutors is perfect for things like that — it’s a solution for last-minute essay reviews and homework meltdowns and mathematical conundrums. And it’s available 24/7!

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework panic sessions! Log-on to Chegg and get help in seconds.

I interviewed both Maude and Olive after they’re Chegg tutoring session. Maude had a math question she needed help with, and her tutoring session happened through text chat. Maude says:

- “It’s so convenient that I can talk to someone about my homework, at the moment I’m doing my homework.”

- “I worked with Daniel T. He responded really fast. And he cracked lots of corny jokes. Made me smile. He’s clearly very smart, and he’s clearly done much more pre-calc than either of my parents.”

- “It was really cool how simple it was on Chegg to show different ways of solving my problem. I could draw math diagrams right on the screen using my mouse.”

- “I tried it during the afternoon, but I was thinking this site is awesome for when I realize last minute that I’m not sure how to finish my math homework and it’s too late to call a friend.”

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework frustrations! Log-on to Chegg and get affordable help in seconds.

Olive had a science question that she was having a hard time getting an understanding of: What is the evidence for black holes? And she chose to use video chat for her tutoring session. Olive says:

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework frustrations! They can review an essay or help solve an equation. Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework frustrations! Get affordable help in seconds. chegg-tutors-free-trial8

- “There were lots of tutors to choose from! I worked with Sumit T. He explained the concepts in a really simple way that was easy to understand. And he gave more than one explanation. He was nice and got right to business.”

- “I could see him on video and myself on video, but it was small so that you could see everything else that was going on on the screen.”

- “We did “screen-sharing” and he showed me this video of a really cool experiment about orbiting and gravity.”

- “It was good to have all the visual options — he could demonstrate the concepts he was talking about.”

- “It took me a minute to figure out how to turn on the video chat (my dad figured it out), but after that it was easy.”

Instant LIVE tutoring from Perfect for those last-minute, late-night homework frustrations! Log-on to Chegg and get affordable help in seconds.

For me as a parent, the big benefits of Chegg Tutors over traditional tutoring are 1) the scheduling convenience. My kids can choose on-demand tutoring, or we can schedule a specific tutoring session for them at a particular time. 2) I don’t have to drop them off or coordinate a pick up time or carpool. Such a time saver! And 3) I found it more affordable than any other tutoring service we’ve used. I also like they idea that I have access to a whole lot of different people through Chegg — sometimes a new concept doesn’t click until you find just the right person to explain it in just the right way.

Anyway. All that to say, we give Chegg Tutors a big thumbs up! If your kids get stuck on homework and you’re not quite sure what to do, bookmark Chegg, and get instant help. Want to give Chegg Tutors a try? Go for it! They’re giving Design Mom Readers an exclusive free trial to make sure every student finds it as helpful as possible. Sign up here and you’ll receive a free trial in your first week!

What’s your take on tutors? Have you ever hired a tutor for yourself or for your child? Ben Blair really loves using tutors because they’re not necessarily focused on your child’s grade, their focus is on how well your child understands the concepts. Have you found that to be true?


Vow Renewals

September 14, 2015

vow renewals

By Gabrielle. Photo from a lovely vow renewal shot by Studio B. Photography.

As I mentioned, last month was our 20th wedding anniversary. Twenty years seems like a solid number and earlier this year, we talked about maybe having a vow renewal to mark the day. But when I started picturing what that might look like — who would come, where we would have it, would I wear a wedding dress? — I came up a bit blank. I’ve never actually been to a vow renewal, and can’t think of anyone I know personally who has done a vow renewal, so the only images that come to my mind are things I’ve seen in wedding magazines, or on Pinterest. (Those images are lovely by the way!)

My first instinct is that I love the idea of vow renewals! For us, the pros of a vow renewal would be things like a good excuse to invite everyone we love to a big party, a chance to have a redo on wedding photos (alas, we only have a couple of images from our wedding day — a story for another time), and we like the idea of doing something intentional to celebrate each other and our marriage — we work hard on our marriage, and marking major milestones seems like a good way to help keep it strong.

But there are cons too. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel pressure to travel or use vacation days for a party like this. A party that seems “optional” for us to throw. (I know a wedding reception/party is technically also optional, but it feels less so to me. Probably because it’s such a long-standing established tradition.) Also, like any event, a vow renewal would require time, effort and expense (especially if I wanted to make it as pretty as all those inspiration photos). Would we rather take a trip instead? I think I also feel a general awkwardness about have a gathering that could potentially feel very “look at me! look at me!”.

The funny thing is, even though I have those worries for our own someday-vow-renewal, if friends invited us to theirs, I would feel nothing but joy and excitement for them! And I would be honored to be invited. Which makes me think my worries are ultimately silly.

I’d love your thoughts on the subject. Do you see yourself ever having a vow renewal? Or have you had one already? (If yes, I’d love to hear your favorite parts!) Is there a specific anniversary that you feel is the best fit for a vow renewal? 10 years? 50 years? And would you favor a big event or something really small? (I read about this family who did a vow renewal and it was just for themselves and their kids — a party of four.)

Do you see vow renewals as a chance to try party ideas you didn’t get to use at your original wedding? Or maybe a chance to publicly honor your spouse and say nice things about him or her? Overall, do you favor the idea of vow renewals, or feel that they are definitely not something you’d want to do? I’d love to hear!


A Few Things

September 11, 2015


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Like many of you, I woke up today thinking about 9/11. We had moved to New York the month before, on August 1st, 2011. And on August 25th, I had baby Olive, giving us 3 kids age four and under. Ben Blair was on campus at Columbia that day, a new graduate student. I was home with our newborn — just two weeks old — and our toddlers.

Train lines ran against our back fence, and the trains were close enough, that our house would rumble a bit whenever a train went by. So one of my biggest sensory memories from September 11th, 2001, is silence. After the towers fell, the city was locked down, and the trains stopped running. I’m sure it wasn’t actually so, but in my mind, I remember the day as totally and completely silent, as if the world had stopped moving altogether.

What about you? What are your 9/11 stories? Hearing and reading peoples’ stories is good for the soul. Right? And not to suddenly change the tone of the post, but I have a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Something lighter: An impressive Welsh weatherman.

- Girl Bosses as models.

- Essential information about the Syrian refugee crisis.

- When Toy Story 2 almost disappeared.

- I’m totally into these Hoover Dam photos. Have you ever been? (I grew up a couple of hours away, so I had the chance to go many times.)

- Just heard about Shots. Are any of your kids using it?

- This story!! There are heroes among us.

- Thinking of my dad and his obsession with yellow (his birthday was on September 11th).

- And speaking of my Dad, this Dad joke survivors video made me laugh!

- More Periscope fun! On Tuesday at Noon PST (that’s 3:00p EST), Ben Blair and I will be LIVE on Periscope and ready to take questions. We’re going to talk about a parenting topic, but we haven’t decided which one yet. You should totally join us! You can use the app to ask questions and we’ll answer in real time. If you can’t watch the broadcast live, no stress, you can replay it for 24 hours. Find us at @designmom on Periscope.

Does it feel like end of summer where you are? It’s been unusually hot in the Bay Area, but it’s supposed to get back to normal soon. (Yay!) I hope you have a wonderful weekend! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



College Savings Pledge

By Gabrielle.

As you may remember, I’ve been working with Scholarshare, California’s 529 savings plan, on a series of posts about family finances. We’ve covered teaching kids about finances (and I shared the money game I made up for my teens!). Then we covered Bookkeeping 101, and how to create a Family Budget. And we also talked about what a 529 plan is, and how to get started Saving for College.

I want to tell you, that I have been LOVING all the discussion, sharing, and learning around these money topics. You guys have introduced me to helpful apps, introduced really cool ideas that work in real life, shared stories of budgeting success, and you’ve done it all without throwing shame around or causing a panic. Thank you!

Since September is National College Savings Month, I’m going to finish the series by letting you know what Scholarshare is doing to celebrate — because you might want to get in on the action! But first, I’d love to extend the discussion a bit more. I’d like to know if you want the series to continue. And if yes, what sorts of topics would you like to cover?

We could talk about investing — maybe some posts for beginners. We could talk about strategies for paying off debt, and  compare the most popular methods. We could talk more about teaching kids about money, and discuss things like what age a child might be able to handle a debit card. What do you think? And what else would you like to discuss money-wise?

Before you answer, let me tell you about the College Savings Month celebration. To spread the word about the importance of saving for college and the benefits of 529 plans, ScholarShare created a website filled with helpful facts and downloadable resources — all on the topic of saving for college! They also created a sweepstakes (if you’re a California resident, here’s where you pay special attention). Scholarshare is encouraging parents and guardians to take the College Savings Pledge.

Everyone who takes the pledge will have the chance to win two awesome prizes: a $500 ScholarShare 529 account for a child (it can be any child you know, as long as they’re aged 3-14), PLUS a $500 Visa gift card for the child’s teacher!! There are 20 chances to win! That’s right. There are TWENTY chances to win!!!

Here’s how it works: Visit Take the pledge, provide your contact information, and enter for a chance to win! Bonus: for an additional chance to win, once you sign the pledge, share it with your friends and family. The sweepstakes ends at 8 a.m. PT on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, and it’s open to legal residents of the State of California — you can find the official rules here.

Okay. Back to a possible continuation of this series. What do you think? Do you like talking about finances? What money topics are you the most interested in? I’d love to hear!



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, shared in partnership with ScholarShare. If you’re ready to get started saving for college, ScholarShare can help you find out how 529 plans give you big tax benefits.



Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Woo hoo! The annual What to Wear to School photos are ready!! For those of you who are new here, I’ve been writing What to Wear to School posts basically since I started blogging. You can find them all here. The series has changed and evolved over the years, and this year is no exception. For the last two years, I did 3 posts featuring two kids in each. But we’ve made some big changes:


1) Now that he’s a college boy, Ralph has officially retired from the series.

2) Since Oscar, Betty and June are all in the same school for the first time since we moved here (and probably the last time — Oscar is off to middle school next year), I thought it would be fun to feature them all in one post: What to Wear to Elementary School!

what-to-wear-to-school-2015_30 what-to-wear-to-school-2015_17

I went on back-to-school shopping dates with each of the kids, and then we came home and put together 4 outfits for each of them.

what-to-wear-to-school-2015_61 what-to-wear-to-school-2015_56

Oscar is ten, and in 5th grade. Betty is nine, and in 4th grade. June is five, and in Kindergarten. Read to jump in? Let’s do this!

Come see! We found tons of cute stuff this year.



By Gabrielle. Wonderful needlepoint pillow available at Furbish.

Don’t we all love a story when an angel appears? A complete stranger, never seen before or since, who somehow saves the day or something much bigger. I know we’ve all experienced this marvel before, whether it was a tiny moment you forget about most days or a major half-minute that changed your life forever.

This is one of those wonderful stories, and I’m sure glad Angela — and Cassidy — are both here to tell it! Welcome, Angela!

A sweet, sweet story, just ahead!



Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Happy day after Labor Day! Today feels like a good day to give you a little report on what’s been going on at our house.

- I got my haircut! It feels gooood. Chopped off all the ragged stuff. And I had my roots colored too. I’m liking this new length a lot. It’s long enough that I can still pull it into a ponytail, but it doesn’t feel as heavy on my head. I can’t claim to be a selfie-pro, but I snapped a couple of shots to show you.

I’m still thinking a pixie is next. Maybe just in time for Alt Summit in January!


- School has been in for two weeks already, but the Tuesday after Labor Day always feels like the “real” first day of school to me. At the elementary school, it was “early out” for the first two weeks, so today is the first day our youngest three will stay at school for a full day. And it’s supposed to be super hot here this week. I’m thinking up fun ways to greet them after school that will help them cool down, and I’m grateful it’s a short week!

- Speaking of ways to cool down, last week, Jordan, Paul and Liz, plus their kids, surprised us with a late afternoon water balloon attack. It was awesome! They snuck a basket of water balloons to our front door, kept a basket of balloons for themselves, and then they hid.

Next, Jordan texted us and told him to open our door. Our kids had just enough time to notice the basket of water balloons (the water balloons on the front porch were for us to throw) before they were attacked, and a fantastic cousins water balloon battle ensued. It was epic! If you have the opportunity to do this for a family you love, go for it! So much fun for everyone, and it brightened up an otherwise totally average school day.

By the way, Jordan said the key to making this an easy, fun thing, is this invention. It fills 100 water balloons in 60 seconds! And ties them too!!

- Yesterday was a particularly good day. Some of the highlights: One of our favorite familys came over to try out the bridge and zipline. We loved hanging out with them — and their son, who is just six, climbed the rope! It’s a challenging thing to do, and he’s the youngest to attempt it. Very exciting. While they were here, Maude made rice crispie treats. (Sidenote: I love rice crispie treats way too much.) Our recipe is 1 full box of rice crispies (12 oz size), 1 full bag of mini marshmellows (the bigger 16 oz bag), and 1 full cube of butter. Heaven!

For lunch, we took the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco. It was gorgeous out! And the wind on the ferry felt amazing. The ferry takes you very close to the Oakland cranes. The cranes are endlessly appealing to me. I wish there was a touristy option that allowed people to climb one or interact with one. They are so cool! The ferry takes you right under the Bay Bridge and drops you off at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. We walked around the Ferry Building, grabbed food from 3 different shops, and had a little picnic by the water. Then we took the ferry back to Oakland.

By then, the day had really heated up, and we were all craving a dip in some cool water. Ben Blair remembered Lake Anza. It’s a little lake in the Berkeley Hills, surrounded by trees, and just a few minutes from Oakland. Really lovely. The water was cold! Perfect for the hot day. It was the first time we swam there, but it’s so close, I know we’ll be back.

On the way home, we stopped to watch the sunset, and picked up pizza for dinner. Oh man. I LOVED yesterday. It was just a really, really good day. (Here’s a very short video of us at the lake.)

- I started going to the gym. I’ve gone Monday through Saturday. Nine workouts so far. I have historically not liked going to the gym at all, so nine days is something! I’m trying a new-to-me workout. If I’m able to stick with it, I’ll tell you more about it. : ) One funny thing is that I am such a non-exerciser that I don’t really own any workout clothes at the moment, so I’m using some hand-me-downs from Maude, and I wear the same outfit everyday. I told myself that if I workout for four weeks, my reward will be a new workout getup.

- I tried my first Periscope Broadcast — you can watch Oscar and Olive climb our trees, cross the hanging bridge, zip line across the yard, and repel down. All from 30 feet above the ground! BUT the link is only live for 24 hours. The video will expire (and disappear) around 4:30p PST.

- Lastly, I finished All the Light We Cannot See over the weekend. It’s so good. I loved reading it. Highly recommend! Book club is tonight — should be a fun gathering.

And there’s my random report for the month. Feel free to comment on any topic above — or consider this an open thread and bring up a completely different topic. I can’t wait to hear what’s on your mind!


Living With Kids: Petra Eyre

September 8, 2015

By Gabrielle. Adorable family shots by Adam Graham.

Have you ever heard the saying “Love doesn’t have any borders?” It’s a common thought in Germany, brought to us by Petra, a Munich native who fell in love with a Canadian, and eventually decided to move from a city of almost two million people to a small town called Yarmouth in Southwestern Nova Scotia where the highways end. Literally.

She’s also the beaming owner of 123 Lausbua, a kids’ clothing company whose wares are mostly designed by Lili. I should mention that Lili is almost six and, as it happens, very good at her job. (And as long as we’re learning a spot of German today, lausbua means rascal!)

There’s more to this story, including a lot of happy corners and a lake for a front yard. You’re going to enjoy this one, I just know it. Welcome, Petra!

If you would have asked me 20 years ago where I would see myself living in the future, my answer sure wouldn’t have been Nova Scotia! Coming from a small town in Southern Germany, I didn’t even know where Canada’s third smallest province is. Traveling has always been a passion of mine but I had never made it this far East in Canada. Plus, I love the sunshine and my dreams always included living in the South. Now I’ve been living here for almost ten years and I love it. We might not have sunshine every day, but we have the beaches which were also a big part of my dreams!

We are a family of four. There’s Jamie, my husband, who is a software developer by trade and the handiest man — besides my grandfather — I have ever known. He can build or do anything. He’s also my best friend and the person I love to spend my time with.

This lake house sure is pretty! Come see.


A Few Things

September 4, 2015

Russian River Blairs

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Was it a good week? I had such an odd week. Probably it was just regular, but it felt odd. So much intertia on my part. I had a very reasonable task list in front of me, and didn’t manage to get through a quarter of it. And no good excuse either — I’m both healthy and well-rested. Very bizarre! How about you?

As for the 3-day weekend, our family goal is to get out on the water! We’re thinking sailing on Lake Merritt, and maybe taking the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco and having dinner in the city. The other thing I’m really looking forward to this weekend: finishing All the Light We Cannot See. Book club is on Tuesday and I’m only 30% done! Have you read it? It’s making me homesick for France like crazy.

But before the big Labor Day weekend commences, I’ve got a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

- A sweetness from Iceland, among the heartbreak for Syrians. Also, resources if you’d like to help.

- On putting yourself out there.

Splitting New York.

- The unique grief of special needs parents.

- How to be ridiculously likable.

- So awesome! He taught himself how to throw javelin using YouTube — and then he won the World Championship.

- Advice from people that are older than you on how to age gracefully.

- On “slactivism“.

- Remember the tool lending library I mentioned? I know most people don’t have access to one, but this new service sounds like it offers something similar. It’s called Partage, and it allows anyone to rent out their household goods — their strollers, KitchenAid blenders, leaf blowers, etc.. Thoughts?

- A dialogue between Taylor Swift and Socrates.

- Socality Barbie is winning instagram.

- Such fun news: My book is getting reprinted! That means, the book shops have run out and they need more. Yay! Thank you for all the kind comments and Amazon reviews. You guys are the BEST!

I hope you have a really, really good (long!) weekend. I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.


P.S. — Last Saturday, we took a spontaneous afternoon trip to Russian River (pictured at top). The water was warm and gorgeous. After swimming, we ate dinner at a new restaurant in Occidental called Hazel. We totally feasted! We ate about half the menu and ordered every single dessert. Two thumbs up. Highly recommend! Maybe we’ll fit in another visit this weekend.



By Gabrielle. Images c/o Haiti Partners.

Remember when Ralph and Ben Blair went to Haiti in January to help launch a new program for Haiti Partners? I wrote about it here. Well, the program they were helping with is called Language Hangouts, and it connects Haitian youth who are learning English, with native speakers (like you!) who video chat with them to practice conversational English.

The program has been going for 6 months and it’s already been super effective! Everyone involved is over-the-moon excited about it!! Haiti Partners has been improving the program as they go along and can’t wait to launch the next phase.

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Speaking of which, the next round of Language Hangouts starts September 21st and goes for eight weeks, ending the week of November 16. And YOU can sign up! Haiti Partners is looking for individuals to commit to one 30-minute slot each week. Thirty minutes per week for 8 weeks? You can totally do that! And you’ll be paired with the same person each time, so you’ll get the chance to know them and build on earlier conversations.

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If you’re interested, but have no idea what you’ll talk about, don’t stress —  you don’t have to wing it! Haiti Partners has developed a robust handbook that not only describes the program but also provides discussion prompts and conversation topics to help get conversation going. You’ll have all the help you need.

Do something AWESOME today! Become a volunteer with Haiti Partner’s Language Hangouts. There’s no cost to get involved — just the donation of your time, and I guarantee, it will be the best 30 minutes of your week!

P.S. — Doesn’t this seem like it would also be such a cool thing for teens to get involved in?


By Gabrielle.

A friend told me just about the most unique and jaw-dropping story about a meal she and her husband enjoyed in Vietnam a few months ago. The concierge at their hotel understood they craved an off-the-beaten-track kind of experience for dinner one evening, and sent them by taxi to a small home on a residential street. There was a pack of lazy dogs at the front gate, and a chicken or two strolling around. Other than that, nothing: no lights, no sounds, no people. Their taxi driver rang the bell on the gate, returned to his car, and then drove off.

Within a few seconds, lights popped on, the gate opened, and they were met warmly by a smiling woman who beckoned them inside. And then they ate the best meal of their lives.

Stephanie Lawrence sets up these scenarios! Her company facilitates meaningful travel by finding and vetting the best home cooks, and then connecting them with travelers to share private, authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world. Traveling Spoon books meals, cooking classes, and local market tours, all with locals in their homes. I can’t imagine a more intimate way to get to know a country and culture than by sharing a home-cooked meal with a local. I really can’t.

I’m so drawn to the idea of meaningful travel, aren’t you? I hope you’re nodding yes, and that you’ll keep nodding when I ask if you’d like to walk through a day with this meaningful travel maven. Welcome, Stephanie!

This is a lovely day. It really is!


Best Boys Underwear 2015

By Gabrielle.

At this point in my parenting life I’ve now purchased approximately 1 million pairs of kid underwear. I’ve bought them from lots of different stores, in lots of different cuts. And it turns out I have some strong opinions. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, and you can chime in with your thoughts and favorite sources, and then this post can hopefully be a great resource for anyone out there shopping for kid unders and wondering what the options are. How’s that sound?

Let’s start with boys. For little boys you basically have two options: standard briefs or boxer briefs. Boxer briefs are made with the same knit material as briefs, but they are cut like shorts. When they get into tween and teen sizes, you can start finding classic cotton boxers.

- I look for boxer briefs because my boys seems to like them better and they are much less likely to ride up.
- I look for good-looking, simple patterns or solid colors (my boys typically don’t want white).
- I look for no words or branding on the waistband.
- I look for Cotton with a little bit of spandex and nothing else. Breathable and stretchy are the goals!

First is Uniqlo. They come in 3-packs for $12.99. The Uniqlo ones are excellent quality — they have thicker fabric, and ribbing around the leg holes. I always love Uniqlo’s simple designs, but they often don’t have many in store (and I know most U.S. cities don’t have an in-store Uniqlo), so I recommend ordering online. Much easier for finding all available designs and all sizes. Something else about Uniqlo: they don’t seem to change up their designs as often as other stores, so the style of underwear you order today, may still be available next year.

Second is H&M. They come in 3-packs for $9.99. These are also good quality — not quite as good as the Uniqlo, but much better than anything else we’ve tried. And the lighter-weight fabric can also be a bonus if you live in a really hot place. I feel like H&M’s designs can really vary — from excellent to odd. And their stores can vary too. Sometimes they are fully stocked and other times way over-shopped, with only the not-so-great designs left. So if you’re having bad luck finding options in-store, try their online shop. Two bonuses for H&M: their boxer briefs are made from organic cotton, and their sizes are available as small as 1 1/2 years.

In both cases, the prices are very reasonable, especially when you consider how often your kids are going to wear these — something like 52 times a year! In both cases, the elastic is high quality — it doesn’t curl or get stringy, and the fabric doesn’t pill or overly fade. Both brands seem to be long-lasting. We have some underwear from both stores that are still going strong (no elastic breakage!) after 2 years!

Best Girls Underwear 2015

For little girls, there are more shapes and options. The most common is bikini briefs, but you can also find “boy shorts”, and hipsters, and other cuts too. And the offerings seem to change up more often, which makes girl underwear more of a moving target. You might find some that you LOVE, and then never find that cut or style again. In general, the fabric on girls’ underwear is thinner and lower quality than on boys’ underwear (why? why?!).

- I look for a “short”, and my second most favorite is the hipster cut. Both provide more coverage and they don’t ride up as much.
- I look for a wide elastic waistband.
- I look for good-looking, simple patterns or solid colors, and I like to include some solid white in the mix — for wearing under pale-colored dresses or shorts or pants.
- I look for Cotton with a little bit of spandex and nothing else. Breathable and stretchy are the goals!

H&M is my favorite for girls. They offer a 3-pack of boxer briefs for $9.99. As with the boys, the designs are all over the place (the basic stripes and patterns are always my favorite!), but the boxer briefs are the perfect cut. They are awesome. Good coverage, and good quality. Some are organic, some are not — watch for the conscious label if you want only organic.

Uniqlo and Gap come in second. Uniqlo sells a 3-pack for $12.99. Uniqlo’s patterns are always good, but in-store stock is spare. So again, go online. Also note, Uniqlo offers a version with a wider waistband, and version with a sort-of lacier elastic with a little bow. We prefer the wider waistband. Uniqlo doesn’t offer a “shorts” version for girls, but the fit of their underwear is good and doesn’t skimp on coverage.

Gap pretty much ties Uniqlo for quality on their girls underwear (the Gap uses fabric that’s a little bit thinner). And the Gap sells their underwear in packages of 7 for $26.95. My only issue with the Gap offerings is that they change so fast! We just got a set for June last month. We’ve tried them out, like them, and liked the designs. I went back to buy more today, and they are completely gone! (Sidenote: Sometimes I wish The Gap would permanently re-stock some of their strongest offerings.)


Where else have I shopped? I’ve tried buying some really high-rated underwear on Amazon for Oscar, but they turned out crummy. And speaking of Amazon, I think the boy options from Vaenait Baby look great, but they only go to size 7, so we haven’t been able to try them. I’ve bought from Target a bunch, both Circo and Hanes. I’ve tried Old Navy (they have some really cute simple sets of hipsters at the moment — 7 pairs for $14!). I’ve picked up random pairs from Gymboree, and random packs from TJMaxx. Sometimes I’ve had good luck with underwear at these places, but there have been some big misses as well. None are a reliable as the sources I listed above. Oh. And I’ve never tried Crewcuts underwear — $10 per pair seems a bit much. But maybe they’re awesome. The designs are sure cute!

What about characters? We bought a pack of character underpants for each child as they were potty-training — the hope was that the fancy new underwear would serve as a little extra incentive for saying goodbye to diapers. But honestly, the quality was never great, and I’m not generally a fan of having character clothing for my kids, so I tend to skip them now.

Okay. There it is. All my kid underwear knowledge! Please add yours. What are your favorite sources? And what else do you look for? Is tag-less an issue for your kids? Chime in!


By Gabrielle.

Michelle is a total joy. I know you’re going to be moved by her words, her enthusiasm for her city, and even her love for a feature in her basement renovation. You’ve just got to adore someone who describes her basement-turned-kids-bedroom like this: “I figured that exposed brick is a thing nowadays, so now I’m trying to make exposed concrete a thing, too.” I enjoy people who make things a thing, don’t you?

And her memories of a bittersweet home project…oh, it made me swallow a gulp.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this one, Friends. Enjoy it, please. Welcome, Michelle!

Hello from Portland! I’m Michelle and I like to think of myself as a bit of a dabbler; there are so many things that interest me that it is hard to pick just one! My husband is Steve, and he’s the more dedicated one in our duo. He’s a thinker and a doer. He sees possibility everywhere and I love him for it.

We met in college our freshmen year at the University of Portland. We fell in love with each other and this city and have never left. We got married while still in college and had our first daughter at the beginning of our senior year – which wasn’t the way we planned for things to go, but we figured that since we’re in this kid thing, we might as well run with it! So now we have three: Ellie is five, Olivia is four, and Henry is two.

Lovely, lovely, lovely. More ahead!

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