Say Something

July 7, 2016

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By Gabrielle. 

Late last night, I logged onto Facebook and my feed was filled — completely overflowing — with posts about Alton Sterling. I hadn’t heard the news and sat in shock as I read post after post after post. And then, I woke up this morning to gut-wrenching news about Philando Castile. It’s all I can think about. I can’t stay silent. So I’m writing.

The first part of this post is for any white readers who might think the #blacklivesmatter movement is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. It’s for white readers whose first instinct is to defend the police officers. It’s for white readers who can list all the reasons why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were in the wrong, and what they should have done differently to prevent being killed.

First, understand that your thinking is wrong.

Your list about how they could have prevented their own murders? Lose it. It’s a racist, dishonest list. There is nothing they could have done. They were killed because they were living life with black skin. They were killed because they were born black. Under the exact same circumstances as Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, white men would still be alive. It’s that simple. Both of these men are dead because of the color of their skin. Period.

As far as defending the police officers in these instances, don’t. There are wonderful police officers who do a great job in a hard line of work every single day. I know this. You know this. Everybody knows this. And there are corrupt and racist and cruel police officers too. The corrupt ones need to be called out and held accountable. If you are a fan of police officers, you are not doing them any favors if you accept corruption among them. Call it out and encourage them to call it out too. It’s better for them, it’s better for all of us. (For a passionate argument along these lines, see this video of a DJ calling out a police officer to speak up.)

Remember, police officers are not supposed to be the judge and jury and executioner. That is not their job. And yet, here are the stats on people killed by police in 2016.

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The second part of this post is for white readers who feel compelled to do or say something about this unnecessary and systematic violence.

What should you do? I confess, I’m not sure. I don’t know what’s effective and what’s a waste of time. I haven’t found anything that tells me how to make real change. So perhaps we can start by listening. Black women everywhere made videos yesterday sharing their thoughts — I think I had at least 15 in my Facebook feed. Here are three that happen to be mothers (and women I know personally and care deeply about): Amber Dorsey, Brandi RileyA’Driane Nieves. Watch them. Listen. Try to imagine the terror of being pulled over for a routine traffic violation when you are black. Try to imagine the terror of knowing your children could be killed for going about their daily lives, just because they dare to have black skin.

After you listen, take a minute to realize that if it hasn’t hit home for you already, that it will at some point. Think of the black kids at your school. Think of your black neighbors. Think of your cousin who just adopted two black boys from Haiti. I know it’s tempting to believe nothing will happen to them. Your neighborhood is safe. You’re pretty sure your community isn’t racist. Your kids don’t even seem to notice race.

But that’s not how this works. Having black skin and living in a safe neighborhood won’t prevent this. Having black skin and white friends won’t prevent this. Having black skin and white parents won’t prevent this. Having black skin and respect for authority won’t prevent this. Having black skin and wearing certain clothes won’t prevent this. Since white people are the oppressors here, only white people can prevent this.

Which brings us to this: The senseless killing needs to end. It’s time to say something. If you use social media, I encourage (ask, beg, implore) you to share a tweet or a Facebook post, or share a quote and a hashtag on Instagram. Put a Black Lives Matter poster in your yard or your window. Take the time to help your kids understand that life is different for black kids and that not having to think or talk about race is a privilege, and only something white people get to do. Call out the injustice and racism when you see it — even when it’s your uncle or friend from church. And check out the Black Lives Matter Get Involved page to find more ideas. Join me as I continue to learn how to be an ally.

Have other ideas on what you can say or do? Or thoughts on this subject? I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Feeling heartbroken and helpless? Oh man. I hear you. You can share that too.

P.S. — Kelly Wickham Hurst taught me that every time I write something about race I will likely get called out as a racist and told I’m doing it wrong, and that’s okay, it’s worth saying something anyway. You may experience the same thing, but you will survive.

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By Gabrielle.

Allison is a long-time pal of mine, and probably a friend to you, too. If you follow her anywhere on social media, you’ve probably felt her support. I always seem to think of her as the one who gets it all done. With a smile on her face, even.

So I asked her if we could walk beside her on just an average day in her life, and of course she said yes. And then finished the interview and photography within a day or two. See what I mean? She gets it all done.

Welcome, Allison!

Hello! I’m Allison Czarnecki, a 30-something mother of two kids, a 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. I’m the founder and CEO of a lifestyle blog called Petit Elefant, which means my day is all over the place, so let’s jump in.

Let’s spend the day with Allison! Buckle up!

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Best of French Posts

July 6, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Since we arrived here for the summer, my inbox has seen a surge of questions about my earlier content on France. Where’s that post on your French pharmacy picks? Didn’t you do a write-up on affordable French souvenirs? What was that book on French parenting we discussed? So I thought it might be helpful to include a brief guide to some of the most popular posts from our years living in France.

On French Schools:

- This was our first report.

- Our second report.

- This post talks about the legendary and formidable French school supply lists.

- Another school update plus an update on how the language immersion was coming along.

- If you’d like more, I wrote 10 posts on French schooling total.

On French households:

- This post includes my observations about laundry and ironing and got a big response.

- This is about shutters in France, which I had no idea were a big deal until I got here.

- This is about how trash is collected in the countryside.

On French Parenting:

- Is Maman Mean or Magnificent?

- More on French parenting.

- French kids eat everything.

Honfleur, France | Design Mom

On Exploring France:

- Our first visit to Mont St. Michel. Happily, we ended up visiting many, many times because it was a popular request from our house guests. We even made a video about a pilgrimmage to Mont St. Michel.

- Our first visit to the Eiffel Tower. This is another spot we visited frequently. Here’s a related post I wrote about climbing to the top with the kids.

- Canoeing in the Dordogne.

- Attending the French Open.

- How to Visit the Loire Valley in a Day.

- Other spots we frequented were Honfleur & Deauville — a fishing village and famous umbrellaed beach.

- If you’d like there are lots more French Tourism posts.

Five Affordable Souvenirs to Bring Home from your Trip to France.

On French Souvenirs:

- Five Fabulous French Souvenirs under $5. This one was a mega-hit.

- And here are five more awesome souvenirs..

- I did a series of 3 posts on French pharmacy picks. I started with Gwyneth Paltrow’s recommendations and then tried some of my own picks too.

On French Food:

- Our first post about how we shop and eat in France — written shortly after we moved here.

- All about French dairy products, particularly the lovely containers. This summer, the first thing we put in our fridge was these same yogurts!

- A little bit about the French tradition of Gouter, or afternoon snack.

- What it was like buying eggs from our neighbor. We made a video about this too.

- Our love letter to the French Bakery.

- And this is the last post I wrote about French food — a follow up to our first food post, shared as we were headed home.

I hope you find this list of links helpful. My question for you: Is there anything in particular you’d like to me cover while I’m here this summer? Let me know!

P.S. — Here’s one more sweet post on homesickness.

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Photos and text by Gabrielle. Additional photos by Ben Blair. This post is brought to you by Mealtime Movement.

In the spring, my family took the Mealtime Movement Challenge for two weeks, and it is so good! I think you would love it too! The Mealtime Movement is focused on getting more people to share more connected meals, more often. They believe (and I agree) we’re all better when we eat together. And the challenge comes out of aiming for that goal. I love this movement and I’m totally on board, so I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”

The idea is to use food as a time to connect with your family. Think of “mealtimes” as anytime you enjoy food together — in the car, at sporting events, take out, eat out, wherever you’re eating, whatever you’re eating. Everyone has to eat, and even if it’s not a “wholesome meal at home” you can still make it meaningful. The hope is that this challenge can evolve into a ritual for our families.

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But what is the “challenge” exactly? Well, it’s simply this: using the Expert Tips below as your guide, for two weeks, prioritize making mealtimes a time to connect (and please, define mealtimes as loosely as you’d like).

Expert Tip #1:
Stop the “Why”
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE

“‘Why’ questions often put a person in a defensive mode. In response to a why question, individuals often must justify their belief or provide a rationale for a belief. Switch the why to a WHAT.”

Instead of “Why didn’t you tell me about the situation on the school bus?” ask “What are some reasons you didn’t tell me about the situation on the school bus? “

Family members often need the opportunity to discuss the factors and reasons and have the faith that they are not judged, and can be open and real with each other.

I love the way Dr. Meyer offers us an opportunity to spin language and allow it to give us new ways to open up our communication.

Challenge: For two weeks, make an effort to STOP ASKING WHY and ASK WHAT when sharing food.

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Expert Tip #2:
Try a talking circle
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE

“This Navajo tradition, in which one person shares their rose, bud and thorn for the day is a simple way to connect around a meal.” Rose = something that makes you happy. Bud = something you are looking forward. Thorn = something that is bothering you.

Challenge: Knowing that family rituals create bonds, try this new family exercise for two weeks. And keep trying! It is often the small things that become large emotional connections for families.

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Expert Tip #3:
Open it all up
From Norman Shub,Clinical Director, Gestalt Associates

Want your kids to share with you? Share with them. Vulnerability is taught through osmosis. Kids are fascinated by hearing parents talk about their struggles and mistakes, so share yours to start a conversation about a difficult topic.

Challenge: Air your dirty laundry during these two weeks. Be more open with your family. Tell stories of the past. Pick a day that you tell a family love story. Something shocking about your past. A strange tale. Anything.

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That’s the challenge! And we, the Blair Family, tried it. For two weeks. Yes, we tried this at the dinner table, with the whole family gathered around a lovingly prepared meal. But come on, that doesn’t happen every night. Not even close!

So we also tried this while getting ice cream. And we tried it over a casual meal of rotisserie chicken and pickles and olives and fruit and cheese — eaten around the kitchen island. We tried this getting fast-food at Betty Burger, and at a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Alameda. We tried it during our family Easter dinner, and while getting late night Frosty’s at the drive-thru. Lots of times it was the whole family, but we also tried it when only some of us were around.

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Here are my thoughts. First, I LOVE that the mealtimes could be anytime we were sharing food, no matter how casual. If the challenge had required the whole family to share a sit-down meal every night, that wouldn’t have worked for us. The loose definition of meal made this very doable, but it also got me thinking about how to bring better conversation into our lives on a more regular basis.

I think that was the number one benefit for us. Instead of reserving our conversation rituals for traditional family dinners, this helped me see that if I expand my definition of mealtime, we’ll have many more opportunities to connect. Which is awesome! Speaking of conversation rituals, Expert Tip #2 was a hit. We all like the chance to share our rose, bud, and thorn of the day. If the kids were feeling silly, they would add other flower parts too — they’d share a root, a stem, and a leaf in addition to the rose, bud and thorn. : )

Another thing I loved was that this helped me focus on each child individually and consider what their day had been like, and what was on their mind. Sometimes, it seems like mealtime conversation is dominated by one or two voices — the people who are feeling the most energetic at that moment. But this challenge made sure everyone gets a voice.

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Lastly, I loved Expert Tip #1 and the focus on asking what instead of why. I found that it kept the conversation really open and it prevents a lot of unproductive criticism from creeping in. When no one feels attacked or feels like they’re getting grilled about mistakes, they are excited to join in and take part, confident that they won’t be shot down. So important.

If you want to give it a try, Mealtime Movement had one more bit of advice that I found helpful: “Remember the goal is to have a conversation, not turn it into a lesson. Talk to each other. As the adult, be the leader in asking questions and answering first. Show your loved ones that you are sharing, so they will be brave too.”

What do you think? Would your family be up for a challenge like this? Does your mealtime conversation ever tend to feel stressful? Do you already have conversation traditions in place (like rose, bud, thorn) that make meals more meaningful? What do you think about the other Expert Tips? Do you ever share “shocking” things with your kids from your past? How do you think your kids would respond to trying a challenge like this?

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By Gabrielle.

I found Nathan in his own corner of Instagram, and was instantly intrigued. His bio reads “A family of five galavanting about Mexico in a 1978 VW Bus. Full-time travelin’ types since 2008.” His squares are dusty captures of a life lived on the run — not away from anything, to be sure, but more toward everything. Toward crisp blue bodies of water and hammocks for everyone and space to run and time to explore. Does that make sense? It will after you read Nathan’s compelling interview.

He founded an online magazine dedicated to advising others who want to travel full-time — A Complete Guide to Perpetual Travel, as he calls it — and it’s wonderfully empowering and community-building. Go see. (But first, this tour around his family’s life!)

I’m so excited to share him with you. Welcome, Nathan!

Hi there. My name’s Nathan, and I was the kind of kid who did the math and realized that 18 years of being young and free, then 45 years of working every day all day long, only to get a few more free years at the end when you’re all old and shriveled up — remember, this is ten-year old me talking — didn’t seem like a great plan. I asked around and it turned out that most people agreed that it wasn’t exactly an ideal setup, but that’s just the way it was…

So, I gave in, got a job, quit, got another job, quit, and so on. Then one day while I was eating ramen noodles for the umpteenth time, probably on my sixth job that I hated before I was even 19 years old, I saw an ad for an art school in Pittsburgh. I figured if I had to trade my time for money to make it in this world, I might as well be drawing pictures.

It was while I was sitting around on the campus of this art school that I noticed a young lady looking at me through a window. I was shy, she was even more so. But I wrote a lot of poetry back then and she liked to read, so we sort of hit it off through all of that. It was a lovely autumn spent together as friends.

We went separate ways. Somehow I ended up with a house and a 40-hour a week job at a PBS station and a beautiful young son named Tristan who has gone through a ton of heartache in his life, and despite having a dreamer/hot-tempered dad, remains to this day the most grounded, even-tempered, likable person I’ve ever met.

Meanwhile, Renée, the girl I met in college, went off to backpack around Europe.

What happens next? You’ll see!

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It’s July 4th! To my friends in the States, I hope you’re having a wonderful day filled with parades and picnics and patriotic festivities — and I hope you get to see a jaw-dropping fireworks display tonight. I LOVE watching a good fireworks display.

We enjoyed a gorgeous visit to the American Military Cemetery — it’s built overlooking Omaha Beach and the grounds are simply stunning. Today it was filled with people wanting be here for the 4th of July. We heard lots of different languages and met many fellow Americans. There were choirs performing throughout the day. They would gather and sing at the base of the memorial, which stands at the entrance to the cemetery.

We’ve visited this place many, many times, and it moves me every time. I know the numbers, but seeing all those headstones — more than the eye can take in all at once — is incomprehensible. Today, the kids particularly noticed the graves with the date of July 4th. There are many. Young men who died on this day so many years ago.

While we walked among the graves, an older American man approached Oscar and asked, “Son, what do you think about all this?”. Oscar said, “I think it’s very sad.” The man asked, “Why do you think we still have wars?” Oscar answered, “Because there is still injustice in the world.”

Sigh.

This evening we will have a celebratory feast at home and sing some patriotic songs. Maybe we’ll read the Declaration of Independence too. Sounds perfect!

Happy 4th of July!

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A Few Things

July 1, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. Happy July! How are you? Are you getting ready for an awesome 3-day weekend? What are your plans? Barbeques? Fireworks? Parades? We haven’t made our July 4th plans yet, but I’m thinking a visit to Omaha Beach and the WWII Military Cemetery would be a good and patriotic way to mark the day. In fact, it’s the exact same thing we did for Independence Day 5 years ago. Look at these cute little kids!

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Have you ever been? Maybe we’ll include some visits to other spots along the D-Day Beaches, too — like Pointe du Hoc.

For us, another big thing happening this weekend is switching houses. When we first looked for rental places near our cottage (this was months and months ago), we found a gorgeous home that was available for July and August, and we reserved it right away. But since we arrived in June instead of July, we’ve been renting a different home until the original one is ready for us. And tomorrow we switch!

I’m off to get everyone packed up, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Really good writing. The Uterus Must Go.

- Has physics gotten something really important really wrong?

- Ranking the pain of stinging insects.

- Why constant learners embrace the 5-hour-rule.

- Studies on the effects of the “princess” culture.

30 foot tall day-glow totems. I would LOVE to see these in real life.

- Interesting essay including notes on how dating came to be.

- A solar roadway coming to Missouri. Route 66!

- I’ve read articles predicting the demise of email for years, but this one says You Can’t Kill Email. Thoughts?

- Rape case involving a 13-year-old girl dismissed because her body is “well-developed”.

- An idea about addiction being a type of learning disorder. (NYT)

On burnout. “Can you imagine working the way you do now for the next 10 or 20 years?”

Heart clouds!

I hope you have a marvelous, celebratory, fireworks-filled weekend! Light lots of sparklers for me, please! I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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French Food

June 30, 2016

homemade panna cotta with raspberries and wild strawberries

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

We are coming up to our second weekend in France, and the end of June, and I can hardly believe it. Time is already flying by too fast. There is so much I want to report to you about our time here so far. The plans we made at our meeting with the architect. What it’s like coming back to this place compared to coming here for the first time. The old favorite spots we’ve visited. The new happy spots we’ve explored. Our plans for the next 7 weeks. The friends we’ve met up with. The views. The weather. So much!

But it is very late here — past midnight (I still haven’t gotten on a good French time schedule) and I really need to head to bed. So I will keep it short and just tell you this: the food really is the best here. They spend time on food, they make it a priority, and they eat well. The quality is so much better. I already knew this, but somehow I had forgotten.

Tonight we met friends for dessert at the lovely Caroline’s house, and her daughter made panna cotta, topped with raspberries and wild strawberries from their yard. It was so good, I had two servings!

P.S.  — News from the Oakland remodel too! The contractor sent photos. Post coming.

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Chicken Salad with Blue Diamond Almonds-21

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey JohnsonThis post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. Blue Diamond Almonds understands what it takes to be the best. That’s why they are proud to be an official sponsor of USA Swimming. Visit Lane To Greatness for a chance to win $5,000 to fuel your dreams of greatness (whatever they may be!), get a Blue Diamond Almonds coupon, recipes, and more. 

—– 

We try to stay pretty active all year long, but during June, July and August, it kicks into high gear. Whether it’s a trip to the beach to swim and play volleyball, a long evening walk through the countryside, hanging out at the park having a picnic, or even a full day of yard work, it’s always nice to have a go-to meal to help keep us fueled. I know it may seem like a no-brainer or even kind of funny, but chicken salad — the standby of baby showers and grocery store delis — is a fantastic thing to bring along on an adventure, or keep in your fridge as an after-workout meal.

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This chicken salad includes chopped Whole Natural Blue Diamond Almonds, and uses Greek yogurt with a bit of seasonings as the dressing, making it super protein-packed. The protein (and fiber) help keep us fuller, longer. The yogurt gets major bonus points because it has way more protein than using mayo or sour cream, and you can’t beat that yummy tang. (Thick, plain yogurt is a staple at our house!) And almonds are always on our list of snacks — with loads of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, they are great to keep on hand to chase away the “hangries.”

While we’re eating protein-packed recipes to fuel our workouts and adventures, Blue Diamond is helping fuel Team USA Swimming athletes. Blue Diamond Almonds and USA Swimming both understand what it takes to be the best, which is why Blue Diamond Almonds is proud to be the Official Snack Nut of USA Swimming. And they want to fuel YOU in your “lane to greatness” too! You can visit Lane to Greatness for a chance to win $5,000 to help fuel your dreams of greatness (whatever they may be!), get a Blue Diamond Almonds coupon, recipes, and more.

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Now back to the salad — it’s up to you how to serve it. You can use it to top Romaine leaves or another leafy green, scoop it up with your favorite crackers, or use a few hearty slices of bread, or a whole grain tortilla, to turn it into a sandwich or wrap. You can even add chicken salad to a hollowed out tomato or bell pepper, or serve it on a bed of mixed greens. So many options! And speaking of options, this recipe makes a very good, basic chicken salad. I’ve included some variations below because it’s fun to change things up once in awhile so you don’t get bored. The possibilities are endless.

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It’s a big timesaver to use leftover cooked chicken for this recipe — rotisserie is perfect for this, or you can cook a few extra chicken breasts for dinner one night to use in the salad and get you through with a week’s worth of snacks or lunches. And if you want to turn this into a heartier meal, maybe for dinner, then I recommend serving this up with a side of grilled or roasted veggies to get even more plant-powered goodness into your day. But it’s easy as can be to make ahead and will keep for days and days in the fridge. And it really is one of the best things to pack into your cooler to keep you fueled all season long.

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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By Gabrielle.

I love Lisa’s honesty and charm. She admits she’s committed to a tidy house — she says it’s a Southern hospitality thing, “A home should be picked up so it will feel warm and welcoming to guests.” But she also admits to hiding all the typical family mess behind closet and cabinet doors when she’s getting ready for a photoshoot. I can relate!

This is a lady who really loves her life and has a sense of humor about it all. I’m so happy to share her vivaciousness with you today. Welcome, Lisa!

We are the McDaniel family. If the walls of our Creole cottage could talk, they’d speak of dreams and challenges and hard work. They’d speak of life. And that life would be ours.

Beau is my best friend, business partner, and hubby of nineteen years. (Ya’ll, he’s still the man of my dreams!) Reece, 16, and Aidan Gray, 13, are our sweet, sweet sons, and Lorén is our dreamy-eyed seven-year old daughter. Although our home isn’t a palace or a castle, a princess definitely lives here. We call her Lorénderella!

I almost forgot to mention the newest addition to our family. Dexter is our moose-sized Maltese — 16 pounds! — who trots around our home with the patience of a saint. We often find him being strolled around the park in doll prams, dressed up in dresses, and carried around like a baby. The dear puppy takes it all in stride, as he and Lorén are best buds. I swear he hides angel wings beneath his white fur.

More wisdom and wonderful views, just ahead!

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By Gabrielle.

Want to talk hair today? It’s been ages since I shared a hair post. And this is a good one. In fact, I can’t believe I’ve never told you about this before! It’s a total life saver if you ever need to cover grey roots in a pinch.

I can remember exactly when I first tried it. I was on our 3-week long roadtrip with the whole family. It was a few summers ago and I was wearing my hair very dark and quite long at the time. I had major grey coming in at the roots, but I was ignoring it because I was on the road. Alas, I was also ignoring the fact that on the last leg of the trip we had a wedding to go to.

The morning of the wedding, I made an appointment for a blowout at a drybar in Salt Lake City, and was bemoaning my roots to the stylist. She said, “No worries. I can fix them super fast.” She pulled out this spray and filled them in. It took like 5 seconds and looked amazing! It was like this photo, I swear.

With no additional urging needed, I bought the bottle then and there. It felt like a goldmine and it wasn’t even expensive. From that time forward, whenever I had to stretch the time between color appointments, I would use it. The bottle lasted for ages, but the color was temporary. It would shampoo out the next time I showered. I didn’t like to use it daily, but if I had to be in front of the camera when my roots were starting to come in, it was the perfect quick fix.

During my blonde days, I didn’t use root concealer, and the bottle was sitting forgotten in the back of my cupboard until a couple of weeks ago. My roots needed color in the worst way, but I was waiting till the last possible moment to get my hair colored before we left for the summer. I had an event in San Francisco where I wanted to look my best and was wondering what to do about my hair. And then tada! I remembered the bottle of root concealer. I pulled it out — my original bottle — and took care of business. You can bet I packed it with me for this trip!

I have no idea if it works for dark roots and light hair. But if you have grey/light roots and dark hair it’s pretty dang genius. The only downside: it will come off on your fingers if you scratch your scalp. And it will come off on your pillow case too. So keep that in mind. Otherwise, it’s awesome! Oh and one other tip: with long hair, it was mostly the part on the top of my head where the grey showed and I could apply the root concealer myself, but with short hair there are lots of parts where the grey shows, so I have Maude or Ben Blair help me with any angles where I can’t see what I’m doing.

How about you? Have you ever tried it? Do you have a particular brand that you prefer? There are tons out there, though I’ve only tried Style Edit (and I have no complaints). Any other tricks for stretching the time between hair appointments? Or maybe you’ve embraced the grey and think this whole idea is crazy? I’d love to hear!

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Chateau Bagnole de Lorne

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

We’ve only been in France for a few days and have already seen a handful of castles. I love seeing them! Especially when they’re unexpected, almost hidden away. You’re driving along, happen to glance to your left at just the right time, and a Cinderella tower catches your eye off down the hill. Of course, you then immediately turn the car around and do a little exploring. : )

Though some of the chateaus in the area are still private residences, most seem to be owned by the town or city, or are part of the National Parks & Landmarks system. Many you can even rent out for parties or weddings. As we walk around the grounds or tour the insides, the kids talk about what it would be like to live there. It’s fun to imagine. How many bedrooms are there? Could it fit all the cousins if we lived there? Would we eat in fancy dining rooms instead of the kitchen? Ride around the grounds on horseback? June wonders if the people who lived there wore fancy dresses.

But during this trip, my thinking has shifted a bit. I’ve been listening to an audiobook with Ben Blair called What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. In it, he talks about how an average citizen in our era has a much better quality of life than anyone who lived in these castles — say a hundred years ago. We have easier access to better quality food. We have better hygiene (including toilets and plumbing). We have better access to medical care. We have far better transportation — faster and more comfortable. We can heat or cool our homes easily. We have access to whole libraries of information in our phones.

Though I’d never thought of it myself, I tend to agree, and I find this line of thinking appealing. I’m generally in the camp of the-world-is-amazing-and-gets-better-every-day vs. the-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket (though I admit this political cycle has through me off a bit). What’s your take? Do you agree? Do you think you live better than royalty? Have you ever had the chance to tour a chateau? What did you think of it? Personally, I find the exteriors more appealing than the interiors.

P.S. — I realize the appeal of “royalty” for many people relates more to power and money than it does to quality of life, but I still think the idea that these days most people live better than royalty makes for an interesting shift in thinking.

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A Few Things

June 24, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. Happy Friday! How are you? Did you have a good week? Mine has absolutely flown by. It always does when I’m in a happy place with my family. We’re just so delighted, and feeling so lucky, to be here! As we drove to town yesterday, we saw a sign for a Vide Grenier (it’s like a community tag sale) coming up in our old neighborhood. So we’ve decided that’s our big plan for the weekend. How about you? Anything fun you’re looking forward to?

I’ll keep this update super short (because our wifi hasn’t been restored yet), but I wanted to make sure I shared a few things with you before I sign off:

Xanadu! A few weeks ago I mentioned our dear friend, Chris Clark has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease). Chris is an award-winning play director, and to support him and his family, the original cast of his legendary production of Xanadu is putting on new performances of the show this week and next. Magical! Plus, there’s a silent auction too! Find ticket info and donation info here.

Christo’s newest project. When we lived in New York, our family (along with millions of others) saw Christo’s Gates in Central Park. I love it so much. Have you ever had a chance to see his work? (NYT)

- Woah. I still stunned at this news. Feels like end of days. So awful.

- How to do unemployment right.

- How to fix feminism. (NYT)

- How to escape from a cult in the 21st century.

- Oh my word. So good! Did you see Maya Rudolph’s commercial for Seventh Generation? She’s the best.

- Why I Gave Up on Waiting.

Singing to the dying.

- On the myth of the catty woman. (NYT)

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — We made the most of our 6-hour layover in Stockholm on Tuesday. You can see a photo at top. We took a train into the city and ate a big Swedish feast, then walked around Old Town, listening to live music and taking in the gorgeous city. Such a cool place!

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Normandy!

June 23, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

We’re here! We made it! We are renting a lovely, light-filled home in the lower-region of Normandy — about 2 hours west of Paris. We arrived here yesterday afternoon, unpacked, filled the fridge and cupboards with all of our favorites, napped (darn jetlag!), took a long walk through the countryside in the evening, and stayed up way too late. It doesn’t get dark here until after 10:00 PM, so it didn’t feel that late, but it was.

Today, we drove by our cottage (but didn’t go in because we still need to pick up the keys), and we took the kids to school pickup so they could connect with old friends.

This is just a mini-update to say hello. I’m still processing everything so I can share it with you, but oh my goodness, I didn’t realize how much being here would feel like coming home.

P.S. — During the night, there was a big lighting storm that took out the wifi. Not sure when it will be back on, so I’ll be working at cafés and libraries until it does. Life in the countryside! And I don’t mind one bit.

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By Gabrielle. Limited edition print by Helen Dardick.

Despite a few momentous rough patches, Zoe’s story is a pure delight. I could not stop smiling all the way through, which is such a testament to her storytelling skills and also her inherent positivity.

What a wonderful bunch of words I get to share with you today! Welcome, Zoe.

Gorgeous story, straight ahead.

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blueberry-syrup 7

By Gabrielle.

Do you ever go through fruit phases or obsessions? Sometimes, I seem to go weeks or months at a time only craving one sort of fruit. It’s like grapefruit for miles, and then I lose interest for a couple a years. Or kiwi for months, and then I don’t even notice them again unless the kids make a specific request.

Well, over the past few weeks, it’s been blueberries. I buy the big carton and eat the whole thing. I like them fresh, and small, and tart-sweet. Oh, and firm. If they’re even a tiny bit squishy, they are relegated to the “save for smoothies” pile and put in a freezer bag.

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So when Liz Berget told me she had a delicious, simple, blueberry syrup recipe, I asked her to send it over. She shares the easy recipe — and suggestions for what she eats it with — below. But before we jump into the details, I’d love to hear: what are your fruit cravings these days? And do your kids have any favorites? Blueberries bring strong opinions out of my kids. For example, Oscar adores them and always has. But Betty doesn’t like them at all. How about you?

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Sleep Number®. 

For many years when we first became parents — especially the three-kids-age-4-and-under phase — we set early bedtimes for our children. Like really early. Like 5:30 PM early. 6:00 at the latest. It’s almost hard for me to imagine it now, because our life is so different these days, but at the time, nap schedules and bedtimes were a big deal for us.

Especially when they were little, my kids really soaked up their sleep. They would wake up, be busy, busy, busy, then zonk out for naps, then be busy, busy, busy until 5:00 dinner. After that it was baths and bedtime stories, and then they were out for the night. We’re talking 12 to 15 hours of sleep total (naps + night sleep) over a 24 hour period. Sleep is how they recharged for their very busy lives as two-year-olds. : )

At times, our regular sleep schedule made things awkward and was disruptive. We were fine doing social things after 7:00 PM — we’d get a sitter and feel confident that our kids would be asleep the whole time we were gone. But if there was a party or family gathering that took place during the 5:00 to 7:00 range, we would usually leave early, or decline to attend. I remember getting side-eye from other mothers, and even relatives, thinking we were ridiculous and that our sleep schedule was too strict. And maybe we were ridiculous.

But though it wasn’t always ideal, the strict sleep schedule offered huge benefits for us. From what I could determine, all that sleep made for happy, good-natured kids, or at least seemed to help in a big way! At some point I connected the dots that if my kids were acting out, they were probably tired. (I should have assumed this from the beginning, because I’m the same way. For me, exhaustion and bad manners are directly correlated.)

In addition to feeling like I was helping my kids be their best selves, I also LOVED having quiet evenings where I could work on my own projects. In fact, without early bedtimes, I don’t think I ever would have managed to start Design Mom.

So now I’m curious. What time do you put your kids to bed? Is it a specific hour? Or does it range depending on the evening? And have you ever instituted early bedtimes for your kids? If yes, did it work for your family? Why am I asking? Two reasons: First, I love conversations about sleep — since it’s a universal thing we experience as humans, everyone has an opinion or thought to share, and in the conversations, I seem to always learn another way of thinking, another point or view, or another way to approach life.

The second reason is because, as I mentioned in March, I’m delighted to be partnered with Sleep Number®. I’ll be hosting 4 sleep-centered discussions this year and today’s post is the second one. You may already know this, but Sleep Number is the leader in sleep innovation and was ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Mattresses” in 2015 by J.D. Power. They are dedicated to providing solutions that offer quality sleep.

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What kind of innovations? Lots! Here are three: 1) Sleep Number created a bed that allows couples to adjust the mattress firmness on each side of the bed. One person favors super firm, the other likes super soft? No problem! It’s no surprise the Sleep Number bed was named Best Bed for Couples by a leading consumer magazine.

2) Sleep Number beds are available with SleepIQ® technology — sensors inside the mattress measure average breathing rate, average heart rate, and movement to show you the quality of your sleep and help you make adjustments to make your sleep even better. Sleep IQ is super easy to use. Nothing to wear, nothing to turn on. All you have to do is sleep.

3) Sleep Number innovates for kids as well! They have a whole section of products focused on helping kids get better sleep — like their Sleep IQ Kids™ bed. It’s a smart bed that adjusts with your kids as they grow, and it has an optional head-tilt feature which is perfect for those nights when they have a stuffy nose.

Want to check out their innovations for yourself? You can find the nearest store here, and find out about new offers and promotions here.

The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom

These days, we still have set bedtimes but they are much later. 5:30 PM isn’t even an option for us any more, and that’s fine. Instead, the goal is just consistency. Keeping to a regular schedule as much as possible makes a big difference for us. There are still exceptions — nights were we don’t make it home until later — but we aim for a regular schedule and we mostly make it.

How about you? Have you found it harder to keep a set bedtime as your kids get older? Or maybe you have a baby or toddler who seems to be schedule-resistant? Also, if you had to rank the importance of diet, exercise and sleep on how they influence your health, what would you put first? (No surprise, I would put sleep first. I love my sleep!)

P.S. — Sleep Number did a survey about American Kids and sleep. Here are the results.

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Karen E. Photography.

Diane is a person who doesn’t like to waste time. I quite enjoy that quality in people, don’t you? And, in fact, Diane possesses a truckful of enviable qualities I could either list from one to one hundred — or you could just read the words she’s left here with us today.

If you’re feeling not-so-strong, I encourage you to stick around for Diane. If you’re feeling scared or alone or overwhelmed, please stay. This is one to read now and come back to later. I promise. Welcome, Diane. I am so glad you’re here.

My name is Diane and I don’t like to beat around the bush. Ha! How’s that for an introduction? Chit-chat makes me uncomfortable, I don’t have a poker face, and I am compelled to acknowledge the elephant in the room. He’s too distracting! I’m a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom who is a tomboy at heart yet loves a maxi dress on occasion. I can’t live without my running shoes and feel freest on the trails at sunrise.

I created this unbelievable family with my soft-spoken, brilliant husband, Will, who is wise beyond his years (which are three less than mine) and utterly unflappable. He can grow a five o’clock shadow well before noon, and I am lucky to have him as the captain of my pompom squad. Like any smart girl who was raised by a wonderfully supportive father, I looked for the boy who was most like him and then I married him.

When Will and I were engaged, I said, “I want to have two girls so we can give them each one of our sisters’ names.” It’s like I proclaimed it from that moment! Dylan Christine was the first and nothing makes me happier than the special bond she shares with my confidante and sister, Chrissy. Dylan has always been acutely observant and very emotionally intelligent. She thrives on social interaction and asked at two years old to go to school so she could “play with little boys and little girls.” Story time at the library simply wasn’t enough! Dylan truly smiles from her heart and I could stare into her blue-gray eyes for the rest of my life and be happy.

Taylor Camille is our little goof who giggles when she toots and then turns around and proclaims that she is never ever eating dinner again. I don’t know if my sister-in-law, Cami, wants to lay claim to either of these traits! But Taylor will hug and kiss you until you feel that everything is right with the world. She is immensely creative, innately funny, and she is going to blaze her own trails for sure. Taylor was simply born with a confidence that is written all over her face, and when she catches my eye and flashes a knowing wink, my heart melts every time.

Diane’s story, straight ahead. You won’t want to miss it.

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Flying to France

June 20, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from the Oakland Airport! Our bags are checked. We’ve gone through security. Water bottles are filled. Snacks are at hand. We have about 30 minutes till our flight boards. Then it’s on to Paris, France!

But before we get to France, we have a longish layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Ben Blair and I spent a lovely week in Sweden two summers ago, but our kids have never been, so we’re hoping to take a little adventure while we’re there. Then, we have a short flight to Paris. Our flight arrives around 8:30 in the evening; we’ll rent a car and head straight to a hotel for the night (with a possible fieldtrip to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle). Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to Normandy — it’s about a 3 hour drive to our destination.

That’s a lot of different stops and transitions in a short time — I’ve tried to forewarn the kids that they are very likely going to feel crabby and impatient before we actually get to our destination. But it’s worth it: Two whole months of our family being together. Heaven!

We’re all super excited. Lots of reminiscing and anticipation going on — we’ve been going through our old travel photos and watching some of the Olive Us videos we filmed in France (like Betty in Paris).

Crossing our fingers for smooth travel! Feel free to follow along on Instagram.

P.S. — I did my first Facebook Live video cast just before we left the house today. I gave a little tour of our master bedroom and bath — it’s going to be transformed while we are away! So if you want a peek at the “before” you can check it out.

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A Few Things

June 17, 2016

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Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? Ben Blair and the 5 oldest arrived home around late last night (delayed flight), exhausted but happy. Another terrific Cousins Week under their belts! They are sleeping in (as they should be), but when they wake up, we will be in full prep mode for our big summer trip to France.

While they sleep in, I’m heading to my stylist for a trim and a color (just my roots, nothing fancy). This is the last possible appointment I could get before the trip — my stylist put it on the calendar two months ago so that I wouldn’t forget. She knows me so well! We’re hoping my cut will last for the whole two months so I don’t have to worry about it while I’m there. And she’s sending me with some hair color so that I can touch up my roots myself. She’s the best!

The rest of the prep will mostly be laundry and packing and cleaning the house. Plus a handful of errands. And then a few tasks that I haven’t remembered yet. I’m feeling quite calm about the whole thing, but it’s very possible that I’m fooling myself and will panic sometimes between now and Monday afternoon. : )

I’m off to my appointment now, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- This poem is beautiful and has me crying really hard.

- Read this for sure. I was never raped, but

Meet a Muslim.

- Cute! Grandma’s well-mannered searches.

- Turns out many brands that market exclusively to women have few or no women among their executives or on their boards.

- I’m pretty sure I’ve shared this before, but in case you haven’t seen it yet, this is a smart, fair, video discussing the complexities of the gun problem in America. One quote from near the end: ”Depression with a gun is more dangerous than depression without one. Likewise, fights, domestic disputes, road rage, drunkenness — all much more dangerous with a gun than without.”

- The Mediocre Mom’s Guide to Raising a Child With Down Syndrome.

- Do we ever make time to sit and think anymore? (NYT)

- Today’s teens smoke less, drink less, and have sex less than any teens on record.

- Marimekko! How it became a women design powerhouse.

- I know this wonderful couple (and their darling kids) from Alt Summit and I’m heartbroken about what they’re going through.

Aliens! (NYT)

- The Small Animal That’s Making a Big Difference for Women in the Developing World.

- Happy Friday!

I hope you have an amazing weekend. Happy Father’s Day to all the good men in our lives! As I’ve mentioned, we’re headed to France on Monday and I won’t be at my laptop, but I have some great stuff scheduled. So meet me back here next week. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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