Brick-Press Cooking

June 16, 2015

Blue Apron Brick Pressed Chicken02

Text and photos by Gabrielle (a few by Ben Blair too!). This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get two meals free on your first order! See details below.

More Blue Apron love! I’m working with Blue Apron through 2015, and I’ll be posting about them once each quarter. This is my second post this year (and I wrote about them twice last year as well). I know that’s a lot of Blue Apron, but I’m a BIG fan. Their particular offerings might not be a good fit for every family, but they have been a total godsend for mine! Especially these last few months when I’ve had an unusually packed travel schedule.

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It’s a comfort knowing that ingredients for a healthy, nutrient-packed dinner will be arriving on my family’s doorstep, even when I’m not there to do the grocery shopping.

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If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you probably already know this, but if not, let me tell you about Blue Apron. It is awesome! Essentially, it’s farm-fresh ingredients for chef-designed recipes, delivered to your door. No trips to the grocery store, and no extra ingredients, just the exact portions you need for each recipe. And speaking of recipes, an easy-t0-follow, photographic recipe card is included with each box.

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Boxes arrive with three meals per week, and the price is $9.99 per person with always free shipping. Blue Apron has just launched in Texas and now delivers to most of the country. They offer a large selection of recipes and they add new dishes to their menu every week — and you can access all the recipes online, even if you’re not a customer.

If you’d like to give it a try, I’ve got an deal for you: The first 100 readers will get two meals off their first Blue Apron order FREE! Just click here.

Click here to see how the brick press method works!


By Gabrielle.

Rachael Bailey has the cutest kitchen table that would match my piano perfectly, and her canning jars remind me of my childhood, canning fruit in the kitchen with mom. Also, we all need a striped wall or two. And maybe a closet bed for a tiny one.

The mental list I made as I slotted photos in this tour and read Rachael’s words made me hopeful and more than a little grateful about these tours. I wonder if they’ve pushed you to make changes, big and little, in your own homes? I sure hope you can think of at least two things our homeowners have shared that are now on your own lists!

As for my ever-growing list, it may now include a cute chicken coop, too. And maybe five Gertrudes. Or at the very least, one small dragon reading on my couch! Welcome, Rachael!

There are a lot of us! My husband Neil is a talented whizzbang of a mechanical engineer finishing up the last year of his doctoral degree. I describe myself as a career mother, but I teach tech and business writing classes part-time at the university and run my own editorial consulting business on the side. I work when the children are asleep and spend my days building Lego rocket ships, snuggling up to read picture books, running through the woods, and experimenting in the kitchen.

We have two sweet girls: Abigail is nine and Juliet is seven. Then we have three adorable boys right in a row: Isaac is five, Luke is three, and Nathan is a keeps-us-all-on-our-toes two. Last but not least, we share our space with Hermes, our orange tabby cat, and ten friendly backyard hens (Yoda, Speckle, Apple, Gloria, Bok-Bok, and five Gertrudes!) As you may or may not have guessed, my children have named all of our animal friends.

We moved here just when the housing market was bottoming out and our area was absolutely flooded with foreclosures. We were lucky enough to both have parents and grandparents who had turned over to us sizable funds for our college educations that we’d never ended up using, thanks to scholarships, so we decided to put that money towards a down payment.

The home that we live in now is actually the very first one we looked at. Our realtor told us that it was way out of our price range, but was certainly the nicest one on the market, and she wanted to give us an idea of what a really lovely foreclosure could look like before she took us to look at all of the ones we could actually afford – and oh, they were awful! I remember crying as we left one listing that smelled like animal urine and had a random wall built through the living room so that if you turned on the ceiling fan it would collide with the wall, and I couldn’t help comparing it with the first dreamy listing we’d seen! Of course, that home had sold within days, but then our realtor called a week later to let us know that it was back on the market with a substantially lower asking price; apparently the bank was desperate to unload it. We finally made an offer that was far below the already-lowered asking price, and we got it! The whole process was so fast, and we moved in just three weeks after we’d begun looking at homes.

We live in north-central Indiana. Our proximity to Chicago allows us to spend weekends in amazing museums, but our community is the perfect mix of hip college town and down-to-earth farming community. I can hit an organic farmers’ market nearly any day of the week on my way home from taking my kids to the free ceramics classes funded by our local arts federation, and my kids are always going on field trips to the age-appropriate plays at the university. Our landscape was molded by glaciers, so there are beautiful wooded ravines in between the miles of rustling cornfields.

The kitchen table styled a little differently! Just ahead.


The Cottage Spring15

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. The Cottage! If you’re new here, you may not even know this, but right before we left France, we bought a little cottage. It’s essentially the shell of a very old farmhouse. No electricity. No bathrooms. But we have BIG plans for it. I haven’t written a ton about the cottage, but there are a few posts. If you’re curious, you can find them all here.

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About a year ago, I realized I hadn’t given you a tour of the property yet, and it’s been on my list ever since. In fact, I mentioned it again on my New Year’s post. Well, it’s JUNE! And I’m finally getting around to the tour. Related, I’m still quite baffled at how quickly these last two years have disappeared. I suppose the first year was mostly taken up with my mental health issues (dang, that was rough), and I realize the second year back in the States has been all about my book. And of course throughout both of those years there were a million other projects going on — including improvements to The Cottage! But still, I feel like I haven’t had brain space for this project in ages. And suddenly, I do.

The Cottage Spring02

Two years! Has it really been two years since I’ve been back to France? I think it feels shorter because Ben Blair has been back, and because Ralph & Olive both spent last fall there. But all the same, I’m aching for a return trip. Plane ticket prices look decent in the fall, so I’m thinking about how to make something work — but that’s a topic for another post.

The Cottage Snow03 The Cottage Snow02

Anyway, I have dozens of cottage photos to share with you. And I can already tell you that some of you will see these images and feel overwhelmed at all the work that is required. While others will see the photos and feel itchy to tackle a similar project!

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When I look at these photos, I feel nothing but excitement! Especially when I see the work we did last year — we replaced the roof and repaired the walls so that they are structurally sound (and by we, I mean we hired it out, under the supervision of our amazing architect).

The difference is so striking! And now, I can’t wait to transform the rest of the house!

Here’s a room by room tour, starting with the door on the far left:

Loads of photos, just ahead!


A Few Things

June 12, 2015

Design Mom Pink Wig

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello there, Friends! How are you? What a fun week this has been! I traveled to Salt Lake City on Sunday and have been here for Alt Summer all week. It was a really, really good conference! I can’t wait to tell you more about it, but if you’d like a sneak peek, I’ve been posting on Instagram — you can see that I went lighter with my hair (a big thanks to Aubrey Nelson, the master or platinum), and I also tried a pink wig for last night’s party!

I should tell you that I totally had plans to post daily on Design Mom this week — I typically do during Alt Summit. In fact, this is the 11th Alt Summit conference I’ve put on, and I’ve always continued to post while I’m at the conference. But this time, my schedule was simply more packed than usual and I just couldn’t make it happen. Thanks for your patience with my radio silence! I’m heading home today, and I’ll be back to regular posting on Monday.

Of course, I can’t wait to get home! I miss Ben Blair and the kids like crazy. Before I go pack up, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share:

- Did you see the #distractinglysexy hashtag? The responses are making me laugh like crazy! Here’s the back story.

- Missed Connections for jerks.

- A single dad discovers maxi pads. Thoughts on this one? Thanks, Tracy.

- Liquid 3D printer. Wow!

- Whoa. Scientists just found out how to cut-and-paste DNA for less than the price of a pair of sneakers.

- Overloaded vehicles from around the world.

- A good read on gratitude: My father has Alzheimer’s, but it’s far from the nightmare you probably think it is.

- Kevin Spacey impersonating Christopher Walken auditioning for Han Solo.

- Our we tuning our instruments wrong, and can we blame the Nazis?

- Hah! Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are making a Lifetime movie?

- Hair printing sounds fascinating.

- Thinking of summer. Let’s all make tricycle car washes.

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


P.S. — My birthday is on Sunday, but so far, I have zero plans to celebrate. I need to think of something fun to do!


By Gabrielle.

There might already be a major change in the home we’re about to peek into today, if Rachel and Pete’s new baby has arrived! Newborn or not, there are still a lot of lovely additions to this home to inspire us, especially if we imagine this London space with its original brown carpet, magnolia walls, and dingy baseboards. (You’ll see the before of the kitchen, and I bet you’ll utter something along the lines of “Eek!”) Rachel and Pete have done so much to brighten it all up, and she has much to warn us about when tackling DIY while pregnant…and not particularly skilled in the first place!

She’s got a lot to share, and I hope you enjoy it all just as much as I did. Welcome, Rachel!

Hi! I’m Rachel, currently pregnant with my second child. I live with my partner, Pete, and two-and-a-half year old son, George, in the middle of the glorious melting pot that is Brixton, home to one of the best markets in London.

Pete teaches physics at a nearby secondary school, and I work with his sister on their Thai street food business, Bangwok. It means that I get to work from home doing all the paperwork, strategizing and organizing required to run a street food business. So much paperwork!

We really appreciate the impact that not having to commute or work long hours has had on our quality of life. It makes a huge difference! I’m also hoping it will help make the transition to two children easier, as those wonderful school holidays mean that Pete will be around lots.

George is our bright, inquisitive, loud toddler. His auntie recently pointed out that he does not stop talking, and now we really notice it! I don’t mind really, though. It’s kind of incredible to be able to have proper conversations with your child, isn’t it?

Since moving to London – we both went to Oxford University – Pete and I have always lived in Brixton. At first it was because it was affordable and had great transport links, which is very important in London. But over the past seven years, it’s really become home. It’s funny what you get used to; it’s so full of people, colour, and noise, but we don’t even notice it now.

Brixton has always been an edgy, culturally diverse place to live. But in the past three or four years, it’s undergone a real transformation. In an effort to regenerate an old part of the famous market, loads of new eateries have opened and it has quickly become one of the trendier places in London.

Thankfully, we started looking to buy just before everyone else had the same idea and prices shot up. The whole process was such an eye opener. I started off keen to live in one of the lovely Victorian houses in the centre of Brixton and I was all about period features, but we quickly realized just how much you pay for those extra touches. As Pete pointed out, we could put in our own fireplace or wooden floors and not pay the £50,000 extra it seemed to add to a house price!

Pete and I are real homebodies, so more than anything, it was important to find somewhere that we wanted to spend a lot of time and for that we were willing to compromise on location. In the end, we ended up buying just outside Brixton. The location and the fact that the flat was tired and needed a reasonable amount of work meant that we got it for a good price. Actually, being a little bit out of Brixton works perfectly for us as it’s quieter and we’re near a couple of great parks (which is so important with a little one), but we can still walk to Brixton in about ten minutes. I love that everything we need is only a walk away: parks, cafes, shops.

The dreaded before kitchen shot, just ahead!


A Few Things

June 5, 2015

spare change

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? We are feeling good at the Blair house! Just 4 more days of school next week — and they’re half days! The whole family is feeling quite celebratory — and Golden State won last night, so that’s adding to the celebration vibes.

We have some traveling going on too. Ralph is at The Tetons this weekend and will be at Yellowstone next weekend, working on videos for the Vacation Races half marathons. And I’m heading to Salt Lake City on Sunday for Alt Summer. Which means today, I need to start packing. (Side note: I find that I enjoy packing for Alt Winter, far more than Summer Alt. Turns out I favor cold-weather clothes more than warm-weather clothes. How about you?)

I’m off to pull out my suitcase, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- The perfect roadtrip.

- How do you end your emails?

- Is Pinterest Stress a real thing for you?

- Japanese man turns plastic to oil at home (the magic happens from 1:15 to 3:00 of the video).

- So funny! Oscar had us listening to this on repeat.

- I just heard about #ByeFelipe — it’s an Instagram account and hashtag that shows the reaction of men who have been ignored or declined — and have been shaking my head for like a week. (Warning: Not for your kids!)

- The futuristic computer interface in movies like IronMan and Minority Report is now real?

- “No one can figure out my bra size.” So informative!

- Girls rule in this Indian village.

- How Connie Schultz built a unique community on Facebook.

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


P.S. — Just curious: What do you do with your spare change? Mine was gathering dust, so I brought it to a Coinstar machine at the grocery store the other night. It was my first time using a machine like that, and I found it oddly satisfying to hear it sort the coins and spit out the foreign ones. Instead of cash, I chose Amazon credit. Turns out there was over 30 bucks in those old jars!


By Gabrielle.

I’m fascinated by Emily’s life. As a nanny currently caring for two little ones in Washington, D.C., her life sounds equal parts Nanny McPhee and The Pacifier: magical and incredibly nurturing, with a bit of danger thrown in. (She is potty-training one of her charges, after all, and they try to go stroller-free in the city as often as possible!)

After over two years with the same children, Emily’s job will soon come to an end. And, as you can imagine, this is going to be a difficult transition for all involved. Meeting them when they were just four months old, and working through all the day-to-day, minute-to-minute happenings with two babies who soon begin crawling and then become walking and talking toddlers, and then throw in naps and teaching all the words and trying to help them fall asleep and not miss their parents so much…oh, my. It’s a lot. I don’t know how she’s going to say goodbye!

This is a job that feels strangely like real life. As she explains it, she is not their parent but she is responsible for all the tiny routines that make up their childhood. And if she thinks too much about leaving them in the Fall, she cries. Oh, my. It’s a lot.

I really hope you love this tour through Emily’s day! I sure did. Welcome, Emily!

Hello there! I’m a 25 year old living and working in Washington, D.C. – the neighborhood of Petworth to be specific. Petworth is an up and coming neighborhood full of life long residents and young families, which is exactly what brings me to the area. I’m a full-time nanny for two two-year olds. And no, the answer to the most commonly asked question is that they are not in fact twins, just neighbors! We have what’s called a nanny share. I watch both kids at one house from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. I’ve been with them since they were four months old, so it’s coming up on two years in July.

Oh, her nicknames for her charges! Too cute!



Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Sugru.

Okay you guys, you are about to have your minds blown. Sugru is the most useful DIY tool you’ve probably never heard of! It’s like what you would get if play dough and superglue had a baby, and it’s winning all sorts of awards (it was named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions) and getting tons of recognition (like being called “21st Century Duct Tape” by Forbes) because it’s very, very cool.

Basically, Sugru is a moldable glue that feels like play dough but sticks to pretty much everything — if it’s made of wood, plastic, glass, metal, ceramic or fabric, Sugru will probably stick to it (and it’s removable too, just in case). When you first open a packet, you can squish and mold it with your fingers, then, once you wait 24 hours, it changes into a strong, flexible rubber.

I used it to fix a bunch of things around my house, and I can tell you, it makes fixing things really easy, and really, really fun. And I didn’t just fix things — Sugru enabled me to improve objects so that they work the way I want. Here are 3 projects from around my house:

Frayed cord? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too. Frayed cord? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too. Frayed cord? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too.

1) I used it to fix my broken laptop cord. So fantastic! A replacement cord can run over $70. Instead, I used a packet of Sugru priced at $1.50 — and I didn’t even need the whole pack! Note: If you’re repairing a cord, Sugru must only be used on cables under 24v.

Broken strap? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too. Broken strap? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too. Broken strap? Sugru can fix it! And it can fix a ton of other things too.

2) I used it to fix the broken handle on a flashlight. I love this little lantern/flashlight! But the handle broke on one side. I tried to superglue it last month, and was bummed when it didn’t take. But no fear, Sugru to the rescue! It worked perfectly for the fix.

Use Sugru to add a hook to your trashcan lid, so you can hang it on the side of the trashcan. Use Sugru to add a hook to your trashcan lid, so you can hang it on the side of the trashcan. Use Sugru to add a hook to your trashcan lid, so you can hang it on the side of the trashcan.

3) I used it to improve our trashcan. We have a small trashcan from Ikea that came with a hook on the lid, so that you can hang the lid on the side of the can when needed. But our larger trashcan doesn’t have a hook on it’s lid, and I’ve always wished it did. When we’re cleaning the kitchen, I like to leave the trashcan lid open so that it’s easy to drop in items, but if I set the lid on the floor, it ends up getting in the way. So I used Sugru to make a hook! Now the lids of both trashcans are able to hang on the side of the can. Awesome!!

Pretty awesome right? I don’t really even know how to explain it. It’s a kind of 3D glue,­ and it’s totally unique. I think you’ll love it! Want to know more? You can find tons of project ideas and inspiration at the Sugru homepage, and you can check out my favorite Sugru tutorials here. Ready to try it? You can find it at Target stores nationwide. Find your nearest store here.

Now to the giveaway! Sugru is offering a $250 Target gift card as the prize. Woo hoo!! To enter, click over to the Sugru website, pick out your favorite project, and tell me what it is in a comment below. The giveaway ends on June 8th. Good luck!

P.S. — Giveaway is for US residents only. 


Tracy Davis is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Reading Weekend

June 3, 2015

Image and text by Gabrielle. Remember Baby June?

Last month, I mentioned that we scheduled a “reading weekend” for our family, and I receive several inquiries wanting more info, so I thought it would be fun to give you a little rundown of what we did.

The idea came about because we’ve missed reading books as a family. We read to the younger kids at bedtime. And all of the kids read on their own (except little June who is just starting to learn). But we used to read more books as a family, and we feel like we used to read more books overall (Ben Blair and I included). I think that everyone has been so busy lately, that our reading habits have changed for the worse. Anyway, Ben got the idea of dedicating a weekend just to reading, and I thought that was genius.

Of course, we considered hosting this at home, but we knew we would be too distracted with errands and household tasks and regular schedules. The kids too! So we decided to go to a hotel. We picked a non-touristy spot that was only about 45 minutes away, so that we could get hotel rooms at a decent price. Then, we put together on a schedule, and considered what might work for June, who as I mentioned, is not an independent reader yet.

Full itinerary, and a list of what we read, when you keep reading!


By Gabrielle.

What if you and your family were asked to move every two years? Just pack up your life and head to another home that was chosen for you without even a consideration that the tiny master bedroom might not fit your king bedroom set or that perhaps you wanted a bigger kitchen with an island? Some people would wholeheartedly love the adventure of it all, while others might politely respond, “No, thank you. I’m just fine right here.”

It’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? Because what if you fall madly in love with your faraway location and home and all the friends you’ve turned into family, only to face the fact that you’ll be leaving everything you adore in two short years? It’s not an option to stay, certainly not for Liz’s family who is following the career path of a Naval Flight Officer. So what do you do? How do you turn a temporary situation into a pretend permanent one, and then hope your kids are able to do the same? Luckily, Liz is here to share her experience and her family’s temporary home in Japan with us. It sure looks permanent! Welcome, Liz!

Hello, everyone! I’m Liz. We are a family of five but only four of us live here;  our oldest, Adan, flew from our nest almost two years ago. Dave, my husband, is a Naval Officer, and I am a stay at home mother. Dave was a Naval Flight Officer when we met and I was a single mother of a sweet little boy working as a Chiropractic assistant. He lived on the East Coast and I lived on the West. God decided we needed a major change in our lives, so he brought us together at a Naval Aviation convention in Reno and two years later Dave asked both my son and me if we would marry him. I said yes with tears streaming down and legs of jello, and my little boy said yes with a huge smile and a couple of missing teeth.

Our new family began when my father and Adan, who was seven at the time, both walked me down the aisle.  In the twelve years that we’ve been married, we have had two more children, added a pup to our lives, moved every two years serving our country, lived overseas twice (three, if you count Hawaii. Because Hawaii felt like we were living overseas), and have lived in seven different homes. In a few months, we will be moving to our next location and our next home once again. We are going back to the United States.

Adan is our first and oldest at nineteen. He moved to Pittsburgh after high school to go to college and to work. He is not the little boy I speak about above as he is a young man now, but in my heart he remains that little boy. He is a natural musician and writer and loves reading. He self taught himself guitar as a young boy and can write a song beautifully in no time, strum his fingers and sing to you, and I promise you will have tears in your eyes. He has melted my heart that way many times and he probably used it to his advantage when he was a teen and wanted something from me! He knows his mother quite well. Dave and I are looking forward to seeing what he will do one day as the world is wide and open to him right now with so many possibilities.

Everett is our six year old. He started kindergarten last year and I tell everyone who asks how he is doing that he is still in the honeymoon phase of school. He wakes up excited for school and has the biggest smile when I pick him up every s-i-n-g-l-e day. He is oh so very sensitive and caring. He dislikes seeing others hurt in any way and picks up on peoples feelings very easily. He claims to be part Japanese as he has come to love this country of Japan, and says he never wants to leave. He loves books, books, books, and anything to do with dinosaurs, maps, space, how the world works, nature, and trains.

After living with three males and pregnant, I was content knowing I could have another boy. I LOVE boys and always felt like I was a Boy-Mom. All my children’s’ sexes were surprises to the very end, so when my midwife told me “take your baby” and I saw that I had a baby girl, I melted and cried, melted and cried. Alexandra is four years old and her nickname is “Cookie.” I named her after a movie I saw when I was ten years old that impacted me deeply, about a little girl who was strong, courageous, bold, loved deeply, wore dresses and jeans, got muddy and dirty, loved her father and mother, and had an understanding of life beyond her tender years.

More wisdom and wonderful views, just ahead!



By Gabrielle.

It’s always fun to start the week with a giveaway — and there are Four winners on this one! That’s right, I have 4 prize packages up for grabs, each one with at least 9 items! And each of the items is something we featured in the gift bags at the Design Mom Book Tour stops.

As you know, there were Design Mom Book Parties across the country, and at each event, the gift bags were different — the number of items, and the items themselves. But the thing they had in common is that every bag was awesome!

Of course, there are so many readers who couldn’t attend the tour stops, but I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to join in the fun. So I’ve been saving a whole bunch of items from the gift bags, and I’ve put together 4 big prize packages!

If you win one of the 4 gift bags, you’ll find a 9-item mix of the following items inside:

Gift Bag Image 1

My Mind’s Eye metallic banners, felt flowers from Blumen Zoo, Start Creative Doodle Books, Lazer cut jewelry from Bon Mot, Prints from Three Letter BirdsPetit Puzzles from Petit Collage.

Gift Bag Image 2

Modern Urbio pots, bowties and hair bows by Roscoe & Sage, Honest Hand Sanitizer, GiantSuper deluxe Flash Cards, Ancestor print from Light & Ink, Oakland-themed cards by Noteify.

Gift Bag Image 3

Wrappily wrapping paper, Hello Shiso accessories, Necklaces from Scout & DaughtersWoven Pear Socks, baby scarves, booties, mittens, socks and hats from MimiTensEeboo pipe cleaners.

See what I mean by awesome? So much good stuff! To enter the giveaway, check out some of the awesome prizes and leave a comment below. Four winners will be announced on Thursday. Good luck!

P.S. — Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of my book. I truly appreciate your feedback — every comment, every Amazon review, and every email. Thank you!


Lisa, Sandra, Joanne and Dawn are the lucky winners. Thanks for playing!

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A Few Things

May 29, 2015

Iris Award Red Carpet Gabrielle Blair

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. This was such a good week! I have loved (and to continue to love) your comments on my post about “going off script”. It’s so delightful to read about your paths to higher education. The sheer variety of experiences is inspiring! So thank you for chiming in.

I also feel like this is the first week in a long time where I started to feel like I was back on my usual schedule. I loved it! All these years later and I still love blogging. Which reminds me, something really wonderful happened to me weeks ago, but my schedule has been so nuts, that I think I’m just processing it now. While I was at the Mom 2.0 Summit, I received such an honor — I was given the Iris Award for Blog of the Year!

Iris Award Gabrielle Blair

Holy moly. This was completely unexpected. In fact, I was at the very back of the room eating dinner — I had presented an award earlier and assumed I was done with stage duties for the evening. When my name was called, it took me a bit to realize what was happening. I was so slow to respond they thought I must be out of the room on a bathroom break and sent someone to find me. Hah!

As I walked to the stage, people whispered such kind things to me, and as I passed Whit Honea, he urged me to walk slowly and take it all in. I was super emotional — I started crying before I even got to the microphone. I don’t remember much of what I said that evening as I accepted the award (I wish I had a video!), but I remember naming each of my kids and Ben Blair, and the next day, I saw a tweet quoting me as I ended with something like: Parenting got a lot better for all of us, when blogging came to be.

Another  lovely thing: While I was at the microphone, Laurie Smithwick texted Ben Blair and told him about the award, so when I got back to my seat and looked at my phone, there were a bunch of texts from Ben and the kids congratulating me and cheering me on. I started crying all over again, and quickly snuck out to the hallway so I could call them.

Blog of the Year! What a night!!

Of course, any award is fun to receive, but an award like this, where I was acknowledged by my peers, means so much to me. I really did feel so honored. Thanks for letting me tell you about it.

And now, back to our regular programming. Here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- A report from my dear friend Laura Mayes who lives in the flood plain in Central Texas. (Plus a list of how you can help!)

- Sketching Sleeping Beauty. Thanks, Maude.

- A local florist purchased 2 very run down houses in Detroit for $500. Her plan is to fill the house with flowers for a weekend in October, responsibly tear them down and rebuild a flower farm on the land. Thanks, Julie.

- Make your own slate cheese board for $3!

- Motherhood in the Upper East Side. Have you lived there? Do you think this is accurate?

- Airplane passengers as explained by their pants. (Also, did you see the McSweeney’s kickstarter?)

- A comic strip about privilege.

- Dear Teen Me — a list of 5 boys not to kiss.

- American’s oldest active park ranger.

- Living room before and after with built-in shelves.

- Junk food looking fancy.

- Wow! The San Francisco Chronicle published a two-page feature about my book. Awesome!

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


P.S. — You can see tons of images from the Iris Awards ceremony and the Mom 2.0 conference here. One behind the scenes side note: My arms and legs were totally covered with poison oak during the conference, so finding a dress that would cover me without looking too wintery (it was like 90 degrees at the conference) was a challenge! But I found the red dress on Rent the Runway and it worked perfectly. Also, the photo at top is me and Jeannine Harvey — she is one of my favorite people, and she also won an award that night for her excellent work with the One Campaign.


Graduation Party!

May 28, 2015

Ideas for a simple graduation party.

Photos and text by Gabrielle.  //  Get their dorm room ready. Create a registry at Target for your college-bound grad.

Since Ralph has officially finished high school, we thought it would be fun to have a little party to celebrate. He has worked so dang hard over these last few years, and of course we want to demonstrate in any way we can how proud we are of him.

So over the weekend, we put together a Graduation party. We kept it simple and just invited family. We decorated and talked about Ralph’s accomplishments — with cheering! And talked about what’s next. Since Ralph didn’t have a graduation ceremony, marking this transition with a family gathering felt especially important.

Ideas for a simple graduation party. Ideas for a simple graduation party.

Graduation and college is clearly on my mind. In fact, this has turned into a college-themed week. On Tuesday we talked about finishing high school early.  On Wednesday we talked about 529plans. And today, I want to tell you about the graduate registry program I just learned about from Target. I think it’s so smart!

Ideas for a simple graduation party.

It works just like a wedding registry or baby registry, but you fill it with items your student will need when he or she heads to school. Stuff for a dorm room like a tablet or speaker (that’s what we gave Ralph), or items for furnishing a first apartment like a futon or small fridge.

Even if you don’t have a graduate at your house, I’m betting you’ll be sending gifts to graduating nieces or nephews. And this registry makes it simple — one link and you can find everything on their college list — tech gadgets, bedding, kitchen appliances, and school supplies.

Ideas for a simple graduation party. Gift ideas for graduates!

I’m a total fan of buying gifts from registry lists. I love giving a gift that I know the recipient really wants or needs. I also think it’s fun to see what’s on any given person’s registry, and I love that it eliminates the guess work. It feels good, knowing I’m not wasting money on a gift they won’t actually use.

As a parent, I like the idea of making a graduate registry for my kids for lots of reasons, but one particular thing that appeals is using it as a perfect opportunity to help them with more life training — walking through a store and discussing what their needs will actually be at college. Will they need an iron? Do they know how to iron? Will they need a toilet brush? Do they know how to use a toilet brush? It’s also a way to help them picture the actual transition of move-in day and what supplies they’ll want to have ready, so that they can unpack and get to know roommates and not have to run around town on last-minute errands.

All that to say, the invention of graduate registries seems like a brilliant move to me.

Gift ideas for graduates! cupcake smile

What’s your take on registries? Do you ever shop from them when you’re buying gifts? And have you ever created a registry for yourself? I distinctly remember creating our wedding registry almost 20 years ago. It was the first time I really started imagining married life — what towels we would use and the pots and pans we’d cook with. It made the whole thing feel much more real. How about you? I’d love to hear your stories!


world map and hanging chair

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

You know what I’m super excited about? Now that most of my book responsibilities are complete, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to projects in our home. I’m so happy about this! I feel like our house has been on pause for months and months. The room I’m looking at first is the Family Room. At our house, the family functions as the TV room, the music room (you can see our music nook here), and the playroom.

I’ve been working on it little by little, and am happy to say it’s about 70% done! I’m not ready to show the whole room yet, but I thought it would be fun to share this little corner, and talk about what’s still on my list.

world map and hanging chair

This corner is a happy spot. First, the hanging chair is a total magnet for everyone who enters the room. What is it about hanging chairs? Maybe it’s that they are sisters to swings, and they seem like that could have been a toy in an earlier life. : ) Whatever it is, as soon as I saw the super high ceilings in the room, I knew I wanted to add a hanging chair. It gives permission for the whole room (and everybody in it) to relax.

The little red podium is also a draw. We’ve had that podium since our first apartment in New York. I bought in used on ebay. I thought it was full-size when I made the purchase and was completely surprised when the box arrived and it was kid-sized! But over the years, it’s ended up being a perfect addition to our playroom. The kids use it to practice presentations for school and church, they use it for pretend play, and it comes in handy for family meetings as well. When I first bought it, it the finish was dark wood stain, and when we moved to Colorado, I painted it fire-engine red.

world map and hanging chair

The highlight of the corner is probably the colorful world map. I love this map! I ordered it from Pop & Lolli (a many-year sponsor of this blog). It’s the extra large version. The house I grew up in had a world map in the family room, so this feels familiar to me, but I like that this version is very child-like and friendly. As you can see, instead of drawn geographic or political lines, the shapes are created from illustrations and objects that reflect each region. Very cute! And it’s made of a sort of vinyl fabric that you can reposition and reuse, so if we ever want to take it down and move it to another room, or maybe donate it to a classroom, we can.

So what’s next for this room? Three big things: 1) I’m still working on area rugs, 2) I just had a bid to replace our sliding patio door (which is wonky and doesn’t close properly) into a French doors, and 3) I think we’re going to order a couch from a design-your-own-sofa shop. Have you ever used one before? I haven’t, but there are several in the Bay area. The one I’ve talked to is called Decorium, and apparently I can have full design direction over shape and dimensions, so in theory we can order something that fits the available space perfectly.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a family room that’s separate from your living room? Or perhaps you have minimum square footage and combine those rooms into one? And have you ever ordered a sofa from a design-your-own shop? If yes, I’d love to hear any advice you have from your experience! Also, have you ever considered a hanging chair or swing in your house (or do you have one now)? And what are your thoughts on a podium as a piece of residential furniture?


National 529 Day!

May 27, 2015

National 529 Day is tomorrow!

By Gabrielle.

In December, we talked about whether or not we paid our own way through college. I LOVED the discussion. So when ScholarShare reached out to do a 5-post series about saving for college, I was all in! For this first post, let’s talk about 529 savings plans. The timing is perfect, because Friday is National 529 Day! And to celebrate, ScholarShare is hosting a 529 Day matching promotion, “You Start It, We Match It.” ScholarShare will match your $50 opening balance to make it $100!

So what is a 529 plan? You know how a 401(k) plan is for retirement savings? Well, a 529 is similar, but intended for college savings, and they give you an important tax advantage — there is no income tax or capital gains tax on the earnings as long as it is used for education.

If you’re intimidated about saving for college, a 529 plan is an encouraging way to go, because you can start with a very small deposit. And we all know that where saving is concerned, simply starting is half the battle. When you’re ready to withdraw funds, they can be used at schools across the nation, and it’s not just about paying for tuition. Funds can be used for all sorts of educational expenses, like books and fees, or supplies and equipment — even certain room and board costs!

Another nice thing is that anyone can open a 529 account. Or gift one. Which means Grandpa can open an account for his granddaughter if he’s so inclined. Or if you’ve opened an account for your child, relatives and friends can add funds to it as well — such a good option when Aunt Sally asks what to get your son for his birthday.

Personally, one of the big reasons I like 529 plans, is that once the money is in the savings account, I’m not tempted to use it for other expenses, because I know I won’t get the tax benefit unless I reserve it for education costs. It sort of makes the funds out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

If you’ve been wanting to start a college savings fund, let this be the kick-in-the-pants you need to make it happen. Put $50 in and instantly turn it into $100! Every dollar counts. And even more than the amount of money you initially deposit, knowing you made the first step on the saving-for-college path feels so dang good.

Want to take advantage of the matching promotion? Open a ScholarShare 529 College Savings Account on Friday, May 29th and ScholarShare will match $50 of the initial deposit. Read details here to find out if you qualify.



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, shared in partnership with ScholarShare.


By Gabrielle.

This is such a fabulous story. Even if you only look at the pictures, Senna’s home is a true and beautiful reflection of what it’s like to live with kids. I couldn’t stop smiling at all the little details in the North home that scream happiness and togetherness. (Of special note is her son’s bedroom at the moment, devoid of furniture except for his bed because the kid is a climber! Anyone empathize?!)

But if you live for these interviews, this one is overflowing with hows and whys and different ways of looking at this parenting/working balance we all crave. Plus, there are lovely adoption experiences, a dad who works it into his schedule to spend one weekday with the kids, and oh, did Senna’s beginning tug at my heart! I said it once, but it deserves another mention: This is such a fabulous story. I really hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Welcome, Senna!

Hello, everyone! We are Senna, Eric, Iliana (Illy), and Evan. Eric and I are family physicians and own our own clinic. Illy is six and just finishing kindergarten, and Evan is three and will be starting preschool next year.

I’ll start with Evan because even though he is the littlest, I’d say he has the most exuberant and loudest personality of all of us! He is definitely three. “I want to do it myself!” is a common phrase around here. When we go to a coffee shop, he always ends up charming someone with his smiles and laugh. He really works a room! Ever since we can remember, he has loved music. He plays the drums with anything and everything – anything that remotely resembles a drum and drumsticks turns any moment into a mini concert. And he’s pretty good. Just very loud. He has a little guitar that he plays every day and sings at the top of his lungs. He makes up funny songs about being put in time out and wearing his underwear on his head.

Illy is such a girly girl. She loves anything that is sparkly, pink, kittens, or stickers. She also isn’t afraid to get dirty or play with the boys. At the end of the day, she usually has dirt or glitter all over her sparkly dress and her hair is a mess, with a big grin on her face. She is truly kindhearted. I used to think she was going to be really shy, but she is just cautious and careful. She didn’t walk on her own without holding onto our hands until she was 17 months, but one day Grandma caught her practicing walking in her pack and play when she thought no one was watching. She had been holding out on us! Once she feels confident at something, nothing can stop her. She is always doing a craft. I check on her sometimes at night and she is out of bed, cutting up paper and taping it together into a treasure box or some other creation. She has her artwork taped all over her walls.

Eric is one of the most genuine men that I know. He truly cares about other people and works hard to have deep, meaningful relationships. He takes on a lot of the household work and tries to balance work and family and relationships. He is selfless in so many ways. I fell in love with him because he is such a good listener. When you’re talking to him, you feel like you are the most important person in the world at that moment.

I am very introverted, but also value relationships. I was raised by a single mother. She worked hard, but we really didn’t have a lot. We lived in pretty rundown rental houses. Even as a child, I tried to decorate, paint, and make things pretty. I dreamed of living in my own home someday with the freedom to make the space the way I wanted it. I even remember designing rooms and houses when I was very young. Of course, my designs included indoor slides and swing sets, too! I also dreamed of being a doctor. Even at the age of 11, I knew that was how I wanted to help people. It’s amazing to me now that I never doubted that I could achieve this dream, even with no way to afford college, let alone medical school.

Eric and I met in college at a ballroom dance. We were both such nerds! I was taking a swing dance class. He taught me to waltz and we ended up talking more than dancing. We both wanted to be doctors, and saw this as a calling and not just a career. I left the dance early and he didn’t know who I was – just my first name! He spent several weeks trying to track me down. Long story short, he eventually did find me, and we slowly became best friends. Then one day I realized that he was the one person that I wanted to do life with. I think he always had a crush on me, but I was a little slower to fall in love.

You won’t want to miss a sentence! I promise!


Question: 30 minutes till guests arrive and the house is a mess. What do you clean first? Click through for my list.

Photos and text by Gabrielle.This post is sponsored by Clorox—helping you clean on the go for a happier home.

Last week, as the family was cleaning up after dinner, I posed this question to Ben Blair and the kids: If guests are arriving in 30 minutes, and the house is a complete mess, what would you clean first? It’s a simple question, and a scenario that we’ve all lived through multiple times, but it was funny to hear everyone’s answers because we all had a different list!

Obviously, answers can depend on context — are these guests staying overnight? coming for dinner? stopping by for a playdate? So for our imaginary scenario, we decided the guests were first time visitors, who are only staying for a couple of hours. The visit isn’t during a meal time, and they might want a house tour. You’ve got 30 mins to clean up. What do you do?

Here’s my list:

First, I’d spend 7 minutes or so putting dishes in the sink and wiping down the kitchen counters and kitchen table. I figure no one wants to see the remains of lunch on display. Note: I wouldn’t actually do the dishes — as long as they’re in the sink and the counters are wiped, I would move on to other tasks.

Next, I’d spend another 7 minutes clearing clutter on the flat surfaces in the living room and entry — sofas, coffee table, benches, etc., The kind of clutter I’m thinking of is paper stuff like homework, mail or catalogs, and also things like tools from the shed that are waiting to be put away, or a stray pair of shoes. I would focus on the paper first, because putting loose paper away makes a huge impact.

Then, I’d spend about 5 minutes focusing on the coffee table. I’d start with dusting the coffee table itself, plus anything on the coffee table, because picking up an interesting book or conversational object and realizing it has left a layer of dust on your hand is gross. (Shout out to my dusting fave Clorox® Triple Action Dust Wipes!) Then I’d choose books to display that I think our guests would like.

Question: 30 minutes till guests arrive and the house is a mess. What do you clean first? Click through for my list.

After dusting, I’d spend 2 minutes on the sofas. I’d plump the pillows and tidy the throw blankets. If anything needs a cleaning, I’d send it to the laundry room.

Then I’d stop by the bathroom most likely to be used by visitors, and do a two-minute tidy. Hang any wet towels, wipe counters, make sure there’s a clean hand towel accessible, and that the toilet paper is stocked.

Next, I’d spend two minutes on the porch and front walkway. Is everything welcoming? Is there a clear path?

Then the remaining time would go to sweeping the floors. And if I have 2 minutes left, I’d also spot clean the floor with a wet rag.

If I have kids to help, I’d send them to work on bedroom essentials: makes beds, and put dirty clothes in the hamper. Then take out any garbage, recycling and compost in the house, or start on actually doing the dishes.

The play room and family office would be ignored, because I can use the excuse they’re sort of supposed to be messy — it means good things are happening. : )

So that’s it. In 30 minutes, I feel like I can get the house fairly decent. I first asked the question just making conversation with my family, but it ended up being a good reminder to me, that it doesn’t have to take all day to get the house tidy. Even 30 minutes can make a big difference!

Now it’s your turn. I’m curious about what would make your last-minute tidy list? Is yours similar to mine? Would you switch the order? Or maybe prioritize tasks like window cleaning or vacuuming? Do you know exactly what you’d tackle first? Or perhaps your house is generally clean 24/7 so you can’t really relate to this scenario? Or, maybe your house is happily messy and you’re fine to bring guests no matter what? I’d love to hear!


I was delighted to partner with Clorox on this post, because lately, my go-to dusting tool has been Clorox® Triple Action Dust Wipes. Have you tried them? I like their dust wipes because they’re super easy to use, and they work on pretty much every surface in my home — like furniture, electronics, and floors. Plus, they’re effective, so they help us fight allergies — a non-stop battle since our home is surrounded by trees.


School Update

May 26, 2015

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1503

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Here we are, finishing up another school year. We still have 3 weeks to go — our last day of school is June 12th. (Side note: School after Memorial Day always seems so challenging to me — it feels like summer vacation should start now!). June will be going to Kindergarten next year. Betty will go to 4th grade. Oscar to 5th grade. Olive will go to 8th grade. Maude will be a junior in high school. And Ralph was going to start his senior year. He was. But instead: he’s offically done with high school!

This came as quite a surprise to us. Here’s how it happened.

You may remember he spent his Freshman year in France attending a local French school. And he spent the first half of this school year (his Junior year) in France as well, enrolled in California Virtual Academy (which is a K12 online school). He arrived home for Christmas, and then went to Haiti with Ben Blair in January. When he got home from Haiti, we asked him if he wanted to continue doing online school, or re-enroll in the same high school he attended his sophomore year (the same school Maude attends). But he surprised us by saying he wanted to finish high school early.

Keep reading. Lots more ahead!


A Few Things

May 22, 2015

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. What a strange week this was for me blogging-wise. I’m sort of stunned it’s already Friday. I was traveling on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — Tuesday night was my last officially scheduled book tour stop. And when I got home on Wednesday, I could totally feel myself shut down. I imagine I was holding myself together till my tour commitments were done, but when I finished, I think I officially hit some sort of exhaustion wall. Oh my! (Side note, yes, there will likely be future book stops, but for now I’m taking a break.)

This morning, as I wrote this post, I realized it’s only my 3rd blog post this week, and I was completely surprised! I’m not sure if I’ve ever published so few blog posts over a week in my almost 9 years of blogging. If nothing else, it’s definitely a rarity. It feels strange to me. And stranger still because I feel like there is so much I want to talk with you about! I’ve been meeting readers all over the country and want to report, our cottage in France is on my mind and I’m long overdue to tell you more about it, we’re wrapping up another Oakland public school year, I had all sorts of emotions come up when visiting Denver that I want to discuss with you, summer plans are in the works, and Alt Summer is coming up fast!

But this weekend, I will be completely content if I can do absolutely nothing. Holding still sounds perfect to me. : ) So before I begin doing nothing, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- 100 years of beauty. Super sweet.

- From the Onion — the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage.

- Jimmy Kimmel’s tribute to David Letterman. I totally teared up.

- My daughter Maude sent me this link and it blew my mind — the total area of solar panels it would take to power the world.

Gravity glue.

- What it’s like to have your child diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Thanks, Julie.

- Burgers and drought.

- Oakland pride!

- Strong opinions about flip-flops. You too?

- Striking up your grill this weekend? Check out this grilling guide, this picnic guide, and this lemonade 101 guide.

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


P.S. — Are you doing anything to mark Memorial Day? I think our best Memorial Days were in France — it was such an honor to visit the American Military Cemetery that overlooks the D-Day beaches. Have you ever been?


By Gabrielle. Nostalgic photo of big-sister Betty meeting baby Flora June (who turned FIVE last week!).

I originally posted Jenny’s first birth story way back in 2011, so it’s really a lovely feeling to welcome her back with another! She experienced a completely different type of birth the second time around, so this is nowhere near the same story, second verse same as the first! For her first delivery, she was adamant on a natural birth. This time? Why not try an epidural? I love how easy she was on herself.

It’s fascinating to me how we place all these expectations on ourselves to somehow conquer a multitude of personal goals when it comes to the birthing process. Delivering a baby is tough enough, wouldn’t you say? I would, too! Please enjoy Jenny’s words and sweet experience. Even if you’re not having a baby anytime soon, it’s pretty wonderful advice.

Welcome, Jenny!

My second pregnancy and birth experience was a complete 180 from my first. I’m honored to have my son Nolan’s birth story featured on Design Mom, and when I reread it before sitting down to write this one, I was reminded what a difference a few years make.

Jenny’s sweet story, just ahead!

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