Design Mom » Search Results » la cressonnière The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 06 Oct 2015 18:11:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report from France Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:03:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images from Olive’s Instagram. Video by Ralph.

As promised, here is a little report about Olive and Ralph and their experience in France this semester.

Olive has been in France since September 1st. She’s young (she turned 13 the week before she moved), and we knew this might not work for her, so we were prepared to fly her back home if she wasn’t thriving. But so far, she seems to LOVE it. She’s staying with our dear friend, Caroline, and Olive says she’s amazed how fast dinner clean up goes with fewer people in the house. Hah! I love that she’s getting to see how another house is run. It’s important to me that my kids understand there are lots of right ways to do most things.

She really seems to be developing a sense of independence — helped by the fact that she lives in town and isn’t waiting on a car and parent to get her around. During her first week, she needed to change her money from dollars to euros, and instead of waiting for a grownup, she decided to take care of the task herself. She walked herself to the bank and inquired about the exchange. The bankers sent her to the post office and she was able to take care of it there. No big deal. And just to remind you, this is all taking place in French.

Speaking of French, she said she’s doing well with the language and can speak mostly accent free. She’s enrolled in the same school she attended when we lived there and it’s been wonderful for her to instantly know people and be in a familiar place.

Argentan Mural

Olive has also been acting as translator. There is an American family living in La Cressonière and they have kids attending the same school as Olive. One of them is in her class, and as he learns French, Olive is helping translate as needed. Several years ago, when our kids first started at that school, there was an Irish family attending, and they kindly acted as translators for my kids, so I like the idea that Olive can pay the kindness forward.

When we lived there, Olive’s extra-curricular activities were horseback riding and piano. We wondered if she would want to sign up for those again this semester. But instead, she’s taking a drama class and really enjoying it.

Caroline has also taken Olive to visit our Cottage (which reminds me, I still haven’t properly introduced the cottage. It’s on my list!)

Normandy Field

Now on to Ralph. You may remember, Ralph spent the last week of August and most of September in England. He’s been in France since September 27th.

This whole study abroad concept has really grabbed Ralph’s imagination. Like Olive, he’s thriving too, and can see the possibilities. He’s even started talking to friends in Japan and Australia about doing exchanges. Who knows if it will happen, but either way, he clearly loves this!

England was wonderful for him. He found that getting to experience a taste of the school there was really satisfying. He loved meeting new people and being able to determine his own schedule. He was able to explore the town of Abingdon and he and his friend could take the train to London to explore there as well. (Ralph loves London!)

And then, when he arrived in France, he couldn’t stop telling us how awesome our little town of Argentan is. He said he didn’t understand how awesome it was until he moved back, and that we should move the family back asap. : ) He said he loves walking around town because he sees so many people he knows and loves — like the clockmaker — as he goes about his day.

His language is excellent, but he talks often about wanting to get it perfect. His goal is complete fluency and he studies the nuances to figure out where he’s still getting it wrong.

He also attends the same school as Olive, but only sort of. He’s auditing classes so he can attend as much as he likes, but his coursework is through K12. This seems to be working well. He is able to get his school work done in a few hours, which leaves him time for writing screen plays and working on films, which is for sure his first love.

His latest movie is the one at the top and I feel like it’s his best so far. And maybe his best by far! It’s only two minutes, I hope you’ll watch it because I think you’ll really enjoy it. (And if you do, I hope you’ll share it. It’s a good one!)

One interesting thing is that doing his school work independently has reminded him of how much of a typical school day is just sort of busy work or wasted time moving between classes, and he’s wondering what it would take to graduate early and be completely done with high school. So we’re looking into that to see what it would take. Ralph seems to do well in a school setting — he’s super social — so of course it’s interesting for us to see that he’s find to be done with that and move on.

As expected, both love the food!

I can’t believe they’ve been gone for almost 2 months! We miss them like crazy and the house always feels a little empty without them. One unexpected result that has come with their absence: We thought Maude might get lonely, but she really seems to be thriving. Sometimes I forget that Maude is an introvert and really needs alone time to recharge. With Ralph and Olive gone, she seems to be getting more of that precious alone time and is enjoying life more than ever! Ben Blair and I are already talking about how we’ll help her preserve that time once they return.

To stay connected, every Sunday morning we have a family Google Chat, where we can share 3 screens and get to have time together. Of course, we also get to talk with Ralph and Olive throughout the week as needed. Hallelujah for technology! And I continue to be comforted knowing Olive and Ralph can connect in person if they’re homesick.

I think that’s it for a report today. Anything I missed? If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with international exchanges, or study abroad semesters, or kids far from home. And what do you think about Ralph’s video? I always love reading your words!

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City Versus Suburb Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:20:38 +0000 Design Mom

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

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

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

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

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

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

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

DIY: Wooden postcard with photo transfers. So cool!

Then we moved to France, and we got a taste of rural life. Our house was surrounded by fields, far outside the little town. Knowing my fondness for cities, I had no idea I would like it so much. But I did. Life moved slower. Because it was inconvenient, we ran fewer errands. And when we did run errands, we went as a whole family because it was practically an event. It was quiet in the countryside. We could see the stars. We ate most of our meals at home. The kids interacted with their peers at school, but at home (and we were home a lot) their friends were their siblings. Our family grew closer than we’ve probably ever been, which was a completely unexpected perk.

And as you know, now we live in the city of Oakland. Our neighborhood is somewhere between an urban and suburban classification. You can walk to most of what you need, or you can just as easily drive. You do have to think about, or search, for parking, and generally pay for it, but it’s not as hard as dealing with parking downtown, or in San Francisco. It’s definitely not as easy living as suburbia, but it’s also closer to the city center and all the perks a city offers. It’s very easy for us to get to any happenings in Oakland or San Francisco. For us, it feels like a good compromise. And it reminds me of the neighborhood we lived in in New York, called Tuckahoe — it also always felt somewhere between city living and suburbia to me.

DIY: Wooden postcards made with photo transfers. So cool!

Speaking of New York, I’ve heard it’s a popular place to retire. Apparently, it’s ideal for an older couple. Everything can be delivered, and you never to have to drive!

Obviously, not everyone gets to choose. Work location and housing prices determine these decisions for many, if not most people. But let’s pretend. If you did get to choose, if you could get to work conveniently from an urban, suburban, or rural location, where would you live? Where would you raise your family? And have you ever surprised yourself — maybe tried city living, thinking you’d love it, and didn’t? Or moved to a sprawling rural farmhouse and then missed your tiny city apartment? I’d love to hear your stories.

I’d also love to hear how you made your decisions — I know some people have a ton of angst about moving from the big city to the suburbs. And others are terrified about moving from the suburbs or countryside to the big city.

Lastly, as I alluded to above, my personal classification for true suburbia is never having to think about parking. How about you? What are the earmarks of suburban life in your mind? Or urban life, or rural life?

P.S. — My dad’s birthday was on September 11th. We had a little discussion about that last year.

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Two Kitchen Tools Thu, 22 May 2014 17:32:57 +0000 Design Mom

Electric Kettle & Mini Masher

Images and text by Gabrielle.

In March I wrote about the food habits we had picked up from our time in France, and since that post, I remembered two things in our kitchen that we wouldn’t own if we hadn’t moved to France. So I wanted to share them with you. Neither is particularly French, but we started using these tools because they happened to be in the kitchen of La Cressonnière, and we loved them so much, they were two of our first purchases when we moved back to the U.S.!

The best looking electric tea kettle.

The first is an electric kettle. Apparently, these are common as can be — like more standard than a toaster — in every Western country but the U.S.. And they’re definitely sold here, but I had never seen one used by an American friend, and I had never used one myself, until we lived in France.

They are so handy! The water heats to boiling super fast. It’s great for making hot drinks, for making ramen (or cup noodles, as my kids call them), or anytime you need a small amount of boiling water fast (like when we made dye for Easter eggs). Sometimes it surprises me how often we use it.

There are tons of options available. We use this ceramic one — I chose it for its looks (I thought it would be pretty sitting on the counter) but it works great too. : )

Mini Masher - the very best tool for making guacamole and egg salad

I don’t know the official name for the second tool. We call it a mini-masher, and it took me several searches to track one down. This is the one we have, and I found two others, here and here. Dang I love this tool! I use it for two things specifically: to mash avocados for guacamole, and to mash boiled eggs for egg salad.

If you don’t eat either of those things, I would not recommend this tool to you. But if you do eat guacamole and egg salad, this tool will make you about 75% more willing to make them, because it does the job so well, so quickly and so easily — even if the avocado isn’t perfectly ripe!

Of course, this made me wonder: do you use/adore any kitchen tools that you think are probably uncommon? Where did you discover them? What do you use them for? Also, have you used either of the tools I featured? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — Travel season is here! If you’re headed to France, here are Five Fabulous Souvenirs Under $5. And here are 5 more!

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Do You Have a Dishwasher? How About a Microwave? Wed, 12 Feb 2014 18:15:38 +0000 Design Mom

vintage dishwasher image

By Gabrielle. Tons of vintage dishwasher images here.

Fun fact: over the weekend we got a microwave! It’s just a little one, but it gets great reviews — and it won’t take up too much space in our kitchen.

I realize microwaves are nothing new, but as it turns out, we haven’t had one for over 3 years! It wasn’t really intentional, it just sort of happened. When we moved to France, the house we rented didn’t have a microwave. At first we wondered if microwaves were looked down upon in France, but learned later that wasn’t really the case. They are widely available anywhere small appliances are sold, and it wasn’t unusual for us to see one in our friends’ homes. Our landlords just preferred going old school, and didn’t keep one in their home.

Since we were embracing the full La Cressonnière life (and originally thought we’d only be there for a year), we decided we didn’t need a microwave either.

It took some getting used to. In fact, little June was only 9 months old when we moved to France, and I missed having a microwave to warm up tiny baby portions. But after a few weeks, we formed new habits and didn’t miss the microwave at all.

Then, when we moved here, though The Treehouse came furnished, the previous homeowners weren’t microwave users. So once again, we were in a microwave-less home. And since we were out of practice using them, it didn’t occur to us to buy one until recently.

This made me wonder: is there a “modern convenience” that you currently live without? I’m thinking of things like dishwashers, laundry machines, microwaves —maybe even Kitchen Aid mixers and toaster ovens. And if you had to choose, which one could you absolutely not live without?

For me, laundry in my home is essential! Second, would be the dishwasher. We’ve had a dishwasher in our home since we first moved to New York in 2001 — it would be hard to give it up. In fact, the dishwasher here at The Treehouse broke within a week of moving here (it was from the 80′s and on its very last leg), and we had it replaced within the month. We missed it too much!

As for other “modern conveniences”, I’m pretty flexible. I can live without a microwave. And I’ve never actually owned a stand mixer (what would Raleigh say if she knew? Hah!).

How about you?

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Living With Kids: Felicitas Von Richthofen Tue, 28 Jan 2014 17:00:10 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This home makes my heart jump a little. There’s a garden that reminds me of La Cressonnière, and stone walls and gorgeous beams that sweep me straight back to France. Boy, I miss that place. But Felicitas’ home is the perfect antidote for Europe-sickness! It’s a wonderfully balanced mix of old and new, austere and cozy. A place that lives in her childhood memories, but will also take center stage in her own daughters’ memories, too.

Probably, that red garden door will, too. Friends, please welcome the Von Richthofens and enjoy the tour of their haus!

Q: Please tell us all about the family who makes this house a home!

A: Our little family is made up of me, Felicitas, and my husband, Raphael. We are both 33 years old and have two children: Viola is three years old, and Elenor is one. We live in a small village called Sondermuehlen in Germany. Raphael and I have been together since we met at school.

I am an art historian working for the Kunsthalle Bielefeld. Raphael is director of the family enterprise, Stock Mode, which specializes in fashion. We own four stores in our town and neighborhood.

I love being outside in the countryside with my two girls. We live door to door to my parents who are madly in love with their granddaughters, and vice versa. My personal guilty pleasures during my baby break from work are interior design, Jane Austen books and films as well as any adaptions, and following several Internet blogs of interesting women and mothers.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: The oldest part of our house dates back to the 14th Century. It belongs to the estate of my parents who live very close to us. It had been a total ruin until my parents renovated it in 2006. During that time I finished my exams at university and was looking for a job around in order to be able to live together with Raphael. I was lucky to find the job as assistant curator at Kunsthalle Bielefeld.

When we decided to move in, we started with just our stuff from our student digs. I always knew I wanted to stay at home, and this was the perfect solution for us all.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: I love to live here in this old building! There’s so much charisma because everywhere you look there is history. It is actually my childhood home and I am blessed to be able to inherit it.

I love to live here because we are here in the deepest countryside but also close to the cities around for a little escape once in a while. I love the autumn in this part of Germany with its golden light and wuthering winds. I love the sound of shouting ducks in autumn, and cracking ice around the house in winter when the moat is frozen while I’m sitting in front of the fireplace.

Q: How would you describe your style? Has your house made it easy to reflect your aesthetic, or more difficult?

A: Our style is not static. We have both inherited several antique pieces of furniture and pictures from our families that we cherish. Those pieces fit very well in this old building, but it is sometimes hard to place pictures because of the stonework and woodwork in the house.

There is indeed a whole lot of stonework and woodwork that we had to work around. We ultimately decided to combine the antique style with modern aspects. Like my favorite Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen in my study.

I love the light and minimal style of the Scandinavian designers. My favorite brand at the moment is HAY from Denmark.

Q: What rooms work the best for your family? What details have you added that make your life better, more fun, and happier?

A: When Viola began to crawl, we spend most of the time with her in our smaller living room. It is very cozy and has a very smooth carpet from Hay. When Elenor was born, we began to spend more time in the dining room next to the kitchen. The big Scandinavian stove was built and we moved a sofa to the room. It has become more of a living room for us now. As the rooms of the two girls are upstairs, we arranged a corner of the room with a carpet and big cushions for crawling and playing. Viola has a little table where she can draw and play picnic with her teddies and dolls. In the kitchen we have also a little doll kitchen that the girls love to take apart.

Every night I am crawling around the rooms to put things in order again. The destiny of moms, I suppose. Once a very good friend of mine sent me an email with this nice quote saying “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.” I always try to remember this quote when I’m tired of cleaning and tidying up.

A typical day with our two girls begins with a little singing while waking both one after another up. Some reading and playing follows, and then the battle of getting dressed. Breakfast for all and then I get the kitchen in order. We then go outside regardless how the weather is unless it pours cats and dogs. Elenor takes a nap in the stroller and Viola plays in her sandpit or we take a little walk with the trainer bike around the house.

We often visit a little dwarf that lives in a big stump in the woods or go to the neighbor farmer who has many cows and calfs. Often, Grandpa or Grandma join us with their dog Finley. After lunch both girls take a nap. This is my precious time where I have a moment for myself. In the afternoon we spent time outside or visit girlfriends with children. We go to music class or the kindergarten or do our weekly shopping. After dinner Viola watches a little television series called The Sandman. We play and read books together and when Raphael comes home in time, we go bathing with the two muddy girls and then bring them both to bed by 8.00 pm. Not every day is the same…and of course not always happy, for sure!

Q: Do you decorate with an emphasis on your daughters’ needs?

A: I have to admit that my view of the world changed drastically when I became a mother! Before that I never thought of any nursery stuff or children’s books. I could not understand that people got mad talking about their children. I told myself I would never be that mom who is constantly thinking about their children and also talking about them with friends and even strangers at dinner parties…But I actually became this kind of mother!

There is something happening with you when you become a mother. It changes your inner self drastically. In fact, your inner self is replaced and filled up by your children and their needs. Nowadays I start crying watching advertising where babies are on screen or when I see my younger daughter sleeping so peacefully in her stroller. I feel so touched when Viola is playing with little nothings, talking to her dolls and teddies, or when she comes running to me with no reason hugging and kissing me heartily. I never thought that such small people could already express such emotions and even touch my emotions.

So before I became a mother, I was interested in interior design for adults. When I was pregnant, I focused on children’s rooms and baby clothes. In Germany you call it a kind of nesting instinct that kicks in. Amazing. You cannot stop until everything is perfect.

I decorate mostly what I personally like and what fits to our house. We had to install several grilles in front of the stairs when our children started to get mobile. I removed all dangerous things from small hooks or tables. My children have their areas within the house, which are decorated with rugs, furs, books, and toys, but I do not rearrange my personal interior for their needs in particular. I think when they grow older and autonomous, their belongings will more and more move to their rooms upstairs.

Q: I see a studio! How do you incorporate art and crafts and design into your daily life? And how do you balance work and home life?

A: I have a little studio and my husband does, too, but we normally do not work from home. We just organize family life from here. I often spent hours when the girls are sleeping at my desk and checking emails, writing to friends, or just checking on my favorite blogs.

We arranged a big studio under the roof. I intend to spend there more time in the future and be creative there when the kids are older. At the moment, scissors, modeling clay, etc. are not used very often with a little baby around. When I start working again I will probably work from home, but not very often and only in the evening.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember most from this home? What traditions are you trying to build in their memories?

I hope they will remember a warm and cosy atmosphere where they will always love to come back to when they are grown up. We are living several traditions given to us by our families, and we will also create our own when the kids get older. For example, my whole family is still mad about searching for eggs in the garden on Easter. It is a funny sight to watch ten adults, a dog, and two little ones running around the garden shouting to announce what they have found!

I hope they will remember great summers outside with lots of time and freedom, and great winters with a lot of snow, sleighing, and ice-skating around the house. Rainy days spent inside playing with great childhood friends, baking cookies, or making popcorn for a cosy evening in front of the fireplace reading books or watching a film. I hope they will remember a carefree childhood with a lot of security and freedom giving them the basis to be able to develop and live their dreams independently. I hope that our girls will always appreciate the distinctiveness of their home and try to preserve it.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I am very thankful that nobody told me that when you become a mother you will never be without fear and sorrow anymore. You’ve just been given something that would be the most terrible to lose. You will not be free anymore. You will have to say goodbye every day, to let go every second.

This is sad and also wonderful, because in return you will receive unconditional love and moments where your heart overflows.


Yes, Felicitas, I am so glad no one told me that, either. It’s so true that the process of being a parent can be summed up like this: “You’ve just been given something that would be the most terrible to lose.” Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous home with us. I simply love the fact that your girls are outside every day, no matter the temperature. Fresh air – especially cold, fresh air – somehow keeps everyone in a good mood, don’t you think?

As someone who is now surrounded by lots of family – as opposed to friends who turned into family in France – I realize the luck of being close to relatives. Sometimes, I think that’s one of the most important considerations in settling down on a location. Do you see it like this, too? I’d love to know!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Olive Us: Lost Theater Tue, 29 Oct 2013 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.

I’m so excited to share another Olive Us episode today, because this one feels magical to me. It’s called Lost Theater, and we filmed it in France. While we lived there, we became friends with Roger and Colette Sineux — the parents of our landlord. The Sineuxs were so good to us. Very welcoming and kind. In fact, on the day we arrived, Colette prepared the house with a fire and a homemade cake! Anyway, Roger and Colette live in a wonderful home with an old barn on the property. During one of our visits, Colette mentioned there was a theater in the barn and invited our kids to check it out.

Lost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us.

Well. When we opened the door, we just gasped. It’s an amazing space! The light filters in beautifully, and it’s full of props and costumes and sets from past productions. When we visited, the theater hadn’t been used in awhile, so it had a romantic, dusty feel, and the whole family felt as if we were “discovering” the space. It was so dreamy we just pinched ourselves, and kept saying things like, “Can you believe this place really exists?”

Lost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us.

Over a year later, as we were brainstorming Olive Us episodes for ulive, we remembered the theater and knew it would be the perfect spot to film something special. I hope you enjoy the show!

Lost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us. http://oliveus.tvLost Theater. A magical little film by Olive Us.

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us here.
- We’ve collaborated with ulive for 20 episodes, you can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.



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Olive Us: Pétanque Thu, 17 Oct 2013 19:49:34 +0000 Design Mom

petanque title

Big news! Happy news! The Olive Us episodes we made with ulive are now available to view internationally. Hooray! Thank you so much for your patience as we sorted this out. We are jumping for joy that the episodes are now accessible everywhere.

And we’re delighted to share another new episode today! It’s called Pétanque (pronounced pay-tonk), and it shows the popular French game of the same name. Have you heard of Italian Bocce? It’s similar, but the balls are smaller and made of metal. The materials make for a really handsome game.

French game of pétanque.

In France, every little country village has a pétanque field where the older men gather for a game at the end of the day — and you can find pétanque fields in the parks of Paris as well. This episode was filmed in the teeny, tiny village of Fleuré, very near La Cressonnière. We would pass this field several times every day. In fact, this video has me feeling nostalgic!

French game of pétanque.French game of pétanque.

Have you ever played? And if you live outside the U.S., is there a sport or game that’s particular to your country? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — Want to have a little Olive Us catch up party? I’ve re-posted all the 3 of the newest episodes I’ve shared when you click through. Also, before we partnered with ulive, we made 24 earlier episodes. You can find them all on the Olive Us website, or see my write-ups on each episode here.

Meet Olive Us

Meet Olive Us, originally shared on September 6th.

holland title

Let’s Visit Holland, originally shared September 13th — with lots more photos of the our visit to the flower fields.

fruit and veggie title

Fruit & Veggie Kabobs, originally shared September 20th.

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Carpet in the Lofts Mon, 30 Sep 2013 20:03:52 +0000 Design Mom

Guest Loft

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Today, I’m thinking about carpet in the two little lofts we have.

One loft is in the home office. It measures approximately 7′ x 10′. A small space, but there’s a nice tall window that offers lovely light, and it’s just the right size for a double bed with a nightstand, and a place to set some luggage. So we thought it would be a good spot for a guest bed. And we have lots of guests coming this month — which makes a great excuse for sprucing things up!

reading loft

The other loft is in the family room. It measures a little smaller than the first loft — about 7′ x 9.5′, and it has two windows that offer really beautiful light as well. Our plan is to create a cozy reading spot here! And I have to say, at the moment, I think I’m more excited about creating this reading nook, than any other project in the house. It’s just the right kind of project. Bite-size, which makes it approachable and doable, but meaty too, because it has so much potential for being a wonderful, and useable space — a little getaway from the chaos that is sometimes inherent in a family of 8.

guest loft plywood floors

Right now, the floors of both lofts have plywood subfloor, and from the looks of it, the floors have never been covered before. So we can start from scratch.

Though I’m not planning to use carpet anywhere else in the house, I thought these little lofts would be a good spot for wall-to-wall. And because they’re so small, and you can’t really see them unless you’re in them, I keep thinking they would make a fun place to experiment, or use a bold flooring color or pattern that might not work in a bigger space. On the other hand, I may decide to go very neutral with the hope that it makes the spaces feel a little bigger.

One idea is to take advantage of the tinyness of the spaces and shop for a really luxurious remnant piece — something we wouldn’t be able to afford for a big room. Maybe even something in wool. Have you ever tried wool carpet before? Two bedrooms in La Cressonnière were carpeted in wool — I loved the way it felt underfoot, and it was easy to keep clean! If not wool, I’m not sure what we’d pick. I’d really like a natural fiber if possible, but I’m not sure what my options are.

Another idea is to use FLOR tiles. I’ve worked with FLOR on a few different projects over the years, and I love their philosphy, and their offerings! But I’ve never tried them for a wall-to-wall application, and I’m not sure how easy they are to trim to fit. Would we need a special tool to trim them to fit?

Of course, I could also skip wall-to-wall carpet and use a harder surface instead, and then layer on a rug. Hmmm. So many good options!

If you’ve done any carpet shopping lately, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned. Any favorite brands or styles? Have you seen anything particularly cozy out there that might be just right in the reading nook? Have you ever tried wall-to-wall FLOR ties? Chime in!

P.S. — This afternoon, we’re getting our first estimate on having our hardwood matched for the dining nook. Yay!

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The Treehouse: Bedroom Plans for the Kids Thu, 19 Sep 2013 14:30:31 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Note: These images are “before” photos showing the belongings of the previous owners. I know, I know, I need to shoot some current photos. Working on it, I promise!

I’ve shared the story of how The Treehouse came to be ours. And I’ve explained that the house came fully furnished. But I haven’t really told you much about the layout or what our plans our. So I thought I’d dive in today!

I’ll start by saying the state of the house, renovation wise, is pretty much ideal for someone like me. The home hasn’t been resurfaced in a long time — for example, the kitchen looks to be strictly from the 80′s. Throughout the house, walls need a fresh coat of paint, worn carpets need to be replaced, and light fixtures need to be upgraded. 

I know that’s a lot of work, but it’s perfect for me! Because I’m someone who wants to make those sorts of decisions in my home. So if The Treehouse had been recently redone, then I would have felt awful about changing things up and wasting that work. (As I’m sure anyone would! I know Jenny, who has been doing major renovations, is feeling stumped about her kitchen counters. They’re not her style, but they’re so new she feels bad about changing them.)


In addition to surface stuff, there are some fairly major interior structural changes we’d like to make. For example, there is a 3-quarter wall between the living room and kitchen that is driving us nuts! But we’re not feeling too much urgency about those bigger changes, because happily, the house is livable right now, exactly as it is. Which is such a blessing! It leaves us time to think, and to make careful decisions, and to save up for the renovations.

Though I feel like I’m fairly speedy at decorating and can style up a room in a flash, when it comes to architectural-type decisions — should windows be replaced in this room? do we need to improve the electrical system? should we use the same flooring throughout the house? do we need to upgrade the trim? — I’m as slow as a snail.


The square footage of The Treehouse is smaller than our rental in France was (no surprise — La Cressionnière is a big old farmhouse!), and it’s even smaller than our old rental in Colorado, but it’s still plenty big. And the decks add a lot of living space.

One interesting tidbit: it’s a 3 bedroom home.

This can be tricky for a family of 8! And really, if the home had been publicly listed online as a 3 bedroom, we would have never even seen it, because during our real estate searches we generally looked for 5+ bedrooms. But we’ve got a good plan to make the bedrooms work.

treehouse bedrooms 1

Off the hallway on the main floor, there are two bedrooms, and a bathroom. The previous owners used the bigger bedroom as the Master bedroom, and they used the smaller one as a little TV room.

The 3rd bedroom is upstairs and the previous owners used it as a guest room:


It has it’s own balcony! (I’ll talk more about our plans for this room in a future post.)

We decided to use the space differently than the previous owners. Our first thought was to split the big bedroom in two. When the house was first built, that room was about half it’s current size, but was expanded when the house was added on to. And there’s a natural dividing line if we wanted to split it up, leaving each of the spaces with a closet and a window.


But after living here for awhile, we shifted gears. Instead of splitting the space, we decided to keep it big and make it into one bedroom for all 4 girls! (I’m sure some of you are thinking: awesome! and others are thinking: no way!)

treehouse bedrooms 3

This is our plan:

1) We want to put in 4 twin beds, with their heads along the left wall, and their feet pointed toward the mirrored closet on the right. Each bed will have a nightstand and reading lamp next to it.


2) Across from the beds, on the right wall, there is currently a bank of 4 uneven sized closets. We want to remake these into 4 equal closets, so each daughter has their own storage space for clothes. We’re hoping we can customize the closet interiors to include hanging space, plus small drawers, and shelves for folded items and shoes. We shall see if the picture in my head can be pulled off in reality. : )

treehouse bedrooms 4

3) On the wall next to the bank of closets is currently a dresser. If I can make the closets work for my kids’ wardrobes, I’d like to add a reading chair or small desk here instead of more clothes storage.

Note: I mentioned it above, but I’ll repeat here: all of these photos are “before” images and show the previous residents belongings.

treehouse bedrooms 5treehouse bedrooms 2

4) Maybe the most fun? Along the same wall as the bedroom door, there is an additional bank of closets. We’re going to say goodbye to these closets, creating a wall here. And then we’re going to add a bank of vanities instead, where the girls can keep their jewelry, paint their nails, store the hair brushes, etc.

I wouldn’t say our daughters are particularly girly girls, but I have a picture in my head of all four of our daughters at the vanity prepping for the day and it makes me grin! (Bonus: having the vanities in the bedroom should help free up the bathroom, which is bound to get crowded in the mornings.)

treehouse bedrooms 6

I know it sounds crazy to get rid of half the closet space in a bedroom for 4 girls, but we do have good reasons. The biggest one: we need to add the two feet depth of that closet to the smaller, neighboring bedroom. That room is so little! It needs any add-ons it can get.


The smaller bedroom is shared by the boys. Right now, we have a bunkbed in that room to the right of the door, and it’s just too overwhelming. It makes the space really awkward and unwelcoming. If we add the space from the closets in the girls’ room, it will enlarge the boys bedroom on the left by two feet, allowing this room to fit two twin beds. Which would be ideal!

The plan is to have a bed on each side of the door, with a dresser and side chair under the window. Then we’ll install hanging rods in the small closet — a high one for Ralph and a low one for Oscar.

And now I’d love to hear: What do you think of our plan? Would you ever put 6 kids in two bedrooms? Would that be total chaos at your house?

Because our kids generally spend their waking time in the shared spaces of our house, and use the bedrooms only for sleeping and dressing, this actually works out well for us. But I know there are families where this would be the worst. I’d love to hear what you would do with this space!

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A Few Things Fri, 30 Aug 2013 16:00:26 +0000 Design Mom

commission by Paul Ferney

By Gabrielle. Painting by Paul Ferney.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Can you believe it’s Labor Day Weekend? Are you ready to greet September? We have absolutely zero plans for Labor Day at the moment — and it feels so good! I’m still trying hard to lay low and take it easy. But I wouldn’t say no to cooking up something like this. (That post has my mouth watering!)

Even more than Labor Day, homesickness is on my mind. On Sunday, my brother-in-law Paul Ferney gifted us a painting of La Cressonnière — complete with our vintage Renault out front. I cried like a baby when I saw it. Sometimes the homesickness catches me off guard and washes over me like a wave. I’m working on a post about some of the specific things we’re missing (spoiler: lots of food is on that list), and some of the happy surprises about our new community, too. Oh. And the schools! I can’t wait to tell you about the schools.

While I finish up my work before the long weekend, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:

-  Now’s your chance to get your own Paul Ferney original! He’s currently offering really affordable custom paintings through The Commission Project. They make an amazing heirloom gift. If you order now, you’ll get the painting in time for holiday giving.

- I’m dying! The funniest reviews on Amazon.

- How to kiss a girl.

- Laura Mayes of The Queso is one of the first blogs I ever read. And she’s still a favorite. The blog has been especially great lately. I spent an hour last Saturday catching up on her posts, and it was a really good hour.

NYC Field Guides: What to do in NYC, pulled together by people you might think are cool.

- 6 beautiful ways to use wallpaper in your nursery.

- One of my dear friends, Lisa Clark, produces and stars in really funny parody videos. Live out your Footloose fantasies with this one.

- The world of Lisa Frank. She is for real.

The Compliment Fairy.

- I updated my right hand sidebar with lots of back to school posts. Yay!

- Stock up for next summer — J.Crew is offering an extra 30% off final sale items with code HELLO30. (I’ll take the polkadots please!)

- If you really love calligraphy.

I hope you have a marvelous weekend. I’ll meet you back here next week. I miss you already.


P.S. — For those of you who have emailed asking how I’m doing, thank you! It really is nice to be thought of. Finding a doctor has proved more difficult than I hoped. I’ll try to write about it next week.

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The Treehouse Sat, 17 Aug 2013 09:28:21 +0000 Design Mom

Oakland House

By Gabrielle.

This is the story of how The Treehouse, our home in Oakland, came to be ours.

This is the long version of the story. I’m still figuring out how to tell it in a short version.

Starting last summer, when we embarked on our final year in France, we started looking online at real estate in Colorado. We had loved living in Colorado and our plans never strayed from moving back. We just needed to find a house. We wanted to buy something and settle down. In fact, that was our original plan when we first moved to Colorado, but at the time, we weren’t able to find a house, and then we got distracted by France. : )

treehouse4treehouse5The Treehouse

We really wanted to buy a house before we moved back, because I was overwhelmed by the idea of moving twice — first into a rental, and then into a purchased house, possibly in two different school districts. Ugh. Purchasing a house and moving directly in sounded ever so much more appealing.


So we searched. In every Denver neighborhood. In the suburbs. In the mountains. We did specific searches. We did broad searches. Occasionally we would find something we were interested in — and I would sometimes share our finds on Facebook. But nothing was quite right. Or a house might get grabbed up before we had a chance to really consider it.

There’s no question we were being really picky. We were looking for an extraordinary house. Living in La Cressonnière had changed us. It was such an amazing home. I remember returning from our trip to Venice, driving up to the farmhouse and acknowledging it was every bit as lovely as anything we had seen on vacation.

We both work at home, and shoot photos at home, and film at home, and spend so much time at home. Home matters. We were determined to find an extraordinary house that we could really fall in love with. That was a joy to drive up to. That was a treat to live in. It didn’t need to be in perfect condition, but it needed really good bones. And it turns out, that sort of house is hard to find.


By January, we were a little nervous. Would we be able to find a house? Did we need to extend our time in France? Should we build? What are our other options? I was chatting about our house hunt with my sister, Jordan, and she mentioned we should look at the Bay Area. I shrugged off her suggestion and told her we were priced out of the housing market in San Francisco (and every big city — New York and L.A., too!) But she tried to convince me. She reminded me that we don’t have a commute, and that if we looked further out of the city, there were some great deals. So I did a real estate search by map that covered the entire area, and looked for houses big enough to hold our family and in our price range. But alas, it was just what I thought. We were out-priced.


There was this one house. It was big and yellow. It had 5 bedrooms. It was on 2 acres and backed up to a park! It was 100 years old and needed vast renovations (which is my kind of project). It was in El Cerrito — a little north of Berkeley and Oakland. There was certainly nothing else out there like it — every house around it was on a tiny plot of land. And it was in our price range. A miracle!!


We asked Jordan to go check it out in person. She took tons of photos, even made a little video, and emailed everything to us. She told us that it needed a lot of work, but it was a really neat house. And we felt like the 2 acres made it a no brainer.

We knew it was a long shot, but we felt compelled to go for it. It was an extraordinary house. And even though we hadn’t seriously considered the area, there were strong draws for us to San Francisco. My father grew up in the Bay Area and I had been raised with visits to my grandparents in Menlo Park and San Carlos, so I had some roots there. Plus, I have a sister and brother in the area. Plus, our fields of work are centered there, and Ben of Pinterest’s advice to move where your field of work is headquartered had stayed with me since I’d heard him speak those words at Alt Summit 2012.

So Jordan recommended a local real estate agent (which we needed in order to make a bid on the house), and he recommended a mortgage agent, and she helped us get pre-qualified, and we bid on the house. The conversation with Jordan, to the search, to the bidding on the house, took place over about 5 days. It was fast. And a little nuts.


Sadly, the next week, we found out that not only was our offer not accepted, there were also over 20 other bids, and the top bid was 200,000+ beyond the asking price. Yikes!

Our conclusion: clearly, that house was an exception, it had been priced too low, and our first impression — that we were priced out of the area — was indeed true. But we didn’t feel too bad. It had been good to go through the work of getting pre-qualified. It had been over a decade since we’d owned a house and it was good to remember what the buying process is like. So we abandoned our search in the Bay Area as quickly as we had picked it up, and we returned our focus to Colorado.


And we were feeling more exploratory at that point, so we broadened our search. We kept searching Colorado, but we worked with a real estate agent in Santa Barbara, too. That’s where Ben Blair’s father grew up, so we felt roots there as well.

But, now we were on the radar of the real estate agent in Oakland, and once in awhile he would send a listing he thought we’d like. I eventually wrote him an email and told him we simply weren’t interested. We had only bid on the yellow house because it was extraordinary. And the very few options in our price range in the Bay Area just weren’t appealing to us. The good stuff was too expensive. He totally got it.

But a few weeks later, he emailed again. He had a house he thought we would really like. It was being privately sold (instead of publicly listed) because the couple who owned it were older and they didn’t want the hassle of open houses and bidding wars. Since there was no listing, he had no link or photos to show us, but thought we would really like the house. We were grateful he thought of us, but without photos to look at, we didn’t give it much thought. And I didn’t want to bother my siblings to go take photos — I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.


Several weeks later, he emailed about the same house again, encouraging us to send someone to look at it and take photos. It was now March, and we were feeling so unsettled we decided to give it a try. So we asked Jordan again, and she took photos and made a little video again. And as she was driving away, she called us in France and said, “I don’t what the price is, but if you can afford it, you should buy this house.”

The photos she sent us are the photos in this post! These shots feature the furniture and belongings of the previous owners. (Jordan actually sent about 100 photos, so this is 20% of what we saw.)

When we saw the images, we fell in love with the house immediately. It’s a mid-century house with unusual architecture. And it’s completely surrounded by forest. It’s in a residential neighborhood, but there are so many trees, we can’t see our neighbors — it feels totally private! The house is built into the side of a hill and even on the main floor, it feels elevated, like you are high above the forest floor. The main floor is surrounded by decks and patios, and the 2nd floor has two decks as well. And because the weather here is wonderful year round, it’s really designed for indoor/outdoor living. There’s even a tiny stream in the back yard. Everyone that has visited us so far has commented that being here is like being in a treehouse.

It’s definitely an extraordinary home.


So mid-March, we bid on the house, and our real estate agent suggested we write a letter to the homeowners as well. Turns out the letter did the trick. There was another (apparently better) bid, but they accepted our offer! We couldn’t believe it!! We kept asking each other: Is this for real? Are we really moving to Oakland? To California?? After all this time, are we going to be homeowners again?

Through April and May we applied for our mortgage. That process, made more difficult by being overseas, just about did us in. I swear, it was like a 40 hour per week job. Nuts. But the sellers were incredibly patient. And so was our accountant. And so was our mortgage agent. And eventually, it happened! The official closing occurred mid-June.

And on July 15th, we flew from Paris to San Francisco, rented a van, drove to Oakland, and saw this house — which we had bought — for the very first time.


This post is long enough as it is. So I’ll save details about the number of bedrooms, the renovation work that needs to be done, and the furniture we inherited, for next week. But I have to acknowledge how lucky we feel. If it hadn’t been a private sale, with owners who weren’t intent on getting the highest possible price, we never could have bought it. This house is such a gift, a treasure. We couldn’t feel more gratitude about calling it our own.

Friends, I’d love to hear: have any of you ever bought a house without seeing it in person first? (I’m sure we’re not alone!) Or, do you think we’re crazy?

P.S. — Speaking of crazy, I’m afraid this move has pushed me over the edge. I’m definitely struggling. During the year after we moved to New York, I experienced a full-on breakdown, and happily, it hasn’t reached that level. But my mental state feels more serious than a typical “down” day for me. If things don’t improve over the weekend, I’ll see a doctor to get some help. Thanks for your patience as my publishing schedule has been so erratic this month. And for those of you waiting on emails from me, my sincere apologies. We’ll get things sorted out eventually!

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The 5th (and Last) Six Months in France Thu, 15 Aug 2013 14:30:37 +0000 Design Mom

Le Menil Scelleur

By Gabrielle.

Here it is! This is the final post in the 5-part mini-series about our time in France. I’ve been meaning to share it for two weeks now. (These last two weeks! They’ve been full and good, and overwhelming too.) But even though this post has been delayed, today is actually a fitting day to share this finale report about our time in France. Because one month ago today, we said our teary goodbyes and flew from Paris to San Francisco. One month ago!

When I am able to sit still for a moment here and there, I get terribly homesick.

(But don’t feel too bad for me. Tomorrow, I’ll share photos of the house here in Oakland. It’s awesome!)

During our last six months in France, I tried to share lots of posts about small details of French life, and we took two big trips — both North. Here’s the full report:

We marked two years in France. And a gardener power-cleaned the cobblestones at La Cressonnière.

We talked about working with a time difference. And we discussed homeopathie in France.

We shared Stacking Wood, which was filmed right at the farmhouse. It’s another one of our most popular Olive Us episodes. We also took you on a visit to a French cider farm. And talked about the famed local French lace.

A section of the stone wall at the farmhouse crumbled and was repaired by a stonemason. And we put an offer on The Cottage in France!

We took a last-minute roadtrip to Ireland! Small update here. Full report here.

winter walk08

We lived through the extended winter. We snapped photos on a late winter walk in our neighborhood. And then got snowed in. And then got drenched! Also, Ralph made a little movie of the kids picking blackberries. And Ben Blair turned 40!

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

We shared 5 Fabulous French Souvenirs under $5. And talked about Easter Candy in France.

Embroidery and France

We discussed embroidery in France. What kind of music the local kids were listening to. And postcards in France.

Oscar Blair

We took my parents touring around the D-Day sites and William the Conquerer spots, and Oscar was baptized in the stream near our house!

Amsterdam | Design Mom07

We went to Amsterdam for a video shoot. In fact, from April to June, we filmed 17 more episodes of Olive Us (these haven’t been shared yet, but they’re coming soon!). Another little report from Amsterdam here. And the full report, titled 5 Things to Remember for Your Trip to Amsterdam.

Little Red Riding Hood |

We celebrated May Day with our neighbors. And shared Little Red Riding Hood (in French!).

kayaking in the fjords08

We went to Norway to celebrate Ben Blair’s Fjordieth! Little hellos from Norway here and here and here. And a write-up about kayaking in the fjords here. (Oh my goodness, I just realized I haven’t even written up a full report about our trip yet. Hah!)

paris - spring 2013

We did a little filming in Paris. The wisteria made it’s appearance. And we visited Chateau Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conquerer.

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

We gave another report (our last one) about schools in France. And visited our town’s vide grenier (town yard sale). We also shared 5 Financial Tips When Moving Abroad.

converted french mill

We closed on The Cottage! And we found an amazing architect to work on the renovation.

apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

We spent a Saturday zip-lining in the Suisse-Normande. And we listed La Cressonnière for rent.

gabrielle blair alt summit

I went to New York for Alt Summit NYC. And we announced we were moving to Oakland.


We talked about how we shop and eat in France. And we harvested the peonies for the third and last time.

5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. Great stuff you can find at any French Grocery Store.  |  Design Mom

We shared 5 More Fabulous French Souvenirs Under $5. And we spent the 4th of July at the D-Day Beaches.

French Grandmother

We started packing up. And ended up with 32 pieces of luggage/bags. We said some goodbyes. And the day we flew out? We shared the first post in this 5-part series.


And that wraps it up! What a time we had!!

Thank you so much for indulging me while I’ve re-lived our time in France. I already treasure these re-cap posts! And I’ve referred to them when I want to remember the timeline or when I’m feeling nostalgic. They are my proof that we lived life fully while we were there and took advantage of everything we had access to. No regrets.

And here’s to the next adventure!

P.S. — If you’re curious, you can read all 5 reports here.


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The 3rd Six Months in France Wed, 24 Jul 2013 16:00:24 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Here is the 3rd report (of five) in my Adventures in France mini-series (here’s number one and two). This covers February through July of 2012. The thing that stands out to me about this report is the Olive Us series. We started that project fairly casually during this time period, and had no idea what a life-changer it would become for us.

I hope you enjoy the report!

We celebrated Chandeleur (the French crepe-eating holiday that was replaced by Groundhog Day in the U.S.). Experienced a rare Normandy snow day. Survived a frozen-pipes-record-breaking-cold-spell.

We talked more about French parenting. We learned about La Petite Souris (a little mouse that comes to French children instead of the toothfairy). And we talked about how French kids eat everything.

I introduced Love the Place You Live and shared images of a chapel turned art space and gathering space.

We visited a lesser known WWII site called Mount Ormel. This is very close to where we lived and was the location of the last battle before the Allies marched down the Champs Élysées, freeing Paris.

We attended Nuit Blanche in Paris (the all-night art exhibit that ranges across the city).

We shared tips on prepping for a family photo shoot.

We shared more French Pharmacy Picks. Got advice from our favorite French pharmacist on how to care for Ben Blair’s beard. And talked about the oldest pharmacy in Florence.

Visit to Chartres03

We visited Chartres Cathedral.

We featured our favorite local antique shop (called a brocante). Attended the Mardi Gras parade at school. And attended a community philosophy lecture + dinner.

We grew nostalgic over some of our travels and remembered handmade shoes in Barcelona and charming bikes in Italy.

We made an Easter Tree. Marked Babar’s (the famous French elephant) 80th Anniversary. Gave a language learning report. And talked about the family car we drove in France.

We went to Stonehenge in England — just a short over-the-weekend trip.

Easter Egg Hunt at Eiffel Tower01

We had an Easter Egg Hunt at the Eiffel Tower. Full report + photos here. And we finally climbed to the top of the tower, too! Here are our 4 tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower with kids.

We went to Rome — arriving on Easter Sunday! We ate lots of gelato. Visited the Sistene Chapel. And saw all the sites. Here’s our post on Rome With Kids: 7 Don’t Miss Activities, where we report about our trip.

We dreamed up Ben Blair’s Fjordieth. Started shooting Olive Us. (This is epic!) Explored a local cider farm. Said goodbye to my sister when she moved home from Paris. Sad face.

We decided to stay in France one more year, or 2 1/2 years total. We gave lilies of the valley on May Day. I went to Miami for Mom 2.0.

We launched Olive Us! Here’s the post about the very first episode. As I mentioned above, this turned out to be a game changer for us. We ended up filming 41 episodes over our remaining time in France (we’ve shared 24 so far).

I went to Berlin, Germany where I was the Keynote Speaker at The Hive conference.

Deauville, France | Design Mom

My niece, Roxcy, stayed with us during March, April and May. To end her 3-months on a high note, we had an epic last weekend — we made a trip to the Loire Valley, took a special visit to the American Military Cemetery in Normandy for Memorial Day, and spent a day in Deauville and Honfleur.

We reported on a local Vide Grenier. And wrapped up our school year with another school report. We went nuts for the fields of poppies — and shared a tutorial on how to preserve them.

New lavender shrubs were planted at La Cressonnière. We shared our graham cracker substitute. Talked about stamped cookies. And what a visit to a French Bakery is like.

Then, we flew to America to spend the month of July! During our month in the U.S., we spent the 4th of July at a Blair Reunion. Took the kids to a Maynard Dixon exhibit.

The Story of Kish - A video by OliveUs.TV

We filmed 8 episodes of Olive Us all over Utah. A red rock car wash, an ancient desert epic, a ghost town tour by Zion National Park. Rock climbing in Rock Canyon, a pottery lesson in Central Utah. And a mountain picnic in Cache Valley — the very northernmost part of the State.

Then we went to Colorado, where we helped our cousins clean up a toilet-papering prank. And mourned with fellow-citizens in Aurora.

On July 30th, we flew back to France.

And that completes the 3rd six months we spent in France. These posts continue to be therapeutic for me. It’s so good to take time and remember what we did. And it reassures me we took full advantage of our time there.

Does anything from this report stand out to you?

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The 2nd Six Months in France Sat, 20 Jul 2013 16:00:00 +0000 Design Mom


Images and text by Gabrielle (except the last one).

Here’s the second post in my mini-series about our adventures in France. (You can find the first one here.) The second half of our first year in France included a lot more local exploration, and visits to Spain, Belgium and Germany as well. I should note, at the time, we thought we would only be spending one year total in France, so there was definitely a now-or-never feeling to our plans. Take a peek:


We visited the Army Ranger WWII Memorial at Pointe du Hoc. It’s the most impactful war site I’ve ever visited.


We adopted French-made espadrilles into our wardrobe. Took a summer hike in the Swiss-Normande region of France. Ooohed and aahed over the fields of sunflowers. And shared our take on topless beaches in France.

(June took her first steps! And I talked about work-life balance.)


We shared Oscar & Betty’s bedroom. And some photos of the gardens at La Cressonnière in summer.

We made more visits to Mont St. Michel — this time we walked around the beaches surrounding the mont.

We discovered the public drinking fountains in Paris. Gathered wild blackberries near our home. And made hollyhock dolls.

We took a cooking class taught by Susan Loomis in Louviers, France. We went to a local amusement park (called Festyland) for Olive’s birthday.


And we took the kids to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.


We featured our annual What to Wear to School posts — Euro Edition. See Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, and Betty. Plus, school supplies in France. And a few months into the new school year, we made another school report.


We visited Monet’s Gardens at Giverny.

Ben and I went to Florence, Italy (sans kids!) — here’s the trip report. And we also stopped by Pisa where we were wowed by the Leaning Tower.


As soon as we arrived home from Italy, we loaded up the kids for an epic road trip to Barcelona. This trip included a visit to 15,000 year old Cave Paintings, a night in the medieval city of Carcassonne (which I never even wrote about). And a visit to Sagrada Familia, easily my favorite cathedral ever. Here’s a full post about our Barcelona road trip.

We gathered walnuts from our backyard. And the kids watched a calf being born in our neighbor’s field. We harvested pears from our yard. Enjoyed the orchard across the street. Examined other local berries. (And Ben Blair grew a beard!)

We had our first Thanksgiving in France, including an adventure with a turkey. And we bought a painting from a favorite local artist.

We visited Paris to see the Christmas Shops on the Champs Élysées. Decorated with fresh holly from our yard, and French Industrial ornaments found in the barn. (More ornaments here.) Oh, and we had our best Nativity program yet.

We had a memorable Vintage Car photo shoot — more pictures from that shoot here. And we eventually ended up buying the car!

During the holiday break, we took a Waffle Tour through Belgium.

After the waffle tour, we spent time in Cologne, Germany.

This was big: We decided to extend our stay in France by six months! (The original plan was one year.) And we enjoyed a King Cake celebration with neighbors.

I shared French pharmacy picks. and talked a little about French Parenting.

And the last big event during our first full year in France? I went to Alt Summit in Salt Lake City. Here’s a full report.

And there it is. Post number two of five in this mini-series. It’s been so fun for me to go through my archives and relive these adventures! I hope you’re enjoying it too.

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The First Six Months Mon, 15 Jul 2013 16:00:43 +0000 Design Mom


Images and text by Gabrielle.

I know. I know. I need to stop talking about moving. But I can’t help it! It’s taking up every square inch of my brain at the moment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve occasionally felt a pang of regret at some small thing we haven’t done during our time in France. And finally, I had to stop and remind myself that we absolutely jumped in with both feet and have taken advantage of every possible opportunity. No regrets!

I thought it would be fun to write up a mini-series of posts covering some of the adventures we’ve had since we moved here. It’s been a nice round 2 1/2 years, I’m going to break it into 5 posts covering 6 months each. I hope you enjoy the mini-series. And thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane!

la cressonniere hallway

We flew to France on February 1st, 2011. And started to get to know the house, La Cressonnière — we introduced the tree house, we shared the halfbath (I still find it so charming!), we shared Olive’s bedroom, too. But it actually turned out to be Ralph’s room, when he suddenly outgrew the bed in his first room! We talked about the floors, and showed off the gorgeous kitchen. We also learned more about the artists that worked in the studio here at La Cressonnière.

french ceramic yogurt container

We started to explore our community — we learned to shop for food in France, and discovered our first French licorice. We gave our initial French school report, we met our neighbors, and started discovering French clothing stores for kids. Oh. And we discovered the yogurt aisle!

chateau carrouges

We found a castle very near our home. We started exploring brocantes. We were amazed at the countryside covered in wild daffodils.

Winged Victoryeiffel tower picnic

And we started exploring further from home as well. We spent our first touristy weekend in Paris as a family — day number one & day number two.


Then, Maude & I went to London on a ferry across The English Channel for her 12th birthday.

mont st michelmont st michel

We made our first visit (of many) to the legendary Mont St. Michel. Which included a visit to a small military cemetery nearby.

House Hunters International  |  Design Mom

Oh. And we shot an episode of House Hunters International. (It aired a few months later. So fun!)

ornate mirror la cressonnière

We shared more of La Cressonnière — we gave a photo tour of the stairwell, posted about the amazing exterior, and shared photos of the living room. We toured the studio, watched the wisteria come in, shared Maude’s bedroom —which since turned into Betty & June’s bedroom. We shared Ralph’s room, too (which later became Oscar’s room).

ribbons on trellisladuree macarons

We hosted an big Easter Egg Hunt. (Posts herehere and here and here. Including 100 Laduree Macarons!)

buying eggs

We explored more of the French countryside. We bought eggs from our neighbor. We discussed laundry and ironing in France. We were amazed at the wild poppies. (Fun fact: The spring is so delayed this year, that the poppies are in bloom right now!) And we made our second report about school.

New Orleans Shop Sign

I went to New Orleans (my first visit!) for the Mom 2.0 conference.

rafting on the dordogne

We drove to the Dordogne region of France and canoed. While we were there, we also went to the famed Marquessac Gardens.

June Blair 1st Birthday

(Baby June turned one!)

tulip fields

We went to Amsterdam — posts about Vondelpark, the city and the tulips!

I went to Sweden on a business trip.

(Baby June weaned.)

le 104 carousel
French Open Final

We had 3 weekends in a row in Paris. First, I met my friend Megan and wandered the Luxembourg Gardens. Then we took the kids to visit The 104 in Paris. And finally, Ben and I had a weekend — just us — including tickets to the French Open Final!

chateau medavy

We had French Greys family photos. Maude spent several days in the hospital with pneumonia. We were invited to a French Country Wedding. We harvested cherries from the back yard. (They’re still not ripe yet this year!) We discovered another local chateau, called Medavy.

We started thinking about real estate in France.

Design Mom turned five!


In July, we made two trips to the D-Day beaches.

london towerHP7P2

Then, we took a family roadtrip to London, and saw the Harry Potter finale on opening night — here are photos of the city, and the Tower of London. Yes, Ben Blair drove on the opposite side of the road. (Would you dare? I don’t think I would!)

tour de france

And the finale of our first six months in France? We went to Paris for the Tour de France finish on the Champs Elysees. Fabulous!!

What do you think? London twice, Paris at least 4 times, Sweden, New Orleans, the Dordogne Region, the French Open… Could we have fit in anything else? : ) Does anything in particular stand out to you about the first 6 months?

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A Few Things Sun, 14 Jul 2013 18:02:09 +0000 Design Mom

French Grandmother

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. I’m typing this on Sunday evening. I intended to publish it on Friday as usual, but the week slipped by so fast! I’m not even sure what to say today. I feel like my mind is in a sort of suspended animation, because I’m not quite ready to process what this move means. What our time in France has been. What our time in Oakland will become. So I’m just concentrating on things like luggage weight restrictions and last loads of laundry instead. Have you ever been in that kind of head space?

While I practice my best mental avoidance techniques, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

Ramadan - When and What to Eat.

Wheatgrass ice cubes for blemishes.

How to Learn to Dance in a Year. So cool!

Turn a summer day into a celebration with homemade popsicles.

Human-powered helicopter.

Three year old photographer. For reals.

bedroom for an 8-year-old with modern touches of yellow.

The perils of giving kids IQ tests.

Readers sent in footage of the quietest spots in NYC.

Great ideas for a camping themed party!

I hope you’ve been having a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow (that’s Monday). I miss you already.


P.S. — As soon as I hit publish, we’re off to say goodbye to The Cottage and to take some photos — I still haven’t shared a proper tour yet. So many goodbyes! School friends, favorite views, the treehouse, neighbors, familiar drives, ancient architecture, the cows in field next door… The photo at top pictures Marie. She has been the French language and culture tutor for our kids, and she had us over for cake and a proper goodbye. So sweet I can hardly stand it.

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Packing Up Tue, 09 Jul 2013 09:32:13 +0000 Design Mom

cat in the entry

Image and text by Gabrielle

Last week I was confidently telling Ben Blair that packing up would be a snap, and that we’d be able to spend this last week in France relaxing in this gorgeous home. Hah! Today my confidence is less confident. I forget so easily how quickly “stuff” accumulates. Let’s take schoolwork for example. Think of all the schoolwork your child brought home this year. Now times that by 6 kids. Now times that by 2 1/2 school years. That’s a lot of stuff!

So we’re going through the stacks of notebooks and binders, and trying to make wise decisions on what to keep and what we won’t miss. And we’re helping the kids sort through their emotions about saying goodbye to things that might feel precious at the moment, but will be forgotten shortly. Then, figuring out if it’s better to ship the keepers to California, or if we can make room in our allotted luggage without going over airline weight limits. And that’s just the school stuff. : )

Oh man, I can not wait till the packing is done. I am plowing through it as quickly as possible because it’s my least favorite thing.

But it’s not just the packing, I’m quite the basket case this week. Trying to pack. Trying to get my blog work done and my Alt Summit work done (Alt Summit SF is next week!). Desperately trying to be present during these last days before our move.

Honestly, I don’t remember feeling this emotional about a move before. There’s so much in my head, and I want to write about it, but feel like I won’t have time for weeks. I’m craving more hours in the day in the worst way.

Tell me, Friends. Have you had a particularly challenging move? Share your horror stories, and your most beautiful/hopeful moments mid-move. I’m sure I’m not alone!

P.S. — Please forgive me if posts are late this week, or if I can’t respond to comments as quickly as I’d like to. I’m doing my best, I promise. : )

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The Architect Thu, 27 Jun 2013 14:30:56 +0000 Design Mom

converted french mill

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Okay. Let’s just get this out there. My blog is going to have a split personality for the next year, or probably longer. I’ll be talking about the French cottage in the countryside. Giving updates on the renovation. Sharing photos. And very likely taking trips back to France when we need to make in-person decisions. But I’ll also be talking about Oakland. Very urban Oakland. What it’s like to settle in. What we figure out for schools. And how we’re making our house a home. I hope it will be more fun and interesting than it is confusing. But who knows? We’ll find out soon enough. : ) This one is a cottage post.

On Tuesday, we met with an architect named Bernard Pasquier. And it was the dreamiest sort of meeting. Bernard is actually retired and he’s only taking on passion projects at the moment. So before he would commit to our project, he wanted to meet us, and visit the property to “get a feel for the spirit of the place”. He also wanted us to see his work in person to make sure his style was a good fit for us.

So we had our first meeting at his home. It’s the building pictured above. A converted mill. And it’s stunning! See the bridge heading to the top floor? That’s the entrance. He designed the bridge himself. And that top floor? It’s a modern open loft with French industrial influences. It looks like it would be right at home in Soho. I love it.

french loft

Oh man. I was in awe at the space and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to meet him. We really wanted to work with a local architect if at all possible, but we are so rural there aren’t many around, so to be introduced to Bernard feels like such a gift. And guess who made the introduction? The same family that owns La Cressonnière. They know all the coolest people! I swear.

At that point, we knew it would be ideal to have him as our architect, but he still needed to see our cottage. And what if he didn’t like it? It’s so modest, and in such ruin! But he went with us to the property, inspected every inch of it, and spent some time walking around the building. His conclusion: it’s a special place with a really unique outbuilding. And yes, he’s going to work with us!

french architect and ben blair

As an extra bonus, Bernard speaks about as much English as we speak French, and we understand each other quite well. During our conversation, Bernard would typically speak French, and we would answer in English. It worked out for everybody!

We couldn’t be happier. This adventure is really happening! We can hardly believe it.

Tell me, Friends. Have you ever worked with an architect before? Any tips? I haven’t and don’t quite know what to expect. But I’m excited!

P.S. — I’m thinking I should create a “Cottage” tab and an “Oakland” tab to make it easier to follow along. Watch for it.

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Oakland! Mon, 24 Jun 2013 16:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

greetings from oakland

By Gabrielle.

It was fun to see the guesses come in last Friday and over the weekend. At last count, 55% of people who voted guessed San Francisco. And they guessed right. We’re moving to the Bay Area!!

The home we’re moving to is actually in Oakland, not San Francisco. But when I’ve mentioned Oakland to people, some give me a blank stare (apparently most of our French friends have not heard of it), so I’ve mostly been telling people we’re moving to San Francisco. : ) We actually don’t know much about Oakland at all, so we’re trying to get caught up! We’ve heard it referred to as East Bay, Berkeley, and Oaktown, and several friends have described it as the Brooklyn of the Bay Area. If you are an Oakland lover, I hope you’ll chime in with some of your favorite things about the city — and I’ve been scouring SFGirlbyBay’s Oakland guide, too!

Here are a few FAQs we’ve been getting about the move:

Q: Why are you moving?
A: We first made plans to move because the family that owns La Cressonnière was going to move back in. They’ve since decided to stay in Australia for another year or more, so yes, we could have stayed around. But we feel like it’s time to head back. Ralph and Maude are ready to try American high school. And sometimes, living here affects how easily we can run our businesses. But we hope we stay tied to Normandy for the rest of our lives! In fact, we hope our cottage purchase ensures that we do. But the whole family agrees that it’s time for us to head back to the U.S..

Q: What brings you to Oakland/The Bay Area?
A: Good question. We can live and work virtually anywhere, so we opened our search pretty wide when we thought about where to move back. Ultimately, the Bay Area tempted us for 3 basic reasons: 1) because we have family there (my brother Jared — he’s married to Liz of Say Yes to Hoboken, and my sister Jordan of Oh Happy Day), 2) because there are particular opportunities for our children there, and 3) something Ben Silberman, the founder of Pinterest, said in his Alt Summit keynote speech a couple of years ago about being where your field of work is centered, stayed with me. As non-techy as I often feel, our fields of work (blogging, Olive Us and Alt Summit) are all online. And the world behind the online world is based in Silicon Valley. There’s actually a longer story about why we’re headed to Oakland, but I’ll save it for another post. : )

Q: How often will you return to France?
A: Alas, we don’t know the answer to that yet. I’m sure some of it will depend on how the cottage renovation goes. (Speaking of which, we meet with an architect tomorrow! We are very excited.) We like to imagine spending our summers here in France, and maybe the Christmas holiday. Who knows! We’re also open to moving back here if for some reason our family isn’t thriving in California.

Q: Are the kids excited about the move?
A: For sure! I think everyone is feeling ready to start the next chapter of our lives. And they’ve already started thinking about their future bedrooms and what their school life will be like in Oakland. But the kids are feeling reflective too — talking about what they’ve seen and learned over the past 2 1/2 years. Making note of what they’ll miss.


I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you ever spent time in the Bay Area? (I’ve spent many a vacation in San Francisco, but Oakland is fairly new to me!) If you could live and work anywhere in the world, where would you pick?

P.S. — Hah! As soon as we announced the move to our families, I received this video from 2 of my siblings:

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For Rent: La Cressonnière Wed, 19 Jun 2013 14:30:12 +0000 Design Mom

apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Earlier this month, I wrote a post called Rent The Life, all about unusual and picturesque places you can lease and live in. And I received a bunch a funny + sweet emails in response telling me they’d rent my life in the French countryside if they could. : )

Well. Someone’s dream may be coming true. Because the fairytale farmhouse that we’ve lived in for the past 2 1/2 years is available!

Yes, we’re moving home in July, but the homeowners of the farmhouse have decided they’re not quite ready to move back in — they’re going to extend their stay in Australia. Which means La Cressonnière is available starting August 1st! We first found this home when we searched on a site called Sabbatical Homes, and the house is listed there again if you’re interested.

Living here has been such a gift. The house really is extraordinary. And not just the house, the whole experience of living here — buying fresh eggs from a neighbor, fresh milk from another. Goodness, Oscar was baptized in the stream just down the road!

We get really emotional thinking about moving away, but we like imagining another family getting to enjoy this remarkable space. What do you think? Did you get butterflies reading this? (Maybe it’s a sign that you should move in!) Are you up for an adventure in the French countryside?

P.S. — Here are all my posts with photos of La Cressonnière — the older ones share room by room photo tours. Or you can browse my Instagram stream. It’s full of photos of this beautiful place!

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