Text and photo by Gabrielle.

Today is Ben Blair’s 40th Birthday. Forty years. Forty great years!

So we have big plans. The kids are still on school vacation, and this is how we’re celebrating. First, we used a roll of paper to make a scroll listing 40 of the fantastic things Ben has done in his life — memorable things like walking the Brooklyn Bridge, and life-changing things like raising six kids  — and then hung the scroll from the ceiling over our bed so he would see it as soon as he woke. The list was so long that it tumbled down, rolled off the bed and pooled on the floor! When he woke up, we brought him breakfast in bed and took turns reading from the list — and even adding more items at the bottom.

This afternoon, we’ll have sandwiches and tartes from two of his favorite bakeries. And this evening we have a dinner date planned in Caen.

But the real celebration is happening in May: Ben Blairs Fjordieth in Norway! We bought tickets for the whole family and we can’t wait!! The fjords have been on Ben’s travel wishlist since I met him and I’m so glad we’re finally making it happen.

Originally, we loved the idea of turning the trip into an extended family & friends event, but ended up feeling bad about asking people to spend money on plane tickets. For us, it’s a bargain — we bought 8 plane tickets for about $850 (can you believe that?). But a ticket from the U.S. is pricey.

The big surprise for today: We invited friends and family to send video birthday messages for Ben, and Ralph edited them all together to make one big movie. It’s about 45 minutes long and it’s fantastic! It has me laughing and crying from one minute to the next. Instead of gifts, we’ll surprise Ben with the video this afternoon when we light the candles and sing happy birthday. The video is sure to be a treasure for Ben, and it’s a treasure for me as well. I love seeing how much people appreciate and respect this good man I’m married to.

As for me, I didn’t make a video for Ben, but I do want to write a little tribute here.

1) He takes his role and husband and father very seriously. His relationships with me and the kids are his first priority.

2) He cares what the house is like, what’s on the walls, what sorts of books are on the coffee table.

3) He doesn’t have a design background, but that doesn’t mean he just humors me when I ask him an opinion on paint color. He’ll talk through the goals of the space with me and give me an honest assessment.

4) If you read an especially calm, reasoned, and kind response from me, to a rude or irrational comment on this blog, Ben Blair may have helped me with it.

5) Speaking of which, he kindly edits my posts whenever I ask him to. Which is often.

6) Ben Blair is incredibly funny. It’s typically the first thing friends mention about him. The very last moment of my day, as I’m falling asleep, is usually me laughing at something he said.

7) He understands that what he does now will affect our childrens’ happiness as adults. He’ll sit and patiently practice music with the kids because he knows that one day, when they’re grown up, they’ll love hanging out and playing music… or maybe want to start a band when they’re in high school.

8) Ben is modest. It’s almost painful to him to talk about his accomplishments.

9) An example of this: We got married while we were in college and I didn’t know he was on the Dean’s list until after we were married.

10) Ben is accomplished. Did you know he has a PhD from Columbia? That is not an easy thing to earn.

11) He’s an excellent cook. The two most requested meals at are house are The Greek Meal and The Chicken+Mushroom Sauce Meal — both Ben Blair creations.

12) He’s also an excellent driver. I can always relax when he’s driving because he’s so good at it. He just handles a car really well. Even when we drive in the UK and he has to drive on the left side of the road! He does the driving on all of our roadtrips.

13) He sincerely rejoices in others’ successes. I remember a day in our early marriage when one of his friends received good news about getting into his first choice medical school. Ben heard the news and spent the rest of the day on cloud nine.

14) He has a generous spirit. The kids will request movie night refreshments, and my instinct is to buy the bare minimum, but if Ben does the shopping he’ll bring home 3 times as much as requested (which also prevents any kind of hoarding or bickering over portions from the kids). There’s always more than enough if Ben’s around. Life feels generous when he’s in charge.

15) He acts like I’m attractive. Even when I’m not.

16) He wrote a blog long before I did. It was very funny. (Wouldn’t it be great if he started updating again?)

17) He’s fearless. We wouldn’t be here in France if it wasn’t for his fearlessness and sense of adventure. We wouldn’t have moved to Greece when we were newly weds either. Those ideas would have been appealing to me, but I would have been too scared to actually make them happen. Living abroad is challenging, and I couldn’t do it without him.

18) He takes chances on me. He believes in me. When I would invest time and energy into this blog, before it became my job, he never questioned it.

19) He’s comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t pretend to be what he’s not.

20) He’s a good tennis player. And a good athlete in general. In high school, the top coach called him the best overall athlete in the school. (And because of his modesty, I didn’t learn that little tidbit till we’d been married for years. One of his friends told me.)

21) Ben is beloved by his friends. If something good happens to them, they know he will be happy. If they’ve run into trouble, they know Ben won’t judge and will want to help.

22) Ben had bright red hair when we married, but it has faded over the years. Now that he’s grown his beard out (it’s been a year and a half now), it’s been fun to have a ginger around again!

23) I share them on Design Mom, but the Olive Us movies are really Ben’s domain, Ben’s responsibility, and Ben’s creation. He works super hard on them.

24) He takes the kids swimming. I dread trips to the pool, but the kids love going so much! So he makes sure it happens. He taught the oldest 5 to swim and he’s teaching June now.

25) He actively seeks to learn new things. He’s currently reading photography books so he can master our camera.

26) When I met him, he was the President of the Bean Society. It was an unofficial club at our university where students had a monthly meeting to honor beans (and legumes of all sorts). They would sing songs about beans. Write poetry about beans. Invite professors to speak at the meetings on Beans & Philosophy, or Beans & Literature. There was a Bean Society Newsletter.

27) Ben works hard to help our kids develop their talents. Ralph has been working on a Zombie Movie (here’s part one), and Ben will help him carry props to the location, assist with camera work, and be helpful in any way he can. Note: It’s not a school assignment, it’s just something Ralph is excited about. So Ben puts in the time and helps him make it happen.

28) He forgives me daily.

29) He befriends my friends, so that when the phone rings and it’s Laura Mayes or Laurie Smithwick, he’s as delighted to talk with them as I am.

30) He picks up new languages like it’s no big deal.

31) Sometimes, when we’re hanging out as a family, Ben will say: Okay. Pushups everyone. And all the kids (plus Ben) will do pushups.

32) From very early on in our marriage he’s actively worked to make this a balanced partnership. We’ve had turns trying out traditional roles, but mostly our marriage has been an effort to reach our combined goals and get the work done — regardless of who does the work. He embraces the role of parent and housekeeper as needed. He embraces the role of breadwinner as needed. I know our arrangement wouldn’t work out for every couple, but it’s been great for us.

33) Related, Ben is a vocal feminist. He’ll identify cultural problems and help me put words to maddening situations when I’m too frustrated to think rationally. He’ll talk about these issues with our kids over the dinner table. I’m so grateful he takes issues I care about seriously.

34) He dreams big. He’s already thinking about our next adventure. Should we build a house? Move to a developing country so our kids get a more well-rounded view of the world? And he loves thinking up big ideas. We have lists and lists of businesses he would like to start or products he would like to create.

35) Speaking of which, some of his ideas have grown and thrived, but others haven’t. He doesn’t dwell on the failure. He just keeps moving forward. Keeps working hard.

36) He loves futuristic technology. He love robots. He’s completely fascinated by The Singularity.

37) His favorite TV shows are Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, Rick Steve’s Europe, and Breaking Bad.

38) One time, Ben and 8-year-old Ralph were driving to a cub scouts meeting. Ralph asked him what the word was in A Christmas Story. The word when the boy drops the bolts during the tire change and says, “But I didn’t say fudge.” Ben answered quickly and frankly that the word was fuck. That it was a word we didn’t use, but that Ralph didn’t need to be worried about it.

He just handled it so well. No stress. No getting mad at Ralph for asking. He took all the fear and power of that word away in an instant. 

39) Which reminds me, our kids are comfortable asking Ben anything. Or bringing problems to him. They know he won’t get riled up, he won’t get angry. He always starts by assuming the best of them.

40) Concerned that our family prayers were turning into rote statements, Ben drafted a sort of outline of the things he hoped our family would focus on in prayer. Things like:

Let us not forget, or lose sight of how strange and beautiful is life, how much we love each other, and that a part of us will die when any of us dies. Having each other gives us an anchor in this world.”

“Help us to be creative, to seek great things, to build, to dream, to film, to write, and to finish. To give what’s demanded by the project we are working on.”

Help us to have reverence for life, for each other, for other views and perspectives. Help us to be good. Help us to help those who are suffering, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. And to celebrate the victories of others.”

Every so often, before family prayer, we’ll review Ben’s outline and refocus our efforts. It’s an evolving outline and the whole family contributes to it and adds their thoughts. We don’t quote from the outline, but let it inspire our thoughts as we pray.


What a great person. I love him dearly and know I hit the jackpot when I married him.

Happy 40th Ben Blair!