designmom

A Few Things

February 5, 2016

roses at the treehouse

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? I woke up today with the It’s Friday song going through my head. Hah! It wasn’t a particularly challenging week, but nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that the weekend has arrived! You too?

Compared to last weekend, we barely have anything on our schedule, which is fine by me. I think the biggest thing I’d like to do this weekend is sketch out built in shelf options for the family room and office. How about you? What are your plans? Will you be watching the big game on Sunday? It’s happening just across the Bay!

Also, I really appreciate all the contractor advice from yesterday’s post. After I sign off here, I’m going to make a bunch of phone calls and see if I can figure something out. But before I do that, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Oh wow! This made me catch my breath. Can you imagine the joy in the room?

- Something new. The DuVernay Test is like the Bechdel Test, but for race.

- In Oakland, this big-hearted and super-inspiring man is building tiny houses for the homeless.

- Save this link. A searchable catalog of the best kids’ books from the last 8 years.

- What it was like when women were not allowed to have their own credit cards.

- America’s oldest mall was turned into 48 charming, low-cost, micro apartments. Does your town have an empty mall?

- What Frida Kahlo wore.

- I came across this short history of Japan on Twitter, and now I want to watch one for every country in the world.

- Cool DIY laundry folding tool for kids (or adults!).

- Do our schools lack joy?

- My friend Kristen Howerton, has been the target of white supremacists over the last few weeks. The brutality is hard to comprehend. We like to think this doesn’t happen in our “post racial” society, but that’s not true. She writes about the experience here.

- Related, I’ve been thinking about this article putting forth the idea we need to make publishers more accountable for the comments on their sites. And this is where I also need to say HIGH FIVE to Design Mom Readers, because you manage to have big discussions and share diverse opinions, while also being both civil and responsible. Having to delete a comment is a rare thing for me. Thank you!

- Lastly, turns out trees have social networks too.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Blue Apron — get 2 free meals with your first order!

So cool! Blue Apron has a new Guest Chef Series that I just tried. I think it’s an awesome concept, and I can tell you it tastes awesome in reality. Essentially, Blue Apron partners with a renowned chef who shares a special recipe. Then, customers can order the featured recipe as part of their regular Blue Apron delivery! This makes it possible for home chefs across the country (like me!) to make one-of-a-kind meals.

farm fresh ingredientschopping chivesSchnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

Blue Apron has partnered with chefs in California, New York, Dallas, and more, including Chef Melissa Perello and Chef Johnathan Adler. This year, they are working with Markus Glocker, an Austrian-born chef and restaurant owner. He recently won Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation for his restaurant, Batard. Such an honor!

The best part? Last night, I got to make Chef Glocker’s Schnitzel recipe — and so can you! If you want to try the Schnitzel, order within the next week, and it will come with your Blue Apron delivery on February 18th. Plus, the first 100 Design Mom Readers to sign up will get 2 free meals off their first order. Schnitzel for everybody!

teens cooking togetherchopping onions

Chef Markus mentions this in the video below, but the schnitzel recipe is a classic Austrian dish that he had all the time growing up. It’s not officially on the menu at Batard, but he started making it for his Austrian friends when they would visit the restaurant and it’s become a crowd favorite. In fact, Pete Wells, the food critic for the New York Times, reviewed Batard, giving it 3 stars (an amazing rating!), and when he visited the restaurant, he specifically requested the schnitzel.

I think we can all consider ourselves lucky, because now we all know that Glocker serves this recipe off the menu, and we can request it if we ever get to dine there. Happily, in the meantime, Blue Apron will deliver it to our doors.

use a pot to flatten chicken when cooking schnitzelMaking Schnitzel: flour then egg then breadcrumbs

If you’d like more from Chef Glocker, I’ve got good news. In addition to creating a video about the recipe, Blue Apron also created two “chef tip” videos that share Glocker’s secret tips to the perfect schnitzel and the perfect potato salad. These are really authentic tips, and I love that they give us a peek into the kitchen of a New York City icon!

peeling fingerling potatoesSchnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

I’ve written about Blue Apron before, so I know most of you are familiar, but just in case it’s new to you, here’s a quick summary: Blue Apron delivers all the farm-fresh ingredients you need, right to your doorstep, in exactly the right proportions, to make chef-designed recipes at home. No trips to the grocery store and no waste from unused ingredients. Everything arrives in a refrigerated box so ingredients stay fresh even if you’re not at home when your package arrives. I find it super convenient, especially on busy weeks.

Potato Salad Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!Schnitzel Recipe from renowned chef Markus Glocker. You can make this!

My conclusion? The schnitzel was delicious and so was the potato salad! Maude and Olive both said it was their favorite Blue Apron recipe so far. If you get a chance to try it, I want to hear what you think! I mentioned it above, but in case you missed it, next week is your big chance to order the schnitzel, and you can find the discount code here.

Now I’m curious. Do you follow any world-renowned chefs? Do you try their recipes? If you had the chance to choose which chef Blue Apron partners with next, who would it be?

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Oscar-writing-thank-you-notes

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I just realized I skipped January’s post, but here’s February’s installment of random thoughts just for you. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments!

1) It seems to be spider season at our house. I have a long-standing deep fear of many types of spiders. In France, some of the spiders were massive, especially in the fall, and I did not deal well with the situation at all. And growing up in St. George, wolf spiders were both gross and terrifying to me (they still are!). But these Oakland spiders don’t really scare me. They’re often tiny, and they’re daddy-long-leg types, so there’s not much mass to them.

The thing that bugs me is the constant battling of cobwebs. I vacuum them all up, and the next day they are back in full force. I’ve heard that wiping down surfaces with lemon juice can keep them away. Apparently, their taste buds are in their feet and they don’t like the taste of lemon. Any one out there tried this? Other tips?

2) Not sure what to do about this, but we’re having a really hard time finding a contractor for our master bedroom remodel. I was not expecting this and and am feeling stuck. I’m wondering what the story is. Last time we hired a contractor, we had 3 bids within a week. This time, it’s hard to get anyone to return a phone call. Maybe there’s some sort of building boom going on that I’m not aware of?

I could have sworn we’d be done by now and we haven’t even started the demolition. Very frustrating! I usually try to hire people on recommendation, but at this point, I feel like I”m going to need to start cold-calling every contractor in the area and see who has time. I’m happy to take any advice! I’m really, really excited to get going on this. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.

3) Our whole house is buzzing with excitement over the launch of Teachur. I’m super proud of Ben Blair and my brother Josh. The kids are proud too — they check in and give me updates on the Kickstarter page throughout the day. Cousins call and cheer Ben on. My siblings share the post and pledge support. The response has been really wonderful and I love any time Ben Blair gets to shine.

I also LOVE the responses you gave on the post I wrote about it. I can’t thank you enough. The feedback and questions are incredibly helpful to Ben and Josh. Feel free to keep them coming. If you’re interested in following the progress of Teachur, a pledge of even $1 is awesome! It helps them gauge interest and makes it easy to update people with Teachur news.

4) Both of my boys are growing their hair out. They’ve worn their hair short for so many years, that I think we’d forgotten how curly it is! They haven’t needed it before, but I bought some mousse and gel for them to try out as they figure out which sort of curl they like best.

Betty and Olive don’t have much curl, but Maude and June definitely have some. In fact, June used to have a ton! A whole head full of ringlets. But her curls have relaxed in a big way over the last 2 years. I have no idea why. Age? Humidity levels? It’s always fascinating to see my kids grow and change. I love seeing who they are becoming.

5) A few months after we moved here, we hired a woman named Natalie as our housekeeper. She was excellent! An artist who wanted flexible work so she could paint in her spare time. She would come about 10 hours per week to clean house and run errands. But she took a full-time office job last fall (awesome for her!) and we haven’t replaced her yet. I think it’s time to hire someone again, but I keep putting it off. It feels like asking someone to join the family and I want to make sure I’m hiring the right person.

What’s your take on hiring help in the home? Have you ever hired someone? A house keeper? A nanny? A personal assistant? I know some people love hiring help, and others find it stressful to have non-family members in their home on a regular basis. As for me, I truly love the help, but at the same time, having a break for a few months has also been good. Yes, it has meant more of my time spent cleaning, but if I’m honest, I’m also more relaxed when I don’t have workers in my house. How about you?

6) Sometimes I get the urge to do a video — probably a Periscope — where I can talk about random stuff like this. I haven’t tried something like that before. Pretty much every video I’ve created has had a specific purpose or even a script. So I don’t know if the randomness would work. I’m sure there must be You-tubers that do something similar — random chatty videos that are unedited. But I haven’t come across any, so maybe they’re not aimed at my demographic. Who knows.

Really what I want is a conversation. I want to talk about random stuff with another person. I want the back and forth. If you have any thoughts on this idea, let me know.

7) I’m feeling really lucky today. It’s one of those days where I’m having a moment of clarity, and can clearly see that I’m surrounded by good people and good things. If I started making a gratitude list right this minute, I’m quite sure I would get to bedtime and not be finished yet. Little things like the unexpected fresh flowers a thoughtful friend sent. And big things like the fact that I really like my kids, not just because they’re mine, but because they are as human beings. Have you ever had one of those days? It feels good.

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

 P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

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salted-caramel-brownies 1

By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

Woo hoo! The next installment of Dessert for Two is ready to share. And as usual, my mouth is watering at the photos. I’m officially dedicating this post to everyone out there burning the midnight oil on a project — from science fair displays and purging your closet, to term papers, taxes, and building a startup. When you and your kid/partner/spouse/bestie need a late night boost, this recipe will be waiting for you.

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Alternatively, I’m also going to give this a big thumbs up for your Valentine’s Day celebrations. In case you need a reminder, Valentine’s Day is Sunday after next, and if you are looking for a way to add a little romance to the day, dessert for two is pretty much perfect.

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Liz came up with this month’s recipe, and she had me at salted caramel. Doesn’t it look amazing?

Before we jump into the recipe, I just wanted to mention that I LOVE the enthusiastic response to this new column. Feel free to keep the ideas coming. If you have particular dessert cravings, I want to know about it!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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By Gabrielle. Photos by Revival Photography.

I love how Alison describes her small town: “My family moved here when I was ten years old, and I remember pulling into town and noticing that there was a McDonalds…and not much else. The town has grown only a bit in the 26 years I have lived here, and I both love and hate that about it.”

I’m sure a lot of us share this dichotomy between a deep appreciation for comfort and an equally deep craving for change. It’s always a toss-up on which will win the contest, right? Either way, one look at her home and reading of her thoughts and I get the impression she’s living an inspired life in her one McDonald’s town. I hope you enjoy this peek into how she’s living with kids. (And who just searched for a wall-sized, roll-up map for their living area? Me, too.)

Hi, everyone! I’m Alison. I am a wife and stay-at-home mother of four young children, including a two year old set of twins. My husband, Scott, is a hard-working, incredibly talented designer. A couple years after graduating high school, I saw Scott (who was two years younger than me in school) out with some mutual friends. We talked for a few minutes and then parted ways. I remember saying to the friend I was with, “That Scott Little is hot. I would marry him.” A few months later we ran into each other again, and the rest, as they say, is history. I knew right away he was the one, as cliché as that sounds!

Our boys are eight and six. Jackson, our oldest, is smart and tender hearted. He has a quirky little personality and has always kept us on our toes. I always said there was no one in the whole world who loved me the way Jackson did, until our daughter Charlotte came along. She is so much like he was at her age, and shows love and affection much the same as he did. It’s fun to see the similarities between them.

Grayson, our six year old, is his own little person. He is independent, and has a unique style that I love so much. He gives absolutely no thought or worry to what others might think of him. It is my very favorite trait of his, and I hope he carries it with him always.

In the Fall of 2012 we found our we were expecting our third baby, and at our six week ultrasound found out we were actually expecting our third and fourth babies! Having twins was the most shocking and most wonderful surprise. Juliet and Charlotte were born in the summer of 2013. I barely remember those first four months. I never knew I could be so tired, or love coffee so much.

They are now two-and-a-half, and I’m convinced this is the very best age. They are sweet and funny and the cutest (of course!), and I just feel so lucky to be their mama.

More goodness, straight ahead!

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Teachur Screengrab

By Gabrielle.

I’m SO EXCITED to share this post with you. I know I haven’t written an update in ages on what Ben Blair has been up to. And today, I finally get to tell you! He’s been building a brand new company with my brother Josh Stanley, called Teachur. And it’s such a cool thing — it has the potential to transform higher education in a major way.

Teachur is a new online platform where students can earn an accredited college degree for the flat price of $1000.

$1000!!!

Intrigued? Well you can learn all the details on the Kickstarter page that launched today. There is a short video packed with info, and the story on the Kickstarter page has even more info. If you’re not in the mood to click over, here is Teachur as I understand it:

The cost of higher education has increased from $40,o00 (in today’s dollars) in 1982, to $128,000 today. Which is insane! People used to be able to work a summer job and then pay for tuition. But now it’s a student loan model. The average student graduates with a 4-year degree and $32,000 in debt. Yikes!

And the thing is, the increase in price hasn’t made the curriculum and teaching significantly better. They’ve stayed pretty much the same. Instead, the new costs are tied to things like massive stadiums and a huge increase in the number of people in administration.

teachur screengrab 2

Josh and Ben wondered: could they separate the actual learning that takes place when earning a college degree, from the inflated costs of a high-end campus? And if they could separate it, how much would the actual learning cost a student? Turns out: they think they can do it for $1000. So amazing!!! Currently, the least expensive degrees out there are $20,000. So $1000 is revolutionary!

So what is Teachur going to offer? Well if you’ve ever taken an online class, you might be picturing something like that, but Teachur isn’t planning to offer online classes. Instead, they will give students Objectives and Assessments. What are Objectives? When a teacher is building curriculum, they come up with a set of objectives that students need to master for any particular class, and then they might align the objectives to guidelines for their specific discipline. Objectives are basically a list of everything a student needs to learn in a class. So for a U.S. History course, there might be 20-200 objectives (depending on how detailed the objectives are), including something like: student understands significant causes and consequences of the Revolutionary War.

What are Assessments? They are tests and reviews. They are a way a student and assessor can see if they’ve mastered the objectives. I’m sure you remember these very well from your own schooling. Sometimes they are written, sometimes they are multiple choice, sometimes they are oral reviews.

With Teachur, students will receive a set a objectives for their desired degree. It’s basically a path: learn this, then this, then this…. with assessments along the way… till you get to the accredited degree. Students will master the objectives in any way they like — watching online videos or tutorials, reading books or essays, talking with an expert. Then, Teachur will provide the assessments. When the student passes all the assessments? They’ve earned their degree!!

One more note on Assessments. The big question with these, is how to make them secure. And this is an awesome part: Teachur will be tying assessments to the Blockchain. I’m no Blockchain expert, but essentially it’s the security system that Bitcoin was built on, and it’s actually much more secure than the current testing systems that happen at real-life universities. If you’re curious, you can read about it here. The whole thing is so dang cool!

At the same time that the cost of education has gone up, up up, the internet has made it possible to learn pretty much anything you can think of at no cost. And Teachur will help people take advantage of that fact by giving them an accredited path of what to learn and in which order. If you want to learn to be a rocket scientist, the knowledge to become one is freely available. You just need to know what it is you’re looking for (objectives), and you need to prove that you’ve actually learned it (assessments).

Clearly, Teachur won’t be appealing to everybody, and I don’t imagine for a minute that it will replace our university system. Certainly, there is something valuable and wonderful about the experience of attending real-life classes on a campus, something that goes beyond simply learning the offered curriculum. And yes, there are lots of people that learn best that way. But not everyone does, and not everyone makes use of what a campus has to offer, and not everyone can afford a traditional university education. Some people really just want the learning and the degree.

How’s this for a metaphor: It’s like if you went to the hardware store to buy a hammer, but you can’t just get a hammer. In order to get the hammer, you have to buy a whole deluxe 50-piece tool kit. The deluxe tool kit is awesome! Filled with high quality tools. There’s a drill, a tape measure, a screwdriver set and tons of useful objects. But the thing is, you own some of those tools already, and when you look closely, you know you won’t use about half of what’s in the kit — even though the tools are excellent. You really just need the hammer. And you only have a budget for the hammer. Why do you have to buy the whole deluxe tool kit?

Josh and Ben are perfectly trained to build Teachur, and they’ve already been working on it for months and months. Ben Blair’s PhD is in Educational Philosophy from Columbia and the bulk of his professional life has been building curriculum and aligning objectives. Josh also studied at Columbia — with a focus on Educational Technology, and he’s spent his career thus far working as an instructional technologist, building educational tools and directing college faculty on how to incorporate technology in their teaching. As you know, Ben Blair has 6 kids, and my brother Josh has 5, so they are both keenly aware of the realties of college and what it costs.

Why Kickstarter? Well, like I mentioned, they have already put months and months into building Teachur, but they’ve reached a point where they need a bigger team to make this happen in an impactful way — they want to offer 130+ degrees! And they can’t do it on their own. Kickstarter is an awesome way to gauge interest. Sure, I’m totally into it. But I’m the wife of Ben and the sister of Josh. Are other people interested? That’s what the Kickstarter will tell them.

So I hope you go check it out! I’d love to discuss it with you and I’d love to hear what you think of it. Is there anything confusing? Anything you especially like? And what are your thoughts on the rewards – you can have a campus building named after you! Hah!

I’d also love your thoughts on higher education in general. We’ve talked about paying for college before, but what’s your current thinking on it? Does it stress you out? Would something like Teachur offer hope? Chime in!

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Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine! | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Happy February! Pull out your red construction paper and your pink glitter and your heart stamps, because for the next two weeks it’s all about Valentine’s Day. Are you excited? Neutral on the subject? No interested at all?

Well, wherever you fall on the Valentine’s Day spectrum, you’ll like this project. It’s all about how to print out and fold this handy little wrap-style envelope. Yes, this envelope is perfect for gently wrapping up a Valentine sweet, but it’s also useable any week of the year, and can be printed on any colored or patterned paper you like.

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Use these simple envelopes to wrap up a note, the pony bead necklace your son made for his aunt, cookies or chocolates, a set of coasters, friendship bracelets — really, anything that’s small and relatively flat. These are so simple and so useful! You’ll want to make a stack to have at the ready.

Bonus: Amy Christie shot the photos for this project and made awesome initial cookies from font printouts. So you can learn how to do that in this post too!

Edible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design MomEdible Monogram Cookies for Your Valentine | Design Mom

Before we jump to the how-to, I’m curious. When prepping for Valentine’s Day, do you make valentines for your friends? And have you ever heard of Gal-antines Day gatherings? The idea is to celebrate your gal-friends on February 14th instead of focusing on who does or doesn’t have a love interest at the moment. I’m thinking these little wraps are perfect for cookie deliveries to your circle of friends.

Okay. On to the instructions!

Click here for the tutorial, recipe and notes!

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A Few Things

January 29, 2016

June Blair Kindergartener

Photo and text by Gabrielle. That’s my kindergartener!

Hello, Friends! Happy Friday! How are you? Our school district is having a teacher prep day, so the kids have off school, and I must say, skipping the morning routine today felt like the ultimate luxury. Hah!

We’re looking forward to a full and exciting weekend. Birthday parties to go to, Winter Ball at the high school, a conference on Saturday and a lecture on Sunday night. A friend is coming to stay, and Maude is hosting a sleepover too. All good things. How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to? I’d love to hear!

I think that’s it for today, but before I sign off for the weekend, I have a few things to share with you. Lots of great links this week:

- Finally! And hallelujah! A new call for Depression Screenings during and after pregnancy.

- Turns out the English language is sexist and helps form our currently sexist society.

- Related, a disturbing chart of sexist tweets Trump supporters sent to reporter, Megan Kelly.

- But sexism be damned, because after the blizzard, only women showed up to run the Senate!

- One step closer to artificial intelligence, a computer beat the reigning champion in a game called Go. I had never heard of Go, but apparently it’s considered the most challenging game humans have ever created.

- Did you see the announcement about the new Barbies? New skin tones, new curvy shapes, short versions and tall versions. What do you think? Is it awesome news or too little too late?

- Science! The organ shortage could be solved by a technique called decellularization. So cool.

- I had no idea this was happening. The numbers behind America’s heroin epidemic.

- An 11-year-old girl, sick of reading books about white boys and dogs, launches #1000BlackGirlBooks.

- Something  fun — Jane Maynard interviewed me on her new podcast!

- I’ve read Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech for years, but somehow I missed the launch of Cool Mom Eats! Really fantastic content — like this post on kid-friendly, non-meat sources of protein, or this one on healthy Valentine Day treats. I highly recommend.

- Lastly, here’s a silly one that made me laugh. Watch with sound.

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

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Forty One and a Half

January 28, 2016

gabrielle-blair-designmom-alt-summit

By Gabrielle. Photo by Brooke Dennis for Alt Summit.

Let’s talk about ageing for a bit. I feel like I age in spurts — as if I look and feel the same for 6 or 8 years, and then suddenly, over 1 month, I can see and feel big differences in my body. I was sort of expecting to feel an aging spurt at 40, but it didn’t happen. Instead, it came at forty-one-and-a-half. Suddenly, I’m feeling it. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. And I’d love to hear yours!

On Hair:
I know I’ve already talked about this one at length, so there’s not much to say. The short version in case you missed the hair post: I am now 75% grey. Which is a lot, and it’s early (I found my first grey hairs at age 13). In fact, most of my peers are just getting a few grays here and there, or a specific streak of grey. And I’m not sure if and when I’m going to stop dyeing my hair. Sometimes I watch my older sisters to gauge how their grey is coming in, thinking it will help me decide.

I should also note, it’s not just a change of color — the texture of my grey hair is different than the brown hair I grew up with. The grey is more wiry.

On Eyesight:
I’ve mentioned this before, but I have awful eyesight. And it’s been awful since I was a kid. I’m extremely near-sighted — I have 20/800 vision, which I’ve been told qualifies as legally blind. Though I remember my father going blind from diabetes and I can’t pretend that I’ve ever had to face that sort of challenge.

But I definitely can’t function without glasses or contacts. That’s not new. The new thing is that I’m now becoming farsighted too! Very exciting! Hah! It’s just barely started. And it’s not bad enough to need help with yet, but I think this means some sort of bi-focals or progressive lenses are in my very near future.

Skin, food, exercise, grooming and lots more ahead!

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spray-snow-paint 9

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Facing another snow day? Well I’ve got the perfect activity to keep the kids active and happy — and the main thing you need is old markers. Emphasis on the old! Before you throw away that set of neglected/mostly-dried out markers, give them one more shot at artistic glory. Use them to make snow paint!

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As you can imagine, Oakland is not snowed in at the moment (or ever), so I asked Minnesota-based Amy Christie, to help us out with this DIY.

The photo turned out so wonderfully! They make me want to load up the car and head to Tahoe so we can have a snow day too — snow painting, sledding, making a snowman. Hmmm. We don’t have school tomorrow because of a teacher prep day, so maybe we can really make this happen!

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Before we jump into this very easy DIY, I’d love to hear the snow situation in your part of the world. Are you snowed in? Stuck at home? Or are you seeing all the snow photos on social media and wishing you had an excuse to pull out your mittens and snow boots?

Click here for the simple tutorial!

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thai-curry-soup 7

By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom

Oh my goodness. There’s been so much snow across the U.S. in the last week! Is everybody staying warm out there? The photos of buried cars, and a snowy, car-free Times Square are filling my social media feeds, and watching from sunny California makes it all seem pretty magical.

But of course, if we were going on day 3 of cancelled school, and my back was sore from clearly a path to my door, I know I wouldn’t feel so cheerful about things. I’ve experienced plenty of snow days in my parenting life and know full well that sometimes they are awesome, and other times they are exhausting.

So for any of us stuck at home, or just feeling chilly today, I thought it would be fun to share a stick-to-your-ribs recipe. Something that is warm and hearty and delicious, but doesn’t feel like the same old, same old.

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I asked Liz for some ideas and she had just the thing. A soup that spoons up like a thick casserole! And it’s packed with tons of interesting flavors.

And speaking of flavors, you may remember my aversion to cilantro (it tastes like soap!). My girls seem to have inherited my taste buds and they aren’t fans either, but my boys, and Ben Blair, all love cilantro. Whatever your take on cilantro is, it’s used here as an optional garnish, so you can pile it high and deep, or avoid it altogether. No worries!

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Alrighty. Let’s see how to make this warm and cozy feast!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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After Alt

January 26, 2016

parabou-press-risographs-alt-summit

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I know it’s only been a few days, but it seems like ages since I’ve had a chance to connect with you. Blogging has been such a big part of my life for almost a decade now, that if I miss a day of posting, I feel off-centered till I check back in. Hah!

Here’s what’s been up with me in the last few days. I arrived home from Alt Summit late on Saturday night. It was a really good conference. So many people emailed me or texted me: Best Conference Ever!!! And that always brings a smile to my face. I have no idea if it’s actually true, but the thought that it gets a little better each year is more than I could hope for!

Since I arrived home, I’ve done essentially 3 things: slept, ate, and hung out with the family. Alt Summit doesn’t always wipe me out, but this time it did for sure! I’m craving a week-long recovery period, while simultaneously feeling homesick for my usual work schedule.

There are so many posts and topics I want to share with you these days — my editorial calendar is currently packed! — so I don’t think I’m going to do a full Alt Summit recap. And instead, I’ll share highlights here and there. But if you’d like to get a picture of what the conference was like for me, take a look at Instagram. I didn’t manage to post much during the actual conference, but yesterday I shared 15 photos from my week!! Including one of me and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a whole bunch that show my new haircut.

It was so many photos in one day, that I definitely annoyed people, but I wanted to share while all the memories were fresh. You can also see all the professional photos from the event on the Alt Summit Flickr page.

Hooray for Alt! And mostly, I’m glad to be back!!

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By Gabrielle.

Here’s what I know after spending some time with Jenni’s tour: I enjoy people who meet their spouse at a Japanese night class in Scotland, people who wholeheartedly love the setting in which they are raising their children, and cactus caretakers. (I think it takes a perfectly balanced mix of concentration and forgetfulness to raise a cactus, don’t you?) Turns out, I also enjoy people who take their kitchen shelves seriously! Jenni’s sure are cute!

And I can’t forget to add people who smile when it’s raining to my list!

If you’d like to see how she and her husband are living with kids in a Berlin rental, please stay awhile. There’s a ton of fabulous ideas that can be achieved with very little investment, whether you’re currently in a restricted rental or simply on a decorating or time budget. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. Welcome, Jenni!

Hello, my name is Jenni. I live in Berlin with my husband and two sons: Oskar is five and Alfred is one. We moved here from Scotland almost four-and-a-half years ago due to my husband’s work. I am originally from Germany but I grew up in Scotland, so we speak English with each other at home and I speak German with the kids when we’re out and about.

My husband and I met in Edinburgh at Japanese night class — as you do — over ten years ago, and we have been married for just over six years. I have to admit, I have forgotten most of my Japanese, but I always say I gained a husband so the classes were a worthwhile investment!

He is a software architect and I am a museologist, though currently still on maternity leave with the little one. The safety net for families — parental leave, maternity pay, child benefits, subsidized child care — is very generous here in Germany, and we count ourselves lucky to benefit from it.

Oskar will start primary school this year, after the summer, and he is already super excited. He’s a very free spirited boy with a compassionate heart, who knows what he likes and will put people in their place if they tell him he looks like a girl because he has shoulder-length hair or likes wearing pink. His favorite things include cars, dinosaurs, and flowers, and you’re as likely to find him wearing a Spider-man costume as you are butterfly wings.

Alfred is just finding his feet, literally, and will start at kindergarden after Easter. He is a jolly little fellow, who loves to laugh at everything — he even laughs in his sleep — and tries to copy everything his big brother does, whom he absolutely adores. He’s also really into music; if you put any on, he’ll immediately start clapping his hands and jumping around on his knees.

We live to the north of a district called Schöneberg, which is in central Berlin, in a third floor rental apartment. We only moved here six months ago. Initially, we were actually going to leave Berlin altogether, but then things worked out differently.

More cute shelves and cacti, just ahead!

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Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

It’s been a whole year since I pulled out my wood burner/etcher. But I’m feeling the burn once again! So I was brainstorming possible wood-etched crafts with Amy, and she happened to mention there are metal initials you can use with your wood burner. They attach to the wood burner, heat up, and then “brand” the wood.

Well, that pretty much blew my mind, because trying to write with a wood burner is super hard and I generally avoid it, but now that I know about wood burning letters, it opens up all sorts of awesome possibilities!

wood-you-be-my-valentine 1Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

Awesome possibilities like these wooden initial pins! We’re calling them heart flair. (Did you ever see Office Space?) And the concept is pretty simple. Take pre-cut wooden hearts, burn in the initials of your true love (or all your 3rd grader’s classmates), and then glue a brooch pin on the back.

Wood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design MomWood You Be My Valentine? | Design Mom

You’ll find links to all the supplies below. Plus! There’s a super cute FREE printable to go with the pins!! Wood you be my valentine?

Get your etching tool plugged in and let’s get started.

Full tutorial straight ahead!

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By Gabrielle. Anthony Burrill’s upbeat artwork is lovely, isn’t it?

Steered by Flannery O’Connor’s own raison d’être — “I write to discover what I know.” — Carrie Willard’s writing normally centers around exactly that, which means her topics range from minimalism, healthy food and wellness, homeschooling, the science of happiness, frugality, and the economics of a large family. Large family meaning seven children, by the way.

It is the story of her seventh that brings her here with us today. She had stopped writing about parenting for the most part until she gave birth to a 27-week preemie. I’ll let her tell you the rest of the story. It’s pretty remarkable. Welcome, Carrie!

Carrie’s beautiful words, just ahead.

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healthy baked salmon with kale salad

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

In the winter months, I’m all about soups, and chili, and slow cooked, hearty meals. They taste like cozy comfort and I find them so satisfying. But I’ve noticed that by mid-January, I’ll hit a saturation point on the heavy food, and then all of sudden, I’ll crave a meal that’s light and simple and fresh.

It’s like I need a clarifying break in the menu.

baked salmon with kale saladkale salad ingredients

I figured I’m not the only one that might be on winter-food overload, so I asked Lindsey to come up with a meal that would fit the fresh and light category, and she came up with this gorgeous salad, served alongside baked salmon.

Oh my goodness. I want a giant bowl of the salad right this minute! Don’t the ingredients look amazing?

blood orange and mintkale ribbons and ingredients for saladsalmon with garlic lemon pepper oil

I also want to say, I loved reading Lindsey’s thoughts on this meal (see below). She’s all about getting as much nutrition from her food as possible. I love that thinking and want to be more intentional about the nutrition I’m getting from my own food. This meal seems like a good place to start.

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear: Is anyone else out there ready for a break from soups and stews? Do you get fresh food cravings mid-winter? If yes, what do you like to eat when those cravings hit?

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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vacations-make-families-strong

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Alamo. Have you signed up for the Alamo Insiders program? Details below!

You may remember that I’m working with Alamo this year on some quarterly travel posts, and each quarter, I’m also creating a collaborative Pinterest board with a related topic. I hope you’ll come follow along! As I was working on my first post and pinboard, I started to get all meta about what vacations are for. What’s the goal? Why do we take them? Well it turns out there are as many reasons for traveling as there are people who travel. : ) But you already know that. So then I narrowed it down to our family, the Ben and Gabrielle Blairs. Why do we travel? Why do we put such an emphasis on it? Why do we make so much time for it?

I discussed it with Ben Blair and we both agreed that our primary motivation is family togetherness. Traveling together, vacationing together, it really, truly, helps us keep our family relationships strong.

And I know it’s not just in my head. We all feel more connected to each other when we spend undistracted time together. I can practically see the bonding happen before my eyes! And the only real way we can get a good chunk of undistracted time, is by leaving our house and normal daily schedule, or in other words, when we take a vacation.

So for my first post, I want to talk about 3 types of vacations that we love, and that are especially good at keeping our family relationships strong.

designmom_lakelouise10

Vacation Type #1: Family Retreats.
This is a vacation where the main thing on the schedule is to talk about the goals and aims of your family. It’s where you discuss your family culture and what you’d like it to be. Essentially, it’s like a productive business retreat, but for your family.

This idea may not be a common one for family vacations, but they are well worth your time, I promise. They don’t have to take long, and if a “productive retreat” doesn’t sound appealing they can be combined with ideas from category 2 (below),

One of our best family retreats, happened during the 2014 holiday break. We drove 2 hours north to the Russian River area of California, and rented a house. We already knew the area and didn’t feel the need to be tourists; it was off-season there anyway. Instead, we slept in. Hung out and relaxed. Maybe took a walk. Made food together. Then in the afternoons and evenings we had family meetings, and we had a basic itinerary planned out beforehand.

We did role plays of conversations depicting healthy relationships. We talked about goals for the next year, and what we’d like to do together as a family. Stuff like that.

It was fantastic. After just a couple of days we could have gone home, because we all felt rested and connected. But. We happened to have the house for a few more days, so we turned the last half of our stay into a movie marathon. We watched all the Star Wars movies and all the Lord of the Rings movies. Woot!

Ben Blair and I did something similar as a couple for our 20th anniversary. On our trip to Lake Louise, we set aside time each day as our Couples Retreat time, where we pulled out notebooks and made plans together. What would the next 20 years bring? How can we be better parents? What can we do to make our marriage even better? Again, it was only a small part of each day, but it was so good!

Deauville, France | Design Mom

Vacation Type #2: Relax & Re-energize.

Think of this as the classic vacation. It’s meant to be an energizing break from your typical daily schedule, and ideally, the only things on the itinerary are things you really love to do. And maybe, there’s no itinerary at all!

A vacation with the goal to relax and re-energize will look different for every family. For some people it might mean sitting on a warm beach with nothing to do. For another family, it might be the same beach, but with a schedule of surf lessons, hula dancing, and hiking.

Or maybe a relaxing and re-energizing trip for your family would be in the city — taking in museums, or watching a live show, or taking cooking classes. For yet another family, it might be camping. Or remember the movie marathon I mentioned above? That was definitely a relaxing and re-energizing thing for our family.

The nice thing is, vacations with the goal of relaxing and re-energizing don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t have to be long. We’re big on squeezing in Saturday-Sunday mini vacations that are close to home.

For example, our reading weekend took virtually no planning, had very little cost, and we didn’t have to miss work or school to make it happen. Another example is the photo above, featuring the Deauville Beach umbrellas in France. Deauville was about an hour and a half north of our home, and anytime the temperature hit 75 or above, we’d hit the beach for the day. No plans. Just sunning ourselves and playing in the water, with a picnic lunch. No hotel, no dinner reservation. And no cell phone coverage! It was just a day, but the break from our schedule, and from the internet, would do the trick.

ben and ralph filming in haiti

Vacation Type #3: Make the World a Better Place Vacation.

This type of vacations is a family trip focused on service and working together. It might be building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or planting trees at a orphanage, or volunteering at a big event, like a marathon. Depending on the ages of your kids, this might be something you do with one parent and one teen. Or maybe you can take the whole crew!

We’ve had a few different experiences with this type of vacation and we’ve never regretted it. One of the best, was when Ralph and Ben Blair went to Haiti as volunteers to make a movie about a new language exchange program for Haiti Partners. It’s the sort of experience that can really change your perspective and get your family engaged around important work. Not only did they make the video, which was a big help, they also became life-long advocates. Ben Blair and Ralph, and really the whole family are now big supporters of Haiti Partner’s programs. Getting to see and interact with an organization up close makes it so much easier to support a cause with your available resources — both time and money.

There’s another aspect of this type of vacation that I love. It’s the working! In fact, I’m one of 8 brothers and sisters, and we find we relate best to each other when we’re working together on something big. If we all get together and just hang out, there’s a high probability we’ll start teasing and being obnoxious and we’ll hurt someone’s feelings. But if we’re working together — we used to put on Triathlons in Southern Utah, and now we work together on Alt Summit — it’s like it brings out our super-powers. We solve problems right and left, laugh a whole bunch, and feel like we’ve accomplished something worthwhile when we’re done. Working together can bring out the best in people.

Okay. Now it’s your turn. I have lots of questions. What are your thoughts on these 3 types of vacations. Have you tried all three? When it’s time to relax, what sort of vacation do you crave most? Forest, beach, library — or maybe a fancy spa? What about a volunteering vacation? What sort of volunteer opportunity do you think your family would do best?

Oh. Are you feeling ready to calendar your next vacation? Check out the Alamo Insiders program. It’s a loyalty club with free membership, that offers 5% off retail rental rates! You can sign up here.

P.S. — I know I mentioned the collaborative pinboard above, but I wanted to tell you a little more about my thinking behind it. Once our kids hit school age — say ages 5-18 — we only get 13 summer vacations, 13 winter breaks, 13 spring breaks, and maybe thirty 3-day weekends before they’re all grown up. Think of it as max 70 chances to share adventures with our kids. 70 is not that much! So I thought it would be fun to pin every awesome place I want to take my kids. And if we only hit some of them? Well, that’s better than none!

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By Gabrielle.

Libby reached out to me about participating in a home tour more than eight months ago, and then — poof! — she disappeared. And then one day, she sent me this note: “Hi Gabrielle! I can’t believe it’s been six months since I reached out to you. Sorry for the delay! We have had lots of things going on! We thought we sold our house without even listing it, and so we had to deal with all the things that go with that, like house inspection, appraisal, and showings. I started packing up the house…and then we decided not to sell. Did I mention that all of this was going on when I was nine months pregnant and then home with a newborn? Throw my toddler into the mix and things were very hectic!”

Phrew! Welcome to the Living With Kids Tour That Almost Never Happened! (A lot of times, the living part of it all gets in the way of the tour, right?)

I think you’re going to melt when Libby describes her mom and the role she’s inadvertently played in shaping her own expectations about motherhood. It’s really sweet. I hope you’ll think so, too. So please, everyone, help me welcome Libby!

Hi! I’m Libby. I am the mother of two children, Hazel and Everett. I have been married to my husband Greg for seven years.

Greg and I both grew up in Franklin, Indiana. We attended the same high school, although not at the same time — he’s five years older than I am. We met one weekend when I was home from college.

I am half Indian, so I have dark hair and dark brown eyes. My husband is a red head. So, I wasn’t sure what our kids would look like! However, they are both little clones of my husband.

I do all of the hard work and they pop out looking like Greg. It’s not fair!

Libby’s lovely words, straight ahead!

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A Few Things

January 15, 2016

Maude on her bed

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? Happy Monday! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Is it a 3-day weekend for you? Are your kids out of school? Mine are. But I’m totally missing the chance to hang out with them, because I flew to Salt Lake City last night. Today, I’m working from my hotel room at the Grand America and finishing up a few things for Alt Summit.

This really is a lovely hotel. It was dark when my taxi drove up last night, and the twinkle lights were on in full force and the grounds looked pretty darn magical. My breath caught! This is the 7th January conference we’ve had here (and 12th Alt Summit total), but it’s our last year here at the Grand. We’re announcing our new location this week! Knowing this is our last year here, I am trying extra hard to appreciate all the details. Will I see you here this week? If you’re coming to Alt Summit, please come say hello!

On Friday, I didn’t get the chance to share my weekend link list, so before I turn my attention to Alt Summit, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- A Martin Luther King Jr. story read by LeVar Burton. It’s a great day to watch this with your kids!

- She confronted the doctor who missed her cancer.

- A breathing trick that helps you fall asleep fast. Have any of you tried this? Does it work for you?

- My friend Diana Prichard is a farmer in the midwest, and she just launched a campaign for a documentary called Farmworker: How Undocumented Immigration Feeds America. I urge you to go read the description, this is such an important topic. And if you’re someone who eats food (that’s everybody!), this affects you very directly and you may not even know it.

- An art project by Endia Beal puts middle-age white women in black hairstyles to explore gender, race, and generational gaps. Thoughts?

- Let’s all move to Bestie Row.

- New birth control methods for men. One is here, and there are more in the works!

- More research on praising kids for effort.

- Science myths that will not die.

- I’ve read this essay about Oprah and weight loss and trying 3 times over the last week. I think it’s so good — it’s funny and powerful and important.

I hope you have a wonderful Monday. I’ll be back here tomorrow. Can I still say, I miss you already? : )

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Pixie

January 15, 2016

design-mom-pixie-cut

By Gabrielle.

Guess who chopped her hair off!

I love the new cut so much!! It feels really familiar to me. Even though I haven’t had this cut during my blogging years, I wore it this way for a good chunk of my twenties and into my thirties, and I feel really at home with this hair style.

A little note: I started writing what a I thought was a quick post about my haircut, and it turned into a dozen+ paragraphs! So don’t feel like you have to read this. The summary is: I love the new cut and color, and my hair is 75% grey now, so this color is totally fake (the platinum was actually much closer to my current natural color). If you want the long version, feel free to keep reading. : )

Lots of hair talk ahead, and some pics of my natural grey!

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