Thanksgiving Report

November 30, 2015

calm treehouse livingroom

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It wasn’t my original plan, but I ended up taking off work Wednesday thru Friday, and oh my goodness I’m so glad I did. What a luxury it was to simply focus on enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with my family! It was just what I needed. I barely even glanced at my phone for days. A social media break like that once in a while is a treat.

It was a really laid back few days. I pretty much barely left the house at all. After Thanksgiving, it was a strictly lounge-y sort of holiday. Zero shopping. Zero to-do list items. Lots of hanging out. Lots of eating good food.

A few questions:

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was good. There were 18 of us — 8 Blairs and 10 Guests. Everyone helped with food. There was plenty to eat and it all tasted exactly like Thanksgiving should. Plus the conversation was excellent. I went to bed happy and full. And I especially loved how the house felt and looked. The light was extra good that day, and my brother Jared sent two stunning flower arrangements. Last year, Ralph and Olive were in France during Thanksgiving, so having all of us together this year was heavenly.

How long did your pie leftovers last? Ours only made it till Friday. Maude ended up making another banana cream pie on Sunday because we were still having pie cravings.

Did you make turkey noodle soup over the weekend? Us too. But otherwise, the Thanksgiving leftovers are over and done.

Did you score any good deals during the weekend sales? My mind was elsewhere, but now I’m jealous of anyone who has their holiday shopping done! Last year, I took care of our shopping early, like pre-Thanksgiving early, and it was such a relief. No such luck this year.

Do you follow Small Business Saturday? I confess, I wasn’t in shopping mode and didn’t make any purchases that day, but I wanted to support the movement all the same, so midday, I had an idea and I started instagramming about some of my favorite small businesses. I made it to nine, and then realized I love too many small businesses and wouldn’t be able to mention them all. Hah! But that’s certainly a good problem to have. Getting to know dozens of creative entrepreneurs is one of the best parts of my job.

Have you started decorating for the December holidays yet? We started the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the photo above was snapped during the very brief calm between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It already looks much different! We’ve done pretty much everything but the tree, which we plan to pick up sometime this week.

What are you feeling grateful for these days? When we went around the dinner table and shared what we were grateful for, I mentioned that I love that our family is in an ideal phase for Thanksgiving. I don’t know if I explained myself very well, but basically I talked about how different holidays really shine depending on the phase your family is in. Like it’s hard to beat Christmas morning when you have little kids in the house who are still under the magic spell of Santa. And Halloween is brilliant when kids are old enough to get creative with their costumes.

We happen to be in a really good phase for Thanksgiving. Everyone is old enough to help with the cooking and preparations, and they have interesting things to add to the dinner conversation. Plus they seem to really understand what the holiday is for — this special time set aside to be with your family and be thankful. And I know it won’t last, this phase we’re in, so I really appreciated it this year.

I can tell you that I’m also feeling incredibly grateful for YOU. My inbox can be a funny place. Sometimes people are very frustrated with me. But during Thanksgiving week, my inbox was nothing but love and kindness. So many of you wrote such wonderful messages and it’s part of why the long weekend was blissful for me. Thank you.

To all of you who read here, who send ideas and suggestions, join in the discussions, share my posts, give helpful feedback, click like on Facebook, or heart on Instagram, or repin on Pinterest, I want you to know how thankful I am for this community. You have been a big part of my life for 9 1/2 years now, and I miss you like crazy when I take a few days off!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! And now, bring on December! : )

P.S. — Speaking of December, I just filled my sidebar with tons of my favorite decorating and DIY gift ideas. I hope they’re helpful!

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DIY: Stamped Clay Place Cards

November 24, 2015

Stamped Place Cards for Your Holiday Table | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Do you use place cards at your formal meals? We rarely have. But I feel like we should use them more often, because they can really make set table feel extra-special. As a guest, seeing a card with my name on it, made for me, in a spot set for me, is delightful. Proof someone thought of me! : ) I loved seeing a place set with my name as a child, and it’s pretty darn wonderful as an adult too.

Stamped Place Cards | Design Mom

This particular place card idea really caught my attention, because I love the mixture of materials — clay and twine with a touch of metallic. And I could imagine my kids working on these and having a wonderful time.

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So Amy Christie whipped up some samples and we’ve got an easy tutorial for you today. Here’s what Amy says:

On Thanksgiving when I was young, my mom would bring along a project for all the cousins to do while we weren’t eating. Painting salt-dough turkeys, and making a large banner about thankfulness, are the two I remember most. It gave us something to do, inspired by the holiday, and it came in handy when the weather was inclement.

Stamped Place Cards for Your Holiday Table | Design Mom

If you are looking for an easy and simple and fairly clean project for the little ones celebrating with you, these stamped clay place cards are a great choice. And if you have any budding spellers, this is extra fun! Bonus: if you worry about misspelling names, these place cards are easily fixed. Instead of throwing out the whole thing, just toss the erring letter (or two) and add in the corrections.

I also love this project because I’ve always been a fan of place cards. Over the years, we’ve made several versions for our tablescapes, holiday and otherwise. Even in their simplicity, I liked them enough to keep a small stack of the ones with my name in my childhood desk drawer.

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Want to try these? Let’s get started.

Click here for the tutorial!


By Gabrielle.

Rebecca describes herself as the stay-at-home mom of a family who really doesn’t like to stay at home! Once a big-firm attorney, she now spends her time planning family field trips, blogging, and authoring a book due in 2016. I admire her sense of adventure, her enthusiasm, her Fall Bucket List, her advice about living a brave, can-do life — and, yes, I also adore her navy couches. Sigh.

So come meet Rebecca! You’re going to like her so much, I just know it.

The Green Machine, as we affectionately named ourselves — we even have a family rallying cheer! — is made up of myself, my husband Joel, and our two children Kane (seven) and Cameron (five-and-a-half…that half is very important!). When I think of the thing that most defines our family, it is heart. Hearts full of love for each other, keeping our hearts and minds open to people and ideas, and putting our hearts into whatever it is we’re doing.

I’m Rebecca and I consider myself to be a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none. I’m a lawyer, but have been taking a break from the practice of law for the past almost five years to run The Green Machine. I’m not super into astrology, but I think I definitely fit my Gemini sign’s combination of both an introvert and extrovert. I am interested in an endless variety of subjects and I would stay in school forever if I could, so having this time at home with our children has been a wonderful opportunity to explore new things with them. I love modern design, trail running, and the color grey. I also love to entertain, but am equally excited to host a kitchen dance party as I am a fancy shindig. I like to say that glitter and sarcasm keep me balanced.

My husband is both the funniest and most hardworking person I know. He practices law at a big firm in D.C. and is away from home a lot, which is probably the hardest on him out of all of us. He is also the loudest human being EVER. He does nothing quietly, which I like to think is really just part of him putting his heart into everything. He is also an incredibly good sport about all of the family adventures I scheme up, and keeps us all on an even keel.

More gorgeous views, straight ahead! Oh, those stairs!


Thanksgiving Prep Schedule

November 23, 2015

tutorial for the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

By Gabrielle. Photo by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom — learn how to perfectly roast a turkey here.

I really like Thanksgiving Week. Not just because I get to enjoy a big meal with so many people I love, but also because I really love having a good reason to do all the tasks that go along with Thanksgiving prep. I realize not everyone gets a kick out of stuff like this, but from time to time, it’s totally my thing.

I love taking an inventory of our dishes and flatware and linens. I love thinking about a centerpiece and about what I’ll put in the entry to greet guests. I love giving the house a deep clean — not just for Thanksgiving, but as a backdrop for December and the whole holiday season.

I love planning the menu with the kids and reminiscing about favorite desserts we’ve served. And I love reading our notes from the years we celebrated Thanksgiving in France, and how excited we were when my sister found fresh cranberries to bring!

Over the years, I’ve learned I function best if I spread out the preparations throughout the week, so that I don’t get overwhelmed. Though some years I get overwhelmed anyway. Did you see this video? I laughed so hard! It’s like a documentary of my life. “I need a bird feeder in every window!” Hah!

In addition to cleaning the house, here’s how I’m doing Thanksgiving prep this year:

- Last week, I ordered a few additional plates and additional flatware.

- Over the weekend, Ben Blair did round one of the grocery shopping — picking up any non-perishables we need for Thanksgiving day.

- Today, I’m ironing the linens and figuring out an activity for the kids table.

- Tuesday, I’m buying supplies for the centerpiece, and I’m setting up the front entry display — something Thanksgiving-y to welcome guests. We’ll do the shopping for the rest of our dinner ingredients too.

- Wednesday, we’ll do some pre-cooking. We’ll prep the crab cakes, two of the desserts and one of the side dishes. Technically, we could do all the cooking on Thursday because we don’t eat till 2:00 or 3:00. But we like to go on a family walk around Lake Merritt on Thanksgiving morning. Doing some prep on Wednesday makes that walk doable. No doubt we’ll also need to run to the grocery store for something we’ve forgotten.

- Then on Thursday, we’ll cook the rest. Like most people, we have one oven, and it is required to do a lot of juggling that day, so I like to write down a rough cooking schedule for Thursday, just to make sure I actually have time and oven space to cook everything we want to cook. : )

The kids are out of school all week, which means I have lots of potential helpers, so this schedule feels pretty doable to me. But then again, I won’t be surprised if we have to move stuff around. That’s normal at our house.

How about you? Do you like the sort of tasks that come with Thanksgiving week? Or is “taking inventory of the linens” the stuff of nightmares for you? Are you cooking this year? Maybe bringing a side dish to the feast? Or are you’re hosting this year? If you have a particularly busy week of work and school, how are you handling the grocery shopping? We’ve definitely had some very last minute years! And no doubt there are many of you who are traveling this week — does Thanksgiving for you mean suitcases and plane tickets? I always love hearing your stories.


Thanksgiving Side Dish: Stuffing with cherries, fennel, and pecans | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Okay you guys. This is it. Thanksgiving week has arrived! If you’re hosting (I am!) it’s officially time to nail down the menu and track down any specific recipes you want to use. If you’re looking for ideas, I’ve been sharing a few Thanksgiving side dishes throughout the month, and I’ve got one more for you today. It’s one of those traditional Thanksgiving essentials: Stuffing.

Thanksgiving stuffing with dried cherries. Delicious! | Design Mom

This particular recipe is sprinkled with extras like dried cherries and fennel. Which reminds me that stuffing, which on the surface seems like a not-stressful, pretty basic dish, can actually instigate some pretty big opinions.

From what I can tell, there are 3 separate debates that happen around stuffing. First is the Cornbread vs. Not-Cornbread argument — for some people only a specific kind of stuffing does the trick (you’ll read below that some families make both!). Second is the Simple Stuffing vs. Add-Ins argument. Meaning, do you prefer a simple boxed recipe? Or do you favor adding in extra ingredients and new flavors? And third, do you actually stuff your turkey with the stuffing? Or do you cook the stuffing separately?

Thanksgiving stuffing with dried cherries. Delicious! | Design Mom

I wonder if the strong opinions come because Thanksgiving is like a giant meal of comfort foods. But it’s not comforting, unless it’s the recipe and the flavors and textures that you grew up with. So you end up with a dozen people at the table, who hear the word stuffing, and all think of something a bit different.

If you’re on the stuffing recipe hunt, Lindsey Johnson has an amazing one for us, but before we jump in, I’d love to hear: Where do you fall on the stuffing debates? Are you team cornbread? Are you team boxed? Do you cook your stuffing in the turkey or outside? Or are you just thankful that someone else is handling the cooking this year?

Click here for the recipe and notes!


A Few Things

November 20, 2015

Eiffel Tower Black and White

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hi Friends. How are you? How was your week? I confess, I’m glad this week is almost over. It wasn’t my best. I think it’s due to a combination of last week’s discussions/arguments about the new Mormon policy, and this week’s headlines and updates on Paris and Isis. I feel like I’ve somehow used up my emotional capital. In fact, yesterday, I received a comment from someone who told me I needed to say more about the church policy, and accused me of being fearful and hiding, and I was so frustrated I sent back a rude email. Ugh. Not my finest moment.

But there are good things too. An especially GOOD thing is that my mother-in-law was released from the hospital yesterday!! This is so much sooner than was originally anticipated. We were first hoping for Christmas at the earliest — and that’s if she got better at all. And here it is, still pre-Thanksgiving, and she’s doing so much better! It truly feels miraculous. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she’s healing so quickly. Julia is amazing and we need her around as long as possible!

There are other small-but-satisfying good things too. I feel like my content on Design Mom this week has been especially awesome (I hope you’ve enjoyed it). I have two terrific photo shoots scheduled today that I’m looking forward to. Plus my kids are off of school next week, so this is like the start of a very long weekend! Which is heaven to me — I love having the kids around, and I love getting a break from our morning routine.

And one more good thing is that I found lots of excellent links this week! Speaking of which, here are a few things I want to share with you:

- Like most everyone else, I’ve been trying to get more educated on Isis, the Paris attacks and the Syrian Refugees. I thought this article — how a refugee gets to America, explained by an actual refugee — was helpful. What of you been reading that is good? Share links!

- If you want to take action and help via a donation. This organization got an A+ on Charity Watch — 90% of your donation goes to refugee aid.

- Or, if you have a baby carrier you no longer need, you can donate it to refugees here.

These architectural collages. I want to look at a million of these. Heaven.

- November is National Diabetes Awareness month. Amy Christie, a dear friend and long-time contributor here, has a daughter who was just diagnosed with Type I. Amy wrote three posts about what she’s learned so far. Start with Part 1 and read all three.

- Have we reached a saturation point on Go Fund Me and Kickstarter campaigns?

- I think I might be the last one to hear about egg rationing.

- “My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment.”

- For all the highly organized people in your life.

- Have any of you tried this? Apparently, it lets you wash your roots, while keeping the rest of your hair dry.

- 80 books no woman should read. Funny! Also. Kind of sad.

- Chasing the link between gut bacteria and autism.

- Okay cat experts, I need to know, are cats and cucumbers really a thing?

I hope you have a happy and wonderful weekend. I hope that everyone out there needing some self-care gets it. Naps for everyone! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



100% Cotton Holiday Pajamas

November 20, 2015

100% Cotton Holiday Pajamas — in prints and stripes and plaids that will still look good after Christmas!

By Gabrielle.

I’m on the annual hunt for holiday pajamas! New pjs for the kids is one of our favorite Christmas Eve traditions. But sometimes I leave the shopping till the last minute, and then trying to find sizes for everyone is almost impossible, so whenever I can, I try to purchase them early — like by Thanksgiving — and then I keep them hidden until I can wrap them up and put them under the tree, sometime in mid-December.

As you already know, there are a TON of holiday pajama designs out there. Lots of really cute ones! Polar bears and snowflakes and ornaments and snowmen and Christmas trees. But that’s not what I’m looking for, so I skip most of what’s available. This is what I’m looking for instead: options that are 1) 100% cotton, 2) available in sizes that will fit all six of my kids, and 3) something that will look festive and holiday-ish, but will also look great after the holidays.

So basically, I’m looking for pajamas that you could pull on in April or September and they wouldn’t scream CHRISTMAS. This means I generally avoid red and green combos, or anything with winter-y symbols — though I’ve been known to make an exception here or there, because goodness gracious, this is not the most important decision in the world. : )

I started my hunt this week, and happily, I found lots of terrific options! I thought I’d share them here in case anyone else is shopping for pajamas too. This is what I’ve found so far:

1) Matching plaid flannel for the whole family from The Company Store. I like that they have options within their plaid —classic tops and bottoms, nightgowns, grown up sizes, teen versions that have lounge pants plus a waffle knit top, even matching pjs for the puppy! And I really like that the fabric is 100% cotton flannel (that’s actually hard to find these days — most of the flannels out there are polyester and they don’t age well as they wash). This was the source of last year’s pjs and they are still looking great! I also love that the colors in the plaid don’t scream Christmas, so they look good through the whole winter.

2) A new discovery this year: Burt’s Bees is offering organic pj sets. And they’re really cute! I like these candy cane striped pjs, and these in solid red with great button details, and these in a wide rugby stripe. The downside is these only go to size 7. So if you have older kids, you’re out of luck. The upside is that these will look great during the holidays, and afterwards too. Also, they’re fairly priced at under $20.

3) Hannah Andersson has tons of holiday prints in red & green, but I prefer their red and grey stripe, and their thermals in solid red, or solid green versions. Did I mention I prefer no Christmas branding?

4) I found these red & white striped pjs and they are much less expensive than Hannah’s and get great reviews (though I haven’t tried these personally). Available from size 12 months to 14 years and they’re under $20! Plus they’re tagless and 100% cotton. The same label offers a women’s version as well.

5) I also like this red and navy wide striped set. Again, 100% cotton. These are from the boys department at The Children’s Place, but I think they work well as a unisex option. The red feels holiday, but after the holiday the red + navy means they’ll just feel classic.

6) Or if you don’t like the unisex look, you could pair those red and navy pjs with this red sleep set from GapKids, it has tiny white polka dots and feminine detailing. Also 100% cotton.

7) I’m totally into these Grandfather style pjs from Cyrillus in France. We bought these in a similar plaid for all the kids three years ago. And then I added a little red grosgrain bow to the pocket for the girls. These pjs lasted for years! They are plaid but not flannel, and 100% cotton. The weight of the cotton is perfect — it worked all year long. And the best news: They finally ship to the U.S.! Which means, this is probably what I’ll order this year.

8) Last but not least, Union Suits are a fun option (depending on kids ages and preferences). Here’s a cute union suit by J.Crew. It’s available from size 2 through size 16 — and it’s 30% off right now! And here is a solid red union suit from Hannah Andersson.

Alright. Now it’s your turn. What have you found this year? Any other great options out there? And do you have a pajama tradition at your house? If yes, how do you like to manage it? Do you go for matching options? I know some families bring out the pjs in early December, and in other families, pjs are the preferred gift from Grandma and Grandpa. How does it work at your house?

P.S. — For this post, I focused on options that could fit multiple kids in one family. But if you’re shopping for a baby or toddler and don’t need older kid sizes, there are a ton more options out there!


Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hooray! I’ve got another Thanksgiving side dish for you! The first idea was the shaved Brussels sprouts. And when I shared that post, I wasn’t sure if I was hosting Thanksgiving this year or not. But it has since been decided, and we are definitely hosting this year! This is great news, because we love hosting Thanksgiving. This whole week I’ve been making an inventory or dishes and flatware and linens and seating. And of course, I’m thinking hard about the menu as well.

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

Much of it our traditional menu is quite established as this point, but there’s always room for another side dish! This year, I feel like I should finally master a sweet potato recipe. I have rarely if ever served sweet potatoes for any meal, Thanksgiving or otherwise. For a long time I thought I wasn’t a fan. But we keep ordering sweet potato fries whenever we go out for burgers, and I’ve realized that if they’re savory/salty, I’m totally into them!

So I asked Liz of Carpé Season for a good, savory, sweet potato recipe, and she totally delivered. Don’t these look amazing?

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

Where do you fall on sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving? Are they a must-have on your menu? Or do you avoid them? And do go for a more traditional marshmallow topped option? Or do you favor savory, like me? I’d love to hear!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


July Picture Books 201507

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I always love sharing new picture books with you! Here are six that I’ve added to our collection. One is for older kids, and one is for younger kids, and the rest are for the middle kids. As usual, all of these picks are both visually compelling and fun to read.

First up, My Wild Family by Laurent Moreau. This is an oversize picture book and the illustrations caught my eye first. It’s a really beautiful book to look at. As you read, you get introduced to each member of the family — like a strong older brother who is just like an elephant!

July Picture Books 201508 July Picture Books 201509

This is a great book for sparking an imaginative conversation. What animal is your child like? What animal are you like?

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Next up, Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec. This one is a charmer, and I’m betting you don’t have anything else like it. It’s a visual whodunnit for preschoolers.

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Each page asks a mysterious question, and your kids will study the illustrations to find the answer. So many cute details! This one is irresistible.

Four more books when you click through!



November 18, 2015

Why artichokes are the your kid's favorite vegetable and you don't even know it yet. #reclaimthekitchen

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post was brought to you by Wolf. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.

Oh my goodness. I’m so excited to share this with you! Last month, I had the chance to work with my sister Jordan, and my sister-in-law Liz, on such a fun project. Wolf — makers of gorgeous cooking appliances! — asked us about some of our favorite family recipes, and then they made a video of us cooking up one of our go-to, easy family dinners. Take a look!

This video is such a treasure to me because the meal we put together is connected to a dozen family memories and to a dozen of the people I love most. Jordan prepped a simple Brown Butter Pasta (she’ll share her post on 11/18). The recipe comes from our dear Aunt Robin. As Jordan mentioned in the video, it’s essentially a more sophisticated mac-and-cheese. Kids love it!

Liz made a simple bread, called figasa. It’s a recipe we learned from our Grandma Daisy, whose parents were immigrants from Italy. When I was growing up, my mom made figasa at least once a month, and I can totally see her in my mind, pushing thumbprints of butter all over the dough. I said this in the video, but in case you missed it, figasa is essentially the same thing as focaccia, but in the region of Italy where Daisy’s parents came from, it’s called figasa. In fact, I remember focaccia suddenly being on every menu everywhere and being so confused because I couldn’t figure out why people were calling it the wrong name. Hah!

My job for this meal was the artichokes. Artichokes bring back so many memories from my childhood! My family loved eating artichokes. I remember trimming the artichoke leaves, watching the artichokes drain upside down after they were cooked, and dipping the leaves in mayo or melted butter. Then seeing the discard pile get higher and higher. I remember getting to the hairy part and needing help cutting it off. And then finding the pot of gold underneath — the heart!

How to prepare and eat a whole artichoke. It will be your new favorite vegetable, I promise! #reclaimthekitchen

I also remember realizing in high school that most of my friends had never eaten an artichoke. I’m not totally sure why that was — but when I was a kid, I don’t think they were as available as they are now. I wonder if my parents knew about them because they both grew up in California, where everything grows so well, and artichokes are readily available.

An artichoke is something you really need to be taught to eat. There’s nothing instinctive about it. In fact, I sometimes wonder who the first person was that figured out you can scrape the leaves against your teeth! So if your parents were never taught how to prepare and eat them, then chances are you wouldn’t know either.

In case you’re someone who has never had the opportunity to make them for your family, I’m here to encourage you. Artichokes are such a hit with kids! They’re easily the most interactive vegetable. There’s so much dipping! Kids adore dipping! And the mysterious hairy part! An artichoke is such a fascinating food.

If you want to give them a try, you’re in luck, because the prep is actually quite easy. Really, truly. The only tricky part is knowing how to eat one, but once you’ve done it, it’s not something you have to relearn. : )

Anyway, it was such a pleasure to work on this video with Wolf. I’m in love with their Reclaim the Kitchen initiative. Wolf knows that the kitchen is the heart of the home. They’re on a mission to help families cook better, live better, live more thoughtfully, and live more healthfully — starting with simple family meals at home. So terrific!

Feed your kids artichokes! They are the most interactive vegetable and kids love dipping the leaves. #reclaimthekitchen

Tell me, Friends. What’s your experience with artichokes? Did you grow up eating them? Do you remember who taught you to eat one the first time? Have you taught your kids? Or do you find them intimidating? And if you were asked to prep a simple family meal packed with memories, what would you cook?

P.S. — Ready to give give artichokes a try? Here’s how I prep them. I cut off the stem and tops with a knife, then trim the leaves with kitchen shears. Then I put them in a big pot of boiling water — enough water to cover them. Cover the pot and simmer the artichokes. Cooking time can vary, but try 30 minutes for a medium-sized artichoke or 45 minutes for a jumbo one. Take the artichokes from the water and let them drain upside down. You can put them on a dish or in a strainer — anywhere that will allow the water to come out. Then get ready to dip!


DIY: Easy Half-Moon Pendant

November 18, 2015

Half-Moon Pendant | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

I’m so excited to share this project with you. Amy Christie and I have been talking about it for months! We saw this gorgeous half-moon pendant necklace by Winifred Grace and we both went all heart-eyes for it. Alas, it’s no longer for sale, but Amy reached out to Winifred and asked permission to try and recreate something similar in a DIY post, and Winifred said yes! Which means, lucky us! We can all learn to make one. We can make one to bling up our own holiday wardrobe, or we can make a bunch and gift them to all of our favorite people.

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Here’s what Amy says about the project:

With an eight-month old on my hip, I rarely wear jewelry in my everyday life, aside from simple studs in my ears. It can get in the way so it’s easier to go without. However, the holidays inspire me to elevate my attire, step up my getup. From family dinners to holiday parties, I dig out my trinkets and add a sparkle and shine to my outfits.

The half-moon pendant is right up my alley. It’s simple and clean and goes with just about everything. I do not have the skills or materials for metal work but I can create a half-moon pendant necklace with polymer clay and gold leaf. And you totally can, too.

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Polymer clay is the chameleon of materials; it can be made to look like so many substances. For this piece, the gold leaf does the work, giving the half-moon a metal-like appearance. Add a couple of jump rings and a length of leather cord and this inspired necklace is ready to wear in no time.

If you’ve ever wanted to make your own jewelry with polymer clay, this is the tutorial for you. It’s super easy and in no time, you will be all shiny for the holidays.

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Let’s get to it!

[click to continue…]


Living With Kids: Amy Van Zee

November 17, 2015

By Gabrielle.

Oftentimes, the first batch of photographs I receive for a home tour are what I call realtor photos: pristine glimpses of a perfectly kept home in shades of spotless and sunlight, and I usually want to buy it right then and there! But then the homeowner and I chat a little more, and gradually a stream of shots showing exactly how the family is living with their children starts to make its way into the tour.

With Amy, there was no such hesitation or getting-to-know-you period! Nope! She lives and decorates happily among the Cozy Coupe and toys and hustle and bustle of two little girls, and her photos show it. Happily.

You’ll love the story of when exactly she discovered her design preferences, and maybe you’ll even gain some encouragement from the DIY projects featured on her blog! Either way, I know you’re going to smile through this one. Welcome, Amy!

Hi everyone! My name is Amy, and I live in this house with my husband, Ben, and our two young girls. Ben is as wonderful and hardworking as they come. He runs his own business and is one of the most responsible and levelheaded people you could ever imagine. He is a very faithful and loyal man. He also loves technology and serves as unofficial tech support for our family and friends.

My work background is in publishing, and my favorite fiction writer is F. Scott Fitzgerald. I could (and do) read his stories over and over. Now, I get to stay home with my girls and do the occasional bit of freelance publishing work from home.

Our older daughter, Jane, is three. When she was younger, people used to comment on her dark, expressive eyebrows and her many words. Oh, her words! It seems like she was talking from the day she was born. Jane has an incredible memory and a very creative mind for make-believe. She will stop in her tracks to listen if a book is being read in her vicinity.

Kate is 18 months and learning new words every day! In some curious ways, she shows her independence. When we read, she squirms out of my lap because she prefers to sit next to me. Kate’s hair has a beautiful tinge of red to it, which people comment on but I’m not so sure from where it comes. It seems to match her personality, though — she’s got some big feelings, and I do know where those come from. (Hint: It’s not Ben!)

More sweetness, straight ahead!


A Few Things

November 13, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.55.22 AM

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Was it a good week? It just occurred to me that last week at this time we were driving to Yosemite. I don’t really understand how time works, but that trip somehow already feels like it happened months ago. Such an odd sensation!

Here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you. I’m going to jump right into the list — it’s an extra long one today because there was a ton of good stuff out there this week!

- Could our ancestors see the color blue?

- Africans are sharing pictures of their actual, beautiful lives, to fight the image that the whole continent is poverty stricken.

- A vegan burger that bleeds? I’d love your thoughts.

- Los Angeles is installing new street lamps that will keep cell service running after an earthquake.

- How to explain sexual consent using tea.

- A Blog About Love launched an inspiring holiday project focused on getting supplies to a girls orphanage.

- Uterus transplants!

- A framework for gratitude.

- “To the embarrassed parent of the child looking at my daughter.”

- Working for free until the end of the year.

- When he was 18 he interviewed his future self. And 38 years later, he answers the interview questions.

- Ballet slippers that make drawings from the dancer’s movements.

- How women are pioneering the field of ethical fashion.

I hope you have the very best possible weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Thank you for your comments on my random thoughts post. I’m slowly working my way through them and will respond as much as I can.


Just the right size! Dessert for Two: Peanut Butter Cup Deep Dish Cookies | Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a new food series. But instead of something kid or family based, I was thinking it might be fun to do a Dessert For Two series. I’m picturing a late night treat just for you and someone you love — your spouse, your best friend, your teenager who is up late hitting the books.

Maybe eaten in celebration or sympathy after a particularly challenging day. (We survived!)

Dessert for Two: Peanut Butter Cup Deep Dish Cookies | Design Mom

So I asked Liz Berget to come up with a yummy recipe that only has two servings, and no surprise, it looks super yummy.

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love your thoughts. Does a Dessert for Two series interest you? Should I make this a regular thing? Let me know!

Click here for the recipe and notes!


By Gabrielle. Day 14 of Elena Skoreyko Wagner’s 100 Illustrated Quotes.

Mallory Myers didn’t really expect to be featured on my Growing A Family series. No, she simply wanted to write about her harrowing experience with panic attacks while pregnant with her daughter as a therapeutic act, perhaps to acknowledge that it happened. For herself and for you. With the writing and sharing done, she thought, she could move on. And so she has.

Not surprisingly, hers is one of those journeys I couldn’t wait to share with you. Maybe you’re experiencing the same surges of anxiety, maybe you can’t imagine how the pounding heart and gasping breaths will ever subside, and maybe you’re questioning your worth as a parent. You are not alone.

Join me in welcoming Mallory. She has a lot of lovely reassurances for us all.

Mallory’s story, straight ahead.


Half Dome Yosemite

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Today, I’ve got another installment of random thoughts just for you. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments!

1) Happy Veteran’s Day!
I’m feeling such gratitude to the Veterans in my life. I’m thinking of my brother-in-laws Paul Rodgers and Daniel Madsen. I’m thinking of my Grandpa Pack and Grandpa Stanley who both served in WWII. And I’m thinking of all the amazing people that have been willing to give their time, and in too many cases, their lives, to defend this country.

Are you thinking of anyone in particular today? Will you get the chance to visit a military cemetery or perhaps a veteran’s hospital? Have you found a good way to mark this day, or help your kids understand its significance? I always love your ideas!

2) Since Thursday night, I have been preoccupied with news that my church has a new troubling policy. I have probably spent a hundred hours at this point talking to people about it. I’d like to tell you I’ve been totally gracious in my discussions, but if I’m honest, among the civil conversations I’ve had, I’ve also done a good deal of shouting at the internet. Sigh. It’s definitely an emotionally charged subject. I’ve been writing all over the place, but you can see most of my thoughts in the comments of this post.

I should note: If you have thoughts to share on this topic, I do want to listen to you and talk with you, but may not be able to respond today as I’m traveling.

3) Speaking of which, I’m on a quick field trip to L.A. today for some business meetings. Nothing dramatic — I’ll fill you in as soon as I can. It’s a short trip and I return home tomorrow night.

I really like Los Angeles. I was born in Southern California and spent my first 5 years there. And once we moved away, we still returned for visits several times a year. So there’s something about the area that always feels and smells familiar to me. I have lots of happy memories there.

Do you have strong feelings about Los Angeles? It seems like anytime it comes up in conversation, the city provokes a lot of love and hate. In comparison, I have almost never heard anyone express big dislike for New York City — they might complain about its challenges, but they adore it at the same time.

4) I am thinking about Alt Summit. We announced some big changes coming up. After January’s conference, we’re moving our flagship event to a new city! It’s a big deal to us and we’re excited about the change, but also feeling nostalgic about all the years we’ve had in Salt Lake City. I’m so happy we get one more conference there! I’m really looking forward to the January event. Are you coming?

When we made the announcement, we knew there would be people that wanted one more chance to experience Alt Summit in Salt Lake City, and we opened up a block of additional tickets. They are going fast, so if you want one, I hope you’ll grab it right away.

5) Our 3-day trip to Yosemite was so good for my soul. Time together with my whole family feels like the most precious resource I have at the moment. A resource that disappears too quickly! I loved every minute of the trip. Talking with everyone during the drive. Asking the kids to play DJ so we can hear what they’re listening to these days. Hearing them debate about the Oreos versus Trader Joe’s Joe Joe’s.

And of course, simply being in Yosemite. Each day, we would head into the park with zero plan. And then we’d park and explore whenever something caught our eye. We scramble on the boulders, play by the river, play catch in the meadows, watch the sunset on El Capitan. The weather was wonderful — enough chill to keep us in jackets and hats, but not so cold that the kids weren’t willing to dunk their heads in the river. Hah!

This was also the first time we had the chance to visit the Ahwahnee Lodge. The hotel was booked so we didn’t stay there, but we explored the public spaces and ate a big feast for lunch in their famous restaurant. Fun fact: We learned that the restaurant has a dress code for dinner. So if you’re planning a visit, you might want to pack something dressier than we did. : )

We really loved being there and we’re thinking about making reservations now for Thanksgiving 2016. A holiday at Yosemite sounds magical.

One more bonus about visiting in November is that the park is relatively empty. In the summer, visitors are required to use the park shuttles, but in November, we could drive and park quite easily. If you’d like to see, I shared a whole bunch of photos on Instagram and so did my kids.

6) We finally turned on the heat here in Oakland. If we lived anywhere but the Bay Area, that would probably be a sign of dread for me, but the weather here is so steady that it almost feels like a novelty. Maude made me hot cocoa with marshmallows last night, and it felt like the best treat ever. Sometimes I miss having true, decisive seasons, so it’s fun to have this drop in temperature. (Though when February comes around, I admit, I’m like, just kidding, California is best!)

7) I’m thinking about Ralph’s Court of Honor. I still haven’t start planning it and need to get myself in gear! I want to plan something really memorable and fun and satisfying for everyone involved, but I haven’t been to many Eagle Courts of Honor. Are there any particularly good ideas you’ve seen or heard of? Please share!

8) After a family party with cousins on Monday night, we were driving back from San Francisco and the topic of babysitting came up. I told Oscar and Betty that in just a few short years, they would probably get a chance to babysit their little cousin Edie.

June was understandably upset. She teared up. Would she get to babysit anyone? We told her that when she’s old enough to babysit, Ralph or Maude might be a parent, and she can babysit their kids. Obviously, we have no idea if and when our kids will become parents, but regardless, June was so excited!! You could see her little head calculating the future generations and trying to figure out who was going to babysit her own kids. It’s so satisfying and unbelievable to see your children start to comprehend past and future in a profound way. There are a whole lot of amazing things about being a parent, but watching your kids learn something right before your eyes is one of my favorite parts.

I think that’s it for today. 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.


how-to-make-a-thanksgiving-centerpiece 10

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Last Thanksgiving, I put together an easy centerpiece for the table. I gathered greens and leaves from the yard, placed them in a big circle in the center of the table, and then nestled an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables (plus some twinkly votive candles!) into the greens.

I love how it turned out! You can see a peek here. It gives that cornucopia feeling of plenty. You can use all the fruits and veggies when it’s done being a centerpiece — so nothing goes to waste. And I love that it sits low on the table, making it easy for people seated across from each other to have a conversation.

thanksgiving-centerpiece 9

Some years, we have the food in the center of the table, and we have to keep the centerpiece much smaller. But when “the family” expands to 20+ people, and spills to more than one table, we keep the food on the kitchen island and let guests serve themselves buffet style. In those situations, the center of the tables remains open, and I get to be more generous with the table decorations.

thanksgiving-centerpiece-ideas 7

Thinking some of you might want to try a centerpiece like this too, Amy Christie offered to recreate something similar, and photograph the steps as she went. Hooray! Here’s what Amy says:

Yes. Thanksgiving is about family and food. But at our house, Thanksgiving is also about a beautifully set table to hold the food and feed the family. It’s the day the extra special dishes are used, maybe the real silver silverware and the vintage table linens. I remember setting many holiday tables and it all began with asking my mom which plates to use, the fancy white ones or the fancy china ones with the tiny blue flowers. Either choice was good, either choice made for a beautiful table.


There are so many ways to decorate a table, and this year, I am in love with this idea for a colorful, natural, mostly edible centerpiece. The produce stacked with the natural pieces, the leaves, grasses and berry sprigs, is fundamental fall and will definitely give our Thanksgiving table a serious upgrade.


The how-to for this table centerpiece is a subjective sort of thing. Use what you like and what you can find. Adjust it fit the table, while making sure to leave space for the place settings. And, most importantly, make it look good to you. It takes some moving things around to figure out the right balance but the end result is gorgeous.

I have tips for you below so don’t sweat it. It’s a cinch to put together.

Click here for the tutorial!


Living With Kids: Lara Hyde

November 10, 2015

By Gabrielle.

It doesn’t surprise me Lara is an editor and writer; her interview reads like a story told by a lovely friend. The kind of friend who is honest about her “Is my home good enough?” concerns, as well as her wonderfully unique daughter’s journey through a world that is sometimes not so easy to navigate. (I almost choked on my laughter when I read Lara’s humorous description of her girl’s wardrobe style: Eminem meets Jersey Shore!)

In both cases, Lara seems like the type of person who shrugs off the worry, remembers what’s truly important in life, and moves on happily. She’s working hard on not caring so much what the rest of the world thinks.

Like I said: lovely. Welcome, Lara!

Hi, everyone. My name is Lara. I live here in beautiful Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, with my husband Rob. We have two daughters – Dace is eight and Violet is five – and a hyperactive Bernese Mountain Dog named Blue and our cat-with-a-mustache, Kasper.

I am a book editor and freelance writer. I primarily edit romance novels, which is lots of fun. They all have happily-ever-afters, so it is a very uplifting job. Rob works for Environment Canada in the Great Lakes division. He is the go-to guy for all matters related to Lake Superior, which means he travels up north from time to time and brings me back one-of-a-kind gifts like handmade moccasins, deer antlers and, once, a bookmark made out of a raccoon’s penis. That one was just disgusting, but it is part of why I love him so much. We both share the exact same sense of humor, which is a little quirky and weird. I laugh a lot, and I couldn’t imagine being married to someone who couldn’t bring that out in me.

Rob and I met in residence in first-year university. He had a chin-strap beard back then, and longish hair. We liked all the same British bands and I had never met anyone with whom I felt so comfortable. We both liked playing pranks. I got the chicken pox just before Christmas exams and he didn’t care; he still made out with me. It was meant to be.

We are so blessed to have two happy, sweet, healthy daughters. Dace is super smart, diligent, and sensitive. When she was a baby, she was colicky for the first four months. It was not an easy time. But ever since, she has been the easiest child. Dace loves babies and wishes we would have another one so she could take care of it — which is not happening, by the way. She also loves riddles and puzzles and books of interesting facts. Last year she blew the socks off all the teachers at her school talent show when she played a Johnny Cash song on the guitar and sang along. She wants to be singer/songwriter one day. Or a teacher. She is ethereal and, in some ways, an old soul.

Violet has always marched to her own drum. When she was in junior kindergarten, her teachers pulled me aside one day after school and told me that Violet had been changing her clothes when she got to school. I would send her off in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and once she got there she would change into a sleeveless, white ribbed undershirt and cut-off jogging pants that she had hidden underneath. Mind you, this was in the middle of winter. That was the beginning of Violet starting to assert her own style, which I like to call “Eminem meets Jersey Shore.” Neither my husband nor I listen to much hip hop and we certainly don’t dress the part, so we have no idea how Violet came to identify with this style. It isn’t popular at her school. But she owns her look, and everyone knows Violet because of it. She’s always had great rhythm and taught herself to break dance. Sometimes she will bust out her moves at a festival and draw a small crowd, but she is shy and prefers to dance in private. She has been begging us for drums for a while, and we are going to get her a set.

When we went to Disney World last year, a lot of people assumed she was a boy, and that was back when she had long hair. She loves being mistaken for a boy. This past summer, she got her hair cut short and it looks great on her. Violet has an incredibly strong sense of self and I am so proud of her for being who she is.

Some people have asked me how I respond when she refuses to wear anything but boy clothes. I say I just let her be who she is. Last year, her teacher used her as an example in front of the class of someone who’s always nice to others. That brought tears to my eyes.

More goodness, straight ahead!


Minted Holiday Card Giveaway

November 9, 2015


By Gabrielle.

Okay you guys. It’s officially time to talk Holiday Cards. I’m totally content to let the rest of the Christmas preparations wait until we get closer to December, but holiday cards need some prep and thinking ahead. If we’re going to get them done this year, we’d better start early. So let’s kick off the start of Holiday Card Season with a big giveaway! How does a $350 credit at Minted sound? Actually, how does TWO $350 credits to Minted sound?!! (It sounds fabulous! I know!!)

Minted Drawing

I’m not kidding. This giveaway will have two winners and each will receive a $350 credit to Minted. Fabulous! So let’s get right to the cards. I’m going to start by breaking down the Minted options into some key categories. Including a brand new one called Completely Custom Cards.

Completely Custom Holiday Card

Your child draws a picture. You upload it to Minted. Minted magically transforms the drawing to be your holiday cards (in any color you like — even metallic foil!). Result: You have a card like no other! Completely original.

If you have more than one child, why not let them all work on a drawing together? Maybe they can each draw one of the family pets! Or divide the card into 2 or 3 or 4 sections and assign the sections to each child. Cute, custom, and totally meaningful.

Minted Photo Card2

Then there are the Photo Holiday Cards which Minted is famous for. All of which are created by their amazing community of independent designers. There are a ton of gorgeous designs, so if you’re looking to narrow it down quick, I recommend taking advantage of Minted’s ‘Find It Fast’ feature  — it allows you to submit a photo and see it in all designs while you browse. Upload the family photo you have in mind and instantly see where it looks best.


I should also note, Minted’s designs have fun options — you can often change the colors on the designs or even choose a scalloped border for your card!

Minted Foil Minted Letterpress

If you want to really up your holiday card game this year, Minted also offers some extra-luxe options. There are Foil-Pressed Designs — these offer a touch of metallic for just the right amount of bling. Or you could upgrade to Photo Letterpress Cards. These are completely new — just launched yesterday! — and they are true letterpress cards, printed on cotton with an old-fashioned Heidelberg press. Or maybe you want some a little more out of the ordinary? How about choosing a special little number called the Booklette (because it’s a tiny little book!).


And don’t forget the famed Minted Envelope! They are gorgeous and the best quality out there. You can choose a lining, and you can even have Minted address them for you.

Do you remember Love Letter To The Year? During the last holiday season, we made a little video, and the Minted Envelope was the star of the show!


Whatever you’re looking for, Minted is sure to have just the thing. And the best part? This is a giveaway post! Which means you might be winning your holiday cards this year. Way to go!

To enter, use the form below. You can enter through Sunday, November 15th at 11:59pm PT. Good luck. I hope you win!


A Few Things

November 6, 2015

Fall at the treehouse

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Has it been a good week? We’re all very excited at the Blair House, because we’re about to jump in the car and head to Yosemite!

Our first (and most recent) family visit was during the Summer of 2014. We fell right in love. And both Maude and Ralph have been back since on camping trips. But this will be the first time any of us has seen Yosemite during the fall. I’ve heard it’s gorgeous in every season, so I have high expectations. : )

One funny thing is that June keeps mixing up the words Yosemite and Gethsemane (they do sound remarkably similar when said aloud!). She keeps asking things like, “Are there bears in Gethsemane?” and “Is there snow in Gethsemane?” It’s super cute.

We’re heading out in minute, but before we drive away, I wanted to make sure I shared a few things with you:

- A 32,000 year old plant, brought back to life! This is so cool.

- A really important article on what it’s like to live on the financial fringe, and how the U.S. Post Offices might be the big fix we need.

This new study says there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain.

- How to say no to everything. For secret reasons.

- A portrait of the modern family.

- The day my daughter realized she isn’t white.

- On Adele’s Rolling Stone cover.

- Two guys wearing jetpacks.

- Stuck between Generation X and the Millenials.

- Emma Watson interviews Malala.

- In the fall, I always like to watch Stacking Wood.

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I feel like November is really just the best! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


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