Is Maman Mean or Magnificent? How Strict Are French Parents?

French parents are strict This article about French mothers has me thinking about the ways different cultures parent. Things like, they say French parents are strict, but I know they are wonderful about teaching table manners. My sister told us she was in awe when she visited a Paris pre-school and saw 2 year olds eating bananas — they peeled them without assistance, carefully sliced them with knives and forks, then ate each slice, also with their forks. At age 2! Or how about Sweden, where there’s a focus on children spending time outside. I was blown away when I learned there are preschools held entirely out-of-doors! Then of course, there are my English friends, who talk about how commonplace the idea of boarding school is. But I don’t personally know a single American family that sends their kids to boarding school. My brain can hardly wrap itself around the concept. French parents are strict French parents are strict Another example has been on my mind all week. Our daughter Olive, age 10, attends a French public school and is on a school field trip. She left on Saturday morning, and won’t be back until Friday night. A one-week school trip! They are at a ski resort 9 hours away. Can you imagine? Our other kids have never done anything like this at her age, but here, no one seems to think it’s extraordinary at all. Please share. What parenting styles and techniques from other cultures would you like to copy? Have you ever changed your parenting style when you moved to a new state, or to another country? P.S. — The article also has me irritated because it makes French mothers sound so mean. I’ve spent time around lots of French mothers this past year and have seen nothing but the typical, compassionate, in-love-with-my-kids mothering that you can find the world over.   French parents are strict

French Pharmacy Picks

I loved reading your drugstore beauty picks last week and as promised, today I thought I’d share some of my favorites from French drugstores. (I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve slowly been working my way through Gwyneth Paltrow’s list of recommendations.) First up: Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse I love this product! I think it will become a staple on my bathroom shelf. It’s made for hair, skin, face and hands, and I use it on all of those. How I Use It: I mix in a few sprays with my other hair products to keep my curls soft. I have to keep it away from my roots or my scalp gets too oily, but it’s amazing on the rest of my hair. It’s a little heavier than what I prefer on my face, but if I’m having a really dry day, I like it. Plus, if I’ve applied my blush with a heavy hand, it’s perfect for smoothing it out so I don’t look like a clown. When I use it as body moisturizer (best: right out of the shower), Ben Blair always comments because the scent is light and really pretty and the oil makes my skin glow. …

King Cake

Before the week flies by, I wanted to give you a little report about our past weekend. We were so happy to be invited by our neighbor, Madame Lucienne, for a King Cake gathering. I’m not totally sure about all the traditions surrounding this cake (if you know, please do fill us in), but this is what I understand. Each January, as part of the Epiphany/Three Kings Day/New Years celebrations, friends and neighbors are invited for cake. Baked in the cake is a “bean”, but really the bean is a tiny toy or figure. The cake is sliced and served. Someone at the table discovers the bean, and that person is crowned. Tradition says the bean finder will also have good luck all year. (My kind of tradition!) Maude was the lucky bean finder at Saturday’s gathering. She found the tiny ceramic King above. Betty was broken-hearted when the crown appeared and she realized it wasn’t for her, so Maude kindly shared. She’s a good sister. If you visit any bakery in France right now, you’ll see King Cakes for sale with paper crowns on top. So fun! P.S. — Less fun: my panic-ed moment at the party, when I was chatting with the hostess and realized I was about to throw up. And throw up I did. So embarrassing. I’m still cringing at the memory.

Living With Kids: Rachel Peters

Rachel Peters is a storyteller, through and through. When she first sent me a note about her home, I fell head-over-heels in love with its story before I even saw one photo. She also seems more than a little brave; Rachel and her husband starting building their house when she was very pregnant with her second child, and moved in while she was pregnant with her third. “It’s good to move pregnant,” she wrote to me. “Lots of people offer to help.” I do like her style, don’t you? Please enjoy the tour of the Peters’ storybook home. Q: Who’s lucky enough to live in this home? A: There is basically always a party in our home, and it’s mostly because of the inhabitants. My husband, Andrew (AP), and I built this house, and moved in on May 4th, 2011, the day before our oldest daughter turned three. Cana, our three year old, is the official home tour guide. When you come visit for the first time, she welcomes you by presenting a single lit candle and singing “Happy Birthday” no matter what day it is, an idea she had to make all our guests feel celebrated. Our perpetually muddy son, Wake, is 18 months old, and our newest addition is Wren. She’s three months old, and at that durable baby stage that I can’t get enough of. …

Maybe Just a Few More Months…

Have I told you our plans? For the last several months, we have been thinking about what’s next for our family. After approximately 1 million discussions, we decided that if possible, we’d really like to extend our time here through the school year. The kids’ French is rapidly improving, and we’d love to give them another 6 months to work on it. Plus, we’re toying with the idea of buying and restoring a tiny cottage here in the countryside. So instead of returning to the U.S. on February 1st, which was our original plan, we’re making plans to return on July 1st. In fact, this morning, Ben Blair is at the local government office where they handle visas. We currently have visitor visas that allow us to remain in France for 1-year. They expire at the end of this month. So we are in the process of trying to extend them. Extending them basically mean reapplying — a process very similar to the original application, minus the trip to Los Angeles. We’re really excited about the revised plan. At some point, we realized just how much prep was required to get our stuff into storage, pack our bags, find a place to stay, register the kids for school and move here. I suppose it makes sense to extend our stay, and make the most of all that prep work. I remember many readers guessing we would feel that way — that 1 year wasn’t enough. And they were right! (Design Mom Readers always know best. : ) Wish us luck on the reapplication! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how it all goes. P.S. — I’m in love with this adorable new site called Lately Lily. It will make you want to discover new places with your kids!

Cologne, Germany

In case you’re curious, here’s a little report on our roadtrip to Germany (via a Belgium waffle tour). Our destination was Cologne. Fun fact: in German the city is called Köln. Which reminds me, do you remember that phase, I think it was the early nineties, where hip new startups would add two dots over any random vowel in their company name because those two dots are so darn cool? I’m glad that phase is over, but I still think the two dots are awesome. For this report, I think I’ll start backwards. The very last thing we did, before we jumped in the van to drive home, was add a lock to the the Hohenzollern bridge, which spans the river Rhine. From what I understand, the locks are for lovers. They scratch their names into the locks (or have them engraved) and then add the lock to the bridge. But we adapted the tradition for our family, since all the kids wanted in on it too. Ben Blair scratched a B into our little red lock. Then we each took turns holding the lock and making a wish for 2012. Then we attached it to the bridge. And then, since we’re no good at secrets, on the drive home, every one shared their wishes. : ) We all felt like it was a wonderful way to mark the new year.

Living With Kids: Mia-Louise of MisseMai Prints

To me, Denmark means Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair, and a whole lot of people happy to be living in one of the happiest countries in the world according to Forbes nearly every year. So it should come as no surprise that Mia-Louise is happily designing and illustrating the most darling collection of whimsical prints, memorable textiles, and even covetable lingerie in a corner of Copenhagen. There must be a little magic in the water! In between running MisseMai Prints, she and her husband, Mark, are also raising a little guy named Herbert and waiting anxiously for the April arrival of their already-named son, Huxi. Welcome to their home. It’s quite a lovely mix of calm and graphically-charged elements, don’t you think? …

Waffle Tour 2011

Ben Blair has the week off work, so Sunday night, we planned a last-minute roadtrip to Germany. Roadtrip FTW! It’s a long-ish drive, so we decided to break it up with a Waffle Tour through Belgium yesterday. We started in Bruges with chocolate waffles. Stopped in Brussels for strawberry waffles. And tried Liege waffels in Liege. (Liege waffles are denser and have a sugary coating. Sometimes we’ve found them at Whole Foods, if you’d like to try them yourself.) The drive ended in Cologne, Germany where we woke up this morning. And now, we’re off to explore… I hope your Winter Break is going swimmingly. Are you traveling? Spending time with cousins? Skiing? Having a laid-back week at home? I’d love to hear! P.S. — Here are lots more images of Waffle Tour 2011 if you’d like to see: [portfolio_slideshow]

A Few Things

Hello, Friends! How are you? Are you ready for this weekend? Last weekend, the amazing Wendy of Blue Lily Photography came to our home here in Normandy, and we did the funnest family photo shoot. And today I have pictures to share! I’m so excited!! Ben Blair and I found a little vintage car to rent for the shoot, put everybody in their Christmas finery and set out on a country road near our home. Then, Wendy worked her magic. And I LOVE how the pictures turned out!! I’ve included 10 of my favorites here. While I grin and grin at that cute car (and those cute kids!), here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you: – Christmas isn’t Christmas without a reading of Six to Eight Black Men. – Love this Kirtsy slideshow. Am I the last to know about glass straws? – Gingerbread trees. – My picks for frame-worthy calendars. – Hot pink. – This talk blew my mind. – Thank you, Disney!Instead of bows. I also write for Babble. Here are this week’s posts: – Ready for New Year’s? Here are 25 sparkly pieces to inspire your party outfit. – What’s the cleverest holiday card you received this year? – Made of 100% wool with interchangeable clothes. So cute. – Decoration that will make you want to party! – A gorgeous new online magazine all about entertaining. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and Merry Christmas! I’ll mostly be off next week but will definitely check in with a post or two. I’ll meet you back here soon. I miss you already! kisses, Gabrielle P.S. — Don’t stress, it’s all staged, I promise! We didn’t really drive around town with the kids on the car. : ) See the photos in bigger sizes here.

Living With Kids: Jamie Diersing

The weather is pretty cold in Ohio during these winter months, but there’s lovely warmth glowing from inside the Diersing home. Just look. It’s in the paint colors, scattered around randomly among the collections, and boldly hanging on the walls. This is a family who makes things and makes them beautifully, but I think what they’re making most of all are memories. Beautifully. Enjoy the tour! Q: Who’s lucky enough to live in this home? A: This house is home to my husband, Brian, myself, our daughter, Livi, and two felines, Eli and Lucy. We live in Cincinnati, Ohio. My husband and I are both designers and were born and raised here. We interned in Boston during college, and then moved to Los Angeles after graduation. We lived there nine years, and then returned to our roots eight years ago to be closer to our families and start our own. …

Christmas in France

Today, our family was discussing some of the observations we’ve made about Christmas in France and I thought you might be curious. Plus, I wanted a good excuse to to share some photos of our ornaments. : ) – December 1st was the first day I saw real Christmas Trees for sale. Corner tree lots don’t really exist. Instead, you can find them inside the big grocery stores, under a big tent in the grocery store parking lot, or at a Nursery.

French Industrial Ornaments

Friends! Look what I found in the barn. A box of old metals stencils in two different sizes. Plus some sort of metal flower that I am in love with. Treasure! I know just what to do with the stencils — hang them on our tree! I’ll add silver cords and temporarily turn them into a set of French Industrial Christmas Ornaments. Can’t wait to share pics! Also. Now I’m curious: what’s the most un-traditional ornament you hang? P.S. — More industrial love here and here.

Living With Kids: Kate Lewis

Kate sent me a few pictures of her Chicago home, asking sweetly if I’d consider it for an upcoming Living With Kids home tour. The first image I opened showed the most enchanting, inspiration-overloaded studio and playroom space that I didn’t even need to look further. It was a yes, and a big one at that! I just know you’ll be as charmed by this art-filled home that’s as magical to adults as it is to kids. Q: Please introduce us to the lucky family who lives in this fantastic space! A: This house is home to me and my lovely, fabulous, generous, husband Ed, who is a serial entrepreneur, and our two darling children, Sadie (4) and Eli (2). Q: Tell us your home’s story… A: Our home has a lovely history that starts in 1894. It was part of a very large farmhouse in the middle of an onion farm. Now it is just a few blocks away from the home of the Chicago Cubs. Our neighborhood is filled with families, young professionals, and lots of dogs. This home has an artistic soul…if a home can have a soul! The previous owner is a photographer, so there is a darkroom in the basement. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it’s now a storage room! We moved here a little over two years ago when I was very pregnant with Eli. …

DIY: Shrink Jewelry

Speaking of budget-friendly gift ideas, here is a great one! Five-year-old Betty made this shrink plastic jewelry for her sibling gifts and they turned out wonderfully. Plus, we had the best time making them, hanging out in the kitchen one-on-one. Betty kept saying, “I LOVE doing projects with you, Mom.” Made me so happy! This was the first time I’ve ever tried shrink plastic and it is awesome. Seriously! So fun, and such a satisfying project for kids. It really feels magical. It’s basically a sheet of thin, flexible plastic, and when you bake it, it transforms. Bonus: making all of these cost about $1. Bargain!

DIY: Sharpie Dyed Underwear

I’m so excited to share this DIY with you today. It is sooo fun and sooo easy! I’m placing bets it’s going to be your new favorite project to try with yours kids. All you need is rubbing alcohol and Sharpie markers. For reals! Maude used the technique to make underwear sets for her brothers and sisters as Christmas gifts and they turned out great! (Side note: we’ve done t-shirts a few times over the years,  so we thought underwear would make a nice variation. : )

Living With Kids: Cina Kjellsson

You know I love a crisp and colorful Swedish home, and Cina Kjellsson’s does not disappoint. As the designer behind the boldly patterned products at Camp Cirrus, she and her husband, Matts, have created a shared space that incorporates their entire family and still conveys the message that a group of creatives lives here. The emphasis seems to be less on designing a space to look beautiful, and more on building rooms in which to live beautifully. Collections are few and chosen sparingly, but still with impact. The walls are white – of course! – and the walkways clear. There is space to share and space to be alone. Such brilliant take-aways to apply to any home, don’t you agree? Enjoy the tour! …


I spent this morning decking the halls with boughs of holly. For reals! And for the first time ever. La Cressonnière happens to have a huge holly bush (of course it does), so I harvested some branches and I’m using them to fill in the double-decker mantle over the living room fireplace. I have never had access to fresh holly before, but it is gorgeous and Christmas-y. And poky. (Use gloves.) I’m not going to lie, the mantel is looking awesome. And while I was installing the holly, I kept looking at Ben Blair and saying, “Is this place for real?” And, “How in the world are we going to live somewhere else after this? I will definitely share some pictures when I finish up, but right now, berries are on my mind. In addition to the holly, there are all sorts of varieties of gorgeous berries that grow along the roads here in the countryside. During one of our blackberry picking sessions, I snapped these photos of unknown-to-me berries. Obviously, I would never consume any unknown fruits, but some of them definitely looked good enough to eat. It makes me long for a field guide to edible plants, and makes me wonder how humans and other animals figured out which berries were thumbs up and which ones were poisonous. Was it really just trial and error? (Yikes!) I know. Pretty random thoughts for a Wednesday. : ) Have you ever come upon berries in the wild and wanted to eat them? Have you ever tried a non-edible berry by mistake?

Mr. Turkey

Hello, Friends! Did you know whole turkeys aren’t sold in France until December 15th? If you go to the supermarket or the butcher, you can buy turkey parts, but not whole turkeys. Because whole turkeys are only cooked up at Christmas time. Period. But. We didn’t realize this until Monday of last week. And we needed to cook a turkey on Thursday morning. And the butchers aren’t open on Mondays. So. On Tuesday we visited every butcher in town, crossing our fingers one might have access to a whole turkey. Nope, nope and nope. At the 4th place, the butcher was in a really helpful mood. When Ben Blair explained about American Thanksgiving, he nodded and said he’d call a farmer and then let us know. We went on with our errands and the butcher called a few minutes later. “Yes,” he said.” The farmer has a turkey. You can pick it up on Thursday morning at 10:30.” So we did. At the pick up, Mr. Turkey was waiting with his head and claws still intact. That’s how whole birds are sold here. There was no pop-up thermometer, no plastic cords holding the feet together and no innards wrapped up in paper waiting in the body cavity. It had never been frozen, and in fact, had been alive the day before. I’m still not sure why we were so struck by this but we were. The turkey had been killed and prepared specifically for our family. If we hadn’t requested it, Mr. Turkey would still be alive. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so connected with a meal before. How about you? What’s the closest connection you’ve had to meat you’ve eaten? Any farmers or hunters in your family? Our neighbor, Madame Lucienne keeps chickens on her little farm. A few weeks ago she added several turkeys to the mix (I shot these photos through our back window). Now that I think about it, I suppose we could have just bought a turkey from Madame Lucienne. Maybe for Christmas… So that’s our turkey adventure. I hope you enjoyed it! And now, I need you to prepare yourselves, because the 2011 Design Mom Holiday Giveaway Week starts TODAY! Watch for it. P.S. — Mr. Turkey was small (about 6 lbs) and delicious. We ate every bit of meat and made stock from the bones. I hope we were properly thankful for our feast.

Living With Kids: Meredith Alexander

At first glance, this is not your average ordinary Living With Kids home tour! But look a little more closely. Peeking out from the gorgeous collection of professional realtor photos are a million little marks that this is a family’s haven. I saw scratches in the wood floor and smiled, knowing they were probably made by runaway skateboards, ribbons tacked to a lampshade and knew they were probably earned, and bookshelves stuffed to capacity and knew this family definitely loved to read. Not a surprise, really, since Meredith Alexander, the founder of Milk + Bookies, lives here along with her screenwriter husband, Jesse, and their two boys. They’re moving soon, though, so when she asked if I’d be interested in sharing the Sherman Oaks home they’ve created together with all of you, I answered yes, please! I just knew you’d love her home, or as Meredith describes it, “my love letter to my family.” Isn’t that a wonderful sentiment? Enjoy the tour! …


Friends, today I’d love to hear your thoughts on beards. Ben Blair is sporting a very handsome, very red one(!) right this minute. And do you know what? It’s his very first beard ever! Probably because my dad almost always wore a beard (and I have fond memories of watching him with his beard trimmer), I’ve never thought beards were unusual, and in fact, have always found them handsome. But I know many women (and men!) can’t stand them. Last night I told Ben Blair that I was quite fascinated that he could so completely change his appearance in just a few weeks. If someone met him for the first time last month, they would have a very different first impression than if they met him today, because beards seem to make such a statement. Isn’t that interesting? Where do you fall on facial hair? Has your husband or boyfriend ever grown a beard? Do you prefer a man clean shaven? Or maybe with some rugged five o’clock shadow? Have you ever kissed someone with a beard? P.S. — I also have to say that your comments on the beauty post are amazing. I keep re-reading them!
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