Design Mom Asks: Topless Beaches

I’ve got a (possibly scandalous!) question for you related to last week’s discussion about Cosmetic Procedures. But first, some backstory: On our visit to the beach at Deauville, we were getting our chairs and towels situated, when I looked up and realized many of the women on the beach were topless. Not everyone, mind you — I didn’t feel at all out of place wearing my swimsuit — but there were plenty of examples. It’s not like this was an official “topless beach,” it was just a normal public beach, and if you wanted to sunbathe topless, you could. This was the first time I had ever been to a French beach, so I didn’t know, but I’ve since heard it’s the norm here. And I have to say, it was not at all what I imagined a topless beach to be. Before I visited Deauville, the words “topless beach” brought to mind something scandalous — like a frat party from a movie or a glimpse into life at the Playboy mansion. But the women I saw on the beach were not 18 year olds, they were my peers. Some younger, some older, but pretty much all of them with children and a husband, having a regular family day at the shore. I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t help notice these were women who had evidently nursed their children. : ) I was unexpectedly impressed by these women. They weren’t trying to draw attention to themselves, and they weren’t trying to be “sexy”, but they were totally comfortable in their skin and they had very normal bodies — among the full spectrum of “normal”. Now, I realize there are different standards of modesty in different cultures — from burkas to topless bathing. (Fun fact: I’m a Mormon, and there are some Mormons who believe showing your shoulders is immodest.) I also realize that Americans are nutso when it comes to breasts — implants are commonplace, but women go to great lengths to cover up while nursing their babies. Bizarre! So, pretending modesty isn’t part of the equation, my question is: How do you feel about your body? Are you confident enough in your skin to hang out at the beach topless? (I don’t think I am.) Also. Have you ever visited a beach with topless bathers? Was it shocking? image by Oh Happy Day

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

In England, Ben Blair did all the driving. It happens on the opposite side of the road there and I was too chicken to try! The other fun thing about driving in England was spotting vintage British sports cars. They’re so cute. (I bet my Dad would cringe if he heard me call a sports car cute.) The high bid on this one is only $2650. Cute. Cute. Cute. Have you ever visited a place where you had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road? Are you brave enough?

Lavender Sachets

While we were in England, we bought a small length of fabric from Liberty of London. Have you been? It’s a gorgeous store and I didn’t want to leave! Mimi is going to use it to sew little sachets — then fill them with lavender from the garden at La Cressonnière. Won’t that make a sweet souvenir from our time here? What sorts of souvenirs do you collect when you’re traveling? P.S. — Have you ever harvested lavender? I have no idea how.

Cosmetic Procedures

Two little stories and some questions: 1) The other day, I saw a picture of myself and remembered I need braces. I had braces as a teenager — it was actually my freshman year of college — but they have since gone a bit wonky on top. I confess, I was never good about wearing my retainer. : ) 2) Our friend Olya came to visit last week. During one conversation she mentioned that eyelid surgery, botox and fillers were really popular where she lives — even for women in their twenties. I was shocked! I’m not sure I know any one in real life who has tried any of these procedures. Both of these stories have me thinking. Yes, I would definitely be interested in having my teeth fixed and no, botox has never crossed my mind, but they are probably equally invasive. It makes me wonder, what do you consider cosmetic surgery? What’s okay with you and what’s not? Are botox and breast augmentation the same in your book? How about teeth whitening? Or laser treatments for spider veins? Are there any lines you draw when considering cosmetic procedures? Maybe nothing that requires general anesthesia? Are cosmetic procedures common where you live? If yes, are women secretive about it, or is it out in the open. I’m so curious! Also, back to my teeth for a minute, are braces on a 30-something too tacky to even think about?

Tour de France

Yesterday, we were in Paris dropping off two of our nieces. Happily, it happened to be the Tour de France finish. So of course, we decided to watch as the racers made their way up and down the Champs Elysées. I know very little about the Tour de France (basically, I know Lance Armstrong’s name), so I had no idea what to expect, but this is what it was like. We walked along the very festive Champs Elysées. Banners were out, streets were blocked off, the weather was ideal, everyone was in a good mood. And everybody was waiting. We bought a hat. About an hour before the racers made their appearance there was a parade of sorts that came through and got the crowd pumped up. Then more waiting, so we treated ourselves to ice cream cones. Then the first group of bikers appeared! It was a breathless few seconds (seconds!) and they were gone. Just like that. So crazy! I couldn’t believe how fast they went. And there were team cars following behind them going crazy fast as well. We stuck around for the next group of bikers, caught some fun pics and headed home. Such an experience! I’m so glad we got to see it. Are you a Tour de France fan? Did you have a favorite racer this year?

Family Trip to London

My goodness. We really packed it in during our little family trip to London. Here’s a list of what we fit in:

We rode around on a double-decker bus tour to get an overview of the city.

We took a ferry up the Thames from Big Ben to the London Tower.

The older kids saw Shakespeare’s Alls Well That Ends Well at the Globe Theatre.

family trip to london visit to globe theater
family trip to london visit to globe theater

We rode the London Eye.

family trip to london riding the london eye
riding the london eye
ben blair and gabrielle blair in london
family trip to london view from the london eye

We visited Big Ben.

family trip to london visiting big ben
family trip to london visiting big ben

We got familiar with the London Underground.

We saw the final Harry Potter movie on opening night at Leicester Square.

We took Afternoon Tea at The Orangery at Kensington Palace.

family trip to london tea at the orangerie at kensington palace

We went shopping at Hamleys.

family trip to london shopping at hamley's toy store
hamley's toy store in london
face painting at hamley's toy store in london

We swam at the hotel.

We saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

changing of the guard at buckingham palace

We met up with our brother-in-law (and Shakespeare Professor), Bruce Young.

We shopped at Liberty of London.

liberty of london
liberty of london
liberty of london fabrics

We saw the White Cliffs of Dover.

We toured the Tower of London.

family trip to london visiting the tower of london
family trip to london visiting the tower of london
family trip to london visiting the tower of london
family trip to london visiting the tower of london

And we walked through lots of rain! rain! rain!

rainy london day

P.S. — Note to self: next time, pack wellies.


Have you seen it yet? It really was a treat to see Harry Potter in London on opening night. The theater was enormous and absolutely packed. We arranged a babysitter for Oscar, Betty and June at the hotel, and took the 3 older kids, plus our niece Zella, who is staying with us for a couple of weeks, to the 8:15 showing. The crowd clapped and hooted throughout. And when Harry mentioned Kings Cross station, they cheered! Our assessment of the movie: we loved it. It felt like a fitting end to the series and made us want to read the books again asap. It has also left us a bit Potter obsessed. As soon as we got back to the hotel, we were looking up behind the scenes footage and re-watching the earlier movies. And since we’ve arrived home, it has been non-stop magical dueling, using paint brushes as wands. Alohomora! Stupefy! Expelliarmus! We had to make a rule yesterday that there were no spells allowed during dinner. : ) Are you into it? Are your kids old enough to be interested yet? What did you think of the movie?

London + Harry Potter Finale

image by Greg Williams I’m on the road! The whole family piled into the van this morning and we are driving to London. We have tickets to see Harry Potter 7 Part 2 tonight!!! Some might say this is a silly excuse for a roadtrip, but I can not believe how excited I am. Maude and I visited in March, but no one else in the family has ever been to England, not even Ben Blair. Ralph and Olive have been practicing English accents and Betty is sure we’ll get to meet Princess Kate. I’m hoping to sneak in a visit to the Liberty store. It’s a short trip — we’ll be driving back on Monday. But I’m absolutely giddy that we’re going. I’m such a Harry Potter fan, of both the books and the movies, and I can’t think of a better place than London to see the show. But I’m a little stunned that this is really the final installment. What? No more HP to look forward to? Sad. : ( The other day, I told Ben Blair that I secretly hope they’ll debut a Harry Potter Reboot trailer during the previews. A restart of the movie series with book 1, and a totally new cast of 11 year olds. Does that qualify me as the biggest nerd ever, or what? : ) P.S. — Maude and I stayed at the Grange St. Paul on our last visit, and we loved it. So for this visit, we booked rooms at the Grange City. The location looks fantastic! Where do you stay in London?

Bastille Day

Happy Bastille Day! Wouldn’t it be fun to be in Paris to see the parades? Businesses here are completely closed for the day, but it’s a normal work day at the Blair house. Such a funny feeling. : ) We will be celebrating the holiday this evening with a big pack of fireworks. Vive La France! image here

D-Day Beaches

normandyddaymemorial09 On Tuesday, I made my second trip to the D-Day beaches, this time with Laura and her family. Our first trip was on the 4th of July — and it was a really amazing place to spend Independence Day. normandyddaymemorial01normandyddaymemorial02normandyddaymemorial03normandyddaymemorial04 We started on Omaha Beach in the morning. normandyddaymemorial05normandyddaymemorial06normandyddaymemorial08normandyddaymemorial07 Then, spent some of the afternoon at the nearby American Military Cemetery where over 10,000 soldiers are buried. The grounds at the cemetery are immaculate and beautiful. There is an excellent visitor center and it will prepare you a little bit for the humbling sight of all those graves. normandyddaymemorial13normandyddaymemorial17 Part of the memorial at the cemetery includes huge maps, beautifully made of colored tile, showing where the war movement centered in Normandy, and we were surprised to find out our town of Argentan played a part in the action. normandyddaymemorial10normandyddaymemorial11normandyddaymemorial14 Because it was the 4th of July, there also happened to be a choir at the cemetery — wearing red, white & blue, of course — and singing American patriotic songs. What a treat! As you can imagine, it was pretty much impossible to keep the tears at bay. normandyddaymemorial15normandyddaymemorial16 The cemetery and memorial overlook the water and it’s such a sacred feeling to walk among the graves, feel the ocean breeze and see the shore where all those boys gave their lives. normandyddaymemorial18normandyddaymemorial12

Design Mom’s Top 50 Picture Books

First, can I just say I loved coming up with this list and really thinking about the books that my children love the most — I kept having endearing flashbacks to cozy reading sessions and quiet bedtime routines. Second, coming up with this list was such a challenge! There is an incredible amount of excellent work out there. Narrowing it down to fifty was tougher than I expected. Most of all, I’m over-the-moon about the reaction to the Children’s Library Giveaway. Yay for books! A few notes: As I compiled, I realized I want to make a few different lists — favorite toddler books, favorite chapter books, favorite holiday books… But for this list, I’m focusing on picture books. I had in mind children ages 3 to 10 — though some books skew younger than 7 and some skew older than 6. I also included a few books that would fall under the toddler book category, but that are loved by most everyone of any age. There are a couple of well-illustrated chapter books too — selections that even my young children enjoy. The other thing I tried to do as I compiled the list, was to include as many authors and illustrators as possible. For example, there are at least 6 Dr. Seuss books I would consider essential to a children’s library, but I only included one here. Lastly, I made sure to include a Fairy Tales collection, Mother Goose collection and Fables collection — it wouldn’t be a decent library without them. I’d love(!) to hear how your list might look different. Any picture books that would make your top 50 that didn’t make mine? P.S. — Image by Brooke of Inchmark. She writes wonderful library book reviews.

Real Estate in France

Sometimes we daydream about buying a house here. We imagine renting it out as a vacation home, and maybe living in it for part of each year. Sharon recently told us about this property: It has 5 bedrooms & 4 bathrooms, sits on 2 acres and has outbuildings. It’s priced at about $300,000. Are you tempted? The idea of owning and renovating a house in a foreign country sounds amazing and terrifying at the same time. What’s your take? Would you ever look at property in another country? If you’re curious, we like this site for searching. P.S. — Speaking of real estate, our House Hunters International episode re-airs tonight. See schedule here. Or you can find it on YouTube.


Oh dear. This is quite possibly the most mundane post I’ve ever written. It’s about trash! I thought you might be curious about how it’s handled in France. Feel free to roll your eyes if this is too ridiculous of a topic. : ) In Normandy, there is no curbside trash pick up. Instead, there are dumpsters in every neighborhood, and you drive your trash to the dumpster at your convenience. I’m not sure if this is just a Normandy thing, or if it’s country-wide. This is the first time we’ve lived somewhere without curbside pickup, so I was a bit surprised. But, since Ben Blair and I are ridiculous about forgetting to put our trash out on the right day, we’ve decided this is a good method for us. When the garbage bags are full, or the recycling has piled up, we drop them off at the dumpster during our next errand. There are specific bins for garbage, paper, plastic and glass. Silly fact: I think everywhere we’ve lived handles trash pickup a bit differently. In Colorado, residents provided their own trash cans and put them on the side of the road once a week. Recycling was picked up every other week. In Utah, it was similar to Colorado, but the city provided the trash can and there was no recycling. (I wonder if this has changed…) In New York, there was trash service 5 days a week! M: regular garbage, TU: recycling, W: furniture/non-bagged items, TH: regular garbage and F: yard waste. In Athens, Greece, we would take our garbage bags and make a big pile (no receptacle) in front of our apartment building on trash day. And then cross our fingers there wasn’t a trash strike that day. : ) How do they handle trash pick up where you live?

Cooking Class from Susan Loomis of On Rue Tatin

Susan Loomis On Rue Tatin

My brother Josh, and sister-in-law Erin, have spent the last few days touring around Paris, and today they’re coming to Normandy! Ben Blair and I are meeting them in Louviers to take a cooking class from world famous chef, Susan Loomis.

I’m so excited! It’s been ages since I’ve taken any sort of cooking class and I can tell this is going to be a really good one. Plus, I’ll get to spend the day with some of my favorite people.

Susan Loomis On Rue Tatin

How about you? Have you ever taken a cooking class before? If you were to take one, is there anything in particular you would want to learn?

P.S. — For those of you who have seen our House Hunters International episode, we’ll actually be taking the class in the 2nd home featured in the show — the restored convent!

Photos by Stacey Haines for Traditional Home

Has Blogging Transformed Motherhood?

Do what you love what you do poster ConiLab
Do what you love what you do poster ConiLabposter here My mom writes a sometimes-blog and I especially loved her latest post. It’s about how blogging has changed motherhood for her daughters. In her post, she references a journal entry she wrote in 1973 (the year before I was born) when she had 4 young children at home. I hope you’ll read it and tell me what you think. I’d love to know if you feel the same way about blogging. P.S. — I love that I get to blog for a living. Even better, I love that I get to blog about my experiences as a mother for a living. I would say I definitely do what I love and love what I do.

Letters to Her Future Self

When we started this adventure I knew I wanted my kids to keep a record of their experiences here in France. They each have a journal, plus assorted notebooks and sketchbooks, but I can’t say anyone in the family (including me) is a great pen and pencil journal writer. So we came up with a plan. I registered new email addresses for any of the interested kids. Without sharing the real addresses, I’ll tell you they’re along the lines of The kids write emails to their new addresses whenever they feel like it. When something cool happens, when they get frustrated, when they end up in the hospital(!) for 4 days. My hope is that this is easier than a blog, something they don’t feel compelled to add pictures or links to, or share with an audience. The plan is to open all the email when we get back and find a fun record of their year in France. At that point, they can turn the emails into a book, or just keep the digital record. Either way, I think it will be great for them to re-discover their year abroad through their own letters. Do you do journals and diaries at your house? Paper or digital? Any tips for encouraging kids to keep a journal? (And yes, Maude is getting better everyday. She’s still in bed, but look! there’s a little color in her cheeks. Hooray!)

Chateau Medavy

[imagebrowser id=4] [nggallery template=’carousel’ id=’4′]   On Father’s Day, we were taking an afternoon drive and happened upon Chateau Medavy by accident. It’s a grand old building and you can pay a few euros to take a tour of the interior, but we were delighted to just walk around and enjoy the grounds. I thought the round outbuildings (apparently, former towers) were the best part. I would say happy accidents like this are one of the big differences between living in a place and visiting a place. Chateau Medavy is beautiful and it’s definitely a place we’d love to share with houseguests, but if you’re only going to be in France for a week, and there are places like Chateau Versailles to visit, Medavy is probably not going to make your list. : )

French Tag Sales

In France, garage sales/yard sales/tag sales are called Vide Greniers (pronounced veed-gren-ee-ay). And they are organized by the community. Each town picks a weekend and a location and any resident that wants to join in, sets up a table with all sorts of random stuff they’re ready to sell. Now that summer is here, we see signs for vide greniers all the time and try to stop whenever we happen upon one. We rarely buy much, but it’s always fun to see what’s there. Here are some of the treasures we’ve brought home so far: 1) A little lunch pail. This is actually very small — about 7 inches high. Perfect for a light lunch or a big snack. I bought it hoping Betty would use it for her daily snack container. But when she saw it she just looked at me and sort of sighed and shook her head no. I’m sure she’s wondering why her mom can’t figure out how to buy a normal snack container with a Hello Kitty on it.

French Country Wedding

[imagebrowser id=3] [nggallery template=’carousel’ id=’3′]   Last weekend we went to a wedding. It was here in our tiny town and it took place in the town church. [A note on our geography: We live near Argentan. Argentan is a decent size town with a good hospital, 3 huge grocery stores and a quaint main street full of charming shops. Our kids attend school there. But we live outside of Argentan in one of several teeny, rural towns that surround it.] We loved the wedding and thought we were so lucky to attend! When we arrived, the chapel was already full-to-overflowing, so we waited outside until the bride and groom emerged. The local fire brigade created an archway for them with a red fire hose (they practiced first to get it perfect). Isn’t that fun? The weather was tricky that day and it started raining just as they came out of the church. The sea of umbrellas looked festive. Then, after the ceremony, the wedding party walked down the road to the community center for a reception. In France, a person’s hometown means a lot. Many people attending the wedding had been baptized and married in that very same church. And their relatives are buried right outside in the church cemetery. We’ve noticed a strong, supportive community spirit in each tiny town. Have you ever been to a wedding in another country? What was it like?
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