Wild Poppies

red wild poppies in France
red wild poppies in Francewild red poppies in France The little daffodils are long gone, but in their place wild poppies have sprung up everywhere. I’m told they’re considered by some residents to be a weed, but I adore them! I think poppies are gorgeous and I spend time every year making sure they’re a part of my flower garden. red wild poppies in Francered wild poppies in France Here in the countryside, they grow along the roads and on the edges of plowed fields. Every so often, there are is a big hill full of them and I feel compelled to stop and take pictures. red wild poppies in France Oh, France. Even your weeds are pretty! P.S. — Have you ever received a red crepe-paper poppy from the American Legion Auxiliary? I still have one from when I attended Girls State in high school. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a paper poppy. Memorial Day is coming — I think I’ll look up instructions and make them with my kids. red wild poppies in France

Amsterdam

I woke up today thinking about our visit to Amsterdam. I talked about wonderful Vondelpark here, but I wanted to have a record of other parts of our trip that stuck with me. So please forgive the rambling nature of this post. : ) I have to say, I fell in love with Amsterdam immediately. Our hotel was in a great location and we could wander the streets and find interesting spots in every direction. The Palace. The Nine Streets shopping district. Museums. Charming side streets. And canals everywhere you look! On one of our walks, we happened upon the floating flower market. It’s Amsterdam’s flower district  — but it floats on barges in one of the canals. Isn’t that fun? The floating flower market sells all sorts of flowers, but the real prizes were the enormous bulbs. Seriously big! Notice Maude’s hand below for size reference. : )

Laundry & Ironing

In France, everything is ironed. Every sweater, every t-shirt, every pair of pajamas. Every dishtowel, every sheet, every tablecloth. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit. Friends, this is a big change for me! Not that I’m any stranger to ironing — it’s actually a task I enjoy. But in both New York and Colorado, ironing was done more selectively. A special skirt might get ironed, or a particularly wrinkly cotton pillowcase. But in general, t-shirts are not ironed, jeans are not ironed, dishtowels are not ironed. I think the difference is because of line-drying. There are people with tumble dryers here, but they’re not used very often. Line-drying is the norm. Even in Paris, people keep a clothes horse to dry their laundry. But line-drying leaves clothes and sheets quite stiff. Running everything under the iron gets out wrinkles and softens the fabric. How does laundry work in your neck of the woods? Is ironing a part of your every day chores? P.S. — Honestly, I’d be drowning in ironing without Sharon. Sharon is English, but she’s lived here for the last 6 years. She’s is amazing! She plays with Baby June for a few hours each day so that I can get my work done. During June’s nap, she helps with laundry and ironing. Or bakes things like Tart Plum Crumble. But that’s not all! Sharon also keeps chickens and ducks and brings us gorgeous eggs, gives us gardening advice, and shares her stash of Interior Design magazines. She’s like Mary Poppins made especially for the Blair Family. The stack of ironed laundry you see above? That’s all thanks to Sharon.

Travel Tips: Spend A Day With Kids In Vondelpark Amsterdam

One of the best places to take kids in Amsterdam is Vondelpark, a huge park right near the center of the city. It has everything you want in a good city park. Big green spaces. Bike and walking paths. Ponds. Cafés. And 2 of the coolest playground structures I have ever seen. The first was like a treehouse/fort sort of structure that was really big. It kept reminding me of the Swiss Family Robinson house. It was built from huge logs and was half hidden in the trees. So neat! The second one was super cool and super modern — I’ve never seen a play structure like it. It was next to a good lunch spot and a giant sandy play area, so my kids were in heaven. Vondelpark is big, and we would never have known either play area existed without Lotte. Lotte is Dutch and lives in Amsterdam. She read that we were headed her way and offered to be our tour guide for a day. Local tour guides are the best! Lotte is a mother, so she knew exactly where all the best kid spots in the park were. And she helped us decipher the menu when we stopped for lunch. (Lotte also helped us find some of the best shopping spots in the city, but I’ll report on that another day.) We loved Vondelpark so much that we rented bikes and went back the next day! Since we live in the French countryside,  we don’t have access to nearby playgrounds, so I think we especially enjoyed our park time. How about you? Do you live near a park? Are play structures all over the world getting cooler, or is it just in Amsterdam? P.S. — 5 Tips for planning your trip to Amsterdam and more travel reports from The Netherlands.

Buying Eggs

photos by Paul Ferney Remember when I wondered if we could buy eggs from our neighbor? Well it turns out that yes, we most certainly can. And it’s an errand my kids are always delighted to volunteer for. We start with an empty basket. …

Do You Have The Entrepreneurial Gene?

I love small businesses! Every single day, I get dozens of emails from entrepreneurs. They tell me their stories, share their products and exchange ideas with me. It makes me happy to read their emails — there’s such a neat energy surrounding people who are building and creating. Small businesses are a part of my earliest memories. My father taught 5th grade at our local public school, but in his spare time he was always starting businesses. A few of the many he attempted: He started a restaurant called Hungry Hut. He built a custom picture framing studio in our basement. And he started a long-running community newspaper for senior citizens. I’m pretty sure me and my siblings (see the whole family above — don’t miss #10!) inherited his entrepreneurial genes — we’ve all started businesses. Snowcones, language classes, a triathlon, a magnet business… and many more. Some failed, some succeeded. As for this blog, Design Mom is one of several businesses I’ve attempted — and funnily enough, it started as a hobby. I didn’t realize it was even going to turn into a business. : ) My father died over a decade ago, long before I’d ever even heard of blogging. But I think he would be proud of the company I’m building. Yay for small businesses! How about you? Do you have the entrepreneur gene or the entrepreneur bug? Do you dream of owning a storefront or launching a website?

Friendship Bracelet DIY

My daughter Maude/Mimi prepared this Friendship Bracelet How-to for you. Here’s what she says: I love making these for my friends — both boys and girls like to wear them. Sometimes I wear just one, and other times I like wearing a whole bunch. I like wearing them as anklets in the summertime. Once you get the hang of it, this is a really good activity to do while you’re watching a not very good movie. Grown ups can make them too, but I think this is an awesome activity for kids age 8 to 14. …

Marqueyssac Gardens

Hello, Friends! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and Happy Mother’s Day. And I hope your kids spoiled you with drawings and handmade cards and coupons for free hugs. Did I tell you we opted to celebrate on the French Mother’s Day (May 29th) instead of yesterday? We had a birthday Saturday and have another birthday today — squeezing Mother’s Day right in the middle felt like too much. So I’ll be eagerly awaiting my own coupon books in a few weeks. : ) Marqueyssac GardenMarqueyssac GardenMarqueyssac Garden I thought I’d start off the posts this week with some photos from the Marqueyssac Gardens which we visited on our trip south to the Dordogne region of France. The gardens are vast and beautiful, but the views from the garden might be even better. They look like a fairytale. I couldn’t stop taking pictures! And to make it even more unbelievable, these gardens are just a few minutes from where we went canoeing. That’s a whole lot of beauty for one little region. Marqueyssac GardenMarqueyssac Garden Our visit to the gardens was scheduled right during June’s nap, so she snuggled up on her Daddy’s shoulder. Near the end of our visit, the clouds rolled in and there was a major rainstorm. The weather here changes so quickly that throughout the gardens, there are little stone structures created as a place to wait out storms. Convenient and charming. Marqueyssac Garden It really was a lovely trip. I kept using words like magical and amazing every time a new vista opened before me. The whole family felt super lucky we were there, and grateful to Stephanie and family for being tour guides and making sure we made the most of the area. Marqueyssac Garden

What’s Up With Mormons and Design Blogs?

Images from Gemma Comas series I See Beauty In (Almost) Everything. This post is a little off the usual faire you’ll find here, I hope you’ll indulge me. Have you noticed that tons of design blogs are written by Mormons/former Mormons? What’s the deal with that? It’s sort of a hush-hush topic I hear whispered about at blogging conferences. As a Mormon myself, I think about this from time to time and I get asked about it a lot. There are a few theories I’ve heard. Emily of Design Star wrote about it here. She thinks her creativity came from having limited resources in a big family. From having to shop at thrift stores and ingeniously remake the purchases, not because it was cool, but because that’s what they could afford. So featuring clever DIYs on a design blog is second nature for Mormons. No doubt there’s something to this idea. My sister has her own theory. She feels like there are a lot of talented, educated Mormon women who grew up assuming motherhood would be the end all be all of their existence. Then they found, once they became mothers, that they had capacity for projects and ideas in addition to and beyond motherhood. And design blogs are an easy outlet for all the creative energy. I’m sure there’s something to this theory too. Personally, I feel like the graphic design program at BYU (a Mormon university) has something to do with it. It’s an excellent program and places graduates at all the best firms, where they’re in contact with the most creative people in the field. This ensures that Mormons are thoroughly connected in the professional design community. And graphic design is one of those careers that you can step in and out of as a mother, and translates easily to a design blog. The other day, I thought of another connection. Mormons have 13 articles of faith (short statements that describe our beliefs). The 13th one says: “…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Which, umm, seems like exactly what a design/lifestyle blog is. In the case of Design Mom, I never had the 13th Article of Faith in mind, but I have tried to create a space where I could share every lovely and praiseworthy thing I come across. I wonder if everyone raised as a Mormon has this admonition to seek-out-pretty stamped on our brains. An admonishment to keep an eye out for beauty is a lovely sentiment to be raised with, and easily adopted by anyone — religious or not. I hope I’m raising my own kids with the same sentiment. My religion is far from perfect — there are aspects of it that drive me bonkers. But I particularly love this part of it. What’s your take? Have you noticed the Mormon Design Blogs? Or been curious about them? Have any related theories? I wonder if anyone has attempted to compile a list… P.S. — Religion-related topics, even ones as silly as this one, can be quite sensitive, so please play nice if you decide to comment.

So That They Won’t Forget

I really want my kids to remember this special house we get to live in, and I’ve been taking photographs of every little detail. But it occurred to me that the kids might have particular things they want to remember too — from their point of view. So I took some time with each child and we walked around the house and the garden. I handed them the camera so they could capture anything they don’t want to forget once we move. Here are 5 photos, each one taken by a different child, with the significance explained by them. Ralph took a picture of a portrait hanging in his room. He says: “I don’t want to forget this painting because I’ve always just liked it’s uniqueness and quirkiness and just the way the dude is looking at me every time I’m in the room. It’s awesome.” Maude took a picture of the gate on the treehouse. She says: “I don’t want to forget this gate because anytime I go into it I think of how high I might be able to climb. I feel like I can see anything.” Olive took a picture of one of the rose bushes by the kitchen door. She says: “I don’t want to forget this rose bush ’cause I’ve never had a rose bush in my yard before. It smells like lemons!” Oscar took a photo of the trampoline — while standing on the trampoline. He says: “I don’t want to forget the trampoline because it’s fun doing Power Ranger stuff. When Ralph jumps 3 times and blasts me like a cannon I like it. And I like having meetings on the trampoline after dinner.” Betty took a photo of her bed. She says: “I don’t want to forget my bed ’cause it has a bunch of flowers on it and it’s very beautiful. It’s comfy and in my bed I like to snuggle with my blankie. And I like the picture of the dolls in my bed.” I love seeing what captures their eye! I’m thinking it would be really neat to collect these in a memory book about our time in France. Wouldn’t that be cool? Do you ever hand the camera over to your kids? Or realize they’ve taken a series of photos with your phone?

Canoeing on the Dordogne

rafting on the dordogne
rafting on the dordogne rafting on the dordogne In addition to a welcome basket, Stephanie also had a suggested itinerary for our stay in the Dordogne region. It was so helpful! Her first idea was a morning spent canoeing on the Dordogne river. Driving through this region is spectacular, but the views from a canoe are particularly good. Lush green mountains, big cliffs, tranquil water and castles everywhere you look. Our kids loved being here, but it would also make a romantic getaway. I think it would be fun to rent out La Maisonette (it’s literally minutes from the canoe dock) and stay for a few days with Ben Blair. rafting on the dordognerafting on the dordogne The canoe trip was long — about 3 hours. So along the way, the group docked at a river side village and picked up ice cream cones. Delightful! rafting on the dordognerafting on the dordogne Ben Blair took these photos with his iPhone. While the dads took the older kids canoeing, Stephanie and I took the too-young-for-canoes kids to a community-wide tag sale instead. Also fun — in a totally different way. Just curious: how do you handle this sort of thing when traveling? Do you stick to activities the whole family can do? Or do you split up when needed? P.S. — Happy Cinco de Mayo! Are you doing anything special to celebrate?

Home Again

dordogne region welcome basket
dordogne region welcome basket Best Spring Break Ever! We’re back from our 2-part roadtrip and we’re all smiles. I can’t wait to go through the photos and remember every detail. We spent today unpacking, hanging out in the yard and admiring everything that bloomed while we were away. It was fun to arrive home and remember that our house here is as pretty as any place we’ve vacationed. : ) dordogne region welcome basketdordogne region welcome basketdordogne region welcome basket When we went to the Dordogne region last week, Stephanie had this gorgeous welcome basket waiting at our hotel. It was full of regional goodies like wild strawberries, local honey and walnut oil. Wasn’t that the most thoughtful gift? Stephanie is a genius at details. I’ve never made a welcome basket for guests before, but receiving this made us feel absolutely pampered, so maybe I’ll have to copy Stephanie’s lovely idea. Do you do anything special to welcome guests? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Marqueyssac Gardens

Marqueyssac Gardens
Marqueyssac Gardens These photos are of the Marqueyssac Gardens in the Dordogne region of France. Each year, they host a giant Egg Hunt on the day after Easter. The gardens are right near Stephanie’s house, so she invited us to join them for the hunt. I’m so excited! Doesn’t that first image look almost unreal? Marqueyssac GardensMarqueyssac Gardens We are driving down on Easter Sunday — it’s something like a 6 hour drive. This will be our first trip south and I can’t wait to see what it’s like. images via Marqueyssac Gardens

La Cressonnière: Studio

I thought it would be fun to start this week with a tour of the studio (sometimes we call it the atelier) at La Cressonnière. Just outside the half bath, at the bottom of the staircase, is the entry way to the studio. Here is the door: art studio french farmhouse I’m sitting in this room as I type. It is where I spend a good chunk of my day. And when the kids are home from school, if it’s not warm enough to be outside, they are in here too. It’s a wonderful room. The light is gorgeous. I can hear the birds outside and there’s plenty of room to spread out, even if I’m working on a big project. I love being in here. Come on in! art studio french farmhouse

More About Schools

trampoline silhouette
For those of you who are curious about our school experience in France, I’ve packed this post with a whole bunch of fun facts. trampoline silhouette – School hours are longer here. For middle school, the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 5:00. For elementary school and preschool, the day starts at 8:45 and ends at 4:30. But, there are lots of breaks built in and generous lunch hours. – It’s a four day school week. On Wednesdays, there is no elementary or preschool. And the middle school has a half day — they finish up at noon. – Lunches are long — a full two hour break. Three courses are served and fresh bread is restocked, as it comes from the oven. According to our kids, their classmates finish all the food on their plates, have really good table manners and eat everything (except bread) with a knife and fork. – Ralph said he picked up a spoon to eat mashed potatoes and his friends gave him an odd stare. He asked what was up and they said spoons are for dessert only. …

Handwashing Help

I’m not sure if we’re being exposed to unfamiliar germs, or if it’s just been a harsh winter, but at least one member of the family has been sick since we arrived in France. Most recently, we enjoyed a round of pink eye, which kept Olive home from a field trip to the ocean, and Oscar home from a Carnavale parade. Being sick is such a bummer! To keep further sickness at bay, I’ve decided we need to step up the handwashing at Maison Blair. So I’ve been searching for ideas to encourage good hand washing habits. Here are three we’ve recently implemented: 1) We make hand-washing part of a few simple “routine reminders” I say throughout the day. For example, in the morning, I ask each child to remember their “hands, teeth, hair”. After school, I say “backpack, hands, snack”. 2) We sing a song while we wash, and we don’t rinse till the end of the song — so that we know we’ve washed long enough. (The ABC song is just the right length.) 3) We ask the kids to pick out the handsoap at the store (we use pump vs. bar because it seems to be easier for little hands to deal with). If they pick it out, they are more excited to use it. How about you? Any hand washing tips that work at your house?  

How To Get the Most Intense Easter Egg Colors

colorful easter eggs
intense easter egg colors Want to know how to get the most intense easter egg colors? Well, I’ve done the research and dyed a LOT of eggs. And this is what works. We used NotMartha’s dyeing instructions. They’re simple dye recipes using common store bought dye droppers, and she includes how much time the eggs need to stay in the dye bath to achieve certain shades. I posted photos of the gorgeous dye baths, but never shared the actual eggs. Didn’t they turn out wonderfully?  P.S. — If you prefer natural dyes, here are instructions for every color in the rainbow, all made from common foods like cabbage and onions. intense easter egg colorsintense easter egg colorsintense easter egg colors

Taste Test

french ceramic yogurt container
french ceramic yogurt container The kids are on a two week break from school. And it is soooo cold out there. (It looks like spring, but feels like dead of winter.) Consequently, we’ve been looking for good indoor activities and concluded that this is a perfect time to do some taste-testing. Today, we’re testing out a few products from the dairy aisle and tomorrow we’ll focus on candy. My favorite part about the dairy products is that many come in pretty little glass or ceramic containers. Of course, my brain immediately starts figuring out what sorts of things I could make or do with mini pots. Tiny flower arrangements for a baby shower. Votive holders. Little containers for mixing paint… What would you use them for? french glass yogurt containerfrench ceramic yogurt container P.S. — I didn’t put anything in the photos for size reference, but these are all individual serving size — each one is only 2 or 3 inches tall. french glass yogurt container

Family Picture

Max Wanger Family Photo Jumping
Max Wanger Family Photo Jumping It has been almost 2 years since our last family photo and I’m ready for another one. It’s definitely high time we had a family shot that includes baby June. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for interesting family photos. This one by Max Wanger is so fun. What about you? Seen any terrific family photos lately?
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