Ask Design Mom: Vacuums

Question: Dear Gabrielle, I am shopping for a new vacuum. Is it worth splurging on an expensive one? Or are they just a lot of hype? I’d love your opinion or recommendation. Thanks! — Sara Answer: Great question, Sara. I made do with a $40 vacuum I picked up at Costco for like 6 years or something. It wasn’t great, but it was fine. I only had a couple of area rugs that needed vacuuming. So the short answer is, if you’re not doing much vacuuming, a budget option is probably fine. But my real answer is: I adore Dyson vacuums. (This is not a shocking statement, I’m sure. Design-centric people have long loved the Dyson.) We finally splurged on one when we moved here to Denver because we have mucho wall-to-wall carpeting. My sister advised me to buy it at Bed Bath & Beyond with one of their 20% coupons to help take the edge off the high price. It helped, but it’s still a big purchase. Like you’re buying a major appliance. But man oh man, it’s such a great vacuum! It picks up so much more than any other vacuum I’ve tried. It’s built well and it’s easy to empty and maneuver. We chose the DC24, because it’s a manageable size for both the kids and the grownups to handle. If you’re in an apartment or other small space, my assistant Melanie swears by the new Dyson City. It’s super compact and made for all floor types. What about you, Dear Readers? Any favorite vacuums you want to recommend to Sara?

Christmas Card Basket

What do you do with all your Christmas cards after Christmas has come and gone? We’ve tried a few different things. Before the days of photocards, I would save the pretty paper and use it to make gift tags for next Christmas — and I would save any enclosed photos in an album, but those days are (mostly) gone. This is what we do now. About 3 years ago, as Christmas mail arrived, I started putting it in a little basket so I could attend to it when I had a calm moment. Turns out, I liked keeping them in the basket, so I kept doing it. The basket has turned into a sort of Guest Book of Our Lives. The basket stays out year round. Sometimes it lives in the family room or office. Once it even lived on the mantel because it looked good in the display I had put together. And through the year, I add graduation announcements, wedding invitations and baby notices. Because they’re stacked flat against each other, the cards don’t take up much space at all, and our basket can hold several years worth easily. If envelopes indicate a new address, I keep the envelope at the back of the basket until we’ve updated our records. Occasionally, I’ll clear out any cards we no longer need to keep, but mostly it just keeps filling up, up, up. I love sitting with the basket every month or so to look through the familiar faces. It always makes me emotional — so many people that I love! What about you? Do you keep holiday cards? Or do they hit the recycle pile with the Christmas tree?

Ask Design Mom: Putting Christmas Away

Question: Dear Gabrielle, how long do you let your Christmas decorations stay up? Just curious. — Janice christmas ornaments Answer: Fun question, Janice! I don’t have a hard and fast rule, but if possible, I do like to have everything put away before the kids start back to school. It makes me feel like we’re getting a fresh start. This year, I packed up everything on Saturday (New Year’s Day). Packing happened lazily in the morning, then we shifted into a celebratory mode and went to the King Tut exhibit in the afternoon. I took extra special care putting things away this year because they need to stay neat and secure while they live in storage for the next couple of years. Although I did set aside a few of our Christmas Essentials (some books, a handful of decorations) that we’ll pack up and bring to France — to help us feel less homesick next December. But the kids were shocked to hear we wouldn’t be bringing any ornaments. I’m hoping to come up with something cool we can make for ornaments while we’re in France — and then surprise them with the awesomeness. : ) christmas ornaments Last to leave the house was our tree. It did a great job staying fresh and green this year — hooray! I followed Jordan’s pro-tip and stopped at the hardware store to pick up a $1 plastic drop cloth. Very helpful. What about you? Do you put away holiday decorations right away? Or do you let them linger through January? P.S. — I took these images of our ornaments sitting on the sofa as they came off the tree. So many great memories attached to each of these! Made me happy. christmas ornaments

Plane Tickets & Books

french breakfast family
french breakfast family I’ve decided Thursdays will be my days to write about our France preparations and share anything practical we’ve learned. Updates this week: We bought our plane tickets — whoo hoo! And we’ve been piling up a stack of books about France and French culture. One thing I’ve read is that snacking is not really done in France, and that meals are a bigger deal than they are here — at some fast-food restaurants there are even cloth napkins! Also, apparently it’s custom to eat with a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left. I tried it tonight and I need practice. : ) photo via The Nature of Order

La Cressonnière

Would you like to know about the house we are renting in France? It’s a house with a name instead of an address — which makes me smile every time I think of it. I’ve never lived in a house with a name! It’s called La Cressonnière and it means “watercress”. (Incidentally, to honor the name of the house, I have been looking up watercress recipes — if you have a good one, please let me know.) The house is in the Normandy region, about 1/2 hour from Caen. (In Caen, you can catch a ferry to the UK.) It’s big enough to fit our family, it has an artist’s studio and a beautiful garden. There’s even a piano — so my kids can continue their music studies while we’re there. There’s an older part and a newer part of the house. The older part is 17th century. The newer part is 18th century. : ) Ben Blair visited the home a few weeks ago to check it out in person, see what the countryside is like and how easy it is to access Paris. He loved the house and brought us lots of video so we could get to know it too. …

Passport Covers

passport covers colorful
passport covers colorful We know that this move to France is going to be really stretching, and overwhelming in lots of ways for all of us, but especially for our kids. So to help get them thinking about it in a positive way, we’re putting together little France kits for each them to open on Christmas Day. I’m thinking we’ll bring these out later in the day, when everyone is feeling mellow and the Christmas morning rush is over. I’m hoping the kits will get some good conversation happening and that the kids will be able to share any hopes, concerns or worries they might be having about the move. Each kit has: – a passport cover — and their passports, which (hooray!) arrived two days ago – a book about France, or a familiar book in French like Goodnight Moon/Bonsoir Lune – French candy – and a black wool beret — of course! Isn’t that fun? I can’t wait to see the kids in their berets. passport covers colorfulpassport covers colorful Shopping for passport covers has been delightful. I don’t actually like using a cover myself, but I feel like I’ll need to be able to pass out specific passports quickly (among the stack of 8) while we’re traveling, so I thought it would be fun to assign out a color or pattern for each child. Here’s what I’ve found: – Pastel colors with little airplanes. Adorable! – Simple paper/vinyl covers for $5 each. – I also talked with Susan of Freshly Picked about having some made in pretty metallic leathers. Or. Maybe I should just use washi tape to customize the passport spines instead.

DIY: Photo Snow Globes

photo snowglobe DIY custom - Photo Snow Globes featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom
photo snowglobe DIY custom - Photo Snow Globes featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Momphoto snowglobe DIY custom - Photo Snow Globes featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom Here it is. Our fifth sibling gift project for Christmas 2010. And I think it turned out charming. Oscar made photo snow globes for each of his siblings (and one for himself too). We had every thing we needed for this project right in our house, expect white PVC pipe. So we stopped at the hardware store and picked up a 1 foot length of pipe for .33 cents, then we were ready to go.


photo snowglobe DIY custom - Photo Snow Globes featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom If you’re looking for an easy last-minute gift your kids can make, this is a great one. A fun project for big kids or little kids. …

Vive la France!

Oh my goodness. We’re really doing it. We found a house and sent off our contract and security deposit last night. So. It’s now officially official. WE’RE MOVING TO FRANCE! Next up: shopping for plane tickets. We’re aiming to move on February 1st. Which is just 6 short weeks away. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. …

DIY: Custom Leather Patches

custom leather patch DIY
custom leather patch DIYcustom leather patch DIYcustom leather patch DIY For Christmas, Olive has been working on custom leather patches for her siblings. She’s adding the patches to hats. She is halfway done with the project and I think they’re turning out really, really great! It’s been fun to see how easy it is to burn the leather. I can imagine making all sort of designs — initials, silhouettes or patterns — to create cool leather patches. Fun to embellish a wooly scarf or a totebag or even a baseball cap. [ UPDATE: Olive has finished the project, so I’ve added in more photos to this post. ] custom leather patch DIYcustom leather patch DIY

DIY: Bottlecap Magnet Fail?

bottle cap magnets DIY
bottle cap magnets DIY May I tap into your wisdom and extensive craft experience? Please? Here’s what’s happening: For Betty’s Christmas Sibling Gifts, I thought bottle cap magnets would be just right. She would have a great time making them (she did!) and her brothers and sisters would be able to use them in their middle school lockers and on the family bulletin board, which is actually a magnet board, and on the fridge too. bottle cap magnets DIY The project has been going along swimmingly. But now I’m stuck. Take a look. …

Putting Up the Christmas Tree

sawing christmas tree trunk
sawing christmas tree trunksawing christmas tree trunk Ben Blair is catching a plane this morning. He’ll be gone till Sunday night, which means we were determined to get the Christmas tree up last night so that the kids and I can decorate it this weekend. Putting up the tree is about a million times easier with 2 people helping, don’t you agree? sawing christmas tree trunk Ours had been sitting in a bucket of water in the garage since Saturday. Ben Blair pulled it into the house and used our new saw — picked up at the hardware store specifically for this occasion — to cut off about 4 inches of trunk and a few lower branches. Then we put it into the water-filled-stand immediately. I’m hoping the fresh cut trunk will soak up water for many, many days and keep the tree looking and smelling wonderful through Christmas. (Our garage, by the way, happens to smell terrific now.) What about you? Have you already put your tree up? Do you prefer a fresh tree or pre-lit tree? (We use both.) …

DIY: Christmas Lights in a Bottle

bottle christmas lights twinkle DIY - Christmas Lights in a Bottle tutorial featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom
bottle christmas lights twinkle DIY - Christmas Lights in a Bottle tutorial featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom The other day, I wrote about attempting to drill through glass and I finished up the project this weekend. I think it turned out beautifully — I love the idea of bottled light thanks to Christmas Lights in a bottle! These would be pretty by a wintery window or under an entry table. I like the way the gold paint makes the bottom of the bottles look misty and glow-y, even during the daytime. bottle christmas lights twinkle DIY - Christmas Lights in a Bottle tutorial featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom I’ve got a ton of images and DIY instructions below if you’d like to try this too. …

Drilling Through Glass

Remember the lights in the wine bottle? That idea has been stuck in my head and I’ve dying to try something similar. But I was intimidated to drill through glass. I’ve never done it before! So of course, I stopped at my local hardware store to get the low-down on how it’s done (I adore my local store. It’s so easy to find someone to help.) I asked lots of questions. Do I need to buy a Dremel tool? How slow do I need to go? What drill bit is best? I was told I could use the drill I already own, but that I should add a drill bit made specifically for glass and tile. They told me not to go full power on the drill and that I should think about it like “carving away the glass” instead of drilling through. Very helpful imagery for me. So I gave it a try. Ben Blair took turns too. And it was a success! I used a 3/8″ bit — just right to fit a twinkle light through. I have a full DIY project in mind for this and will definitely share when I’m done, but in the meantime, I’m setting aside all the most-interesting bottles that come into our home. What about you? Have you ever drilled through glass or tile?

DIY: Monogram Mugs

DIY monogram mugs featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom
DIY monogram mugs featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom Friends! I’m so pleased to share our first gift DIY of the season. Maude made these fantastic monogrammed mugs over the weekend. Don’t they look terrific? The idea came when we saw these fun initial cups at Anthropologie and remembered our kitchen was lacking in hot cocoa mugs. We decided to create a whole set. It’s a very doable project. Inexpensive. Eco-friendly. And family-friendly too — these mugs are dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. DIY monogram mugs featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

France Update

Some fun progress on our year in France. We heard back from the homeowners of a house that we are very interested in renting. I am trying hard not to get my hopes us — but the pictures are so charming that it has already captured my heart. Then, this morning the whole family arrived at the County Clerk’s office bright and early at 7:30. All six of the kids passports have officially been applied for — a major accomplishment involving mountains of paperwork and documents. Yay! I think we’ll have them in hand by Christmas. Which reminds me, do you know anyone near Argentan in Normandy? We are looking to hire an assistant to help us get settled during our first couple of weeks in France. We need someone that’s bilingual in French and English and knows the area well. They’ll be helping us do things like arrange for a car, find a tutor and a babysitter, and give us a tour of the area. If you’re interested, or know someone that would be perfect, please send me an email: gabrielle [at] designmom [dot] com. P.S. — Does all the talk about the Royal Wedding have you daydreaming about being a princess? Find French castles for sale here. This one has 90 bedrooms!

Doing More With Less

The topic of doing more with less is on my mind. Every time we’ve added a child to our family, my instinct is to clear out our space, to get rid of gear and simplify wherever possible. It probably has something to do with making mental space for this new person in my life. Last week, I was packing for our trip to San Jose and thinking about what I should bring for June’s meals — she’s still mostly nursing, but she’s also eating 3-4 meals a day of solids. At first I was thinking several bibs, 10+ jars of baby food, a bag of rice cereal, utensils and bowl for preparations, utensils for feeding, etc. But finally decided it was a short trip, to a town with every convenience, and that all I would need was a baby spoon. For breakfast, I found plain yogurt and oatmeal among the offerings and grabbed a ripe banana for when we were out and about. And I was able to find similarly soft foods wherever we were. During feedings, I kept a napkin handy to keep her clean and I was good to go. While I appreciate the helpfulness of things like bibs and lots of food choices when we’re at home, it was nice to be reminded that it didn’t take much to keep June happy and fed when we wanted to travel as light as possible. Another example that comes to mind? The giant table we built after moving to Colorado. It is the most used piece of furniture in our house. We use it for entertaining, for homework, for art projects, for sewing projects, for building things. And when we’re not using it, it does its duty as a piece of furniture that’s nice to look at and that compliments the space. What about you? What are your thoughts on doing more with less? What’s an item you have that you get the most use out of?

Car Kit

I talked about our Tool Kit remake yesterday, and today I’m going to cover our Car Kit. I’m a big car kit fan. I like to know I’m prepared for an emergency. In our old Eurovan we had an enormous trunk and I used the space to store a mid-size rubbermade bin with everything I could possibly need in a car kit. But these days, our trunk is tiny and I’ve had to pare it down to the bare minimum. If you’re interested in putting together a car kit, here is what has worked for our family — based on our own experience and advice from my local hardware store experts. (I’m not including tire changing tools because they typically come with the car.) For a Bare Minimum kit, we like to have: – jumper cables – first aid kit – headlamp — I much prefer a headlamp to a flashlight in our car kit, because if there’s a scenario where I’m going to need a flashlight, I’m probably also going to need my hands free – water bottle and a couple of granola bars – windshield wiper fluid — this often comes in a huge bottle, so you might want to decant a portion into something smaller – can of oil – windshield scraper (in winter) …

Ask Design Mom: Products for Curly Hair

Question: Hello Gabrielle. I have curly hair too and I’d love to hear your recommendations for hair products. Thanks, Angela. Answer: Thanks for your question, Angela! Great timing. Since I chopped my hair, I’ve had to change things up a bit. What’s working for me now: My hairdresser, Melissa, started taking curly hair classes from Deva — the people behind the Curly Girl book I’ve found so helpful. She’s now a curly hair expert and introduced me to the sulfate-free Deva Curl product line. I was skeptical, so I just purchased the sample kit to try it out. But I love it! It’s made a big difference in the quality of my curls and the reduction of my frizz. I use No Poo, One Condition, AnGel, and Mist-er Right. Another change, I started drying my hair with a t-shirt instead of a towel. Much less frizz. And totally free. And thirdly, the kind people at Liqwd sent me samples and I’ve been trying them out too. So far, I love what they do to my hair. Really great when I’m craving a blowout, and lovely for relaxing my curls if I want to wear them a little looser. I’ve used the hydrating shampoo, the hydrating conditioner and the smoothing catalyst. What about you, Dear Readers? Any new hair products you’re loving? P.S. —  Haircare products can be so pricey! My favorite drug-store conditioner is still Infusium — it’s super thick and does a great job of keeping my hair hydrated. P.P.S. — Want more curly hair talk? Try my posts here and here.

Ask Design Mom: What Do You Do With Halloween Candy?

Question: With six kids, you must get lots of candy from trick-or-treating. I’m curious about your candy policies. Do you limit how much the kids can eat? Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you. — Candace Answer: Great question, Candace! That is certainly the topic on my mind this morning. I haven’t vetted this with a dentist (and you’re welcome to judge) but this is what usually happens at our house. 1) All the candy goes into one big shared pot. 2) We sort some of it by color (see above) because I can’t help myself. 3) I let the kids eat as much as they want for about 24 hours or so. At which point, they’re super sick of anything sweet and start craving salty/spicy foods, like warm soup and bread. 4) If there’s anything left (there usually isn’t) it gets tossed or frozen for another day. Basically, I like the candy over and done with as quickly as possible. What about you, Dear Readers? How do you handle your Halloween candy? P.S. — Stephanie has some great tips for Halloween candy here.

Ask Design Mom: Too Many Christmas Gifts

Question: Hi Design Mom. I am hoping you can help me. I am stuck for Christmas ideas for my 6 year old boy. Every year I buy too much, and only one or two things get played with. I would like to get him a few good presents, but I have no clue. I have been looking around for ideas, but nothing stand out. He is creative, he just started kindergarten and is eager to learn, and he loves cars! Any help would be appreciated. Thank you. — Tricia Hamilton Answer: Excellent question, Tricia. Anyone who celebrates Christmas is bound to fantasize about the ideal Christmas morning — fire in the fireplace, snow softly falling outside, and the perfect toys under the tree. But it’s easy for Christmas to get out of hand, with a pile of gifts that Junior just isn’t that interested in. In an attempt to reign in my shopping, early in our marriage I adopted my sister-in-law’s policy. At our house, Santa brings each child something to wear, something to read, and something to play with. And that’s it. There are other gifts from siblings and grandparents, but Santa just brings three. This has been a really helpful guide for me. I’m able to stay within budget and concentrate on finding something my child would really love. I realize you’re looking for specific gift ideas, not guidelines or policies, so I’d say, for any boy who loves cars, a matchbox car playmat is ideal. The one pictured here was handmade and shows the child’s actual neighborhood. Neat! What about you, Clever Readers? Do you have any gift ideas for Tricia? How do you keep Christmas gifts from getting out of hand?
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