Would You Ever Install a Trough Sink?

The read an article about a family with several young sons, and when renovating their bathroom, the mother had a trough sink built. I’m not sure why this is so much more appealing to me than a traditional counter with two or three sinks, but it is. I love the idea of seeing a few of my kids brushing their teeth at the same time. And I love that the sink is really big — perfect for teenage girls who are helping their friends experiment with hair color. Also, I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m an advocate of hooks for towels in the bathroom as compared to standard towel rods. You can fit many more towels in the same space, and kids can easily hang the towels themselves. In humid areas, they seem to dry out better this way as well.

How To Grow Your Own Wheat Grass

My brother Josh came by last week to pick up some wheat kernels to plant wheat grass. (I have a large supply. I really love wheat grass and picked wheat up in bulk awhile back. Feel free to come by for your own bag.) I was so happy for a reminder that it was time for this activity — which is practically a spring ritual at our house. It’s super easy and very gratifying. I’ve had success in glass containers with pebbles at the bottom for drainage and in traditional ceramic containers made for plants. I’ve had success in low-light and right in front of a window. If you plant your seeds today, you’ll have gorgeous wheat grass in about a week. In fact, mark your calendars now for the perfect day to plant some in time for your Easter displays. Easy directions: -Fill and level your container with potting soil. Leave about an inch of space at the top. -Place an even layer of wheat kernels on the soil. It should be a pretty solid layer with only a little bit of dirt showing. -Water daily. Keep the soil pretty moist. For a 6-inch container, I would pour in a glass of water each morning. That’s it. You’ll see sprouts in about 48 hours. And wheat in about a week. The wheat won’t look great for ever — some people trim it with scissors to extend it’s life — but I prefer to just replant. Apparently you can also juice it! P.S. — Natural dye Easter eggs in every color.

Happy Birthday Benjamin Blair

Today is my husband’s birthday. He is 34. One of the things I love best about Ben Blair is that he only wishes good things for everyone he knows. This seems like it would be a common attribute among most people, but strangely it’s not. In my experience, people often react to good news for their friends as if it’s bad news for themselves. As if a success for you equals failure for me. But not Ben Blair. He totally gets that there is enough happiness and good out there for everybody. He’s so fun to share good news with because he’s so happy to hear it and so sure that you deserve every bit of happiness you’re receiving. If you were to win a major award, and you told Ben Blair, I swear he’d feel the same amount of happiness as if he’d won the prize himself. He would call friends and family to share the news: Hey! My friend (who you don’t know and may never have heard of) just won a major award! He would walk around all day or all week on cloud nine. He would genuinely be delighted for you and not feel even a smidgen of envy. He’d just be so glad your hard work was being recognized. That’s just one of the many, many things I love about Ben Blair.

Happy Birthday to Maude

Yesterday, Maude turned 8. She was only 2 — and the youngest — when we moved to New York and it is amazing to see her so grown-up and taking the role of second mom to her younger siblings. Because events that occur early in the month tend to sneak up on me, I’ve scheduled Maude’s birthday party festivities to happen in a couple of weeks. So yesterday we just celebrated as a family. Birthdays at our house start with breakfast in bed. Maude picked the menu: scrambled eggs, sausage, waffles, strawberries with whip cream and milk. In the evening, we had her favorite dinner and then put candles in strawberry shortcake and opened presents. Maude was delighted with her day — the highlight seemed to be the yoga mat she received. In fact, it is 6:15 am and she is upstairs now offering a kids yoga class to her brothers and sisters. My husband’s favorite part was the strawberry shortcake. It was yummy. I used my friend Heidi’s idea: make a regular white cake mix, but add a cup of sour cream before your blend it up, then bake small individual cakes in pretty shapes. When the cakes are done, Heidi adds a thin milk/powdered sugar/vanilla/butter glaze. Each guest receives their own little cake and she serves berries and fresh whip cream on the side. The cakes were really pretty. I’d been wanting to make these little cakes for awhile and finally picked up a cute pan at Target. It’s a pan with 6 cakes in 3 different flower patterns. I couldn’t find a picture or source of mine online, but there are lots of other cute mini-cake pans available.

Easy Valentine’s Day Bookmarks for Classmates

Ralph and Maude wanted to make (instead of buy) Valentines for their classmates this year. They ended up making Valentine’s Day Bookmarks. We bought a stack of pre-cut bookmarks from the craft store. Punched holes and added ribbon. Then Ralph and Maude went at them with markers and colored pencils and cut paper. The “to” and “from” went on the back. When Maude was getting distressed about 4 bookmarks in — because she was doing a lot of cut paper details and it was taking a long time for each bookmark — we pulled out the handy dandy Valentine stickers that Grandma sent last year and that have been waiting patiently in the Valentine box the whole time for their turn to shine. The stickers sped things up considerably. Though Maude was careful to set aside any bookmarks with “kiss” stickers to make sure they weren’t addressed to any male classmates. Easiest Valentine’s Day Bookmarks ever! Both Ralph and Maude were delighted with the results. And so was I. As always, I’m a big fan of projects they can handle basically on their own. P.S. — More classmate Valentine ideas.

Ask Design Mom: Organizing Kids’ Art Supplies

Ask-Design-Mom Question: Help Design Mom! We can’t figure out how to organize our kids’ art supplies! I don’t want to use those catch-all plastic bin/drawer things, but we need to come up with something to (A) tame the clutter of reams of paper, notebooks, crayons, markers, stickers, paints, googly eyes, et al, and (B) keep it where the kids can get to it without our help (in other words, store it in such a way that it doesn’t stifle creativity). Any and all suggestions (from you and your awesome readers) would be so greatly appreciated. I’ve only recently reached the end of my rope with our current non-methods. Thanks a million, in advance, Laurie Design Mom Answer: What a great question, Laurie. I’ll bet 90% of moms have had to deal with art supply organization in one way or another. So I’ll start, but I’m positive Design Mom readers will have loads of smart ideas. At our house we happen to have an old built in pantry cupboard in the dining area that houses all kid’s art supplies — Mom’s art supplies are in a completely separate space. The papers, a ream of white and a pad of construction, sit in neat stacks, and next to them are assorted bins for markers, crayons, feathers, glue, etc. Everything is on the lower two shelves providing easy access for all ages. Some of the bins are cute, some are practical. Some have lids, some are open-faced. Because I can hide it all behind the cupboard doors, I haven’t had to think hard about my containers. Aware that most moms are not going to have access to a handy cupboard, I’d love to tell you about the best looking art supply storage I’ve come upon thus far: In a friend’s home I saw a row of medium size galvanized buckets (similar to the ones pictured above) sitting happily in a row on a shelf. The buckets were maybe 7 or 8 inches tall, with handles, but no lids. The children of the home had done some quick and dirty decoupaging of the buckets with crepe paper, stickers, tissue papers, etc. Each one was bright and cute and random, endearingly done by small hands. In the buckets went the art supplies. The buckets actually made two rows. One row sitting on the shelf, and one row hanging above the sitting ones. The homeowner attached a wooden dowel to the upper shelf to make a hanging rod, then just slipped some s-hooks onto the rod and hung additional buckets using their handles. The hanging buckets ideas is so clever — easily adaptable to a storage situation where cupboards or shelves are not available or feasible. Just hang a cute café curtain rod on a wall within your child’s reach and hang the buckets there. Not into decoupaging? The buckets would also be cute as their unadorned matte silver selves. Or, you could get them pre-decorated.  For paper storage, you could install a wall-mount organizer next to the café rod. That’s a start. Now for the good stuff: Dear Design Mom Readers, how do you handle your art supplies?

Valentine’s Day Breakfast Tradition

At our house, the main Valentine’s Day traditions and celebrations happen at breakfast. I get up early and set a table the kids will think is elegant (read: I use linen and goblets). I light some tea lights and sprinkle heart confetti. The menu varies and can contain pretty much anything we might normally eat for breakfast, but with a romantic/heart/pink spin. The milk is blended with raspberries and something sweet. The waffles are topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The toast is heart shaped. The pancakes have a few drops of red food-coloring added to the batter. Oatmeal is served with brown sugar sprinkled to form a heart. And I’ve yet to try it, but the egg-in-a-heart-form idea would be perfect. I also leave a small valentine/gift on each child’s plate — and I mean small. A tiny box with some new lip balm/gloss for their coat pocket. Or a new beaded bracelet. One year it was a box of band-aids for each child. This breakfast is no stress for me and has turned into a perfect tradition for our family. Other ideas I am loving: In a conversation with some fellow mothers a couple of weeks ago, we exchanged Valentine’s Day traditions from the homes we grew up in. -One family would wake to find a Valentine surprise under their pillows. -Another family gave a book (in lieu of candy or trinkets) to each child on Valentine’s Day. -In a third family, the father would bring flowers to each of the daughters — Mom would get a big arrangement and the girls might get a single stem. The mother would give something traditional, say chocolate, to the sons. The flower idea was also something my own father did and I loved it. In junior high and high school, when it seemed like it would be wonderful to have a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, it was reassuring to know there would be flowers waiting for me at home. What about you? What are your Valentine’s Day Traditions? P.S. — More sweet Valentine’s Day ideas.

Rachel’s Romantic Retreat

The home tour I posted last week was so inspiring that more Design Mom readers have volunteered to share their homes (yeah!). Today, I’m featuring Rachel’s house because it’s romantic and feminine and charming and the perfect place to live with Valentine’s Day around the corner. When Rachel sent the lovely photos of her house she mentioned, “I wish I could narrate these, because literally everything we have either painted or stained. Nearly ALL soft goods you see, like bedding, window treatments, fabric on furniture, I made. The little loveseat in the light pink room (our morning room, or we call it the sun room) I got FOR FREE from someone on Freecycle. Spent literally $20 on fabric for it and about $5 for the trim. Added a couple pillows and a throw. SWEET!” We’re so happy you shared, Rachel. I’m going to showcase of few of my favorite shots in this post (check out that stunning piano!), but you can find the whole photo tour here.

Croque Monsieur Recipe (And Why You Need to Master Making a Béchamel Sauce)

I got my first cooking lesson the week before I left for college. My mother had always fiercely guarded her domain, the kitchen, and didn’t like us mucking it up with our experiments. But she realized that I needed to know something beyond ramen noodles and scrambled eggs, so she taught me how to make a béchamel sauce. The béchamel sauce, also known as a white sauce, is one of the great “mother,” or fundamental sauces in western cooking. Once you have the basic sauce you can add any number of seasonings, flavors, or other foods to make all sorts of sauces. Throw in some grated cheese and you have a cheese sauce. You can use the béchamel for a curry sauce or a mustard sauce. The basic proportions are: 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon flour, 2/3 cup milk (the milk proportion can vary depending on desired thickness). You start by melting the butter in a saucepan on low heat. Add the flour and stir together, cooking the mixture for about a minute. Gradually pour in the milk, mixing well as you go. Raise the heat and stir until the sauce thickens. This usually takes just a couple of minutes. If you need more sauce start out with larger proportions, say, 3 tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons of flour, and 2 cups of milk. You can use béchamel as the base for a soup as well by making a thinner sauce: 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour to a cup and 1/3 (or more) or milk. Add pureed vegetables. If, on the other hand, you want a very thick sauce simply reverse the proportions. Try 3 tablespoons each of butter and flour to 2/3 cup milk. Experiment until you come upon your favorite proportions. My favorite use for béchamel sauce is as a spread for croque monsieurs. Sounds fancy, but they’re really just grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I add some salt and a little grated nutmeg to my sauce before starting. Then I heat two skillets. Generously butter both slices of bread (I like to use a crusty artisanal loaf, but sandwich bread will also work). On the other sides spread the béchamel sauce on one slice and Dijion mustard on the other slice. Layer slices of ham and thinly-sliced gruyere cheese. Place your assembled sandwich on one skillet butter-side down, then place the other skillet on top and press with a heavy pot. Grill until golden brown, about five minutes on medium heat. Once I’ve gone through the trouble of making the béchamel sauce I like to cheat a little and serve it with this boxed tomato soup, which we love. When we had the sandwiches the other night I also made a simple salad of baby arugula tossed with freshly-squeezed Meyer lemon juice and olive oil and topped with some candied pumpkin seeds I made back around Thanksgiving. Why not just use mayonnaise on the sandwich? That would also be good, but you don’t need the added richness of an egg-based sauce (which is what mayonnaise is) with melted cheese and all that butter. Béchamel adds just a little more creaminess, and the nutmeg gives the mellow ham and cheese an extra kick. Add some hot soup and a salad and you have the perfect warm and toasty, super-easy midwinter supper. P.S. — How to make Euro S’mores.  
Credits: Written by Adriana Velez

Three Celebrations at Our House Today

Lots of celebrations at our house today:

Betty is 8 months old today.
This requires no formal festivities, but lots of hugs and kisses, and exclamations of how fast time flies.

Oscar is 2 years old today.
This requires cupcakes and balloons and about 50 rounds of Happy-Birthday-to-Oscar sung throughout the day. We’ll also celebrate with friends at Singing Time this morning.

Design Mom Blog is 6 months old today.
This requires nothing formal but is a great excuse to take inventory. A few stats as of this minute:
-According to Technorati, there are 145 links from 77 blogs to Design Mom.
-According to Tracksy, the highest number of unique hits Design Mom has received in one day is: 675
-According to BlogTopSites, Design Mom Blog is ranked number 33 out of 336 registered Parenting Blogs.
-According to Blogger, I have published 386 entries.
-According to Me, this continues to be a really happy thing in my life.

Thank you to everyone who reads Design Mom, to everyone who has linked to me, to everyone who has asked a Design Mom Question, to everyone who has left a comment. I look forward to the next 6 months — I hope you’ll stick with me!

How Women Respond to Stress Differently Than Men

My friend Hailey shared an article with me about a UCLA study on how women respond to stress. Apparently, stress tests have traditionally been performed on men, who typically respond to stress with a fight-or-flight mechanism. But at UCLA, researchers performed stress tests on women and found women respond differently. Instead of fight-or-flight, women respond to stress by “tending or befriending” — they comfort or parent the people around them, or talk with a best friend or trusted family member. I thought it was so interesting and it confirmed how important friendships really are to women. As if I needed more reason to be on the phone all day. Hahaha!

Start A Holiday Journal — The Easiest Most Satisfying Tradition You’ll Ever Find

I have no memory where the idea came from, but my husband and I started a Holiday Journal during our first Christmas together, and we use it each year to write a couple of pages of summary about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. If I have any ideas for next year, like a new Christmas book I’d like to add to our collection, I’ll include those as well. Sometimes the kids add drawings or their own notes. As with all my grand ideas, I’m not always consistent — last year the Christmas journal never even made it out of the box. But usually it does. And now that some of the kids are old enough to write, they’re helping the tradition stay alive. Anyway. Writing my notes this year made me think about how I measure and evaluate Christmas: -Stress level -Success of the annual Christmas recital -How Christmasy the house smelled -How the Christmas tree looked (meaning: was I happy with the decorations) -Quantity of peppermint bark & wassail consumed -Kids faces on Christmas morning This year will go down as happy on all measures. I especially loved our tree — knowing I had lots of vintage wrapping at my disposal, my friend brought me boxes and boxes of vintage glass balls that she found when she bought a very old house. The pure vintageness was totally awesome. How do you measure the Holidays?
2017 Update: It’s been 10 years since I wrote this post, but our holiday journal is still going strong. With so many writers in the house, the reports get longer and longer each year. (Which is wonderful!) A delightful part of our holidays has become looking back at earlier reports and remembering together. I highly recommend this tradition. It’s easy, stress-free, low-cost (or free if you have a spare journal), doesn’t take much time, and provides huge satisfaction. Start this year! P.S. — Beautiful leather journal.

A Simple Way to Help Kids Make New Year’s Resolutions

Once a month, Ben and I hold interviews with each of the kids — well, right now, it’s really just the older 3. We try to get a sense of how they’re feeling about life in 4 areas: physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. We have a journal set aside where we keep notes from the interviews. As the year changes, we use the same notebook to record our kids resolutions. Yesterday was resolution day. To help my kids get started thinking about the coming year, they get a short reminder (read: lecture) about what resolutions are for — to become better people. Then, I offer them prompter questions to get them started: This year, I want to learn: __________ I want to read: __________ I want to make: __________ I want to visit: __________ I want to change: __________ (The change prompt is supposed to help you think of something like a bad habit you’d like to get rid of.) I want to be better at: __________ Most of all I want: __________ The notebook is also wonderful for the kids to see how much they’re growing and changing. Olive who is 5, was laughing at how unsophisticated she was at age 3. See for yourself: Olive’s 2005 resolutions: I want to learn: ballet I want to read: Aurora coloring book I want to make: Snow White or Aurora out of clay I want to change: my pink nightgown to purple I want to visit: Grandma Most of all I want: a Belle dress with a headband, gloves and slippers Olive’s 2007 resolutions: I want to learn: ballet, again I want to read: all kinds of books I want to make: a playdough horse I want to change: (she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to change) I want to visit: Emily Dowdle (a neighbor) Most of all I want: an Ariel barbie As I was looking through the notebook yesterday, I was embarrassed how few interviews we managed in 2006. Which leads me to my first resolution… P.S. — Find more family traditions in the Design Mom book

Our Christmas Recital Party Favors

Here are pics of the party favors from the Christmas recital.

I used mulling spices from The Mills Company. The tin can was nice, but I didn’t love the label, so I used the berry imagery I loved from the invitations to repackage.

I wasn’t totally positive about numbers, so I wrapped up lovely soaps from Honey Hill Farm as back-up in case I ran out of mulling spices.

When Ralph Asked About Santa Claus

My oldest, Ralph, has grown up a little too much over the last few weeks. First, he’s home from school with a cold this morning, and he took advantage of that fact to have a reality-of-Santa Claus-discussion. He’s now officially in the know. To welcome him to the club, we offered to let him eat Santa’s cookies and the reindeer veggies. Second, 2 weeks ago on the way to Cub Scouts, he asked Ben about a scene from The Christmas Story movie. He wanted to know what the bad word is that Ralphie says when he’s helping his Dad change the tire. So Ben told him straight up what it was. Ben asked if he’d ever heard it before and Ralph said no. Then Ben told him that if Ralph ever hears it spoken, the speaker is behaving poorly and Ralph should be unimpressed. And, made it clear that Dad knows all the ugly words and is unintimidated by them. I was delighted with how Ben handled it and delighted Ralph would come to Ben with the question. But still felt my heart constrict at the thought of the word getting rolled around in my son’s head. The picture above was taken on the very day I started this blog — only a few months ago — when he didn’t know the f-word and still believed in Santa. Sigh. How have you handled the outing of Santa? Or the swear word lo-down? And speaking of innocence, I love these pictures my mom posted of my Dad & Santa in 1946 and 1949 at age 4 and 7:

Sibling to Sibling Christmas Gifts

  There are lots of different ways to approach Sibling Christmas Gifts and I’m still figuring out which one works for the Blairs. My friend Juliane, a mother of 5, sends $20 with each child to the PTA holiday boutique and all sibling gifts have to be bought there and then within that budget. She ends up with a lot of kitsch, but her kids feel totally empowered and the whole thing is done in an afternoon. My sister-in-law Erin’s sister Meghan, who also has a big family, has each child pick one item, say a box of band-aids, and then choose the perfect box of band-aids for each brother or sister. And, from what I understand, a dad I admire named Roger, would take each child on a shopping date the week before Christmas, specifically to pick out and buy sibling gifts. My sister-in-law Lisa and her husband Mark, parents of 6, have helped their children make amazing gifts for each other every year. Two brothers might work on one project for two other brothers. They’ve made and given a jousting set, a high jump set, soccer goals and a zip line among other cool projects. So we don’t really have a system yet, but I got it in my head on Saturday, that with my older kids artsy-crafty tendencies, we should really make the gifts and so far it has been awesome. Sunday the kids worked on baby Betty’s gifts. Maude made a bracelet from Sculpey beads and jingle bells — which will be endlessly entertaining for Betty. Ralph made a bib from some corduroy fabric we had. And Olive also made a bib from a vintage handtowel I was looking to recycle. All 3 gifts turned out super-cute. Yesterday, Ralph was home from school with a cold, so we worked on the rest of the gifts he’ll give: Romper Stompers (from big coffee can size cans) for Olive which he painted and tied pink polka-dot ribbons to. A hat and mitten set for Maude from an old red wool sweater of Ben’s — we made a huge wool yarn puff ball for the top and the set is super-cute. A snow globe with some plastic farm animals for Oscar. Maude made glittery soap for Olive yesterday while Olive was at a playdate. She’ll work on a hat and mittens for Ralph from another old sweater and dragon mittens for Oscar when we can get the boys out of the house. Olive made stacks of recycled crayons for Ralph and Maude last night and we’ll work on a felt board story for Oscar tonight. Oscar and Betty are too young and will follow Meghan’s plan. Oscar will give new toothbrushes. Betty will give Band-Aids. Up to this point it’s been fun and no stress and required zero errands for supplies. And I’m vowing right now, if it does get stressful, we’ll stop where we are in the gift making and head to Target. How do you handle sibling gifts?

8th Annual Blair Christmas Recital

I LOVE our annual Christmas Recital. It started when we were pretty newly married, and it occurred to us how many of our friends happened to be excellent musicians, so why not host a Christmas party where everyone performs? The trained musicians perform something impressive and the rest of us perform something. Else. There has been a banjo. There has been an accordian. There was a reading featuring things overheard while window shopping in the city. And another reading of David Sedaris. There was a choreographed dance involving a dog and santa hat. There was a rap. There is usually lots of group singing, because if you haven’t come prepared, you get to pick a carol for everybody to sing together.

It is wonderful to see friends show off talents I never knew existed. And because I’m not an exclusive sort of person, we try to host it as close to Christmas as possible. That way, we can invite everybody who might be remotely interested — way more people than we can actually fit into the house — knowing that half of them will end up leaving town for the holidays.

We’ve held it every year but last year, when I was too darn morning sick to care. And this year, for the first time, we are holding the recital at a wonderful friend’s house, because it’s outgrown our own clumsy space.

Ben and I always give the first performance. We’re pretty bad, but we try to do a real piece — something involving some harmony. Even though we practice, our performance is usually unimpressive. This (hopefully) gives the party a well-if-they-can-stumble-through-that-performance-our-song-will-be-a-piece-of-cake feel.

I’m so looking forward to this party. And so delighted Julie and Bill offered to host it in their beautiful home.

Photo Shoot with Maude for Westchester Magazine

I was interviewed this week about Design Mom by a local magazine, Westchester Parent, and they asked for a photo. Lucky for me, I have access to very talented photographers. In this case, Travis Stratford of Studio Case hooked me up with some great shots. The Stratfords even let me stage the shot on their super-fine sofa. We originally settled on the second one, but I really like how Maude’s feet come into focus on the first one. So I sent it instead. A little too avante garde? What say you? And how do you like that it’s a total Mac shout out? Thank you, Travis and Sara!!

How Many Christmas Gifts for Kids: Different Approaches

My sister-in-law Traci has a really smart Christmas gift rule that we’ve tried to adopt: each child gets something to read, something to wear and something to play with. This is supposed to prevent me from going overboard and it mostly works. But I manage to make a lot of exceptions. -For example, Christmas PJs don’t count as the something to wear. -For example, everything in their stockings is also exempted from the rule. -For example, if the thing to-play-with isn’t BIG (read: doesn’t make a big Christmas Morning Statement under the tree — like a bike or a dollhouse or huge Lego set), then I tend to compensate with a few medium size gifts. -For example, the siblings also exchange gifts which means 4 more presents each, which I mostly shop for because my kids are pretty young. -For example, Grandmas and Grandpas still send gifts, or money to buy gifts. And so do aunts and uncles. This is all lovely, but my kids end up with way too much under the tree. Not that they complain. And frankly, I love to see their faces when they open something they love. Plus, as I mentioned before, there are so many pretty things out there, and I get such a kick out of finding them. . . So my question is: what are your best solutions for keeping the holiday excess in check?
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