Monday, May 31, 2010

What I know about Gabrielle Blair

I met Gabby (a.k.a Design Mom) and her family when my family moved to New York about five years ago. It was easy to like her. She's genuine and smart. But here is a story about what I love about Gabby:

When baby number three, my son Oliver, was 6 months old, he rolled off our bed and broke his leg. We didn't know if it was broken at first, but after an excruciating night of sad sad cries and an attempt at changing a diaper, Ben and I decided to take Oliver to the hospital. I called Gabby to see if she could watch our two girls. She said yes.

When we got to her house there was Gabby loading up her car with Oscar (maybe two) and newborn Betty (about six weeks younger than Oliver). She took Madeleine (four) and Ella (almost three), buckled them up, too, and went off to some sort of parent's meeting at the Elementary School.

Seriously. How many people would do that?

Posted here is an interview I did with her a couple years ago for my now (dare I say it?) defunct Just an Orange blog that I never got posted (I blame life). But I have wanted to share it with you for a good long time and now I am. I hope you enjoy it.

Design Mom Interview

You obviously come from a talented family with a good eye for design and the like- is it just in the genes or did your parents purposefully create an environment where you were exposed to art, etc.?

I can’t wait to tell my Mom you think we’re all talented. She’ll be so proud! To answer your question, yes, I think it’s in our genes, and yes our parents created an artistic-friendly environment. I feel strongly that art and design and style can definitely be learned. And my parents taught us — I remember my parents letting me pick out wallpaper and light fixtures for my bedroom at age five.

She’ll deny it, but my mom has great style. I grew up eating dinner on a parsons table. She’d make bedding from Marimekko fabric. Our Christmas Tree was always stylish and interesting and never trendy. She kept great prints on the walls; I remember work from Jesse Wilcox Smith and sketches from Da Vinci. As you entered the house, a beautiful “tablescape” would greet you — some elegant composition of flowers and sculpture and candles and photography.

Dad also had a great eye for style and was always up for an entrepreneurial venture — he would have been all over blogging and social media. When we were teens, he understood the social currency of having a hip ride and kept us in cool vintage VWs. And he knew how to create cool adventures and experiences. Like, he’d take us into Tijuana and he’d help us find authentic hurache sandles or guayaberas.

A key thing I learned from my parents is that good style was not related to money. My dad was a public school teacher — not a major wage earner. But it didn’t matter. Our house was well-appointed and our wardrobes were doable, often the result of our elbow grease and ingenuity. We learned how to remake and revive vintage pieces.

What has been your favorite job / project you’ve been a part of as a designer or art director?

That’s a good question! One of my very favorites projects was called SmartNoise. SmartNoise was a language class company my husband started with some friends. I loved getting to work so closely with Ben on all design aspects of the company. I designed the office and classroom. The website and brochures. The logo and signage. Everything. And it was very good-looking. If I do say so myself (wink).

I hope this doesn’t come across wrong, but I’m curious: You showcase so many lovely things on Design Mom, and I wonder how you separate the aesthetic aspect from the material aspect so prevalent in our culture- do you ever get caught up in all that “stuff” and need to step back from it? Do you feel like you need to maintain a boundary somehow? Or does it not bother you?

Let's start with this: I don't own every product I feature. Not even close! And I would never want to — can you just imagine the clutter?

I can honestly say the "stuff" issue doesn't bother me. In reality I'm not a big shopper (although I realize that with 5 kids, a certain amount of shopping is just necessary to keep everyone clothed and fed). Instead, I'm typically quite content knowing something beautiful exists, without having to possess it. It's not uncommon for me to take a mom-only outing to Target where I walk around and put everything that inspires me into my cart. After I've had my fill, I leave the cart. And I head out the door without purchasing anything (sorry Target Team Member who has to put everything away!). I get more joy in knowing the thing exists than I do in owning the thing. Filling the cart isn’t like compiling a “wish-list” but more an act of being inspired and maybe expressing gratitude that people make beautiful things.

But I do get emails reprimanding me about tempting people to spend and I feel bad — I'm certainly not trying to get anyone to exceed their budget. I guess I think of my posts as celebrating something pretty with others, not telling people to “buy this”. Alternatively, I get emails looking for specific advice on a gift someone needs to purchase or a baby product and I feel lucky to have a good forum to share my suggestions.

What do you do to maintain a balanced life? What keeps you grounded? What are some of your other interests?

Family is my main interest. Design is my second interest. Other interests? From time to time I get really into eating right and trying to get fit. I love reading — I devour books, especially books that are being talked about. Design is kind of a big umbrella, which means it includes a lot of my interests — things like architecture, fresh flowers, interiors, fashion, product design, pretty stationery, pedicures, etc. In the summer I love a few days of really hard work in our yard and garden so that I can spend more time enjoying it. I think people are fascinating and I love good conversations.

As far as staying grounded goes, I hope the fact that I take my religion and spirituality seriously plays the biggest role. Prayer is a regular part of my day. Family prayer. Individual prayer. It's the main way I center myself if I'm getting stressed out. I try to have regular religious study and meditation/pondering, but I’m not as “religious” about this as I wish I was. Also, my brothers and sisters make fun of me, and each other, and that keeps us all pretty grounded.

Regarding a balanced life — Is there such a thing? Somedays I feel balanced. Others I'm completely out of whack. I'll let you know if I ever figure it out.

Obviously being a mom is a high priority for you (I’m sure that’s putting it mildly). I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons you decided to blog about design and motherhood. Your kids are really sweet, and it’s obvious that you and Ben are great parents. I love it when you post about some of the things you do with your kids and as a family.

It IS obvious that Ben and I are great parents, and THAT'S putting it mildly. Ha. Ha. You know I hope that Design Mom really does celebrate parenthood. I'm sure there's a narcissistic element to it, but I know both Ben and I check on the posts over and over again that involve our kids — especially pictures of them doing things. I hope that posts about what we do with our kids feel every bit at home on my blog as the other more design-centered posts. My sense is that I'm not schizophrenic, but motherhood and design are hopefully, ideally, integrated in how I organize my world.

What kind of environment do you try to create for your home?

That pointed question always makes Ben and me feel like failures. I think we have a pretty high standard in our heads, but it takes a while to make it to our home. We have tried to create a warm, nurturing, orderly, hard-working, creative, loving environment, but we have a ways to go. Ben is really conscientious about the environment of our home. He asks what the art around us is suggesting. What the books on our shelves convey. On our last over-nighter (it was a while ago) we spent probably 3 hours talking about what books and what types of books we want on our shelves. We are at least aware that our books aren't the ideal library we want our kids to remember — and admitting it is the first step to recovery.

These kinds of questions really get Ben going. When we were thinking about a family motto, we came up with something like, “We take care of each other. We take care of our bodies. We take care of our things.” So maybe caring is a cardinal virtue for our home environment that I somehow missed earlier.

What are some things you try to do on a regular basis with your family?

Play. Read every night. Ski (a few times during the winter). Walk (when the weather is good, we have a great walking neighborhood). Jump on the trampoline. Jump rope. Bike. Dance. Sing (Oscar likes to hold the swiffer like a microphone and sing "Burning down the House!"). It's pretty awesome. Swimming (my kids would go everyday, I still don't get what it is about swimming). A few times a year we like to go to the track and we LOVE it. Seriously, show up at the track and the world is yours. I'm surprised we don't do it more often. Chores — we have a chore chart and the 3 oldest are pretty good at doing them. Dinner. Watch TV. Field trips to Target or museums to see the pretty things. We do school-related creative projects regularly, and other creative projects once a month or so — often holiday related.

Friday, May 28, 2010

In the beginning...

Today is the first day of summer, i.e. the kids are out of school for the first full day of many to come and there's nothing I can do about it.

Their plans for the summer include a constant parade of swimming type activities, popsicles, snow cones, bike rides, hot dogs and no responsibility at all. I hate to break it to them, but there will be some responsibility and only a very, very few hot dogs, because hot dogs are bad for you. Bike rides will be encouraged, so things are good there.

Yelling and screaming and shrieking (of the joyous sort, you understand) will be confined to the basement. Other varieties are banned herewith, unless the mother of the crew is in for a nervous breakdown and needs a good cry (hint: I DON'T NEED EITHER).

It's sunny today, and that's a good sign.

And now I'm off to find a missing blanket. Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Teeth

My kindergartner has lost her second tooth in a week. I pulled it out this morning. Pulling teeth is not something I ever thought about doing. Except that I thought "yuck, I will not do that." It's something that fell firmly in Ben's category of "Things to Do." But I have done it now. It's not my favorite, but there you have it: I now pull teeth.

Last week's tooth made me feel a little sad and sentimental. Think of all the expectation that goes into the arrival of that first tooth. Thomas Lux captures the feeling well.

My nephew's first tooth would threaten to come in and then retreat a bit. Poor sweet boy. His teething was not a fun experience. But everyone around sure enjoyed looking at his red gums for a glimpse of a newly emerging pearl.

And this week losing teeth is just how it is. We're off to the races, and I need to make sure the tooth fairy has some good state quarters in her possession.

Yesterday Ben and I attended the temple. There was a sweet older woman helping there. She was concerned that I might go into labor at any moment. I assured her that I had a little time left and that the reason my hand was on my belly was because the baby was moving around (although, where else put your hands when pregnant and sitting down quietly?) and not because I was having contractions. (Cramps, she called them. Hmm. Cramps. If I'm heading into labor I am not experiencing cramps, it's definitely Something Else.)

The woman was pleased to hear that my baby was just tumbling inside and not going to cause any of us immediate problems.

Of course in a while he'll be growing teeth. And then a little while longer he'll be losing them. And then growing bigger ones, that may need braces. There's a little bit of pain all around, isn't there. And some joy in the progression, too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ten {10}

Things I know after being married for 10 years:

I'm so glad I married Ben.
{Hi, Ben!}

Ben isn't perfect.
And neither am I.

Just because you have a good marriage doesn't mean it's not a work in progress.

Our marriage is good.
And it is still a work in progress.

A good marriage isn't based on having your needs met 100%.
Nor is it about meeting the needs of your spouse 100%.
{Which is good, because who can do that?}

A lot of what makes a good marriage is working together, showing mutual affection, and giving each other a break.
{Thanks for the breaks. And the mutual affection. Etc.}

As you've read, Ben is rather incredible.

I really do love Ben.
{Really, truly.}

Happy Anniversary, Ben.
Not only do I love you, I love you Tremendously.

{Yes. Capital T.}

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Together {9}

This may be stating the obvious, but I like to be around Ben. I like going around with Ben doing whatever it is we need to get done. I like the random conversations that come up. I just like being with him.

Our current stage of life (many small-ish children, no built-in babysitter) makes it necessary to adopt more of a divide and conquer policy than we previously had, when we were free to grocery shop and run all kinds of mundane errands together. It's kind of a bummer, and as soon as our oldest gets a little older, I plan to take full advantage of her availability to watch the other kids.

Ben and I have been together in Provo, Seattle, New York, Paris, Rome, and many other decidedly less romantic places (note: I'm not saying that Provo is on par with Paris; it's not. But it is where we dated, etc.) But whether we are in Provo or Paris, I enjoy the the location all the more because of who I'm with.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Notes {8}

When we were engaged Ben wrote me a little letter on pink paper. Then he lost it. And so he wrote another one, also on pink paper.

There seems to be something important about writing down feelings and loves and likes you have about someone and then giving it to them so they can see what it is that makes you love them. Sometimes you can write things that don't normally show up in regular conversations. {Which I suppose is one of my reasons for these blog posts.}

Ben found both notes the next day and gave them to me. I loved both of them, even though they each said basically the same thing, there were some differences and I still have them, tucked away somewhere. Also, as a back up, I copied them down in my journal because I didn't want to lose them.

Engagements can be stressful and those little words were a small oasis during a stressful week. Life is stressful, and I think we can all use those little words to get us through. It makes me regret that the time of letters is more or less over.

Besides the pink notes I have a few emails from Ben from when we first met, printed out and also tucked away, a little sticky note from valentine's day, a little bit of ephemera that reminds me, even though I already know it, that Ben loves me. And I love that.

Post Script: Also, when we lived in New York and Ben would go down into the city for the day for school he would mail me cheesy NY postcards. It seriously was the best.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Faith {7}

The most important thing to me is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It encompasses all I truly love and care about. It therefore stands to reason that one of the things I am grateful for in Ben is his testimony of the Gospel, his love of the temple and the scriptures and his willingness to serve our Heavenly Father.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Read {6}

At this very moment Ben is reading the kids Fablehaven Book 3. They love to have him read to them. And he does read to them. A lot. My kids adore their dad. When he comes home they all yell and run to him, jumping on him, trying to tell him everything that has happened during the day. They can't get enough of him.

I heartily agree with that sentiment.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Laugh, pt. deux {5}

Not only do I like to see Ben laugh, but he consistently makes me laugh. If there is someone you know who makes you laugh, I generally suggest keeping them around for as long as you can.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mind {4}

Ben is brilliant. If you have been around Ben anytime at all you have an inkling of this.

To quote a friend who quoted a movie "truly, [he] has a dizzying intellect." {Fortunately he does not use his brains to start wars between countries or to kidnap poor women named Buttercup. He is smart enough to know never to go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, but could probably handle it if he had to. I have been grateful for all of these things.}

And so it must be said that (among other things) I love him for his mind.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Teach {3}

So, if you're playing along here at Bells on Their Toes you may have noticed that my last two posts were about Ben.

Guess what? Today's post is also about Ben.

Yes. A pattern is emerging.

This month Ben and I celebrate the 10th anniversary of our marriage, hence some posts from me about Ben (you can guess the number).

In some ways ten years feels like a long time, but in other ways feels incredibly short. Which makes me grateful we don't have a time limit on this marriage thing.

So here is something else I love about Ben that I can share with you: He is a fantastic teacher.

Below is a little documentary about Ben by one of his former students (if you know Ben, you know he teaches film and specializes in documentary so it's fun to see the tables turned a little bit).

I find this completely charming. But of course, I would. Enjoy!

{Click for a larger version: a benu-mentary film from justin ahlmann on Vimeo.}

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Laugh {2}

When I first met Ben he was in a comedy troupe at the university. He was funny. He had a lot of groupies who thought he was funny. People like funny people. I liked Ben as a funny person. (Though strangely, I did not like his groupies.)

One evening our apartment had a group of friends over playing a game that is certainly enhanced if someone employes a certain wit, because that makes things all the more amusing. I was convinced that Ben's contributions would have us rolling on the floor. I was wrong. He likes to win more than he likes to be funny. I on the other hand decided that I didn't care if I won or not. I was going to try and make Ben laugh.

This thought may have been only semi-conscious on my part. We weren't dating. He came over only once in awhile. He was friends with all my roommates. He was dating someone else. So why try to make him laugh?

The thing about this game is that everyone wrote down their part on a paper and one person read all of the responses so you didn't know who had written what. Any laughter culled by the writer from the other players would be genuine.

Did I succeed? Yes, I did.

So why try to make him laugh?

It turns out that I like to see Ben laughing. It doesn't have to be at something I have said or done. But when he laughs it means he is taking genuine pleasure in something and after more than ten years of knowing him, that is still one of my favorite things in the whole world.

We have been watching The Fiddler on the Roof the past few days. It makes Ben laugh. I have loved it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bread {1}

It could be any day of the week, usually in the afternoon or evening. I will walk into the kitchen and find Ben leaning heavily on the old Bosch mixer to keep it stable and stationary as it churns through the wheat flour dough in the mixing bowl. We are out of bread and Ben is making more.

Can I tell you what a wonderful thing it is to live with a man who will bake you bread? It's a lovely, lovely thing to come home and smell bread freshly baked. It is awfully nice to have someone like Ben around. And not just for the bread, though that is what we’re talking about today.

I think I shall now go make myself some toast.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm Going to Eat Some Dark Chocolate and Then Chill

I was going to write a somewhat exasperating and yet humorous event involving my kids, tantrums, bedtime, brushing teeth and toilet paper. But as it is, there is a lot of whining going on right now with half of my kids (the other half are at school) and so I shall refrain. Just know it was a good story. And maybe someday I will get around to writing it.

Other than that, I suppose all I have to say is this: It's May. Carry on.