Being a blogger leads to some wonderful interactions with fabulous people. It’s one of the biggest perks of the job. Last summer, I went to Alt Summit NYC, a fantastic conference for bloggers that also happened to be hosted in none other than Martha Stewart’s headquarters. It was, to say the least, AMAZING. While I was there, I had the incredible luck to meet one of the founders of the Alt Summit conferences, Gabrielle Blair. I was definitely more than a little star struck, as Gabrielle is also the founder of Design Mom, a blog I’ve followed for years. Gabrielle was warm, welcoming and so very kind to me, and I’ve kept in touch with her, even getting the opportunity to serve as an Alt Rep at the flagship Alt Summit conference in Salt Lake City this past January.
Gabrielle and her husband, Ben Blair, have the kind of family I think a lot of people secretly aspire to be more like, in an imaginary perfect world. Their children, Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, Betty and Flora June, are adorable, and the family has amazing adventures, along with what seems to be a limitless capacity for creativity. They even have their own video series, Olive Us, that they started while living in France, and now produce for ulive.
The last morning of Alt SLC, I asked Gabrielle if she and Ben would mind answering a few questions for the Made + Remade audience. I have to say, upon reading Gabrielle and Ben’s answers, I sincerely wish I had the good fortune of being neighbors of the Blairs — if only because I dream of having wonderful, laughter-filled dinner parties with Ben, Gabrielle and their lovely children. Without further adieu …
1. Hi Gabrielle and Ben! First off, thanks for taking some time to chat. For all of our Made + Remade readers who haven’t discovered DesignMom or Olive Us, could you introduce yourselves?
Hi! We’re Gabrielle and Ben Blair. We’re the parents of 6 kids: Ralph (16), Maude (14), Olive (12), Oscar (9), Betty (7), & June (3). Our work is largely on the interwebs. Gabrielle runs a popular blog called Design Mom where she blogs about things “at the intersection of design and motherhood.” This covers a lot of territory — some of her popular columns are home tours with an eye toward “living with kids,” posts about “what to wear to __ grade,” discussions about body image, parenting, etc. Ben produces a web video series with our kids called Olive Us. The series tries to portray healthy sibling relationships, and kids who like each other and love each other, explore cool places, try interesting things, etc. and in general feels like a big hug to watch.
2. Gabrielle: When, where, and why did you first start blogging?
Our fifth baby had just been born and I was taking a break from my design work — a self-imposed maternity leave. But I knew from experience that if I didn’t engage in something creative, that I was more prone to post-partum depression. Blogging was the perfect solution. I started mine just as a hobby. No boss, no clients, no deadlines. And would post whenever I felt like it, which was pretty much daily. I could do it in the middle of the night if the baby was up. Or simply whenever I could fit it in.
3. What did life look like for both of you before the blog became a full time job?
We lived in New York. Gabrielle was a designer and art director. Ben was working remotely for K12.com. We had both experienced time as the primary bread winner and as the primary home-runner. And lots of times where we both split time between work and running the home. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it worked great for us.
4. What does a typical day look like now?
Gabrielle typically makes breakfast, while Ben helps with last-minute homework or school notes. We both (and the older kids) help prepare lunches. Ben takes the kids to school in the morning while Gabrielle tidies the house. Our work can vary widely. On a good day, we spend some time going through personal paper work (think: mortgage, bills, etc.), then get to “work work.” Work work often involves phone calls, maybe a mini photo shoot, writing and compiling blog posts and/or newsletters, calendaring for upcoming posts or campaigns, etc.
We always think we’re going to be so on top of our work that we become regulars at some cool cafe or something, but instead we often forget to make time for lunch and end up eating boiled eggs, or we’ll pick up sandwiches. We try to finish our work before kids get home from school so we can have family time in the afternoon and evening. We both help on homework, and dinner, though Ben is usually the lead dinner cook. We try to read together as a family at night.
5. Ben: What is your part in this equation, aside from being a wonderful husband and father? My own husband is VERY shy and avoids taking any credit online, but he actually plays a pivotal role in pretty much everything I do. Tell us about your part in the life and online adventures of your family.
My role varies week to week. Sometimes we’ll converse a lot about upcoming blog posts on Design Mom, and I’ll even edit a draft of a post. Or I’ll sometimes even recommend a post or column, but I would say that typically, I have just a little idea of what will be on Design Mom. I also often communicate with sponsors, schedule sponsored posts, etc.
Our parenting is quite radically different from the parenting either of us grew up with. We’re both quite comfortable in either of the traditional parenting roles. And, as all parents do, we’re charting our own custom parenting approaches and roles. I get really excited about things like what art work we should display and why, and what books we have in our home library, how to improve our home culture in general. I’m often making lists, but they don’t mean much until Gabby and I discuss them and refine them and, you know, commit. Since we’re together so much, we have a pretty fully shared parenting approach that is evolving.
6. So, to state the obvious: DesignMom, Altitude Summit, Olive Us, a healthy marriage, and six (adorable and amazing) children. Gabrielle, you’ve been very candid and forthright when asked how you “do it all.” Will you talk a little about the trap of thinking that’s possible, and how you avoid it for our readers?
I think perfectionism combined with taking on too much is a recipe for disaster. I have so much respect for single parents, I don’t take for granted that as a couple, we have a really great support group, and if one of us drops the ball, there is some cover. And the reality is that we let things go — we’ll get into and out of rhythms where we’re managing better than other times, but then I’m gone for a week for Alt, or Ben is working on an Olive Us shoot every day for a week, and things slip. We learn to not beat ourselves up, and to pick up from where we are and move forward. So the first response is: we don’t do it all. The second response, and this is something I have written about often, is that I’m not good at multitasking. I’m really good at focusing on one thing at a time and finishing it. And, as you may guess, this feeds back into the first response…
7. Where did the idea for Olive Us come from, and what was it like to start creating video content that’s now featured as original programming on ulive?
Olive Us was originally thought up as a special project for our daughter Olive. We had a sort of talk show in mind, where Olive would be the host, and each sibling would have something like a column or recurring roles. We still like this idea, and may make an episode based on this idea in the future.
As it has grown, we see a lot of factors that have inspired it: our frustration with the dearth of tween and teenage media that portrays healthy, loving relationships; our own memories of our happiest childhood times were working on big projects together; and we also love to work on something that we can all take pride in, that requires real work, and that has a public face that we can share and each child can feel part of something fun and cool.
Turns out we loved making these videos and created 24 prior to our partnership with ulive. But creating video is expensive, and we weren’t sure we could keep creating without having to spend a significant amount of time seeking sponsors. So the partnership with ulive was such a blessing! It allowed us to make 20 additional episodes, and we made some of our very favorites with ulive. They have been a dream to work with as well, helping us to craft shows that would appeal to a larger audience.
8. Gabrielle, we were just at Alt Summit in Salt Lake City together, where EVERYONE knows who you are. Is it like that in everyday life, getting recognized in the grocery store, or do you generally fly beneath the radar?
Hah! Well, you’re not getting a very natural sample at Alt. I organize the speakers and sessions, I’m a founder of Alt Summit, and I’m prominent at each Alt Conference, so you’re getting a really biased sample group at Alt — and even at Alt, there are lots of people who don’t know me. But it’s true, Alt is a very happy place for me, and a big part is that many of my heroes are there, and I get to spend time with ambitious, motivated people who are much wiser and smarter with their work than I am. It’s always a huge education for me. In everyday life, the short answer is no. Every once in awhile someone here in Oakland will stop me to say hello and introduce herself (hasn’t been a man yet, hmmm…) — I always love it when they do! But it’s certainly not a common occurrence — like twice in six months.
9. Now that the kids are getting older, are any of them getting camera shy at all? How do their peers react to the Olive Us videos?
No one is getting shy, but Ralph, who is passionate about film and watches the videos with a critical eye, feels that the videos with the younger kids are more appealing to more people, so he has been transitioning to more behind-the-scenes work. He creates most of the Olive Us Instagram images and he helps with filming and story-boarding of the episodes.
10. Ben and Gabrielle: You just returned from living abroad in France. What took you to France? What brought you back?
We wanted our kids to have an international experience — to learn another language and to realize there is more than one right way for a country or culture to approach life. Really the reasons we moved and stayed there as long as we did changed when we got there and got to know the culture and way of life. We still miss it and plan to return on a regular basis.
We moved home because our oldest two kids are high school age and they wanted to experience life in American high school.
11. What do you see as the next big adventure on the horizon for the Blair family?
That’s a good question. We believe that life has always been, and will continue to be, the big adventure. We want to do more good. We love the model of Kid President who has used his videos to do things like collect socks for homeless populations across the nation, and in general make a tangible, positive impact. Living in France was a great way to learn about another culture, and be more responsible in how we think about and talk about other cultures. We would love to pursue similar ways to engage real problems, and in general, take more responsibility for the world we live in.
12. With all of the responsibilities of the blog, the videos, the conference planning, and of course, normal everyday life, what does “date night” look like for you two?
We do go out on dates as often as we can — dinners, movies, maybe a party. But mostly, we love running errands together. The grocery store, Target, the bank. We’ll stop and eat along the way, and we can talk while we run around town.
13. We started planning this interview around Valentine’s Day (where did February go???), so even though it’s now March, will you each tell your favorite romantic gesture the other has made in the course of your relationship? I always tend to remember the sneaky small stuff that my husband does that catches me off guard…
Here’s one of our first romantic stories (originally shared here):
When Ben and I met, we had different levels of dating experience. I loved hanging out with boys and dated all the interesting ones I could find. Ben Blair had hardly dated at all. That’s not to say he didn’t have his crushes, he just hadn’t dated much.
One night, when we had just met, his friends and my friends started chatting about things like holding hands, good night kisses, and making out. What they meant. The level of seriousness they implied. (No sex — we were all chaste Mormon kids.)
I was adamant that holding hands on a date was no big deal. In my view, it was just a simple way to show affection. Like greeting someone with a quick hug. Or taking your date’s arm when you walk into the restaurant.
Ben Blair was adamant that holding hands was a very big deal. That you should never hold someone’s hand unless you’re seriously dating.
Cut to a few weeks later.
We still weren’t dating, but we’d been hanging out more and more and I knew I wanted to date him. So I hatched a plan to let him know (so devious!). One night we were hiking in St. George. I was very familiar with this hike and knew there was a place where he would need to hold my hand to pull me up in a steep spot. Remembering our earlier “affection conversation” my idea was to keep holding his hand — even after he’d helped me up — so he would know I was serious about dating him.
Friends. It worked brilliantly! He took my hand to help me up. I scrambled up the rock and when he tried to drop my hand, I kept holding on. (What do you think? Too bold?) I remember he paused for a second, realized what I was doing, and sweetly held my hand for the rest of the night. In fact, we were engaged a few weeks later.
Not long after the engagement, I was telling this same story and Ben Blair said, “Actually. When you held my hand on the hike, I remembered our affection conversation too. I reminded myself that you thought holding hands was no big deal, so I assumed it meant nothing — that you were just being friendly.”
Cut to me. Blushing for hours.
We still hold hands all the time. No one knows what it means. : )
See what I mean? Are Ben and Gabrielle not the most endearing and adorable couple EVER? And given how busy both Ben and Gabrielle are, they are obviously very generous with their time to answer some questions for us! Follow Design Mom and Olive Us, and you will be endlessly enlightened and entertained, I promise. And if you’re a blogger, go to one of the brand new Alt Summit events coming up this year — there are Design Camps all over the country, as well as a recently introduced summer Alt SLC! Here’s an insider tip: when you meet Gabrielle, if an ecstatic “HIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!” escapes you before you can feign nonchalance, she’ll be ever so gracious. Trust me, I know that as a FACT.