Design Mom - The Intersection of Design & Motherhood
Design Mom, praised as a Website of the Year by Time Magazine, and a top parenting blog by the Wall Street Journal, Parents Magazine and Better Homes & Gardens, features everything you find at the intersection of Motherhood and Design. From DIY projects and home tours, to book reviews, family-friendly travel, and discussions about modern parenting.
Hello, Friends. How’s it going? How was your week? I know the school year is just ending for some of you — and other are already deep into summer break.
Today is my birthday! Sunday is Father’s Day! So Ben Blair and I are thinking we’ll do a combo celebration and go spend a night at the famous (and fancy!) Claremont Hotel.
Of course, I’m also thinking about my dad this weekend. The photo above is his grave. My mom put out some yellow flowers when she was in St. George on Memorial Day (yellow was his favorite!). I hope all the good dads in your life get some extra love this weekend.
Before I sign off, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:
-Haiti Partners — an organization we love to support (Ben sits on their board), is doing a big push for a #strongfinish as they close out their fiscal year. Thanks to a very generous supporter, through June 30th, all gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $20,000! Go see what your donation can accomplish — $40 provides two months of schooling for one student; $1000 pays for one year of teacher compensation.
-Igloo has a new biodegradable cooler that’s an alternative to styrofoam coolers. It’s reusable, holds 75 pounds, and can keep ice frozen for 15 hours. You can currently find it at Target.
My Oakland Pride has me pretty upset about this. Come on San Francisco! The Warriors are awesome, so now you steal them from Oakland? Can’t you just leave Oakland alone? And the idea of Steph Curry in SF isn’t nearly as cool as Steph Curry in Oakland. It makes me want to curse the team with an endless string of losses until they come back to Oakland to regain their magic. : ) (Related: Some say last night’s loss was karma for leaving Oakland.)
I hope you have such a great weekend. Sending love to all the fathers-of-the-year out there! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.
Remember when Ben Blair and I went to Australia? One of the best takeaways from the trip was definitely Iced Chocolate. In every eating establishment we visited — fancy restaurants, simple cafés, sandwich shops, bakeries, etc. — there was ALWAYS iced coffee and iced chocolate on the menu. It was pretty much universal.
On our trip, the Australian Summer was just starting and the weather was already getting quite hot (we traveled to Sydney in early November), so iced drinks sounded just right. I’m not a coffee drinker, but was totally into trying Iced Chocolate — and I liked it so much that I ended up ordering one at every single food stop we made.
The thing is, each place made them a bit different — some with cocoa powder, others with syrup, some were blended, others shaken, some with whip cream and chocolate shavings on top, others served as a simpler version. Each establishment seemed to have their own take on the drink. So of course I kept wanting to try them all out and see which ones I liked best. I think my favorites were the ones where they would blend/crush the ice, so that it would be almost the texture of a slushie.
We’ve had a heat wave in the Bay Area this week, and twice now, when I’ve stopped for something cold to drink, and seen Iced Coffee on the menu, I’ve asked if they can make an Iced Chocolate instead. Both places said they’d never made one before, but they’d give it a try — and both were delicious!
If you’re curious, there are a ton of recipes you can try — but I don’t have a specific one to recommend, because so far, I’ve only ordered Iced Chocolates from restaurants and cafés. If you know of a reliable recipe, definitely share a link.
Have you ever had an Iced Chocolate? Have you ever been to Australia and had an iced drink there? I’m told they are popular throughout the whole country (not just Sydney). Do you have a favorite version? Related, have you ever been to Serendipity in NYC and had a Frozen Hot Chocolate?
P.S. — I’ve had a draft of a blog post reporting on our trip to Sydney for six months now, and still haven’t finished it. I’m not sure what’s holding me up, but maybe this post will be the thing to encourage me to finish it up and share it with you.
In response, several readers asked for a post about how Olive found the Au Pair position. I thought that was a great idea for a blog post, so this morning, I interviewed Olive about the process and am sharing her answers here.
If there are any questions you wished I had asked, please leave them in the comments, and Olive will take a look. : )
What websites did you use to search Au Pair options? And how did you find the websites? Are there different websites for different regions of the world?
There does seem to be different websites for different regions — like I remember seeing a specific site for Au Pairs in France. But I didn’t use a regional site. Instead, I did a search for “how to find a host family” and ended up using the first two websites that came up, which were: AuPair.com and GreatAuPair.com. I set up profiles on both of them.
What was the process of setting up a profile? Any tips or info to gather ahead of time? Did you need a resumé?
Both websites have paid programs — you pay $20 a month and you can email families directly. But I didn’t do the paid option.
You put in the dates you want to start, your contact info, and then you write a cover letter where you can tell all about yourself and your babysitting experience. Your whole profile is essentially the cover letter.
You don’t really need a resume, but there’s a place you can add one if you’d like. And you’ll need to know roughly how many hours of babysitting/child care you’ve done.
What experience do you have that made your profile stand out?
The fact that I speak both fluent French and English, and the fact that I’ve done some longer term babysitting — like I’ve been a vacation nanny for a couple of weeks at a time. Also, I’ve done a TON of babysitting hours and taken care of a wide range of ages.
When did you start looking for your Fall 2019 position?
Way too early! November 2018 was when I first made my account.
Once the profile was done, how long until people reached out?
Well, it was mostly me reaching out. It works like this: You search on the website for the type of position you are looking for. For example, you can search “all families in France who need au pairs from April 2019 or later”. Then, when you find a family that seems like a good fit, you add the family to your favorites.
If the family adds you to their favorites, then you can message each other. Otherwise, you have to wait until a family adds you to their favorites or reaches out to you.
So I would favorite any family that looked like a fit. Then, if they favorited me back, I would reach out right away.
Starting in November in 2018, I would check the site and favorite new families every two weeks or so. But there wasn’t much action until April 2019, because most families just weren’t ready to look for Au Pairs for the fall yet.
I remember you first talked with some families in China, what happened there?
Yes. For a few months, I got very interested in taking an Au Pair position in China. I did searches through the same websites. The families in China seemed to be looking earlier than families in Europe.
I ended up Facetime-ing with one family and had some really good conversations. But eventually, I felt that China was so much more unfamiliar, and I decided to focus my search on Europe instead.
How many emails and chats until the current family said yes?
We messaged through AuPair.com probably seven times. And then, the mother gave me her number and email info and we Facetimed three times. The first call was just with the parents. The second call was with the parents and their children. The third call was with the host family parents and my parents too.
It seems like after months of no action, all of a sudden, you had 3 offers (Berlin, Paris, and the South of France). Is it a timing thing? Are families just now looking for their Fall 2019 Au Pairs?
I think that it was definitely timing. Suddenly everyone in Europe was looking for their fall Au Pair.
What about a contract? How do you protect yourself?
One thing is the age range for Au Pairs is 18-30 (in France, age 17 is okay but there are extra papers you need). So a key thing is just making sure you’re an adult. I’ll be 18 at the end of August, and my position starts the next week.
There are good safety instructions on the websites — and there were spam alerts sometimes when I would message a family because they weren’t legitimate. There are also instructions on types of email addresses to avoid.
The websites offer a basic Au Pair contract you can use. But France is a little different — the French government actually has an Au Pair contract you have to use. The contract has a place where the host family spells out the details — like if you’ll have your own room, amount of pocket money, and any other perks.
With the French Au Pair contract, if you can’t demonstrate you speak (good enough) French, you have to take a French class.
Were the agreements pretty similar for the three positions you were offered? How do you know if you’re getting a fair rate?
Yes, the three agreements were pretty similar, but it’s really up to you and what you’re willing to do, and what resources the family has access to. Each family may offer totally different things. One might offer no pocket money, just room and board. (Though for France, the host family is required to offer pocket money.) You might have your own room, your own bathroom, or even your own apartment. They family might offer to pay transportation within the city. You might have to buy your own plane ticket. You might only need to work a few hours each day. It’s really up to you and the family.
What are pay ranges and benefits like? Do you get days off?
In Europe, pocket money offers can range from $120 Euros to $400 Euros per month. You are typically offered a Metro Pass or other transportation within the city. You are typically offered your own room. Most of the time, you are offered your own bathroom (but I will be sharing a bathroom with the kids).
For some families, they want it set up like you’re like a sibling — you eat with the family and share the home. For other families, it’s more like you’re an employee. My position is more family style. And when the kids have school breaks, I’ll have an Au Pair break too.
What about a Visa?
This is different for every country, so you have to look it up and figure it out.
For France, you need to make an appointment with a French Embassy office. Luckily, we have one in San Francisco, but when we lived in Colorado we had to travel to Los Angeles to get to a French Embassy for a visa appointment.
At the appointment, you have the Au Pair contract signed by the family and signed by you. You need to show savings and financial documents — your own or your parents. You need to show that you are registered for a French class, or show that you speak French. There are forms and documents you can find online.
How do you plan to make friends? Are you worried you’ll be lonely? What are you most nervous about?
I’m probably most nervous about making friends, because I don’t quite know how i’m going to do that yet. But the good news is I’m moving to a college town (Montpellier), so I’m hoping I can take some classes — especially art or fashion classes — and meet friends that way. I would love to do that. I’ll check out the church there too. And I hope I’ll become good friends with my host family as well.
What are you most excited about?
Getting to explore a new region of the world! A new city! I’ve never been to Montpellier and have only spent two weeks in the south of France, so it will feel new to me.
Plus I’m excited about being back in Europe where everything is so close. In fact, I’m hoping to travel on my breaks. There are $30 plane tickets to Malta! There’s a $10 bus to Barcelona!
When do you head out? Will you be coming back for Christmas? Graduation?
I’ll head out the last week of August and start my Au Pair position the first week of September. I hope to come back for both Christmas and for Graduation in May. Definitely I’ll come back for Christmas, and we’ll see if Graduation works out with my schedule. The position ends in July when the school year ends.
Speaking of graduation, if you’re skipping your senior year of high school, how will you be able to graduate?
Well, I only need three classes in order to graduate and I’m taking them this summer. I’m taking a PE class (ballet) and an English class at Laney College. It’s a local community college, and because I registered through my high school, I don’t have to pay to take the classes. Both classes start this Monday and end on July 26th. I also need a Gov/Econ class. I’m taking that one through BYU’s online classes (Maude did the same class when she moved to Paris).
I want to finish the online class by the time I finish Ballet and English. That way I’ll be completely done with high school before I move to France.
Thank you, Olive! That was awesome.
Here are a few notes from my point of view as a parent of the Au Pair:
-This search was totally Olive led. She would give us updates once in awhile, but I didn’t know what websites she was using, and really was not involved at all until she was ready for me and Ben Blair to Facetime with the family.
-You may remember that Maude did something similar (skipped her senior year and was an Au Pair in Paris instead). But she didn’t find her position through a website (it was via word of mouth).
-We didn’t take Maude to Paris and help her get settled, but wish we had. (Sorry Maude! We’re learning!) So we’re making plans to take Olive. It will be either Ben or me (or both if we can find childcare). We want to go and meet the family in person, and help Olive set up her room — it’s almost like setting up a dorm room or first apartment. We want to get to know the town a bit and be able to picture where she is.
Okay. I think that wraps it up. Again, if you have additional questions for Olive, please leave them in the comments. And if you have tips to add, or other advice, be sure to leave that in the comments as well. I’d also like to hear if your kids are interested in trying something like this, or if you were an Au Pair yourself.
I laughed when I was reading today’s Living With Kids essay and read that Mary Jo’s daughter drew a picture of her with eight arms. It seems totally fitting. Mary Jo runs her own successful design business (you’ll understand why it’s so successful when you see the gorgeous photos of her home), and she is a single mom who decided that rather than wait to get married, she’d foster and adopt a child of her own. I think you’re going to love getting a peek of her world. Welcome, Mary Jo!
In my home we have my daughter Gabbi (15), my dog Sofi, a rescue little black Spaniel mix, my dog Gia, a rescue from the Korean dog meat industry, and myself. I’m a single mom — never married, adopted everyone on my own.
I’m an interior designer with my own business, Fiorella Designs. I’ve had my own firm since 2002. I’ve worked in NYC, San Francisco and now in Castro Valley, California. My office is near my home so I can run over and pick up my daughter from school or get her to soccer on time.
We live in Castro Valley, California on a hill near Lake Chabot park. It’s a neighborhood full of 1950’s homes and mixed families, some with children, some older couples. I love the area! In the San Francisco Bay area there are few places where the home prices are reasonable (reasonable in comparison to other homes in the Bay Area) and have good schools — Castro Valley is one of them. I also like the area because it’s small enough, but also has everything you’d need nearby. The weather is great (we avoid the cold San Francisco fog in summer), and my garden grows well here. We have neighbors who look out for each other.
My home is more ‘affordable’ than other areas, and still fairly safe, and centrally located with access to many freeways. My home price has appreciated about $400k in the last 10 years — so that’s good! Castro Valley isn’t really a destination area with no real highlights for visitors aside from Lake Chabot which is a beautiful lake with trails in the hills. But like I mentioned, it’s centrally located and only abut 40 minutes from San Francisco and San Jose. Napa Valley is about 1 1/2 hours away.
It was a miracle that I got this home. I had needed to sell my little starter home so that my daughter could get into the Castro Valley Schools for kindergarten. I put my home up for sale and was lucky to get it sold with a 60-day rent back so I could look for a new home in Castro Valley. At the time there was very little on the market. I searched for 6 weeks and didn’t find anything. I was starting to panic. Because my office was in my home I really didn’t want to have to find a rental and then keep looking for a house, as that would have meant two big moves. One Saturday we were at my daughters soccer game and a friend introduced me to a mom who was going to be selling their home and was having an open house the next day. We went to the open house, wrote a touching, and slightly desperate letter and offered full list price. Needless to say, they accepted and we were able to move exactly on our last day of renting back. The previous owners truck pulled away and ours pulled up.
The crazy thing is that this home was exactly what I needed and wanted. I wanted the kitchen to face the backyard. It had all the bedrooms and baths I wanted, and most importantly, I wanted a separate space for my office.
The home is a split level with a family room down stairs, and a living room on the main level. I use the lower level for my office, which has it’s own side entry, so my employees can come and go and not go through the private parts of my home.
So it was really a miracle that it all came together. I always say “visualize it- and it will come” — I don’t know how many times this has rung true for me. But starting my business and adopting my daughter were two of the biggest that I visualized, focused on and worked toward.
I love the freedom of running my own business. I always knew I would have my own business and tried to set myself up, slowly but surely, as I was growing as a designer.
I find myself visualizing moving through the spaces I design, looking at details, feeling the surfaces, comparing the materials next to each other. This happens in the shower, or while I’m sleeping. It’s just always on my mind. When relaxing, or cutting roses from my garden, or potting or watering plants out back, or organizing books on my coffee table, or moving items on my bookshelves — I’m always searching for visual beauty!
I have been interested in design since I was about eight years old. In my neighborhood back in suburban Buffalo, New York, there was a new development being built behind our property. I got to walk though homes while they were being framed and could imagine where the furniture would go. From there I thought about interior design. I also loved art and color and was very good at drawing and painting. I felt interior design would put both of these interests together.
Being a single mom is very tricky. You have to be organized, and you have to plan ahead, every step of the way. You also have to ask for help, and get a good support system around you. We live at least 400 miles from the closest family down in Los Angeles. The rest of my family is in Buffalo, Phoenix, and Atlanta. So I have no family help. This is something I really regret. I grew up with a lot of extended (Italian/Sicilian) family around and I really miss this for my daughter — and myself.
Hello, Friends. How are you? Can you believe we’re a week into June? I’m glad to report we’ve had a happy first week of summer break. Olive went camping with friends. Betty has been doing quite a bit of babysitting for our neighbor. Oscar and June have been baking. And as I mentioned, Maude and Ralph are out of town.
I’ve been power-washing the balconies and outdoor furniture. Ben Blair has been working on a book. And this weekend, we’re hoping to do a big decluttering in the house.
If you’re in the mood for some weekend reading, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:
-What are you watching these days? I started the new season of Handmaid’s Tale. And I want to watch the mini-series When They See Us — about the wrongfully accused and imprisoned Central Park Five. I’ve heard it’s gut-wrenching and maddening to watch, and there are calls to boycott the books of Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor who oversaw the investigation.
I hope you’re in the mood for a Random Thoughts post. Here are some of the things on my mind (it’s mostly thoughts about my kids):
-Yesterday, Maude moved to New York for the summer! She has an internship at Best Made, plus she’ll be working with the amazing Jodi Levine of Super Make It and Amanda Kingloff of Project Kid. I’m super proud of her for figuring all this stuff out and hope she has an amazing experience.
Her flight had an unexpected all-day layover in Chicago. She’d never been to Chicago before, so she explored the River Walk and had a lovely day. The original plan was that she would arrive in New York at 3:30 in the afternoon, instead, she arrived at 1:30 in the morning! But she made it, and got to her apartment (a sublet in Brooklyn), and she just called me from Central Park. So she’s feeling great. : )
She’ll return to Berkeley in the fall for her Junior Year. As far as studies go, she was undecided, but as she finished her second year, she concluded she wants to major in English. She’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but really likes the idea of being a high school English teacher and getting to introduce teens to books like Catcher in the Rye. We’ve encouraged her to check out the Teach for America program — the schools she would teach in would be very similar to her own high school and I think she would like that.
-Ralph is spending a couple of weeks in Utah, visiting friends and family. He is almost done with community college (one more semester to go!) and is exploring transfer options. He’s interested in transferring to Berkeley for a Media Studies degree, or a Film Degree. And he’s also looking at a Design Degree from BYU.
He knows he wants to make movies for a living, but doesn’t necessarily want to major in film. In the meantime, he’s been able to get a lot of consistent work on video and editing projects — you can watch his vimeo page to see his personal projects.
-Olive just finished her junior year of high school, and she has big plans. Instead of attending her senior year, she’s has taken an Au Pair position in the South of France! The position is September through July and she’ll head out at the end of this summer. Ben Blair or I (or both!) will accompany her to get her settled and meet the family she’ll be staying with and working for. We met them over Skype, but want to meet them in person and make sure Olive is all set.
Olive has 3 more classes she needs to graduate from high school — and one of those is a PE class. : ) So she’s taking two classes this summer from a local community college (Ballet and English), and she’s taking one online class as well (Gov/Econ). Her goal is to finish the online class at the same time the summer classes end (which is at the end of July). That way, she’ll meet with her high school counselor in August, confirm she’s done with all graduation requirements, and can head to France with all of that finished up.
While she’s in France, she’ll need do her college applications, but won’t need to worry about finishing high school. Her high school counselor told her that if she wants to come back next May to “walk” at graduation that she can. But Olive knows it will depend on her Au Pair schedule.
Olive has been working on finding an Au Pair position for the last year and did this totally on her own. She looked up websites, filled out a profile, and made inquiries. Pretty cool, right? She got job offers in Berlin and Paris, but was most pleased with the position in the South of France, so said yes to that one.
-On Saturday, Oscar will be awarded the Life Scout rank. He is working toward his Eagle, and the Life Scout rank is the rank just before Eagle. So he’s getting close. He’s wrapped up most of the needed merit badges, and will attend Scout Camp in July to finish things up.
He also has a goal of completing his Eagle Scout Project by the end of the summer. I would love that too! It would be great to feel like his scouting accomplishments are all settled before he starts high school in the fall. (Can you believe Oscar starts high school in the fall?)
-Oscar and Betty started their orthodontia adventures this week. : ) Oscar got an expander and will get braces in a couple of months. Betty is doing Invisalign.
-I know it’s late in the game, but we just barely mapped out our summer plans. The kids have Girls Camp, Scout Camp, and Band Camp. Swim Team too. We’re also looking at Sailing Camp and Theater Camp. And if it works with the camp schedules, there’s Cousins Week in St. George.
-Last week I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, and my head doubting every parenting decision I’ve ever made. Should we have stayed in New York or Colorado and never moved to France? Should I have made the kids take piano lessons more consistently? Are they watching too much Youtube? Remember when we quit gymnastics so they could do the play, and then we never re-signed up for gymnastics? Am I not paying enough attention to what they need?
I eventually calmed myself down and fell back asleep. But I keep thinking about it, because it was unusual for me — very little wakes me up in the middle of the night. How do you handle stuff like that? Do you ever doubt your parenting decisions?
-I remember as a kid, that my mom would always be slow to leave a gathering, or even church, because she was chatting with someone. Sometimes my siblings and I would walk home because that was faster than waiting for Mom. : )
I would have predicted that I would be the same way as a mother, but it turns out I’m not. I seem to sit evenly between extroverted and introverted. I love going to a party, but once I’ve had my fill, I’m done and want to be home immediately. My kids have noticed that between me and Ben Blair, he’s the one most likely to stay behind and chat. How about you? Are you more chatty than your spouse/partner? Or are you both pretty equal?
-The bridge we built in our backyard is in need of repairs. I was looking for photos of it and realized I’ve never actually written a blog post about it. I’m sure I meant to and then just got busy and forgot! I’m going to try and write one — it’s a really cool part of our house.
-It’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I wish we were in France to witness the memorials. When we lived in Normandy, we got to know the D-Day sites and history really well, and I was always so touched at how the French people treat those places as sacred and special.
I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to my random thoughts, or you can leave your own random thoughts in the comments. I always love to hear what’s on your mind.
It’s been ages since I’ve shared an update on The Cottage in France — mostly because there hasn’t been anything to report. : )
Here’s the latest: We had an unexpected offer from someone who wants to buy it! The property is not listed for sale, so this was just someone making an inquiry, but it got us thinking about what we want to do with us.
You may remember, a couple years ago we spent the summer in France with the intention of working on the cottage. But after we got there we hit pause. On a fluke, we ended up visiting other properties for sale, and realized that it would be less expensive (and much less complicated!) to buy an already livable, useable space.
But, we still liked the idea of working on The Cottage. We had already worked with an architect on plans. We had already replaced the roof. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to it.
We are lucky, because when we bought it, the property was a bargain (about $25k), and we ended up paying for it in full with the money we’d saved up for a down payment on a more expensive place. This has been good, because it has allowed us to sit on the project and approach it as slowly as we want — we haven’t had to worry about how to keep up monthly payments, and we haven’t had to try to rent it out to cover the mortgage.
But it also means we haven’t felt any urgency to work on the project. Our life is full here in Oakland, and we have enough exciting things going on at any given time, that it’s easy for months (years!) to fly by where we don’t really think about The Cottage. This was definitely a surprise to me — I had no idea how “out of sight, out of mind” I would be about this project.
The offer we received was low, and we’re not planning to accept it. Prices have actually dropped since we bought The Cottage, so if we do sell it, we don’t expect that we’ll be able to earn any money on it — we don’t even expect to break even — and we aren’t in a hurry to sell. But getting the offer has got us thinking about France again.
Shopping for property in Normandy is different than it is in the U.S.. There’s no Zillow or Realtor.com that lists everything for sale in one place. Instead, you have to go to each separate real estate company website, and they each have different listings. And each town has it’s own real estate offices — so you basically need to know the names of the real estate companies that work in the area you are interested in.
So that’s the update. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with The Cottage. Maybe we will officially list it for sale and invite other offers — and then buy something more habitable instead. Maybe we’ll just continue to sit on it. Or, if we can figure out when/how to move back to France, it could still be an awesome project that would be much easier to manage if we lived nearby.
Your turn. Have you ever looked at property in another country? Are there any houses on those French websites I listed above that look appealing to you? If you bought a house in the French countryside, would you want to move in? Or maybe rent it out as an Airbnb? I’d love to hear.
You know that thing when you are sitting around with your college friends and you talk about living in a commune together and raising your families together? But then it never happens because how could that possibly work?
Well when Maria Rivera and her husband were looking for house near Stanford, and it all seemed too expensive, they made the bold decision to move in with their two best friends and share a house so their money could go further.
They really seem to have this communal living thing figured out — and it might just make you want to rethink that college best friend commune you’ve always dreamed about. Welcome, Maria!
An Arabic internist, a Latino Pediatrician, a Korean oral surgeon, and a Jewish general surgeon walk into a bar… err house. Our living situation sometimes sounds like a joke waiting to happen!
My husband Ajlan and I met in Philly in 2008. He was a PhD student at Penn and I was a medical student, and we bonded over the fact that both of us had grown up abroad and come to the United States for college. I was born and raised in Honduras and moved to Philly when I was 17. Ajlan grew up in the United Arab Emirates and moved to Indiana when he was 18 to go to Purdue. That same year we met Rachel and Joe. Rachel was a med student with me and she and Joe were high school sweethearts. We bonded over our love for weird foods and travel and spent many weekends at Philly farmers markets.
In 2013 after graduating from med school (Rachel) and dental school (Joe), they moved out to California. Ajlan and I stayed behind in Philly as I finished a Pediatrics residency and he finished his PhD in bioengineering. Ajlan then decided to go to medical school himself and we moved to DC. Fast forward 5 more years and in 2018 Ajlan and I had gotten married, were raising a one and a half year old, Zayn, a goldendoodle named Pita, and found out that we had matched at Stanford for his internal medicine residency.
We live in Belmont, California, in a neighborhood called Belmont Heights. It is about 20-30 minutes south of San Francisco. Not going to lie, we have a love hate relationship with the suburbs and our neighborhood. Having to drive anywhere has been a drastic change from our previous life in Philly and DC. I didn’t even get a driver’s license til I moved out to California! But it is not a secret that housing prices are astronomically high in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we would never be able to afford a house this size and with this much space in the city or even closer to a downtown. It is definitely a tradeoff.
Belmont is a wealthy town and most of our neighbors are much older. There are a couple of kids in the neighborhood that we have seen being strolled around, but for the most part when we go to our neighborhood park, Zayn and I are the only ones there. People are not as friendly in the Bay Area as we expected them to be! No one really talks to each other at our playground if there are any kids there.
We live close to a cross country running trail called Crystal Springs where we love to go on runs and walks and love that we can get on other smaller hiking trails just a couple of blocks from our house. We also have a huge back yard that is about half an acre big where Zayn and Pita our dog can run around.
We keep trying to look for homes this big (at least 4 bedrooms) at a decent price closer to “civilization” but keep striking out, so for now we are staying put in the suburbs.
We rent our home. It was on the market for a while for $2.5 million and we could never afford that. We found it on Craigslist and Rachel and Ajlan went to see it together and wanted to rent it on the spot. Joe was on a trip and Zayn and I were still across the country in D.C. We didn’t realize until we tried finding other homes how lucky we had been to find this place!
Ajlan and I had been wanting a change from the East Coast for a while. We really wanted our son to be able to spend time outdoors, and we wanted him to grow up in an environment where diversity was embraced. He is half Latino and half Arabic, and living in D.C. we were just constantly surrounded by horrible anti-immigrant rhetoric, ever since Trump became president.
We did not want him to grow up in that environment and wanted to be in a more liberal area. When we found out he had matched at Stanford we were so excited! We knew the area was expensive but figured the benefits outweighed the costs.
Stanford has subsidized housing for residents and fellows and we figured that’s what we would do. We would get a small two bedroom near the hospital and that would be that. We put out names on the list and we waited. And waited.
Eventually they ran out of apartments and we still didn’t have a place to live so we started searching on Craigslist. I was in D.C., still finishing out my public health training and Ajlan had already moved out to California to start residency.
It was a crazy stressful time as our lease in D.C. was ending, I had to move a toddler, a dog, and all our stuff across the country, and we had no place to live. Ajlan kept looking at two bedrooms and everything we could afford was just really dingy.
That’s when we started talking to Rachel and Joe about living together. They had just found out they were expecting their first baby and we had joked about living on a commune and raising our kids together for years.
We talked about it and thought: let’s look at the options and if we find a cool place this might be worth doing. Rachel started stalking Craigslist and she and Ajlan went to look at a couple of houses. When they found our current house they called me super excited. “Maria, this house is amazing. It has an incredible view, a ton of space and a huge yard. It’s priced at $6,100 a month which is kind of a steal in this area. We have to live here.”
I was a bit skeptical at first. I had not had a roommate since sophomore year of college, and our then 1 year old was a terrible sleeper (to the point where neighbors had complained about his crying at night to our landlord in our DC apartment building). I was worried about his behavior and having him wake everyone in the house. Rachel and Joe reassured us they were the deepest sleepers ever and we would get sound machines and we had to do this.
So we signed a lease. Two days later I get a call from Rachel in a panic that she does not want to move anymore. She is pregnant and freaked out about a big move and about living with a toddler. We talk to the landlord and try to get out of the lease and she shows no sympathy and tells us we would lose our deposit and first month’s rent ($12,200 total). Joe talks Rachel down and we all move in together — with trepidation — about three weeks later.
The actual move was shockingly pretty seamless. Even before deciding to move in together Ajlan and I had decided we would not move most of our stuff across the country. It was expensive to do that so we just picked our most unique vintage pieces and our nice bed, some baby stuff and not any part of our living room. Rachel and Joe had some living room and dining room furniture.
We mainly just looked at the space and bought some stuff when we got here. Rachel and I took charge of the décor of the house and we have similar styles so it all just worked. We both love vintage and bohemian mixed in with mid-century modern.
Combining our kitchen stuff was hilarious. We all love to cook and we had the most ridiculous selection of appliances and kitchen gear. We joke that we will now have to live together forever because splitting our stuff back up will be so hard.
Figuring out the finances has been crucial and I think one of the biggest pieces for our communal arrangement to work. The key is that all four of us are generous people and love to share all of our stuff. We also never nickle and dime each other and if anything are over-gifters.
We opened up a communal bank account that we use to buy our groceries and pay our housecleaners any other combined expenses. We split everything in the house 50/50 — rent, groceries, cleaning, even pet care. If we want specialized things, we buy them ourselves, but we all are happy to share it.
The only thing we pay for separately is childcare because Rachel and Joe’s kid is 3 months old and has a nanny, Zayn is spirited and two and needs more stimulation and is in daycare.
We all talk about communal living as the best decision we have ever made. You know how when you are a teenager you joke with your friends that you will all live close by and raise your families together and go on vacations.. but then no one does? We are actually doing that and it’s amazing. All four of us are physicians and work crazy hours and it is so nice to have people around.
The most challenging part is navigating the dynamics of two relationships and parenting styles. Even though we are all very similar it’s easy to compare yourself to others and how they are doing certain things. We try to talk about this a lot. Ajlan and I are also not the most forthcoming when things are upsetting to us and we are learning to be more direct. Figuring out chores was a challenge at first, but we are in a good routine now.
On February 7th, I wrote a post titled America’s Mood: Eat the Rich. I really appreciated the conversation and comments on that post. It’s only been a four months, but it seems like this “mood” is only intensifying. I realize my social feeds may just be showing me this stuff because the AI can tell I’m interested, but here’s some of what I’ve seen lately:
-On Saturday night, Elizabeth Warren held a Town Hall meeting here in Oakland (pictured above). They first had it scheduled in a small auditorium, but there was so much interest they moved it to a baseball field at Laney College (one of our local community colleges — Ralph takes classes there). It was a free event. We arrived about 30 mins before the event was supposed to start and the line was over a mile long! There were over 6500 people! The Warren team wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to get on the field, so the event started late — but it was worth the wait.
She covered a variety of topics, giving overviews of her many (thorough!) plans, and she also talked about how she would fund the initiatives: a two-cent tax on the ultra wealthy. Here’s how she explained it would work: For every dollar over $50 million, so starting with the fifty million and first dollar ($50,000,001), the tax would be 2 cents, and 2 cents for every dollar over that. She said it would be like a homeowner’s property tax, but “include the diamonds, the stock portfolios, the Rembrandts, and the yachts.”
Her justification for the tax is that every company who has made it big, did so because of programs funded by all of us — like public schools, and our bridges and roads. She said, “You make it big? Good for you! That’s great. Fabulous that you made it big. But pitch in two cents so everybody else gets a chance to make it in this country.”
This two cent tax on the ultra wealthy would provide enough funds to pay for universal childcare, universal pre-k, free college, student loan forgiveness, and a whole bunch of other good stuff.
As you can imagine, the crowd in attendance thought this sounded really good, and very fair.
-After that article came out, she wrote a Twitter thread on the subject and it’s really good. She goes into bonuses, what a living wage means, and why offering educational opportunities for employees isn’t as good as it sounds. Definitely worth a read.
-Abigail Disney is not alone in her thinking. Forbes agrees with herthat when CEOs earn so much more than their employees that it can have a corrosive effect.
-Related fun fact I read in this New Times article: A half-century ago, a top automobile executive named George Romney — yes, Mitt’s father — turned down several big annual bonuses. He did so, he told his company’s board, because he believed that no executive should make more than $225,000 a year (which translates into almost $2 million today).
-Tariffs have cost the average household about $419 per year. Not great when you consider this study saying much of American’s middle class can’t handle a $400 surprise expense.
-Maybe only tangentially related, but I can feel the frustration from people who suspect that the way their taxes are being allocated is corrupt, when I read articles like this: The architect of GOP gerrymandering also engineered the strategy for a citizenship question the current administration is trying to put on the census, in order to rig it and manipulate where spending goes.
Your turn. What do you think of the Romney quote about limiting a CEOs income? What are your thoughts when I suggest that the current American mood is “eat the rich”? Do you feel like you’ve witnessed a similar sentiment?
Do you think the idea of a two-cent-per-dollar tax on income over $50 million is unfair? Or do you feel the ultra wealthy are currently under-taxed compared to the rest of the population, so that a two-cent tax would just mean that the ultra wealthy are simply paying their fair share?
Hello, Friends. How are you? Did you have a good week? Yesterday was our last day of school, which means today is officially Summer Vacation!
It was a happy week of end-of-year celebrations. Oscar was one of four 8th grade valedictorians (the only boy!), and on Tuesday, he gave an excellent speech at the 8th grade advancement ceremony. It was packed 1000-seat auditorium, but he wasn’t nervous at all, and totally nailed his speech. This morning, it was fun to let the kids sleep in.
This is also the last weekend of the Temple Open House and I spent this morning as a volunteer tour guide. My mom and stepdad are in town to attend the open house, and we have plans to take everyone on the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco this afternoon. The weather is gorgeous, so it’s a perfect day for a ferry ride.
How about you? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to? I’ve got some really great links for you, if you’re in the mood. Here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share: