We've all had that dream of dropping everything and traveling to Paris solo (we'll be honest, even the coffee shop solo seems like a dream some days). "Me" time is so important for self-discovery and sanity, yet we are often too afraid to book the trip or take the day off to be with yourself. This week's Noble Babe, Jenn Elliott Blake, is an example of the power a solo trip could have on your life. Jenn went from working as a nurse, a job she wasn't in love with, to becoming a talented prop stylist and mama to the most beautiful toddler (Augustus, 21-month). Get ready to fall head over heels for this beautiful and strong mother.
1. What does healthy living mean to you? How did your view of healthy living change, if at all, after becoming a mother?
I definitely feel like my definition of healthy living has changed since I became a mother. Before, my focus on healthy living was very sporadic, and if I was trying to be “healthy” I was merely focused on the benefits of eating well (organic, local, portion control) and exercise, but once I became a mom healthy living became so much more about an overarching lifestyle choice and mentality for not only myself but for my family. Day to day now I feel like I focus on ways of keeping myself and Auggie active throughout the day. We go on long walks (we rarely drive to the supermarket but always walk, loading our purchases into the bottom of his stroller) and we spend the majority of our days outside if we can. We visit our local neighborhood farmer’s markets every weekend to get organic produce, and we work really hard to feed Auggie a balanced diet (he definitely eats much better than myself or my husband!). I find myself trying so much more to engage in healthy behaviors now because I want to be a good example for Augs. I also feel like I try a lot harder now to engage in self-care for myself. I’ve learned that to be a great mom, I need to also carve out time for myself. This often includes travel, or a brunch or lunch date with my girlfriends, or even just a couple hours alone. I believe that healthy living as a mother is holistic – mind, body, and soul all need to be nurtured, and often! Time is always the greatest struggle though. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to fit it all in. It’s about prioritizing one or two things daily and letting the rest go. I quickly learned as a mom that having too many expectations for myself or for how the day will go, ultimately doesn’t lend to “healthy” living, just stress and frustration.
2. Let’s chat about your love affair for traveling. You have been some incredible places and seem to prefer to do so alone. What has been your favorite solo trip so far and why do you feel it is important to explore by yourself?
Oh my gosh travel, yes, in the simplest terms: travel FEEDS my soul and lends some much appreciated creative inspiration. I love exploring new places and relish in the familiarity of re-visiting my favorite cities. I love everything from the packing, the plane ride, the thrill of figuring out where I’m going, hearing foreign languages, eating at beautiful/unique restaurants, wandering through charming neighborhoods, and especially meeting new people whom I’ve been “friends” with through social networks like Instagram. I absolutely love nothing more than exploring a new city solo. I feel like it challenges you in ways you would never expect and also allows you the freedom to process the thoughts in your own head – to work through wherever you are in life at that moment. I enjoy traveling with my husband and/or with friends, but nothing feels better for me than traveling alone. It’s like one of those pick your own adventure books – you wake up every day and choose your path with no influence from anyone else; time is yours alone. I never feel more clear headed or challenged mentally than I do when I’m traveling solo. My favorite solo trip thus far was a few months back to Amsterdam. I spent four straight days riding a bike all over the city, sleeping in and buying baby clothes and toys for Auggie at cute little shops. The architecture in that city and the Dutch lifestyle have always greatly inspired me.
3. How did you manage a solo trip without Auggie? Did you wait until he was a certain age? How did you prepare for the trip and how long were you away?
One of my biggest fears, when I became a mom, was that my traveling days were over. I worried it would be too hard to travel with a baby, or that my desire to take trips alone would be overpowered by my desire to be at home with my family. And honestly, it has. On weekends when I would usually try to jet set to another city, I find myself wanting to just simply be home with my family. Last weekend I was supposed to leave town, but I decided instead to stay home and have a nice calm weekend with my boys. But when I do push myself to go away and travel, I still love it and re-visit the parts of myself that feel so alive when traveling. But I am equally happy to come home to Auggie. Our first six months after Auggie was born were the most challenging of my life (he was a miserable newborn due to an undiagnosed allergy) and it was the longest I’ve gone in years without traveling. I spent many a day, wishing I could just simply escape, wishing I could have anything else to focus on than this new motherhood thing because we were both struggling so much. It wasn’t until he was 9 months that I took my first solo trip away to Austin for a styling job. After that I did two more trips to Europe soon after and finally began to feel like my old self again which was very healing. Lucky for me, when I travel my husband who works from home splits his time with our cherished sitter who is AMAZING with Auggie. Without Adam and Suzanna, I don’t know if I would feel as confident to leave Augs for long periods of time. I always cry and don’t want to go as I’m walking out the door but by the time I land wherever I’m headed I remember why it’s important for me to get the alone time and always try to make the very best of it. I know (and Adam reminds me often) that I’m a better wife, mom, business owner, friend etc. when I take the time to feed my travel bug and do the things that are important to me. The longest I’ve gone away thus far from Auggie was for 8 days to Spain earlier this year to film a documentary film series, and that felt really long. I couldn’t wait to get home to smooch on Augs by the end of that trip.
4. Have you traveled internationally or cross country with Auggie? Any advice?
I’ve been a little terrified to travel super far with Auggie. We spent the first year of his life trying desperately to get him into a sleep routine that the idea of derailing his sleep for transatlantic travel never felt worth it. The farthest we’ve traveled with him thus far is to Kauai for a work trip and then to Michigan last summer to spend a week with friends. Both involved crossing multiple time zones and very long flights. My best piece of advice for traveling with a baby or young children is to lower your expectations. Expect the worst, and then when things go okay or even well, you will be thrilled with the experience. Also, a friend gave me the advice that you should plan to have at least one activity for every 15 minutes of air travel which has seemed to work well. Also, snacks. ALWAYS lots of snacks.
5. Aside from being an amazing mama and wife, you are also a very talented prop stylist. Did you always know you wanted to be a stylist? Can you tell us more about your job and how you got your start and how you continue to book amazing gigs?
When I was a kid, I spent hours and hours layering the backs of my bedroom and closet doors in magazine clippings (my first Pinterest boards!) in awe of all of the beautiful images and daydreaming about working at a magazine someday. I never had any idea how to make that actually happen, and despite my parents’ best intentions it was very much instilled in me to get a “stable” career for myself – art or creative pursuits were never really encouraged. As a result, I ended up majoring in psychology and then went on to obtain my nursing degree. I was an RN for 4.5 years all the while wishing so badly to pursue something creative and never really feeling like myself. When the recession hit and I was laid off from my public health nursing job, I took 4 months to travel abroad solo and through my travels became inspired to start my own business in event design and styling. A few years of being in the wedding industry and I quickly realized my passion truly lied in styling and working with a team to create beautiful imagery. While in nursing school I worked a retail job and gained experience in visual merchandising so when I launched myself into styling, it felt like a familiar fit. I ended up getting a couple of opportunities for commercial jobs and a few amazing people took a leap of faith on me and I did my first cookbook styling work. After that, I’ve worked really hard to maintain relationships and meet new people in the industry and the work continues to come and I’m so grateful. I love being a prop stylist and hope I’m able to continue this work for a long while to come. I’m always eager to take on new work opportunities and am looking forward to seeing where this career in styling takes me.
6. How would you describe your design aesthetic? Where do you like to shop for props?
I’ve always been very much drawn towards color and an eclectic mix of styles. I love that perfect mix of vintage touches with modern elements and right now I’m very much into anything with great texture and dusty, earthy tones. I gather a lot of my props while I travel (Merci in Paris is my ultimate jam), but there a few stores here in Seattle that always have great items like Lucca in Ballard, or Totokaelo’s home collection on Capitol Hill.
7. Has it been difficult for you to juggle your career with the new babe? Any advice or tips for a mom-to-be on how to prepare for the juggle?
Yes, I’ve definitely struggled with keeping up with the intensity of my career since becoming a mother. I had this vision during pregnancy that I would only take 6 weeks off and then return to set wearing Auggie while I worked. I actually had jobs anticipated/scheduled two months after his birth that I ultimately had to back out of. Reality hit hard pretty fast and it took me over 8 months to take my first styling job after having him. Nowadays I’ve seemed to find a balance working freelance, where I take on 2-5 day jobs (which usually include a few days of prep and are very time intensive when they are happening – set days are usually 14+ hour days), but I am then able to take a few weeks off in between jobs to focus on being at home with Auggie. It’s nice to be able to pick and choose how often and when the jobs occur around each other. Days when I’m working I find myself missing him and wishing I was at home with him, and days when I’m at home and a full hands on mom I miss my work. I feel like freelance styling allows me the ability to still do something I love, but also get quality time with my baby – it allows me to balance the different facets of who I am. I also have come to accept that I won’t be able to do both well everyday – I can’t be a great mom and a great stylist on the same day. I’ve very much accepted that on the days I’m working if I’m able to simply get home in time to put Auggie to bed or give him a few cuddles and tell him I love him before I leave for my work day I’ve done the best I can for that day. Then on the days, I’m home with him, I really try hard to be present and actively attentive to him and appreciate the 1:1 time with him.
8. You talk openly about your struggles with anxiety & post-partum depression. Do you have any tips or tricks that helped you to get through your peak of post-partum depression? What helps you with your anxiety on a daily basis? As someone who also struggles with anxiety, I would love to hear any and all advice you might have on the topic.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a person who has struggled with anxiety in my life, so I wasn’t surprised when I was filled with anxious thoughts during pregnancy and after becoming a new mom. I wasn’t quite prepared for the postpartum depression that took hold as well, much of which I believe was a direct result of our struggles in making Auggie comfortable. We were told over and over again that Auggie was just a “colicky” baby, but being a nurse my intuition told me over and over again that something else was going on with him. He would cry endlessly for hours and hours and it was impossible for him or for me to sleep in those first few months. We struggled with breastfeeding and he drastically lost weight at 3.5 months old which is when the doctors finally started listening to us and he was diagnosed with a severe cow’s milk protein allergy. Before that, there were weeks on end in those early months where I would only get 2-3 hours of sleep a night and I barely recognized myself two months after his birth. Adam would help as much as he couldoften timesswitching on and off with me to take Auggie on hour long walks in the pouring rain as the bumpiness of the stroller seemed to be the only way to settle his stomach. But Adam was also trying to maintain his full-time work too…we were drowning on most days. I also broke my tailbone during childbirth and the chronic pain that ensued made it impossible to enjoy motherhood even on the “good” days. I couldn’t sit for long periods of time which made breastfeeding all the more unbearable. I would go to mommy groups and cry in the corner right along with my baby, because I felt like I couldn’t do any of the “normal” things all the other moms were doing, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying motherhood like the other moms and that feeling made me feel SO guilty. The depression was unbearable at times and I remember moments when I would beg Adam to take me to the hospital for some relief. I sought out mental health services from so many providers all of whom told me that I was just severely sleep deprived which made struggling with PPD all the more frustrating because I felt like no one really heard how much I was struggling to keep it together. The sleep deprivation and PPD felt so overwhelming and it was only the constant unwavering support of Adam and our close friends that got me through those tough months. When Auggie was finally getting better (we stopped breastfeeding and fed him a fancy European hypoallergenic formula called Neocate) I started to finally feel some of my depression start to lift. The biggest relief came for me when I finally started engaging in those old activities again that made me feel like myself: traveling, brunches with friends, SLEEP, and healthy eating. But it was a long road. My biggest piece of advice would be to seek medical help. The lactation nurse we worked with in those early months was one of my biggest advocates when not many others seemed to be listening to how tough things were for us. Also friends. As much as I hated admitting that we were struggling the friends who constantly checked in on us, brought us meals and offered to hold Auggie so I could try to nap or simply shower was priceless. When they say it takes a village, they aren’t joking.
9. Do you work from home when you are not on set? What is a typical day for you and Auggie? If that does exist?
Yes, for most of my styling jobs I will have at least a few days of prep before I’m on set. This usually includes prop sourcing either online or around town and flower or greenery runs and then arranging and loading the car. On those days I usually hire a sitter or balance my work hours with my husbands and we trade off in watching Auggie. On the days I’m not working, I start the day with Auggie usually around 8 am. Adam wakes up with him at 7 and they spend an hour together reading books or playing, and then I step in once breakfast starts at 8. Once breakfast is over, Auggie usually wants to spend another 30 minutes to an hour reading books (he’s obsessed with reading which I LOVE so much about him) and then we usually head out for the morning. We either go to the park, or walk somewhere to grab a pastry to share or go to story time at the library or to the beach. He takes a nap midday from about noon – 2 or 3 which is when I try to clean house or answer emails and get work done. In the afternoons we do more book reading and then either play in the backyard, at home or run errands. Adam usually stops working early around 4:30 pm so we can spend a couple hours together as a family or he takes Auggie to the park while I get a bit of work done. We both make dinner and put Auggie down for bed and then the both of us usually get a couple more hours’ worth of work done before heading to bed ourselves. I feel very lucky that Adam works from home because it means we get to spend more time than most together as a family and I’m able to keep my career going too and make last minute meetings or social events because Adam can usually take an hour or two to watch him or be home while Auggie is napping
10. You recently moved into a new home with a toddler (I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!) Any advice for preparing for a stress-free move? Anything you would have done differently or that worked out really well?
Auggie actually did so well with the move! He loved climbing in out of the moving boxes and transitioned to the new house pretty quickly. He was a bit freaked out when we initially packed up his room, but we made sure to talk to him daily about what was happening to minimize surprises. It was a bit challenging to find enough time to pack while also caring for a toddler, but I very intentionally gave myself a couple weeks to pack slowly instead of doing it all last minute like I had with so many of our moves in the past. We don’t have family locally here in Seattle, so during the weekend, we moved we hired our trusted sitter to watch Auggie, and made sure Auggie’s room was the first boxes we moved, and the first room we unpacked. We tried to keep his room as similar to how it was in our old place and he seemed to barely notice it was an entirely different place. We also worked really really hard to get the majority of the unpacking done during naptime and in those first few evenings so we weren’t distracted from him for weeks on end and the house was cleared of boxes and clutter as quickly as possible.
11. How do you like raising Augustus in Seattle? What are some of your favorite local spots?
I absolutely love raising Auggie in Seattle. We recently moved from Ballard to West Seattle and I don’t think I could be happier. I love how family focused our new neighborhood is and how accessible we are to great food and the beach. Everything feels in walking distance and I feel like we are able to get a good dose of the outdoors but the city is right at our fingertips too. We’ve made amazing friends in this city and many of them have small kids Auggie’s age which mean lots of built in playdates. Some of my favorite kid friendly spots are Alki Beach, Marination Mai Kai, Delancey for pizza, Frankie and Jo’s for plant based ice-cream and Oddfellows for a great lunch or cocktails.
12. Could you picture yourself living in any other city than Seattle? If so, where?
It’s funny you ask. Adam and I talk about this quite often. I always imagined myself moving to multiple cities before settling down, but the second we arrived in Seattle it stole my heart. We mark a decade in Seattle this month and I can’t imagine living anywhere else long-term at this point. We were both born and raised just outside of Denver, and as much as we enjoy going home to see family and the familiarity of our childhood home, neither of us have any desire to move back. We’ve grown such an amazing community of friends here, and feel so supported and loved by them. But we do talk about moving abroad at some point, even if it’s just for a year or two. We daydream of living in another country and definitely hope to make that happen someday. It’s very important to us both.
13. What are some of your favorite pieces from Noble Carriage right now and why?
I’m obsessed with all the pieces from Gray-Label (everything is SO soft!). When I was in Amsterdam a few months back I stopped into their flagship store and was obsessed with EVERYTHING. Oeuf also always has the most adorable hats and I love that Noble Carriage has some of their very best items. I’ve had Auggie in a hat daily since he was a newborn, and now he refuses to leave the house without one! That pink unicorn hat is my absolute favorite thing I’ve ever put him in!