Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas, lite

Last Christmas, end-of-pregnancy nesting instincts compounded my excitement to have Christmas in our own home for the first time and I decorated our house like I was born in the North Pole. Here are some photos from my first phase of decorating, then I continued adding green garland and other embellishments even after December 25th had passed.

This year, without any nesting hormones or holiday hosting, my Christmas decorating drive has ebbed to an all-time low. As I’ve dreaded the packing that an early 2012 move might bring, we didn’t even take our Christmas boxes down from the attic, much less put up a tree. I tell myself that it will make seeing Nika and Papi’s grand tree all the more magical for Luke and Eleanor on Christmas Eve. And that less packing and disorganization in January would be better for everyone. Plus it’s nice not supervising two curious kiddos amidst the perils of a cord and ornament-laden tree!

Lest you think I’m a complete Scrooge-mom, we did add a few seasonal touches to our home. First we made a darling Christmas canvas and hung it over the fireplace.

Luke layered green handprints in a tree shape, and then I painted a trunk at the bottom. I tried to let him put the potato star stamp on top, but that resulted in the smudge on the left. So after wiping that off as best I could, Mommy got to stamp the star on top of the tree. Smile 

Luke has also been busy crafting ornaments this month. I searched for a giftable craft that he could accomplish “by Luke self” as he says sometimes. These wreath ornaments made by stringing buttons on a wire seemed like just the ticket. I ordered some button lots on ebay, and Luke did a marvelous job carefully stringing each button in the order he wished on the wire. Then we bent the wire into a circle, twisted it off, and tied a bow on top. Here he is (still looking sickly from the eye/sinus infection that he has shared with our entire family) showing off some of his masterpieces. They look so happy hanging above our table!

Of course, I couldn’t pass up Christmas cards as an easy, personal source of Christmas d├ęcor. So I strung ours up above the windows, along with some green crepe paper that Luke found in a craft box.

Finally, I couldn’t resist one new Christmas purchase. I loved these glitzy trees in Target, and popped them up on our cabinet along with some candles and a plant.

Here’s a zoomed-out view that also shows a green Christmas canvas I printed and a clearance reindeer that Erik soldered back together for me.

Other Christmas staples that I don’t have pictured include our Christmas pillow covers (seen here), Erik working from home in his Santa hat, and our ‘Little People’ nativity playset. Well, it’s off  to elf-duty for me! Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cultivating an Artiste

I’d like to pass on an enthusiasm for childhood crafts to Luke and Eleanor so we can enjoy hours of magic-making together. Art has long been a staple in our activity rotation, but usually I just let Luke color an abstract masterpiece. Recently I realized that Eleanor’s ready for the coloring and it’s time for art projects to begin with Luke! So we’ve been working on adding toddler-friendly crafts to our days.

Of course, we started strong , since it’s always easiest at the outset of a resolution! We did an art/science project, outlined by my friend here. A toothpick becomes a magic swirler when pre-dipped in dish soap and stuck into food coloring drops floating on milk. I found that a shallow layer of milk in a big bowl or pan is the best way to maximize the playtime and minimize your need to run out and buy more milk.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that taking in-progress photos poses a serious risk to the cleanliness of everything in your child’s vicinity. So we’ll have to settle for after shots for the rest of these. You might notice that I’m partial to toddler stamping projects with parent embellishments. Here are a few from a few months back. We just did a Christmas variant on this theme which I’ll post soon, but I had to put up the autumn pics first!

Fingerprint pumpkins – just have your child make orange fingerprints (side-by-side for a big pumpkin, or separate for small ones). Then the parent or child can add smaller green prints on top for the stem.

Fingerprint spiders – purple prints plus marker-drawn legs and faces.

Potato-stamped autumn leaves – it was fun to use a potato from our big Costco sack of them to make leaf-shaped stamps. I drew the trunk with a marker and then Luke printed leaves on top.

I hope we can branch out into other art concepts soon. Luke likes scissors, but he has proven that even pairs which are too kid-safe to cut paper can still be used to clip hair. Maybe gluing will be our next phase?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas card outtakes

Weeks ago we did a Christmas photo shoot but the actual card has yet to be made. And the 25th and our holiday travel is fast approaching! I may just have to make it a New Year’s card (as is becoming my custom), so I’ll share a few of the blooper and runner-up pics while they’re still in season.

It was harder than you’d think to get a shot of them both sitting up.

Christmas miracles… sibling sharing:

Something about the expressions in this one makes me think that Luke’s taking Ella out on a date. “Of course I’ll have her home by 8, sir!”

And finally, a sweet one of my two huggable Christmas elves!

For more L & E Christmas magic, visit our gallery here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bye bye Luna, hello Hacienda?

After falling in love with Luna and dreaming up all sorts of terrific renovations for her, we’ve come to the point of walking away. Our short-sale offer never made it to the bank, instead the seller rejected it saying he would only consider list price or above, even though the house is now a short sale.

The list price was too high for us given Luna’s state of disrepair. In fact, we doubt that anyone would pay list price, particularly as the house continues to deteriorate due to its failing roof. So there’s a small chance that we’ll see Luna on the other side of foreclosure. If we’re still looking and the water damage doesn’t escalate too much we might still be a perfect match for that dreamy dilapidation.

While we’re sad to walk away from “Noona, giant house" as Luke calls her, and all the hospitality and family fun that she would amply accommodate, I must confess to feeling a twinge of relief. Erik and I so enjoy home projects – the design collaborations, the planning and executing, and the feeling that our home is really ours because we’ve made a creative imprint on it. But of course, Luke and Eleanor are our most important home endeavor, and I was a little worried about Luna taking too much time away from them.

Back at the drawing board, we browsed real estate listings some more. We’re still open to fixer-uppers, but we’d prefer they be a little less extensive than Luna. We’ve looked all over Albuquerque, but no yard enchanted us quite so much as this one.

We call her the barn house, the homestead, the hacienda. Today we put in an offer and are waiting to hear back from the bank once again. Maybe it’s the country life for us after all!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pilgrims ahoy!

Two wee pilgrims came ashore for our Thanksgiving celebration this year. How prim and proper they look!

Until they heard that food supplies are dwindling aboard the Mayflower... don't worry though, we have plenty of leftovers here!

The littlest one is getting awfully close to walking. She constantly stands up from the floor and sits herself down with great control. Much more than Luke had when he started walking just younger than her age. But Ellabelle still prefers the security of crawling, especially with a wild pilgrim boy child on the loose!

We photographed Luke the pilgrim just after his nap. Pre-nap, his hat had starred in skype conversations with both sets of grandparents. But the costume may have caused a little holiday confusion since he wished them "Happy Halloween" just as often as "Happy Thanksgiving"!

Here are a few links if you’re wanting a quaint bonnet or hat yourself. They're so easy that I made a bunch to bring to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner we shared with new and old friends here in Albuquerque. What a blessing of hospitality to be warmly welcomed by the family of friends. And they had two 20-lb. turkeys and a kid-friendly home too! You could tell that they had some background in campus ministry. (:

Can you believe how adorable these little pilgrims were after the dinner? What angel faces!

There's just a three-month age span between the three of them. They love to watch each other and interact a little now. I'm hoping they grow to be sweet friends!

We are so thankful for our little pilgrim pair and for the Lord’s amazing grace in our lives. I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

{More photos here.}

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Touring Tahoe

Our first day in Tahoe, we drove the 72-mile loop around the lake, stopping at scenic pull-offs and encouraging nap time in the car. Here’s Luke sighting the magnificent lake for the first time.

Further south, we admired the view across Emerald Bay and out to the main Tahoe waters. I was surprised to learn that if Tahoe were emptied, it would submerge the entire state of California in 15” of water! Another plaque said that that’s enough water to supply everyone in the US with more than 75 gallons per day for 5 years. And it’s so deep that it never freezes!

That afternoon, we were dazzled by the appropriately-named “Hidden Beach” on Tahoe’s Nevada shore. It felt like a combination of the crystal clear turquoise Caribbean and Maine’s rugged rocky coast. 

For our second day, we got out early. We’d scouted out a lakeside playground where Erik could take some early morning pics of the lake while Luke got his climbing fix. But the temperature had dropped – 30 degrees plus wind meant we didn’t play long!

Fortunately it warmed up by the time we reached the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. We enjoyed a little nature walk through the park’s various habitats.

In a happy coincidence, we found that our visit was perfectly timed to catch the Kokanee salmon spawning in the Taylor Creek bed. We were told that bears are often spotted feeding on the fish during the spawning season, but no bear sightings for us. Just lots of vibrantly colored fish!

Luke loved climbing on a gigantic fallen tree by the shore, and I loved snapping pics of our kiddos in their darling matching sweaters.

The third day we’d planned to drive back to Sacramento in the morning so we’d have time to catch some city sights. But we woke up to snow, and news that the one interstate back to the city had been closed due to treacherous conditions!

A few hours later it reopened, and we were treated to a parade of snow removing vehicles as we carefully made our way over the mountains.

Back in Sacramento, the skies were rainy so we headed to the Railroad Museum for the afternoon. We found the history fascinating, the rows of engines imposing, the mail sorting car impressive, and the glitzy coach cars alluring. Luke often reminds us though that he did not enjoy the train that simulated forward motion with sounds, lights, and rocking. “Luke like train no moving!” But the toy train exhibit enthralled both him and Eleanor. How precious to see them thoroughly enjoy a common activity.

We enjoyed cooking for ourselves in our well-equipped Tahoe condo, but in Sacramento we tried a fancy meal out as a foursome. Luke had his squirmy moments but we think that Ellabelle appreciates fine dining already.

Amidst a whirlwind ten-day trip that included six different lodging locations and eight plane flight legs, our three nights in Tahoe were a tranquil intermission. What a gorgeous, peaceful lake in the off-season. We’d love to return and tackle some hikes there when our kids are older!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tahoe interlude

In between our bi-coastal wedding weekends in early October, we spent a few days at Lake Tahoe. It was less expensive to stay in CA and then fly out to NY directly, so we used the funds to cover a couple days at an off-season ski lodge. So much more relaxing than flying back to ABQ for a few crazed days of laundry, repacking and catching another flight to NY!

While we were too early for the ski runs near our condo in Olympic Valley,

We were perfectly-timed for something just as exciting… repair season! Luke was enamored with the slew of construction vehicles that dotted the town so we made exploring the equipment an evening tradition.

We also came across this super-jump trampoline ride on its last night of operation for the warm weather season. Luke was a bit uncertain at first.

But quickly warmed up and soon was leaping into the air.

Olympic Valley boasted a playground fit for future Olympians. Perfect for the mountain climbing wolf boy!

And Ellabelle, super-swinger. Check out the whole playground photo-shoot here.

Back at the lodge, we sprinted through the chilly courtyard to take a few dips in the outdoor hot tub. Here are the kiddos suited up for a swim!

We loved the sleepy village of Olympic Valley and its off-season toddler fun and scenic vistas.

But of course we did manage to check out the main attraction, Lake Tahoe. I’ll try to write in again soon with a report on our lake time!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wedding week Part 2

Luke had warmed up his dance moves a little bit in the first half of our wedding double header, but he really let loose at Uncle Bryan and Aunt Chelsie’s reception. His giddy audience-activated hyper-drive was on full power, and he loved showing off his moves while everyone else ate dinner. Erik and I were celebrating too because our little boy had done an impeccable job delivering the rings during the wedding ceremony. And how cute he was in his ring-bearer suit! Unbelievably though, we took NO photos of him all suited up. So I’m borrowing these next two from Heather Nielsen, the only shots we have of Luke the irresistible ring bearer.


And we were so honored to have Erik serve as a groomsman for his brother. But since he’d been a groomsman for 3 out of the 5 weddings we’ve attended since having kids, it got me thinking… the next wedding we attend I need to work my way into the bridal party! That way Erik can try his hand at being solo kid-corraller at a wedding service. Here Heather and I try to get a photo with all three of the Nielsen great-grandchildren together.

Thankfully we were able to stay with Erik’s parents and grandparents in a cabin on the grounds of the retreat center where the wedding was held. They were all-star child entertainers!

And our trusty orange-mobile was all the transportation we needed for the weekend. Here’s Miss Elzabel in her typical feet-propped-up position.

Bryan and Chelsie tied the knot on the shores of Lake George, NY.  Not only is that a meaningful area for them, but it also happens to be significant in Erik’s and my relationship. I grew up in NC and Erik in NY, but we share a childhood tradition of camping each summer at the very same itty-bitty campground on Lake George. When I learned that about Erik, it set off my “he’s the one” radar for the second time. Now Bryan and Chelsie’s beautiful ceremony adds another layer to this lake’s romance for us!

The rustic stone chapel where they said their vows was the epitome of storybook charm.

The leaves were just starting to turn and the entire weekend was gorgeously mild and sunny. The weather and every detail joined us in celebrating the beautiful love that this couple has for one another. We are so thrilled that the Lord has brought them together – for the gift they are to each other and to everyone they know. I’m especially delighted to now have such a wonderful fellow sister/daughter in-law among the Petersburgh Nielsens, and look forward to spending time with Chelsie at family get-togethers to come! Many many blessings Bryan and Chelsie!

(A few more pics here.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wedding doubleheader

When it rains it pours! It had been over a year since we’d been able to attend a wedding, but earlier this month we enjoyed back-to-back wedding weekends. Both couples chose lovely locations, but they tested our travel mettle by marrying on opposite sides of the country!

First up was an elegant northern Californian affair for a dear college friend of ours and former roommate to Erik. Erik was honored to be part of the wedding party, and we both enjoyed catching up with lots of old friends. Here we are hanging out at the Sacramento Zoo with Andrew and John. Luke loved the attention from our kind toddler-savvy friends!

Then we drove up to Chico where the wedding was held at a beautiful old church downtown. Here’s the Ella-belle at her very first wedding.

And Luke looking dapper in his suit and tie.

The reception was held at a country club and Luke, Eleanor and I went outside for a few minutes to release some wiggles. I thought Luke was a very lucky boy because I let him pretend to drive a parked golf cart. But then the manager directed a teenage employee to take us for a spin! The thoughtful teen let Luke drive the cart completely on his own over the grass. Later that week we saw another golf cart and Luke insisted on driving it. But alas, his driving permit was a one-time-only deal.

DJ and his bride Ashley make a beautiful couple, radiant with love for one another and eager to build a God-honoring life together. We wish them all the best and hope it isn’t so long until we see everyone again!