Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas gifts & advent activities

As Christmas quickly approaches, a few gift questions always linger for a self-second-guesser and practical gift-giver like me. Do I need to go out and buy a few stocking stuffers for me and Erik or can I just go through the junk drawer and throw in various items we already own? Do I really want to give Eleanor the vintage Playmobil house that I’ve been saving for her (it’s the exact same one I adored as I child!) or will the precious little pieces drive us all crazy? Will Luke do fine with the 8-12 age range of Lego sets or should I stick to 6-12? How is it that Erik would prefer another waterlogged camera just for the fun of attempting a repair, when his shoes are falling apart and I happen to be an expert on men’s sunhat options? Maybe I should just get him Legos too – I better check those age ranges again…

But last night’s advent activity put all my gift ‘quandaries’ in perspective. We talked to the kids about several different donation gifts available on World Vision’s website, watched the short video on each one, and let them choose an item to send to those in need. The world’s injustices were unbearable in a fresh way as I explained to the kids the harsh contrast between their privileged lives and other perfectly innocent children’s situations. I wasn’t sure how much our stoic Eleanor was understanding, but at the end when I asked her what she would like to give she firmly replied – the clothes. I asked her why she chose that gift and she looked in my eyes and said earnestly, “So they be warm!” Luke was more touched by the plight of the sick and chose the medicines but told us that he wanted to get them all. Then Erik and I each chose our gifts, and our evening prayers with the kids for those in need were sent up with fresh urgency that night.

The World Vision gifts are part of the mix of traditions that we’re practicing with the kids this advent. Each day we do a special activity, which I’ve tried to make both fun and others-focused. So far our activities have included: having friends over to make snow globes (which wasn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds when Ella dropped hers and we were sterilizing tweezers to pull out a glass shard from her toe, but she’s fine now), attending the choir concert at church, and crafting lots of other less injury-prone cards and gifts. This weekend is our most anticipated activity – we’re taking the kids shopping to choose gifts for each other. I’ll sit with Eleanor for a Starbucks date while Erik takes Luke to find a present for Ella and then we’ll trade places. I wonder if Erik’s planning to ask Luke what to get me then too. I’ll have to drop some hints for them both. (:

We’ve also been focusing on a different piece of the Christmas story in the book of Luke each night and reading our Christmas themed storybooks. I’ll have to do a separate post with our favorite children’s Christmas books since there are so many sweet ones and I’d love to remember them. For our number-loving Luke, we’ve been counting down the days on our advent sticker calendar, and this year we added a new tradition that I never thought I’d embrace – the elf on the shelf. But our variation on the elf storyline and how the kids have responded could be its own post too so I’ll wrap this little 2013 time capsule up here. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A cheery table for Thanksgiving

Sunday our afternoon schedule was cleared by an early snowstorm that dusted everything outside and hung thick clouds over the mountains. We played with the kids in the snow, Erik lit a fire in the wood stove, and I puttered away at our Thanksgiving table settings. 

I used our wedding china and turkey place card holders with a little ribbon embellishment for pizzazz,

In the middle is a thankful tree that Eleanor made in preschool. On it our girlie is quoted as being thankful for baby dolls, Mommy, Daddy, Luke and Russell (our pet lizard). Smile

There’s my grandmother’s candlesticks and petite stemware, alongside some Target clearance faux acorn branches.

All atop some punchy autumn table linens and we’re ready for dinner! Oh, wait – there’s also the food shopping and cooking to attend to… off to pick up a turkey for me!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Five variations on an autumn mantle theme

Our house was built around a big double fireplace – doubling the fun for seasonal mantle-scapes! But the massive dark stones make it a little bit tricky to style – items that are too dark and/or small are easily lost. And I have trouble achieving the right balance between working with the dominant rustic casual feel of the stone and nudging it toward the prettier, more elegant style I prefer.

But who doesn’t love a challenge? Here are five autumn mantle scenes from the past couple months, and there have probably been a half-dozen more mantle iterations this season. I’m always adding, taking away, and rearranging. Sometimes I just happen to have the camera out to snap a few pics!

First a few Halloween-ish styles from October. I made the bunting with fabric scraps and the candelabras are from a cute resale shop in old town. The little owl on the right and the watercolor painting are both Luke and Mommy collaborations.

On the other side: sunflowers, a white pumpkin, and happy lanterns (an after-Halloween Target find a few years back).

Then there was a brief stage with homemade pumpkin garland and the kids’ autumn leaf wreath crafts. It was only captured as the background to my handy hubby…

Currently, we’re channeling turkey day, with two feathered fowls and autumn faux branches in the back.

And a festive handprint invite to Luke’s preschool Stone Soup feast plus a little wreath for the front room.

Most of our mantle items come from Target’s clearance endcaps – such an easy spot to check for seasonal markdowns. Any other mantle meddlers out there? I so enjoy easy little changes like these to make the house feel fresh and holiday-ready!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kitchen progress à la carte

For some time we’ve been deliberating over a kitchen remodel. We’ve pondered the possibilities from every angle, producing pages of potential layouts, special features, pros v. cons, and debating each option backward and forward. We were hoping to arrive at a grand plan and then launch into it, but in the end we’re still not ready to commit the funds and time to anything too drastic. So we’ve put the ‘Stage 2’ remodel off for the time being, and (mostly) finished up ‘Stage 1’. For Stage 1 we’ve limited ourselves to the straightforward changes that we knew we wanted, provided they weren’t too costly and/or intertwined with the Stage 2 decisions.

This was the view toward the kitchen when we first saw the house.

Right away we started thinking about removing the full height section of wall that blocked the space off from the family room. That meant moving or replacing the double ovens behind the wall. The pinty pendants weren’t my style either and the big-screen microwave showpiece needed to go too.

We decided to sell the double ovens, range, and microwave on Craig’s List, and use those funds to buy appliances that better suited our style. I was initially quite pleased with myself for covering our new-to-us range and vent hood purchase costs with the Craig’s List sales, but once you add in the 8-hour round-trip drive to El Paso for the range, running gas pipe from the meter (the previous appliances were electric), and installing hood ducting through the roof, this switch-out was far from free. BUT the gas range is so much more responsive for cooking, the ducting keeps the kitchen tremendously cooler in the summer, and you can judge the aesthetics for yourself! I love the heavy duty grates on the Viking range and am so happy that I sought out a hood with more personality than the all-stainless models.

Instead of looking into the kitchen from the family room and seeing a huge microwave, there is this lovely view.

The range swap has allowed us to remove the chunky double-oven wall, producing a much more open flow between the spaces.

There are a few lingering tasks to complete, such as rogue wires, duct-taped drywall, and a patch of exposed slab where the ovens used to be. But let’s not think about that. Instead direct your attention to the new cabinet hardware (Home Depot super-clearance), the light fixtures (a terrific value at Lowe’s), and our bit of open shelving (a Pottery Barn shelf I’ve had for years). We took out a section of cabinets to allow for better sightlines to the kitchen window and more roominess when working at the counter.

Painting the walls, adding art, and replacing the flimsy faucet didn’t hurt either. Here’s another before…

And the happier after!

There’s still work to be done, but we feel so thankful to be spending Thanksgiving in a kitchen that suits our taste and lifestyle so much better. Down the road, we’d like to take out the soffit, replace the window with a larger unit, extend the cabinets to the ceiling, take out the peninsula and build an island, cabinet in the fridge, paint the cabinets (white I think?), replace the backsplash, and take up the wall-to-wall carpet and tile so we can re-floor the space with a single material, probably engineered wood.

But since each one of those tasks is slightly daunting on its own, a humongous run-on sentence of them begins to alarm me. Erik is loathe to hire out anything so they spell a long season of dust and caution tape. For now we’ll finish up a few Stage 1 loose ends (or wires), waiting for the right time to launch Stage 2 and stocking up on respirator filters!

Let me know if you have any kitchen Qs!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fiesta 2013

For nine days balloon fiesta magic overtakes city and suburbs alike in Albuquerque.

You might expect a lone balloon here or there in rolling countryside or open fields, but you can’t deny the fairytale whimsy when masses of them fill the sky and float down amidst morning commuter traffic and tightly spaced houses. We were guessing at balloon shapes on neighborhood walks and driving to soccer as balloons landed on either side of the highway. But even more than the fairyland balloons mixed with downtown offices and rugged mountain skylines, this year was extra-special because Auntie C came to visit! She’s a pro at keeping the natives in line,

Finding the coolest balloons to point out,

And sweet sister chats on the field.

This was our second Fiesta visit, and we’re still fine-tuning our spectating strategy. We stuck with our stroller plan, which seems the only safe way to keep kids close in a crowd of thousands on a huge dark field. And we found that by getting out earlier (leaving the house around 4:30-4:45 I think) we beat the traffic backups and then sipped coffee in the parking lot and strolled out to see the dawn patrol as it ascended in the dark.

Next year we hope to catch a special shapes glow-deo and/or ascension because many of the beloved shaped balloons like Snow White, Darth Vader, and the scuba diver were missing when we went. Still, there was no shortage of splendor as swirls of color floated up into the rising sun’s soft rays.

This year, with one-year-older kids, we were able to stay for the fireworks after the glow and the balloon landings after the ascension. Did you know that anyone can just run over to a landing balloon and grab the basket handles to help it come down? We weren’t so bold as to attempt assisting, but the bumping landings made for quite a show.

My new favorite balloon was this one - nothing flashy but Colleen and I liked the happy but peaceful scene and the crisp colors.

Eleanor and I were still partial to the girly pink and red hearts one as well, and the bumblebees with their hand-in-hand ascension.

Now the countdown has begun to next year’s fiesta. Perhaps for 2014 we’ll expand our experience by scoping out some vantage points along the river trails or chasing landing balloons with the car. I still feel no need to ride in the fragile crafts, but what fun it is to watch them soar!

* For more pics click here, and to read about last year’s Fiesta click here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

September snapshots

Before November swoops in and this really gets belated, let’s look back at some favorite pics from September.

Final swims of the season… here Erik is making a wave pool and Luke is swimming with a kickboard.

Croc-tober at the zoo (which started in September). Did you know that huge crocodiles can go a year or more between meals? Here the kids are checking out a cute baby alligator, another crocodilian.

And we always like to catch our zoo’s premier daily show – polar bear feeding with epic leaps to snatch up fish thrown in by the keeper.

We went to the state fair with Luke’s preschool class and enjoyed pig races,

Fought fires,

And survived a frightening encounter with the park ranger mascot… elk??

We went back to McCall’s pumpkin patch for the third year and once again the giant slides were a hit,

And pumpkin field photos will never be optional.

It’s so much fun to capture the eager explorations of the L & E team. Best friends and playmates all day long they’re always having fun (or into trouble!) together. Last month I took Eleanor out for a mommy-daughter shopping date and she kept telling me that she needed to buy something for ‘her Luke-a-boy’. Luke makes Eleanor a card almost every day that he’s at preschool and presents it to her beaming when we pick him up. Stay sweet and take care of each other, my loves!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Living room progress: soft & serene

Half of our backroom is in a mild state of construction. Specifically the kitchen.

Erik took a small wall down, moved the stove, and a few other changes. We love the way it’s opened the space up, but… we’re not quite sure what to do next. So we’re living with it as is for a few months and weighing the possibilities. Who knows, if Erik is furloughed it could be sooner rather than later that we have some more demo action in the kitchen. We shall see!

But in the meantime, the other half of the room has come together. When we moved here, the coffee table was the only furniture that we brought with us for this space. For six months we lived with it as an empty play zone, and then I bought the couch on a Black Friday sale at Home Decorators collection. The yellow leather chair is a flea market find (from the 50s!), the other chair is a Pottery Barn floor sample. The dresser in the back is a Craig’s List piece we cleaned up and the dhurrie rug might be my greatest shopping score yet. I bought it new just this week for $25 including tax!

The room is currently referencing a touch of autumn, Albuquerque’s loveliest season. Four little pumpkins field-picked by the kids on a preschool field trip (above), a few lanterns on the mantle,

and our autumn doll friends up on a bookcase.

The glimpses of nature in the butterflies and landscape photos on the wall reflect the indoor/outdoor feel of the picture windows.

We’d love to change out the wall-to-wall carpeting for hard flooring since our kitchen table’s in the room too, but who knows when we’ll get to that phase. For now it’s a cozy sunny spot where Erik is currently reading books with the kids before diving into this morning’s home projects… a hood vent for the kitchen and a mini-split for the playroom/guestroom. Just in time for Auntie C’s arrival this afternoon we hope!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Porch spruce-up

This year I cashed in a few holidays for front porch progress. For Mother’s Day, Erik bought me three lovely red hanging planters from Lowe’s. Thanks to his toil and talent each one is auto-watered, dramatically extending the survival rates for these pretty petunias.

For our anniversary, I requested a porch makeover and we made a weekend project of it. We cleaned up the porch and moved in a bench and side table from other parts of the yard. Then I purchased/sewed a few pillows and added a clearance pot and birdbath stand.

We also added a few things to the walls to cozy it up. The rustic tree art lived on our mantle inside for about a year until I decided to replace it with a zestier watercolor. Now the tree livens up our porch – a fitting motif for a house we affectionately call ‘Wild Oak’.

By the door we put up a vintage chalkboard from my favorite ‘upscale flea market’ (is that store title an oxymoron?). It’s a perfect spot for spontaneous sketches and greetings to guests. Here my poetry is joined by Erik’s tracking of our gas meter. A multifunctional piece!

We also wired in some low-voltage pathway lights along the front path and added plants with my parents.

Usually there’s plenty of kid detritus to counteract the tidiness, but I like to think of it as adding to the laidback hacienda feel. Come on over to watch the sun set and cruise a bit in the cozy coupe!

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