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.