Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kitchen progress, stage 2

Ever since we moved in, we’ve been working in spurts on remodeling our kitchen. I wrote back in November about the progress we’d made – opening up the partial wall between the kitchen/living area, moving the oven, adding a hood, taking out the bar, and replacing the hardware/fixtures. But it remained very much unfinished, with exposed slab, dangling wires, and open walls. So when we found out we were expecting another baby, finishing the kitchen was one of the first items on our pre-baby bucket list – for the little one’s safety and to avoid indefinite home project purgatory.

When we took stock of all the work to be done and the accompanying dust and chaos, we decided that our best action plan would be for Erik to tackle the messiest jobs while the kids and I took a trip to North Carolina. While I was gone, he took a kitchen that started like this when we moved in:

And moved it most of the way toward its current status!

What better welcome home present?!?

The room looks so much larger now with continuous wood flooring and bright white cabinets!

We switched from a U to an island configuration, and faced the stools toward the window to take in the mountain views.

It’s so convenient to empty the dishwasher and place things into the drawers just opposite it. Eventually we’ll add a little open shelving on the wall just above the dishwasher for our most frequently used glasses and plates.

There’s still a ways to go until the kitchen is checked off our pre-baby list: new counters, replacing the window, finishing the drywall and installing wall tile, moving the light fixtures, and adding cabinetry around the fridge and hood. Basically, it’s almost finished below the counter line, but with bright blue dry wall and temporary materials above that point. We’ve already hosted many a meal with the new layout though, and it’s so much fun to have guests seated and snacking on the stools while I finish cooking. I’ve also loved having the kids color or snack at the island while I work in the kitchen. And we brought the kitchen a little bit into the living space which really makes sense considering how much time we spend there. It’s so gratifying to see our kitchen plans come to life and now we’re enjoying deliberating over the materials to finish up the job!

{I’ll try to write again later this week with more details on the construction/demolition process and our choices so far. You can find more photos here.}

Friday, July 18, 2014


It was a little bit of deja-vu when we tagged along on Erik’s work trip to Denver in March. Two years ago the kids and I joined him on a conference trip to the (other) Mile High City (blogged about here and here). We visited some of the same kid attractions and a few new ones, and it was eye-opening to compare the ease of travel this time with the relative ordeal of our previous trip! We’ve surely gone from a baby and a little boy to two kids. Now Luke and Eleanor enjoy the same kinds of activities and feel so at home wherever we go with their best friend by their side. I’m so delighted to see how their friendship gives them a sense of security and sparks natural play at any kids’ activity, whether it be mobbed with kids or empty. The trip was also simplified by my a-little-less-is-more attitude. I wasn’t as insistent that we fit numerous attractions into each day and I brought a few toys and books and let the kids have some playtime in the hotel room to decompress from time to time.

This year we returned to the Museum of Nature and Science twice. It’s hard not to when admission is free with our membership at Explora in Albuquerque, and it takes a few visits to see everything that the enormous museum holds! They were in the process of constructing a new and improved young child discovery zone (plus some other exhibit space I think) and we can’t wait to return when that’s finished too. The kids loved the wildlife, gems, space, dinosaur and human body exhibits, most of which have a little section geared toward younger kids. Eleanor never completely forgave the museum for one grievous shortcoming though. We checked just about every bathroom in the huge facility and not a one is equipped with a manual flush. She can’t be the only tot who is terrified by the sudden whoosh and spray of the capricious automatic toilet. I love to save water, but not at the expense of underwear… can we get a manual flush somewhere please? (:

The conference hotel was right downtown, a perfect location for walking to an excellent story time at the Denver Public Library. On the way back, we strolled past the capital building and other landmarks and Luke was sure to give the pigeons a friendly chase or two. Another day, we walked over to the Firefighters Museum and enjoyed their story time and soon had the museum to ourselves. We did our duty responding to emergencies with their play-friendly fire truck, fire gear, hoses, and walkie-talkies. The small and friendly museum was a great deal with this coupon.


We never made it to the pricier attractions like the zoo and children’s museum, but those are terrific options too. If our last day in Denver hadn’t been monopolized by wintry mix, we would have spent some time at Westlands Park, a public park in South Denver with glowing reviews for its innovative playground.

We enjoyed two evenings with sweet friends who recently moved to Denver, spent a few crazed hours in Ikea (my second trip, and I still want to love the store but actually find it frustrating, especially their shopping carts and out of stock items!), and did plenty of swimming in the hotel pool. On the way home we spent a night in Colorado Springs to allow for some mini-hikes around the Garden of the Gods. The views were spectacular and we even bumped into Sarah B., a friend from NJ, and her friend who happens to go to our church in ABQ! Luke especially loved scrambling around on the enormous boulders by Balanced Rock and holding the map for our hikes. Eleanor was more taken with the deer and bunnies that we saw, and snack time.

It was a wonderful getaway, and despite a few meltdowns along the way the kids thrived on sleeping at three different hotels (my favorite was the Inverness – such a lovely location and facility!), new experiences, and more Chick-fil-A than they’ve had since then. We’re all hoping Erik has another trip up that way soon!

Oh, and on our drive home we stopped at the Rio Grande overlooks back in home sweet home New Mexico. What a perfect nature escape pit stop right along the road back down to ABQ.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Oak Creek evacuation

Back in May we headed west with camping gear on board. We’d reserved a prime campsite along Oak Creek, just a little north of Sedona, AZ in a glorious forest of towering ponderosa pines. Here we are making oatmeal in the chilly morning air.

By midday the temps warmed pleasantly. The kids cooled off their feet in a sparkling brook mid-hike and we thought about letting them swim.

It really got toasty when we drove down to Sedona for more hiking. But the beautiful red rocks made it worthwhile!

Our favorite spot was the magical creek that ran just behind our campsite.  Down a little hill you entered the kids’ secret realm. The creek was filled with interesting bugs, darting minnows, and stocked with interesting rocks and sticks. The perfect lush oasis for our desert-dwellers to explore.

On the afternoon of our second full day of camping, we started off merrily on a hike that was lauded in the guidebooks as a must-do for the region. We didn’t know that this hike would prove the turning point for our trip. Here we are heading into the trail; I love this photo because you see Luke, ever the gentleman, carrying my backpack for me proudly.

Here we are rushing back on the same trail a few hours later, with a very different mood.

A couple miles into our leisurely hike we started smelling smoke but assumed it was from local campfires. Then 20 minutes later thicker smoke rolled in and sirens began to blare from the direction of the road. We turned back toward the trailhead and as ash started to fall we walked faster. Within a mile of the trailhead came the final warning – we passed a grim search and rescue team who told us to get to our car and drive north immediately. A forest fire had started just 4 miles away and was spreading fast.

The road south was closed but our campground was just off the road a mile north. As we pulled into our site we were the only people in an entire campground of abandoned tents and RVs. We threw our tent and gear into the car amidst the eerie emptiness, uneasily broken by the sounds of emergency vehicles careening south on the adjacent road. I pleaded with Erik to abandon our gear and speed away. But he assured me it would just take a few minutes and we finished our take-down and loaded the car in record time. When we jumped back in our seats, ready to rush off, Eleanor stopped us. “Wait!! Do we have Luke?!?” Even though the kids were both sitting in the second row, they had zero visibility of each other due to all the gear chaotically jammed around them. We had left them in their car seats while we packed and the tenseness of the moment had kept both kids quiet. Sweet Eleanor wanted to make sure that her best friend and beloved brother wasn’t being left behind! Luke assured her that he was present and we headed north to Flagstaff, passing speeding fire trucks and earth movers all the way.

We’d been planning to camp for two more nights but couldn’t find any campgrounds that weren’t already closed or very smoky. The rapidly growing fire eventually consumed 22,000 acres of forest. So after a night at a Flagstaff hotel, we drove down to Phoenix for a more city-style vacation. We enjoyed the Phoenix Zoo, a trip to Ikea (where we bought the perfect sink for our kitchen renovation), and lots of time in the pool at our fancy hotel.

It was still a fun trip but a little less peaceful than the quiet camping retreat we’d envisioned, with hotel-hopping and plan-making at the last-minute. Plus we were all a little shaken up by the drama and tragedy of the Slide Fire. The kids kept asking if their caterpillar friend that kept visiting our campsite would be okay and if our campground would still be there. It was sobering to think of how quickly the fire could decimate such a beautiful forest, and how close we’d been to its devastating power. But thankfully, according to the final reports our campground escaped the flames and no people were injured in the fire. Maybe one day we’ll go back and visit that friendly caterpillar and its sweet creekside home again. Only next time we’ll be sure to avoid fire season!

{More pics here.}

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Camp Luke part 2

I’m back to report on the camper activities at Luke’s 5th birthday bash. As kids arrived, they explored the camp tents, played on the swing set, and sampled bug juice and trail mix at the canteen. General mayhem of course.

Next we tackled a campfire craft. Before the party, I cut circles of stiff cardboard and squares of tissue paper, gathered rocks, and purchased a box of those battery-powered votive candles. Then the kids selected rocks and we hot-glued them around the edge of the cardboard circle, and they scrunched the tissue paper around their candles which sat in the middle of the rock ring (something like this). The kids did a great job, and at night they make slightly realistic-looking campfire nightlights!

Then engines were sufficiently revved for our second challenge, archery. I told the kids that just in case they encountered one of the mischievous bears who live nearby, they should be ready to fire tranq darts with speed and accuracy.

After my professional demonstration, the kids lined up and took their shots with gusto.

At kid parties I try to alternate between high and low energy activities, so next up was a quieter event: storytime around the pretend campfire (actual campfires are banned in our neighborhood). But my book was missing! Those bears had taken it and replaced it with A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, which was perfect for our theme and the kids were enthralled. Such a fun story.

Then we tried to pass out the party favors but the bears played tricks again, hiding the treats and leaving a string of clues. I’ve never found scavenger hunts not to be a hit with a crowd of kids, and my experience planning hunts goes all the way back to when Uncle Jack and Uncle Sam were little boys!

The clues eventually led to a little hike through the arroyo which ended with the bucket of treats. I didn’t get a pic of those, but we just tied the treats up in red bandanas and lashed them onto long sticks hobo-style. Finally we topped them off with cute thank you tags from my printables set and they were ready for the campers.

After the hunt it was time to sing happy birthday and have dessert. I decided to forego a cake and served dirt worm cups instead, which were much easier for me to make and for the kids to eat while they were perched on chairs and stumps around the fire ring. Luke enjoyed helping make them and eating them too!

It was a happy little pow-wow for our nature-loving boy. We love you Luke and had such a great time celebrating with you and your friends!

{More pics here.}

Monday, July 14, 2014

Camp Luke comes to Wild Oak!

Back in April we had a 5th birthday bash for Luke, and I was delighted when the birthday boy requested a camping theme.

After the girly pinks of Eleanor’s butterfly party, it was fun to go all-outdoorsy in greens and oranges. My favorite piece of party décor were the hand-painted signs. Months before I’d spied a gallon of green paint on the oops markdown table at Home Depot and just knew we’d find a use for it (though Erik had his doubts). You can imagine my satisfaction when it was the perfect shade for the party! Erik cut some scrap wood pieces, Luke did a champion job coating them in green, and I did the lettering in white. There was a campfire arrow pointing up the hill to the fire ring we set up, an outhouse arrow pointing inside, and a canteen sign on the food table.

Erik skillfully cut a handsome arrow for the archery sign, plus a few more for the backyard, including a strict bear prohibition. Despite the no-nonsense signage, during the party we happened upon some pranks that we believe to have been performed by a mischievous bear. ;)

Other than the signs our decorations were pretty simple. We set up three tents around the campfire ring for the kids to play in and draped the food table in an oatmeal colored drop cloth. After that, Albuquerque’s rugged mountains set the stage pretty well on their own.

The swing set was a Craig’s List find that Erik repaired and set up just in time for the party. Somehow he managed to load the entire structure on our station wagon and carry it into the backyard with only Luke’s assistance – party adrenaline I tell you!

I bought this editable invitation/signage package on Etsy and printed the adorable tent invitations and some other tags and signs. They were easy to personalize and the immediate download was perfect for someone like me who leaves things to the last-minute. I hope to be back tomorrow with a rundown of the party activities and food, just in case baby #3 requests his own camp some day or any of you are thinking of hosting an afternoon camp-out this summer!

Friday, July 11, 2014

One last day in Spain

There’s so much to see in Andalucia that we could have easily spent our last day exploring Malaga, spelunking through sea caves, or returning to Granada. But the guidebook’s review of Sevilla was so enthralling that we decided to make the longer drive to and from this historic city. Also, I was pretty sick with a bronchitis type bug, so Erik enjoyed the scenic countryside while I napped. When we arrived, we instantly fell in love with the city’s easy-going grandeur and soaked in a few of its most renowned destinations.

We started out at the Alcázar, another royal palace with Moorish roots followed by Christian renovations. Like the Alhambra, it was constructed around serene courtyards, stunning tile work, water features, and gracious gardens.


The massive Cathedral of St. Mary was our next stop.

Its gargantuan proportions reduced us tourists to tiny ants along the floor.

I could have sat in its charming orange grove courtyard all afternoon (plus I had a fever) and the tower views were spectacular!

Then we meandered through the university to the lovely Plaza de España. Despite its grand expanse, it welcomed us with a relaxed family atmosphere as kids played and paddle boats plodded by.

Then we walked along the river, enjoyed a peaceful dinner,

Had a déjà vu sculpture moment, and suddenly it was time to drive back to Malaga for our flight home.

There was still so much to see, but truly, the treasures of Andalucia could never compete with these two little wonders. What a joy to return home to their sweetness! And what fun it would be to bring them along to explore more of Spain one day.