Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter wonderlamp



A few weeks ago I was at Target, when I saw a really cute Christmas decoration. It was a little landscape of a car loaded up with a Christmas tree, driving through a wintery little landscape. And the kicker? It was all contained in a little glass cloche. Adorable! But as cute as the concept was, the execution had a decidedly mass produced vibe to it, so I left it where it was. But then I couldn't quite put the idea of it out of my mind. Could I recreate my own somehow? 




It turns out that I could, and quite easily! I had the advantage of owning this rather brilliant curio lamp. The class dome comes off and allows us to display something inside. Usually it houses some seashells and a blue glass bottle (sometimes a fish), but it seemed like a good spot to Christmas up a bit, as well as the perfect spot for my little winter wonderland. But if you don't have a lamp like this, you could easily use a glass cloche (amazon has a ton), a glass cake dome or even a jar. Can you imagine a whole series of tiny landscapes in jars? Or how about inside this big cookie jar?




I picked up two packets of different sized bottle brush trees at Hobby Lobby for just a couple of dollars each. Then I set about trying to convince Espen to let me borrow one of his toy cars until Christmas is over. He wasn't completely sure at first, but then once he saw what I was doing, I was granted permission to borrow his wooden London taxi. I have to admit I am charmed by the thought of a traditional London black cab driving through a snowy forest to get a Christmas tree. An old timey truck or a red and white VW bus would be really cute too, I think. Knowing a little boy with a copious collection of cars helps a lot with this step. 

Then I just wrapped a length of string (I used red and white baker's twine for an extra Christmassy vibe) a few times around the car and the tree and tied it underneath. I used white polyester fiber fill (stuffing) that I had lying around from various knitting projects to make the snow, but you could just as easily rip up some cotton balls. Once the snow was in place I positioned the car and the trees on top and plopped the glass dome into place. Tadah! A winter wonder lamp land. 




The actual assembling of this project was about 10 minutes, with most of that time being spent on tying the string, and then fussing around and arranging things exactly as I wanted them. And I just love it! It has been catching my eye and making me smile all evening. I posted a picture of it on Facebook, and one of my friends described it as follows: "kinda reminds me of something a little nostalgic and something a little National Lampoon's Christmas", which pretty much perfectly sums up what I was going for. Something cute and Christmassy with just the tiniest hint of not taking itself too seriously. 

And now I am already plotting what I'm going to put in there for Valentine's Day. 


Friday, December 12, 2014

Two days in Venice

Do you know what we need right about now? Well, honestly, who knows what you need, but what I need on this December day filled with chores errands and a shocking lack of both snow and my husband, is to daydream myself back to the two days Nick and I spent in Venice this summer. Would you like a peek?

View from the campanile tower on St. Mark's square.

While our family was in Norway this summer, Nick and I managed to sneak away to Venice for a couple of days, just the two of us, as an early anniversary present to each other. Honestly, if it meant I could have Nick all to myself, I'd be happy to spend two days in a cardboard box, but seeing as we had the chance to go to one of the most romantic cities on earth, we went to Venice. And it was glorious.

Dripping in sweat and romance.
It's honestly hard to even begin to put in to words what our time in Venice was like. We wandered the narrow streets along the canals, often crossing the tiny bridges that hold the city together. We visited churches I had been longing to see since my days as an art history student. We stayed in a gothic era bed and breakfast (which used to be a convent) on a sleepy side street just off the grand canal. We ate gelato so good I actually lost track of my surroundings for a moment. We rode water taxis to get around the city, because there just are no cars. We shopped for Venetian glass in countless tiny shops along the way. One night we ate at a small neighborhood osteria, the next night we had a four course meal looking out onto the lagoon. We took a private gondola ride around one of the neighborhood where real Venetians live, the sounds of families cooking dinner drifting down to the canal. On a narrow and quiet stretch of canal, our gondolier, Luca, sang us a Venetian lullaby. One night we wandered onto a square around the corner from our hotel, only to find people dancing the tango beneath the stars. It was so beautiful and perfect it was like being in another world.

Santa Maria della Salute, one of the churches I have most wanted to visit since my college days.  Built by the Venetian people as a prayer to the virgin Mary to protect them from the plague. 

Santa Maria herself.
Of course not everything was perfect and romantic and idyllic all the time. It was so hot and so humid that we were constantly dripping with sweat. We walked and walked until I thought my feet were going to fall off. Smoking is much more common and public than I am used to. Flower sellers were constantly accosting us and trying to get Nick to buy me roses.  It was Venice in July, so there were the inevitable lines to wait it to get into some of the major sites. We met people who live a ten minute drive from our home, so when I entered St. Mark's basilica for the very first time, there was a woman telling me that she much preferred shopping at Walmart to Harmon's because their prices are better. But really and truly, none of that really mattered at all. We were just so happy to be there, and so ready to enjoy every moment that that is exactly what we did.

One of the bridges between our hotel and the water taxi stop. Notice the gondolier on the right - on his cell phone. :)

I think at this point I'm just going to offer a deluge of photos so you can see for yourself. A girl can only swoon "it was glorious and perfect and wonderful" so many times before you want to sock her on  the jaw.

Window shopping on a quiet side street.

Dinner at La Zucca on our first night. 

"Zucca" means pumpkin, and that it what their lighting was shaped like.

A roof at St. Mark's square.
On top of St. Mark's basilica.
Can you tell that we were pretty happy to be there? 
The winged lion - the symbol of St. Mark and of Venice. 
The columns of San Marco and San Theodoro. 

On our last morning we stopped at an open air market. We couldn't bring any of the produce home with us, so we just took pictures instead. 

Pretty zucchinis. 

And some pretty awesome seafood. 

These narrow little streets and tiny bridges were everywhere. 

Enjoying the meal of a lifetime steps from the lagoon. 

The view from our table.

Our dinner by the lagoon. My fish course (top left) was so pretty that I was actually brought to tears. "They did this for me?"

Happily snarfling one last pastry before heading home again.
The only hard part of going to Venice was leaving it, to be honest. We arrived by boat and left by bus, so I was really in heaven right until we got to the area by the bus and train station, which was a rude awakening and return to the real world. Venice itself is quite peaceful and so beautiful that seeing a parking lot and a bus depot for the first time in 48 hours is a real letdown. It was really just as well that I had two beautiful children waiting at home for me to come back and celebrate my birthday with them, otherwise I might just have turned around and gone native. But once we were on the bus and on our way home, we got a drive through the Italian countryside, which made up for a lot. 

Venice, you were a dream. I hope to be back again some day. Until then, arrivederci, bella

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Christmas list

I'm spending a rare evening on my own tonight and will be all week, seeing as Nick is out of town for work. The kids are finally tucked into bed, although doing the whole bedtime rigamarole on my own took 45 minutes longer than usual. Every boundary has to be double-tested just in case mom lets her guard down when dad's out of the picture (- she doesn't)! Oh well, better luck tomorrow.

We'll be writing letters to Santa this weekend, so I'm thinking about what I might be hoping to find under the tree and putting together a little bit of a list:



Books are always at the top of my list! I've been revisiting my girlhood by buying the Anne of Green Gables series, but still need Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside to round out the collection. Oh, there's nothing like curling up with a book and escaping to Prince Edward Island!




I'm forever decorating and tweaking our home and love to scour interior design books for ideas. I've had my eye on The Perfectly Imperfectly Home: How to Decorate and Live Well for quite some time. I love that the pictures are illustrations rather than photos too, because that forces you to consider the concepts, rather than feel like you are being told what to buy.

And I always love losing myself in a good novel. We have a week off at home together after Christmas, so I am picturing some good reading time. Nick and I have a rather lovely tradition where he picks out a book for me for most birthdays and Christmas, and so I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with this time. His choices are not always what I would choose for myself, but I have enjoyed every book Nick has given me yet.




On the topic of reading, I came across this fairly genius list of Non-Book Gifts for Bookworms today, and immediately wanted roughly half the items on the list. A few of my faves include this bookish throw blanket (in a fantasy world where people buy me $100 blankets),  this pillow (which I would probably put in Espen's room, so maybe it's not really a wish list item for me?), and this mug. Oh, this mug and this mug too! (I must have a deep-seated desire for mugs?) My absolute favorite on the list, though, is this custom bookplate stamp. The persnickety part of me always worries that people will forget that the books they have borrowed from me are actually mine (all mine!), but a handy little bookplate with my name on it would just keep everything on the up and up.



Which reminds me of this Personal Library Kit. Oh man, I can't even begin to tell you how happy I would be sticking the little card pockets in and stamping those cards. I'd also lose my last thread of cool, but it might just be worth it! I could even make my own little card catalog to go with it. Oh my.




We stopped paying for satellite radio in my car this year, so I'd like some really great music to listen to in the car. I know it's an odd one, but I'd actually like a good Credence Clearwater Revival album. It's good music, and it reminds me of driving with my dad in our big, gold Toyota back in the 80's. I'm a big fan of singing in the car too, so I'd like a little Adele too. There's no point in rolling your eyes and pointing out that she hasn't released an album in three years, I just live in my own little world music-wise where I like what I like when I like it, which is usually not when everyone else does. I've always been out of step with what's cool! Having said that, there is one album that was actually released this year that I'd like to have, and that it OK GO's Hungry Ghosts. Their videos have always made me smile, and we've been dancing a lot to "I won't let you down" in our living room, so I'd like to check out the rest of the album.

We've got a lot of empty wall space in our house and I am always on the lookout for prints and artwork to fill it with, and here are a few options that I've been looking at.



Was there ever a more perfect print for our family? This one just makes me smile. I love you from here to Norway! And for a few more dollars we could even personalize the cities listed.




We live in such a beautiful part of the world, and this Salt Lake City print is a cheerful little homage to the place we call home. I quite like their Oslo one too. Check them out, they might even have a city you love too!


Again, this might not really belong on my wish list because I'd probably put it in Gwen's room, but I love this quote from Little Women. Good words for a little girl (or anyone!) to learn to live by.
You'd think that as someone with a degree in art history, who also happens to be a Christian, I'd have all sorts of religious art. But the truth is that I have a hard time with a lot of artist's depictions of Christ because they just don't feel right, especially the more realistic ones. Minerva Teichert's paintings feel good to me, and her style is really appealing to me. If I'm going to have a painting of Jesus in my home (and I'd like one!), Christ in a Red Robe is the one.  




I also really love her painting of Queen Esther as well. If I had a print of this, I'd hang it in my room and keep it just for me! Can I say that the brushwork in this painting is exquisite? Have we reached the point in our relationship where I can say stuff like that? How about the fact that I also dig Esther's eyebrows? 



Brian Kershisnik is a contemporary and local artist whose work I have admired for years. (Definitely check out his Nativity if you haven't seen it before.) But it is his painting She Will Find What Is Lost that really, really speaks to me. I can't even really tell you why, without getting all waffly and emotional and full of "art speak", it just hits home for me. I even know exactly where I will hang it in the sitting room so I can go and visit it throughout my day.



On a less spiritual note, I'd also like to expand my "grownup" jewelry collection. Some earrings with a bit of presence, maybe a statement necklace or two? The tricky thing here is that my skin is pretty sensitive, so the only metals I can really wear next to my skin are silver and gold without breaking out into an itchy rash. Which means I can't really wear a lot of the inexpensive and fun costume jewelry out there - although I gaze longingly at it every time we go to World Market or H&M. I like the silver birch leaf earrings above quite a bit, although I would also like something with a little bit of color too. 



And finally, I'd like a few vases in different styles and sizes. Something to put flowers in that is a step up from all of the glass vases that you get from the florist when you buy a nicer arrangement, but that is also pretty enough to be displayed on its own. I like these ones in the picture above from West Elm,  but again, a little color would be nice too. 

Tadah, my Christmas list is done and dusted! Do you think you might get on the naughty list for asking much...?

Tell me, what do you want for Christmas?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving and the like.

I fell off the face of the blogging earth. Did you notice? Here's a quick rundown why: I got busy with Thanksgiving, then we had a lovely lazy weekend after it, then we decorated for Christmas, then I had a wisdom tooth pulled and felt crummy and then it was the weekend again and that brings us to today!

We set up the table decorations the night before.

Seeing as I spent so much of the month of November planning for and talking about Thanksgiving, I felt I should at least tell you about how ours went!

Friends, it was lovely. We had divided the cooking between the three "units" of the family that would be coming, so Nick and I were just responsible for the turkey and the ham (yup, we have both), as well as the stuffing and a vegetable side. We started brining the turkey and thawing the ham on Tuesday night, which is also when I made the stuffing too. I'd read that you can freeze stuffing before you bake it, so I tried it and it worked beautifully! And this meant that the only cooking we really had to do on Thanksgiving day was putting things in the oven at the right time and temperature, which was really, really nice.

The kids watching the Macey's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

We started the day on a super classy note by taking the kids out to breakfast at McDonald's so they could burn off some energy in the play area. And so they wouldn't mess up the table we had decorated the night before! Then we headed home and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned until the house was much cleaner than it had any right to be on a Thursday.

Heroically slaving away in the kitchen.
(Bottom right corner of this photo brought to you by Apple.)

After that Nick's parents showed up and were quickly mauled by our children. Espen had been glued to the window for the past two hours asking when they were going to get here, and Gwen went hurtling to the front door squealing "Papa!" at the merest mention of Grandma or Grandpa, so it was a very happy reunion. Especially because Grandma and Grandpa came bearing My little Ponies and dinosaurs!

Tadah! The table is set and ready to go. Plastic water bottle photo bomb courtesy of the kids!

And at this point we snacked, we chatted, we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade (and Gwen absolutely losing her mind every time the Hello Kitty balloon showed up) and mentally patted our own backs for somehow managing to enjoy the day with our family, and not just running around the kitchen like the crazy people all day long. I even found the time to change into a dress and brush my hair, which made a nice change from what I had been cleaning in all morning.

And a low artsy angle shot. 

Uncle Cody and aunt Becky joined us. We snacked and chatted some more. I put the finishing touches on the table, and then those of us that were cooking got down to serious business for the last hour or so before it was time for dinner. Our kitchen is not a big kitchen, but somehow, when you're family and just happy to be together, you instinctively know the steps of that tricky dance that allows everyone the room they need. We said dinner was going to be at four o'clock, and at four ten, we sat gathered around the table. A prayer was said, gratitude was felt, and then we began our feast.

Espen and Gwen, ready to dig into their Thanksgiving dinner. 

A fellow non-American asked me recently why it is that I love Thanksgiving so much, and this is the reason why: for years I watched my mother-in-law plan and prepare and cook and clean for this one day. She would always joke that it took three days to cook for Thanksgiving dinner, and only 20 minutes to eat it. But I saw all of the love that she put into the creation of that meal, and in the gathering of her family. Every last detail had been anticipated and considered because everything she did was for someone who would appreciate it. I saw the love felt by her children as they cleared their calendar and traveled long distances to be together for this holiday. My husband's family, and especially my mother-in-law taught me that Thanksgiving is not about food, or football, or parades or black Friday shopping. Thanksgiving is about family, about spending time with your loved ones and offering them your very best. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, yes, but it's also an expression of love for the people that you sit down and share this special meal with. It's a very simple thing, and easy to overlook if you fall into the trap of approaching the day with a "gobble till you wobble" attitude, but if you stop for a moment and look at the people that surround you, you will see all of the love that has gone into the creation of this meal, this moment, this shared experience, and you will know that that love was for you.

And that is why I love Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

How we made our Christmas cards

One of our first test shots, just to see if this would work. Note the concrete wall, mishmash of whatever lights we had to hand and the visible basement window behind us. We're pretty cute, though. 

We finally got our Christmas cards finished up and ordered last night (hooray!), so I thought I'd blog a little bit about our process in making them. Most sane and normal people pick a family photo, go to a site like Shutterfly (or Minted, if they're fancy). The really smart and thrifty people use the Costco photo center. What these people have in common is that they all end up with a perfectly lovely holiday photo card that you and I would be delighted to display in our homes. The fancy people would end up spending roughly $100 on fifty cards, and the smart and thrifty Costco shoppers would spend about $15. The Shutterfly folks end up somewhere in between.

Here's the deal, though: I wanted the look and feel of the Minted cards, but I wanted to pay something much closer to Costco prices. But none of the Costco cards had exactly the look I had in mind. Here is where it is handy to have married a computer programmer with an eye for design and an interest in photography:

I told Nick what I was thinking/waved my hands around and babbled incoherently a lot, and before long we had put together a set for a photo shoot in our basement. It was incredibly ghetto (think butcher paper and Christmas lights for the backdrop), but it did the job. It did the job quite beautifully, actually.

Basically, we covered one wall in butcher paper to make a plain dark back drop, then we hung Christmas lights a few feet in front of it. We set the camera up on the other side of the room with a couple of studio lights on either side, and had the subject stand a few feet in front of the camera. The studio lights illuminate the person in the picture, but are too diffuse to light up the wall across the room. All other lights in the room were turned off. We shot at f/1.8 so that the distant background lights would be very blurry. A bigger room or a faster lens could have blurred them out even further, but you work with what you've got, right?

Behind the scenes: The kids are both standing on my lap so they are tall enough to fit into the shot, and not every single picture is a keeper. Except this one kind of is. Look at Gwen's sad lip!

After we had the photos we were looking for, we did a little post editing. Seeing as we wanted to look like ourselves, we kept it simple and mostly stuck to adjusting warmth and tone (and cleaning the dinner leftovers off Gwen!).

At this point I went through a lot of holiday cards online, looking for ones that were similar to what I had in mind. Then I showed them to Nick, and we picked out the elements we liked in each one, decided on what we wanted to do differently and uniquely in ours, and then Nick sat down at the laptop and magically pulled it all together into exactly the card I had envisioned, or better.

Then it was just a matter of putting together the right wording and doing a little tweaking here and there before we were done! And here's where Costco comes in again. They offer nice card stock cards for $34 for fifty. And the best thing of all is that you can design your own and have them print it for you, ready for pickup in 5-7 business days. So with a little knowhow (or in Nick's case, quite a lot) you can get exactly the card you wanted for for about a third of the cost. And they print your return address on the envelopes.

So, guess how I'll be spending my evenings in the next 5-7 days? And who wants a Christmas card?

And a final result shot. The lights are working, we've cleaned up the background (classily, with sheets of black butcher paper) and the kids are being fairly cooperative. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Game Plan

Happy thanksgiving from a turkey!
Well, life happened, and I completely fell of the NaBloPoMo wagon for three days in a row. The further we get into November, the more sure I am that blogging every day is not for me, but I have started, so I will finish. Plus, I get to hear back from you all lovelies who read my blog so much more often when I post daily, so that's a definite plus!

Anyway, today is Sunday and I am enjoying a few rare moments all to myself. I came home from church early because I have a cold, and decided I couldn't take two more hours of coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose in public, and besides, Gwen needed a nap. So here I am, on the couch, with a box of tissues within reach. I'm too busy to be sick this week, so I'm hoping that if I take it easy today, I won't have to slow down tomorrow.

Thanksgiving is five days away (actually, we should be sitting down to eat more or less exactly five days to the minute from now), and it is time to get my ducks (turkeys?) in a row. Indulge me as I share my to-do list with the world:

Sunday

  • Work on Christmas card design with Nick. Order if possible. 
  • Email family about final details for Thanksgiving.
  • Find turkey brine recipe. 
  • Drink some herbal tea, wear fuzzy socks and catch up on Masterpiece Theater. Get better!
Monday
  • Plan weekly menu, focus on using up what we have already. (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday only).
  • Clean out fridge to make room for onslaught of leftovers. 
  • Wash guest room sheets. 
  • Buy ingredients for turkey brine, stuffing, and vegetable side. 
  • Buy pillar candles and garland thingy for table. 
Tuesday
  • 10 AM playdate with A and boys. Bring dark chocolate. 
  • Get ham out of the freezer. 
  • Dust guest room. 
  • Vacuum upstairs.
  • Clean bathrooms. 
  • With Nick's help, start brining turkey. 
  • Assemble and freeze stuffing, ready to bake on Thursday. 
Wednesday
  • Last minute shop to Costco. Buy flowers, fresh door wreath, Martinelli's, good bread for sandwiches. 
  • Regret not having found babysitter, and having to run all errands with kids in tow. 
  • Target: Buy remaining sandwich ingredients, snacks and fruit. 
  • Consider taking up drinking. 
  • Go home, placate children with snacks and iPads, clean everything in sight like a mad woman. 
  • Make up bed in guest room, shut the door so Gwen (destroyer of worlds) stays out. 
  • Start dishwasher before bed. 
Thursday
  • Make sure everyone has a decent breakfast. 
  • DVR parade so kids can watch it with Grandma and Grandpa. 
  • Clean some more, special emphasis on kitchen. 
  • Start roasting the turkey.
  • Bake the ham.
  • Set the table. 
  • Take a shower and get ready. 
  • Set out snacks. 
  • Set out cards, puzzles and boardgames. 
  • Greet guests. 
  • Start cooking for realizes. 
  • Enjoy the day! 
Seriously, as crazy as this list sounds on top of everything else that goes on in a week, I am actually really excited about it all! Thanksgiving is my favorite adopted holiday, and I love entertaining and hosting, so this is a good week for me. 

I hope it is for you too!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving tablescape

We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner in eight days, and haven't as much as bought a turkey! Time to spring into action, I think! Fortunately, we will be dividing food assignments between the three families that will be attending at our house, so we won't be doing all the cooking ourselves. But we are responsible for setting the scene for a special holiday meal with the family, so today I am thinking about tablescapes.

You can keep the crystal chandelier, but I'll take the centerpiece, thanks!

Our house isn't exactly the place for starched linens, gleaming silverware and wall to wall formality, so this year I'm toying with the idea of a fairly modern, casual look that still feels festive and special. Last year's table was pretty, but very simple, and I am feeling more like kicking things up a notch or two this year. I feel like a Thanksgiving table should have have some elements of nature to it, and maybe especially a harvest vibe, given the roots and origins of the holiday. Plus, it's often the last chance we have to bring the outside in before winter really kicks in, so why not take advantage while we can?

A slightly more fall-themed version of this, perhaps?

I don't like centerpieces that are so big that they get in the way of conversation (or crowd your eating space), beautiful though they may be! Instead I am thinking of doing something low that goes the entire length of the table, utilizing the empty space in the middle of the dinner table. I like the idea of a long, narrow wooden box filled with pumpkins, leaves and berries, but I don't think I'll get one put together in the next week. Maybe next year?



I'm actually really loving the simple, clean beauty of this table borrowed from Apartment Therapy, even if the tilt shifty focus of this photo is making me slightly seasick. I like the simple white plates against the dark table cloth, and those red berries are just the right accent.

Thank you card as Thanksgiving napkin holder. Pretty clever!

The small details are what really takes a tablescape from something pretty to something really special. I love the simple graphic thank you cards used in lieu of napkin rings pictured above (although I'm not completely digging the idea of having a succulent slapped on my plate). These little rosemary wreaths are really sweet too.

The plate and silverware are too ornate for me, but the place card is spot on. 

Confesh: I love place cards, and think I have saved most of mine from the various formal dinners I have attended over the years. Place cards clearly state that "this is a special occasion", which begins to make it a special occasion. Plus they give you some control over who sits with whom, so grumpy aunt Jean doesn't get stuck between two sticky toddlers, and the newlyweds won't have to risk being separated for the duration of the meal (although that might not be the worst scenario in the world!). I'm kind of digging these gilded pears, but also like the simplicity of the single sprig of wheat pictured above. I'd like combine the look of those with these Rosemary Sprig place cards.



And then you need that something special, the dot over the i, as we say in Norwegian. That one thing that is just the right thing, and that ties everything together just so. The thing that catches people's eye and tells them that they just arrived at a party. Or at least a very special dinner with family and friends, which is nothing to be sneezed at either.

So, those are my thoughts for our Thanksgiving table. Now tell me yours!


(Images borrowed from Common Ground, Daily CandyApartment Therapy, Craft and Couture, Camille Styles and A Beautiful Mess.)