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:


  • 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!
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.)


I thought today was a really hard day. I felt really tired, the kids were super uncooperative every time I tried to get them to do anything, I had more errands to run than I actually had time for,  appointments kept popping up, I couldn't put on my comfy pants and curl up on the couch after the kids went to bed because I had a thing to go to. The list goes on. (And I had to make salad for 70 people, you guys!) And I was grumpy.

In the midst of my grumpiness (not helped by discovering that my favorite pair of tights have a giant hole on the heel), I texted back and forth a little bit with a friend and joked about me needing an attitude adjustment. We fantasized about running away from it all and just eating pie on the couch in our comfies. The thought made me smile. 

That smile was like flipping a switch. I looked back on my day, and realized that the things that had felt so hard and so frustrating were actually pretty great. I was tired this morning because I stayed up late snuggling with my husband and watching a few favorite shows. The kids were for the most part super uncooperative because they just wanted to play with each other, and not go run errands. When I had more errands than I knew what to do with, my sweet friend and neighbor offered to run one of them for me. Then she had me and the kids over for lunch. When it was time to go home so Gwen could take a nap, she invited Espen to stay and play for the afternoon, which meant that I even got a few hours to myself. Another sweet neighbor brought me a plate of cookies today. And the salad I had to make for 70 people was for a dinner with the ladies at church. Which in turn meant that all of those ladies got the night off from making dinner, and could sit down to a meal prepared especially for them. How lucky am I to be able to help do that for them? This list goes on too! 

I thought today was a really hard day. But it turns out that the only hardness was within me. When I stopped and looked around, I saw that my day had actually been filled with kind and loving friends, kids who love each other, and a chance to serve others.

Today was a good day. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

To Gwen, now that you are two.

I just tucked you into bed for an early nap before we head off to your two year wellness-check at the doctor's. You were surprisingly willing to go, perhaps worn out by the impressive fit you threw when I wouldn't let you take your Hello Kitty lunchbox inside when we dropped Espen off at school. You know what you want, and you know what you don't want, and nobody knows their own mind like you do!

The more we get to know you, the more sure I am that it is a beautiful mind you've got in there. A mind that loves music and books and dancing. A mind that is always exploring and doesn't miss anything in your surroundings. If something is new or different, you are the first to notice, and if something is not done according to protocol, you will let us know!

You don't just have a beautiful mind, you have also been blessed with good heart. As feisty as you can be, there is a genuine kindness and concern for others in you. If someone is unhappy, you drop everything to run over and declare: "is sad!" before patting them lovingly on whatever part of them you can reach. You weren't very old the first time you climbed onto the naughty step beside Espen to cry with him, even though you weren't the one who was in trouble! You just couldn't bear to see him be sad. You are always happy to give kisses (except when you withhold them to make a point!) and have recently started spontaneously hugging our legs and snuggling close when you feel the need. You always have to hug and kiss Espen at bedtime, and orchestrate Daddy's goodbye kisses in the morning.

You love your family so much! Espen is your best friend, hero and role model. If he does something, there you will be, two steps behind, doing it too. Your biggest source of frustration is when we won't let you do something that Espen can do, like play outside on your own, color with markers, use scissors or play with Espen's Legos. You just cannot fathom why we would do anything so unfair to us, and you let us know how you feel about it too! A lot of the time he will stick up for you and declare "She doesn't want to eat that!" or "Gwen is not tired, she wants to stay up and play with me!" The two of you are so in cahoots with each other that I never know what mischief you're going to come up with next. But when I see you playing and laughing and just being so happy together, I don't mind too much the trail of destruction you leave in your wake. I pray and hope with all my heart that the friendship and closeness you two share will last a lifetime.

As much as you love Espen, it is your Daddy who you really think has really hung the moon and the stars just for you. You ask for him all day long when he's at work, and every time my phone makes a sound you ask "Daddy?" As soon as we hear the garage door open, you race off to meet him with shrieks and squeals of "Daddy! Daaaaaaad!"before flinging yourself into his arms. You are never sadder than when your Daddy tells you you've done something wrong, and never happier than when you get him all to yourself.

And me? Well, I'm your Mama. I'm the source of food and safety and comfort. I'm who you want when you're hurt or sad or scared. I'm who you call for when you wake up in the night, and who you run to to show off your latest creation in playroom couture. I find your babies when they're missing, and know that the episodes of Blue's Clues where Blue is a puppet rather than a cartoon make you cry. You get absolutely furiously angry with me when I stop you from doing whatever death defying stunt you're aiming for next, and yet I'm the one you want comfort from in your rage.

We have fun together, you and me. Even grocery shopping is fun with an enthusiastic little person with a zest for life like you. We head into the clothes section at Target and try on all the hats, laughing and taking pictures. Sometimes I think that people must think I'm a loon, laughing and chatting with my baby, but then I mostly just feel sad for them for not having someone like to shop with. You love going out and about, and take on the world with such great passion and confidence.  I am constantly awed and delighted by the fantastic little person you are turning out to be. Thank you for all that you teach me. Thank you for being you. Thank you for letting me be your mama.

I love you so,


Sunday, November 16, 2014


I sure did get them matching pajamas! So there's that.

Just a super quick, super token post before I crawl into bed so I don't miss another day of NaBloPoMo. We've had a really fun weekend, and now we have another really busy week ahead of us. I have a few posts I'm working on that I'm hoping to share soon (pictures from our Venice trip, maybe a bit about our Christmas card project this year, a bit about Thanksgiving preparations), so hopefully I'll still be able to carve out a little time each day to do that.

Quick question: I get some questions about where I find Gwen's clothes - are any of you interested at all in me putting together an inspiration board type post about little girl clothes?

Is there anything you would like me to write more about? We've got two weeks to go until November is over, people, we can do it if we try!

OK, off to bed: school and grocery shopping and doctor's appointments tomorrow. Things to look forward to!

Saturday, November 15, 2014