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.)

Today



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,

Mama.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Token

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Something for the weekend

Snuggling my one year-old before she turns into a two year-old. 

Just flying by with another late night post before the weekend starts in earnest. Our little girl turns two tomorrow, and so our evening has been spent baking cupcakes, putting together a doll's crib and festooning our house with Hello Kitty, and tomorrow will be spent in adoration of the birthday girl - and taking her to the aquarium and out for pizza. I'm looking forward to enjoying a weekend relaxing and having fun with family and friends.

A few things that caught my eye this week:

  • This project made me smile. A woman photoshopped herself into her mother's childhood photos to explore the question of what it would have been like if they grew up together. My mum and I are pretty close, so the idea really appeals to me. 
  • A post about flying from Singapore to New York City in a $23,000 suite. I know I will never ever experience that in person, but holy moly, a girl can dream! The legroom! The ability to actually sleep on a plane!
  • This Christmas ad for Sainsbury's in England made me cry. I've always loved that story from World War 1. 
  • This study shows that kindness and generosity build strong marriages. Lots of studies show lots of things, but I felt like this one made some especially good points, and has given me something to think about. The idea of "bids" and how we respond to them really resonated with me. 
  • Pictures taken from the surface of a comet by a landing probe that has spent the past 10 years traveling to get there. Can you even begin to imagine the planning and foresight that went into pulling this off? Amazing!
  • I want Food by Tom to come to my house and cook that tasty looking food! I promise I'd set a pretty table and only invite people who know how to carry on a great conversation and enjoy a good meal. Also, I'd wear my best dress. 
OK, I'm off to bed. Have a great weekend!




Kinderstudio

Did you notice I fell off the NaBloPoMo wagon yesterday? Oops! But don't cry for me Argentina, because I had a fun, but busy day with the kids, then put away all screens and devices and spent the night talking to my husband without any distractions. It was good stuff, people. Then we watched three episodes of Modern Family and ate cookies.

However, as good as the real world is, I wanted to hurry back to the blog today to tell you about our adventures in art yesterday. Espen and Gwen were lucky enough to be invited to take part in a Kinderstudio class hosted by Krisanne, one of the brilliant brains behind The Making Table, a new resource for families seeking to incorporate "beauty, art, nature and mindfulness into their daily routines". Yes please!



Looking at leaves with Miss Krisanne.

I was confident that Espen was going to have a great time, because not only does he love getting his little art on, he has also attended classes taught by Krisanne before, and really enjoyed them. Gwen was much more of a wild card. She hasn't really been given as much of an opportunity to "do art" as Espen has, for the simple reason that it's hard to wrangle two budding artists and their materials without making a huge mess (and I do so hate a huge mess). And she has spent much less time in a class setting than Espen, so I really wasn't sure how much she would actually participate.

As it turns out, they both had a great time. They read a storybook with Miss Krisanne and the rest of the class, and talked about the colors of leaves, and then they danced like leaves in the wind. Dance parties have been a thing at our house lately, so both of the kids really got into that part. (You can catch a little video of Gwen dancing here.)

Dancing like leaves. 

After that, the class talked a little bit about Jackson Pollock, and how he liked to dance as he painted. They looked at some of his works, and then Miss Krisanne announced that everyone was going to get to try drip painting like Jackson Pollock. Bear in mind that she teaches this class in her beautiful home, so this was a pretty brave move on her part!

Getting started. 

 We moved into the kitchen where she had an art station set up. Each child was given two leaves that had been spray painted gold, and then there were tubs of different colored paint for the kids to drip onto their leaves. Espen jumped in with both feet and his usual enthusiasm, and before too long, had moved from drip painting to full-on finger painting (which Krisanne assured us Jackson Pollock did from time to time as well). He was just so happy to be there and really getting stuck into his painting, that in the end it just didn't really matter that he was green up to his elbows and had to be carried to the sink to get clean(ish). I need to remember that sometimes the joy the kids find in an activity is worth the giant messes they create, and that most things come out in the wash anyway.


One of Espen's finished leaves. 

Concentrating. 
While I was hovering over Espen, trying to at least somewhat contain the globs of paint flying in all directions, Gwen was more or less left to her own devices. I was expecting her to be a hot mess by the time we had finished, but was absolutely astounded to discover that my wild and crazy little girl is a very thoughtful, methodical and deliberate little painter! Not a drop of paint landed on her leaf without Gwen specfically wanting it there. And she was so busy painting that it didn't even occur to her to smear paint everywhere. I felt like I was seeing a whole new side of my daughter, which definitely made me want to get out the art supplies a bit more often at home. Gwen is a very, very busy little girl who is constantly on the move, and I loved seeing her discover something that brought her a little stillness.


Gwen's leaves.


 The whole thing lasted less than an hour, and soon we were on our way to grab lunch and get Espen off to preschool. But I am still thinking about the things we all learned and enjoyed, and planning ways to get a little more art and creating into our life at home.

Thanks for having us, Krisanne and The Making Table!




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NaBloPoMo

Stargazing with Espen last night. Which has nothing to do with this post, but isn't he lovely?

In case you have been wondering why my blogging rate has kicked into overdrive for the month of November, it is because I decided (on a whim, of course, which is how I make most of my decisions) to take part in NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It is basically a month long challenge where all participants post daily for the month of November.

NaBloPoMo is also the little sister of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, where people attempt to write a novel in the space of a month. Not something that I am about to undertake! Oh Holy Hannah, can you imagine the run-on sentences and stream of consciousness/flights of fancy in that thing? For the good of literature I shall stick to blogging, I think.

A few thoughts on how things are going, 11 days into the challenge:

  • I really enjoy doing a little bit of daily writing. I find that I can jump in faster once I sit down to write, and the words are starting to flow a bit more freely, which makes writing more enjoyable, instead of just a twitchy compulsion that must be fed every once in a while. 
  • On the other hand, it's getting harder to come up with topics to write about. I want the things I post on this blog to have a voice of authenticity and to be things I care enough to spend my time writing about, as well as your time as you read it. So posting just to post something and hit my quota is less appealing than taking the time to create a post that really says something I want you to read. 
  • It's hard to find the time to write. I either do it in the morning and ignore house and home while the kids get too much screen time, or squeeze it in while Gwen is napping, which is exactly when I should be doing five billion other things besides sitting on my sweet bahonkus, glued to the laptop. Or I write in the evenings while we watch shows together, which means that I keep missing plot points in Castle. Blogging is my thing, my self-indulgence, and I want to make room for it, but I also don't want anyone else to have to make any sacrifices for me to do it, especially not my sweet little family. It's that blasted "finding a balance" thing again!
  • I think about blogging and writing a lot. A lot. If something funny or interesting happens, I wonder about making a blog post out of it. If I get into a particularly navel gazey mood, I start writing about it in my head. If I snap a good picture, I look to see if there is a blog post in there. 
  • Back to the first hand again, I do enjoy exercising a little bit of self-discipline and working to meet my schedule and deadlines, even if they are largely self-imposed. Seeing that I can meet my goals feels good. Feeling good feels good. 
Anyway, 11 days down, 19 to go! I'm also 13 posts away from hitting my 500th post, which is pretty cool. That's a lot of hours spent picking away at this keyboard. I should celebrate with a new laptop. 

Goodnight!

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Is Santa Claus really real?"



A few months ago Espen went through a phase of wanting to know if things and places and people were "really real", ranging from characters from books and TV shows to the Easter bunny. We've taken the line with our kids that we will answer all of their questions as honestly and straightforwardly as possibly, in the hopes that if they they can ask us the small questions, they will eventually bring us the big questions too. Which means that when he asked me about the Easter bunny, I took a deep breath and told him that I was his Easter bunny*. He thought that was pretty great, and then asked if he could help be Gwen's Easter bunny.

Still, I dreaded every round of "is ____ really real?" because I felt like he was making me kill his darlings! What is the world to a four year-old boy when he knows that Lightning McQueen is not really in it? So we talked about other worlds within books and stories and movies, and how it didn't really matter so much if the characters we love live in our world or not. And for a while, that satisfied those questions, and I felt I was off the hook - at least for now.

And then one day, the question came. All our deepest conversations seem to happen in the car when I am least expecting them, and this one was no exception. "Mama, is Santa Claus really real or not?"

My heart took a nosedive into the pit of my stomach. On the one hand I knew I had to tell the truth, and on the other hand I didn't want to kill the magic of Christmas - or Santa Claus. And then out of the mists of rising panic, I caught a glimpse of my salvation.

"Espen," I said. "Do you remember when we went to see Peter Pan as a play? With the actors at the theater? And do you remember what we did when Tinkerbell was sick and dying? We clapped our hands to show her that we believe in fairies. Tinkerbell needed us to believe in her to live. And when we believed in her, she lived! Well, it's kind of the same thing with Santa Claus: if we believe in him, he will be real. And if we don't believe in him, then there won't be a Santa Claus."

"Mama, I believe in Santa Claus," he said firmly.

Of course, he's going to ask again as he gets older and continues to try to make sense of the world. And this is what I'll tell him: People who believe in Santa Claus get to live in a world where there is magic. A world where fairies dance and dragons fly and there is always a door open to Narnia somewhere. While people who don't believe in Santa Claus live perfectly happy and good lives, but their lives are without magic and wonder. They are never going to wake up and discover that Santa ate the cookies they left out for him, because they never thought to leave cookies out in the first place, and they won't be falling down any rabbit holes to Wonderland, because Wonderland will never be open to them.

"The magic in the world will change as you get older," I'll say, "and will look and feel different at different stages of your life, and you might come to know it by a different name, but if you keep your eyes and your heart open, you will see that there is magic all around you. Always."





* I got the idea for this response from my lovely friend Lolly, who is a genius of a mother. Her husband blogs about how she told their daughter the truth about the tooth fairy here - its the second half of the post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A five percent day.

New Year's Eve 2008. No one could ham it up for the camera like my Daddy-o. 

It is Father's Day in Norway today, and so I am missing my dad. It's funny what hits you and what doesn't when you've lost someone. Father's Day last year was fine, the one year anniversary of his death was fine. His birthday was not fine, and now today is not fine either. 

It's just not fair that he's not here. That other people's kids get to have pink-cheeked grandfathers in good health, and mine only have one. It's not fair that other people get to obliviously write posts on Facebook stating: "Happy Father's day to the best dad in all the world! My dad is better than yours!" And it's not fair that he's not here when I want him to be. 


He loved being Espen's Grandad. 

And it's not fair that I'm starting to run out of pictures of my dad, especially ones of just him and me together, which means that I have to reuse the ones I have when I blog about him. Which doesn't sound like a big deal, but is actually a huge deal. 

Most of the time I'm a grown up and a rational human being about this. I'm used to talking about my dad that passed away, and can do it without bursting into tears all over the place now. I've even mentioned that he died and laughed in the same sentence (although I feel I need to clarify that I was laughing at something that somehow tied in, not at him dying, of course. Please understand). Ninety-five percent of the time I am perfectly well adjusted and accepting and philosophical and an absolute model of ideal bereavement behavior. And then the other five percent... I am none of those things. 

Today is a five percent day. Today I am resentful of people with living fathers. Today I am holding back the tears when people are looking, and letting them flow when they aren't. Today I regret not taking more pictures of just me and my dad together. Today I am looking at family pictures and watching old videos and wishing with all my heart that time could be stopped or events could be changed or that somehow, something would fix it so I can just have my Daddy back. 

Tomorrow will be a ninety-five percent day again, I am sure. Tomorrow will be better. But for 
tonight, I just want my Daddy, please. 


December 2008.

I, photographer.

Good looking family!
 Earlier this week my friend Tanya asked me if I would take her family's Christmas card photo, and I kind of panicked! After all, I only have exactly one four-week photography class under my belt, and exactly zero experience taking family pictures. At first it seemed like a really bad idea, but Tanya was persistent and had the kind of faith in me that only a real friend can, and so I agreed to give it a try.

Tanya and her Rick.

So today I tried my hand as a family portrait photographer! We met up at the park in front of a tree Tanya had picked out, and got to work! It was a really bright, sunny day, so it took me a little while to get the family positioned where they weren't squinting at the sun, and to get my camera settings figured out, but then we were on our way, and there just wasn't time to feel fumbly and inadequate anymore! I just kept seeing great shot after great shot appear in front of the camera, and all I had to do was capture it. It certainly didn't hurt to have such a good looking family to work with either!

Their cute kids
Fortunately, Tanya and her family didn't have anything very complicated in mind, so all I really had to do was position them and start shooting. If they had showed up in elaborate costumes and requested that I capture them as an all-juggling, all-fire-breathing family on unicycles, then I would not have been the photographer for them. But I am happy to tell you that I am capable of a fairly simple little shoot at the park. And considering how unsure I felt beforehand, I'm pretty pleased and proud with how things turned out! I won't be turning pro any time soon, but I am glad that I took the chance to try something new when it came along.

And, bonus of bonuses, Tanya and Rick were happy with the result. Can't ask for more than that!

Now, if our own Christmas card photos go this smoothly tomorrow, I will let you know.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Something for the weekend

After a week of colds and sickness, it's time these two had some fun!


Note: even more rambling and stream of consciousnessy than usual.

We did it, friends! One more week behind us and a weekend ahead of us. We are celebrating this feat by curling up in the couch with an episode of the Graham Norton show and quite probably a highly tasty and unhealthy treat. Brownies, maybe? Ooh, it's a bit late to start baking, but it might be worth it for brownies. Let me go turn on the oven.

OK, the brownies are baking, and I also took a short break to help Nick with some shelves he's building for the bathrooms. Hopefully I can reveal them to you soon, because I think they're going to look great! Now where was I?

Oh, yapping away about nothing in particular! I remember now. (I'm good at that.) How is your weekend looking? Do you have any fun plans, or do you have two days of nothing ahead of you? Those are my fave. Or maybe you have to work? Those are not my fave. Sorry, friend.

Our Saturday is jam-packed with adventure. We're off to see a movie in the morning, then lunch, then I am taking a Christmas card photo for some friends (who have much more faith in my abilities as a photographer than I do!), then we're grabbing takeout and bringing it over to some of our very best friends in all the world so we can hang out and chat while our collective kids run wild around us. In between and around these events we will also do some grocery shopping and hopefully work on those shelves. We're in the process of staining them right now, and you have to wait six hours between each coat, so it's going to take days before we actually get them on the walls. And then Sunday we have no plans at all (besides the usual three hours of church - ha!)!

A few things from the week:

  • I surprised my family with tickets to go see Big Hero 6 this weekend, so we've been watching previews all week. I think I might be more excited to see it than the kids, and that's saying something! I love that they're both big enough that we can do stuff like this with them now, and it gives us that extra incentive to see kids' movies that we were interested in anyway. But now we can see them and look like great parents! Now watch this preview and tell me if you don't at least crack a smile at "we jumped out a window!" or "furry baby!". 
  • I've been getting back into knitting again, and shrieked with glee when I came across this knitting pattern for a fox cowl by Heidi May. Her whole line is pretty shriek-worthy, truth be told. Go check her out over at The Velvet Acorn, and go all weak at the knees at all that pixie-chic goodness. 
  • More on the knitting front: I also discovered Little Cotton Rabbits' Etsy store today, and am completely falling apart over the cuteness that Julie has created. I am sorely tempted to order a set of her patterns and set about knitting a pair of matching rabbits for Espen and Gwen. I am too enamored with the idea to even consider the possibility of excessive cutesy-ness. 
  • On a different note, I really liked this article about the Afghan Women's cycling team. It's inspiring to me to learn about the challenges they are willing to face to pursue their passion, and to realize that they are fighting for so much more than the freedom to ride a bicycle. I may have lived in three different countries, but they have always been places of safety, freedom and privilege. We take so much for granted compared to our brothers and sisters around the world. Also, I want one of the Afghan Women's  cycling team's jackets. Aren't they awesome?
  • Equally inspiring are these teenage girls from Liberia that go door-to-door teaching their neighbors how to avoid contracting Ebola. Their message is a simple one (don't shake hands, wash them), but people are listening to them because they come from within the community, rather than outside it. 
  • We've been having quite a few North family dance parties lately, and one of Espen's favorite songs to dance to is I Won't Let You Down by OK Go. If you haven't seen the music video yet, definitely go check it out. It was filmed in one take by a drone, and is just so clever and fun. The song is good too. 
  • This is from a Norwegian newspaper, but the pictures are great. Just move the sliders from side to side to see Berlin today and before the wall fell 25 years ago. Do you remember the wall coming down? Were you even alive? I was nine when it happened, and I remember watching it on the news with my parents in Norway. I didn't fully understand what was happening, but I could sense the magnitude of it. It was a huge deal at the time, and is still a big moment in European history. 
Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Knit night out

I feel a bit like I just unearthed a great treasure! 
I wasn't sure that I was going to post on ye olde blogge today, because I spent the entire day (and part of the night) taking care of a sick and miserable little Gwen. It's just a cold, but it's a cold with a cough and a fever and a runny nose, and she's still little enough that she doesn't really understand what's going on or if it's going to stop.

So I've spent a lot of time holding her, snuggling her, reading her books (and wiping her nose) and just being exactly where she could find me when she needed me. So even if I'd had the time or the energy to write anything, I just didn't feel like I had anything very interesting to say. The day to day woes of a stay-at-home mom is hardly groundbreaking material in the blogging world, y'know?

Then tonight (after an oh-so-glamorous dinner from Wendy's and trip to Costco), my sweet friend Tanya picked me up and took me to Knit Night at the cutest little craft store you ever did see, Harmony in Provo.

Now, I know that spending the evening knitting in a craft store is not exactly living the high life. But it was exactly what I needed. I had never visited Harmony before, didn't know a soul besides Tanya, and yet had the strongest feeling of being with "my people". We talked about different types of yarn, needle preferences, discussed techniques... I even helped to teach someone to knit! It was so nice to get unabashedly good and nerdy about something I really enjoy, especially because it has been a while since I've really done any knitting. And the other knitters were so nice and so friendly too, which helped. And there were cookies.

After a day of fairly intense mothering, I was tired, and didn't really want to go out and meet new people and be sociable, but I am so glad that I did. It can be hard to break out of my comfortable routine, but I'm always so glad when I do. And I discovered a real treasure in the store itself, as well as a chance to reconnect with a hobby I enjoy so much, but have neglected for too long.

What I'm trying to say is this: today was hard, but I manned up, got out of my comfort zone and was rewarded for it. I liked it. The end.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Eshakti

The things I do for you!

You might find yourself wondering why this post features photos of me posing slightly awkwardly in a dress. Well, let me tell you: You know when you discover something really good that not a lot of people know about, and you have that conflicted moment where you try to decide if you want to keep it all to yourself or go shout it from the rooftops? Well, consider this my rooftop shouting moment where I tell you about Eshakti*.

Eshakti is an online women's clothing store that sells really great (often quite unusual) clothes at good prices. Their dresses especially tend to be pretty, feminine (with a little bit of a 1950s vibe) and quite different from what you will find elsewhere. Their sizes go from a US size 0 to 36W. Sounds quite good, right? But wait, there's more:

Eshakti let's you customize each item to your liking. Because they only start making your dress once you have ordered it, on a standard order they will let you make little alterations, like whether or not you want the embellishments on the dress, or if you would like pockets, little things like that. They also ask for your height so your hemline will hit right where you want it to, which is pretty great.

In addition to that, for a small fee ($7.50) they will let you change the skirt length, sleeve type and  neckline (depending on the item of clothing), and you can even submit your own measurements for a item of clothing that is made to fit your unique body. And the whole process only takes about two weeks!

Truth be told, I discovered Eshakti about four years ago when I was looking for a special dress for the holidays, and was having a hard time finding something I felt good about wearing less than a year after having my first baby. So I gave them a try and got a dress I felt pretty and comfortable in, and I have been ordering from them occasionally ever since.

The only complaints I have about their dresses are these: they tend to favor hidden zippers on the side, and those can be a beast to open and close by yourself. It also means some fairly undignified wriggling to get out of the dress afterwards, especially if you are on the bustier side. And I find that the dresses with the side zipper can run a little tight below the bust, so if you're not doing your custom measurements, you might want to go up one size. Again, that probably especially applies to those of us whose cups runneth o'er, if you know what I mean.


I love the embroidered detailing on the neckline. 

 Every time I wear something from Eshakti, I always get heaps of compliments and questions about where I bought it, which is really why I wrote this post. Share the wealth, share the love!

Oh, and if you decide to order something from them, please let me refer you, so you can get a discount!


*As usual when I recommend something like a product or a service, my opinion is my own and has not been paid for. Eshakti has no clue who I am other than an occasional customer, and I am not nearly blog-famous enough for them to pay me for telling you I like them. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Thankful Tree Tradition

The Thankful Tree

One nice thing about the month of November, is that it contains a holiday that functions as a constant reminder to feel grateful. I think it's so lovely that right between the fun and crazy chaos of Halloween and Christmas is a holiday that is devoted entirely to surrounding yourself with your loved ones and expressing thanks for all that you have. One point to America!*

I believe in being thankful. I believe in teaching my children to be thankful, and when there is a holiday labeled Thanksgiving on the horizon, it seems as good a time as any to focus our attention as a family on feeling and expressing gratitude.

Last night was our weekly family night, and so we sat down with the kids and talked to them about gratitude. Like we did last year in November, we brought out our Thankful Tree, and talked about the things that we are thankful for. Between us we mentioned our family, our home, each other, toys, education, good books, good employment, and a few more. Then we wrote those things down on paper leaves and hung them on our Thankful Tree. The idea is that we will keep doing this until Thanksgiving comes, and then our tree will be covered with leaves. I love reflecting on our blessings as a family, and I love seeing how much Espen gets from exercises like this.

Last year I copied down all of the leaves so we have a record of what we were grateful for in 2013, and I am already looking forward to doing that again this year. It's like preserving a little slice of who we are as a family right now.

Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions?



*But also minus one point to America for having coined the phrase "gobble till you wobble" and inventing Black Friday shopping.

Monday, November 3, 2014

November

My monthly calendar - so serene before I start filling in all the craziness!
It's the first Monday on the month, Espen is at school and Gwen is napping, and so I am having a little pow-wow with myself to plan out some of the craziness that is the last two months of the year, and get an idea of what needs to happen and when.

When Espen started playing soccer and Nick got involved in scouting earlier this fall, I got into the habit of printing out a monthly calendar page (I make my own, but you can find heaps of them for free on Pinterest). I then add all of the stuff we have going on in a month, from Nick's weekly scouting meeting to when the library books have to be returned. Until it became a habit, I wrote on the calendar that every Monday was Show and Tell at Espen's preschool. Every appointment, every event goes on the calendar and frees up another little piece of my brain from the task of remembering that. Such a simple thing, such a complete lifesaver for a spaz like me. I could do all of this on my phone, I suppose, but there is just something about actually seeing that piece of paper ingloriously taped to the side of the fridge that reminds me to take a quick look and keep me on track.

Besides putting the calendar together, here are some of the other things that I'm trying to plan for this month:

  • Gwen's birthday on the 15th. Holy √§ioli, my baby is turning two! I think we've mostly decided on what we're giving her (clothes, books, a stroller for her babies and maybe a bed too, if I can find a cute one), but we need to do the actual shopping too. Instead of a party, we're planning to take our animal enthusiast to the zoo so we can watch her shriek with delight at all the animals. Well, I say instead of a party... there will undoubtedly be cake and decorations and the tiniest of shindigs with some family, but not a party-party like we usually do. She's more of an adventurer anyway. But still, I need to figure out the logistics of all of this, and put together a little invite for the nearest and dearest. And go to Costco without Gwen so I can buy that stroller. 
  • Christmas cards! I like to get our cards out as soon after Thanksgiving as possible, so we have got to get moving on these as soon as possible. Especially seeing as we decided to take photos for our card ourselves. We've got a little something fun up our sleeves that I am very excited about! We just need to buy a few props, get our wardrobe figured out and then take the photos. ... And then design and print and address and send the cards. And buy holiday stamps. Nothing to it!
  • Thanksgiving Dinner. We are hosting again this year, which I am delighted about. Not only do I love the planning and putting together an event like that, I also love not having to load up the kids and drive through snowy mountain passes for four hours each way. It will be fairly low-key with only eight of us for dinner, but there's still a lot of planning and shopping and prepping to do. Not to mention time spent on Pinterest in search of the perfect place card and deciding whether or not I want to fold my napkins into turkeys
  • Christmas presents for my family in Norway. My mum's birthday is in mid-December, and so I want try to get their Christmas package there in good time for both her birthday and Christmas. Bur first I just have to work out what I want to get her for Christmas and her birthday, and find a present for my brother and get it all packed up and on its way. 
  • Advent Calendar. They're a very traditional thing in Scandinavia, and something I've enjoyed continuing with my family (See our advent calendar here and here.) December first does have a habit of creeping up on me, though, so I want to try to get those 24 little packages all ready to go in good time this year. And I'm trying to make our advent and Christmas this year a bit more about faith and family and service and compassion, and a little bit less about presents and consumerism, so I'm mulling over ways to do that with our calendar. Tricky! 
  • Christmas cleaning. I've written about this before, and it is totally a Norwegian thing, this irrational desire to clean everything in sight before Christmas is here. Except this year I kind of want to do it before Thanksgiving, or at least get well on the way by then. So I am devising a battle plan to deep clean every room in our house over the next month or so. Would it make me an absolute lunatic if I created a chart? (I really want to make a chart...)
Oh, and I signed up for NaBloPoMo this year, so I'll also be attempting to crank out a blog post every day for the month of November. 

How is your month looking? 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween 2014

Costumes! Pumpkins! We are so fun and festive!

At the very tail end of the weekend, I just wanted to pop in and quickly share a few photos from our Halloween celebration. In spite of a few setbacks like Espen suddenly getting sick, we had a fun holiday with just the four of us. Gwen discovered trick or treating in a big way this year, and Espen (who was a total trooper considering how crummy he felt at the beginning of the night) found that he might enjoy handing out candy even a little bit more than trick or treating at other people's houses. I broke the habit of a decade and actually dressed up (really, I bought a witch's hat at the last minute) a little bit at the request of Espen. He was a little disappointed that I didn't want to be a superhero mom, Spiderman or a bunny like he suggested, though. Maybe next year? 

Gwen is a garden fairy, hence the boots. 
We went fairly simple on the costumes this year. We got a tutu and some wings for Gwen, with the idea of bolstering the dressing up box a little bit, and dressed her up as a fairy. Being a girly girl, she loved having something pretty, and every time that tutu goes on, she's just gotta dance!




Espen had his little heart set on being an astronaut, so we ordered him this dress-up set from Melissa and Doug. It only cost as much as the average halloween costume, but the quality is good enough that it will probably last for a couple of years in the dressing up box. It has already done a little double duty as a white power ranger costume, so it was money well spent. I feel like a dressing up box is a playroom must, and I like watching where their imaginations take these things. You never know what Gwen is going to be wearing when she comes out of the playroom (but chances are she'll be a superhero or a dragon)!

These kids, I tell you what! I love being their mom. 

 Now it is mysteriously already November and I am already a day behind on my goal to post every day for a month. Gwen's birthday is in two weeks, then we're hosting Thanksgiving, and then it will be Christmas before you know it! Yikes. I feel like I am about to step onto a merry-go-round in motion and before we know it, it will be a new year.

Take a deep breath and hold on tight!