Our House at Christmas: 2014

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had a lot of fun getting our house ready for Christmas this year. Last year was moving year. The tree and ornaments and stockings came out of storage, and I did put garland on the mantle, but that was about it. I didn’t have a feel for the house yet without buying all new things – and going out and buying all new isn’t really my budget-minded style. Last year our Christmas decor splurge was exterior lights that worked with our new roofline. This year, we were going to buy a new tree, but as Thanksgiving rolled around and neither B nor I had actively searched for a good fake tree (we both love real trees but we’re both allergic to pine trees, so we go fake for the sake of not having hives and itchy eyes all season long), we laughed when I said, “We’re not getting a new tree this year, are we?” and B said, “I’m pretty sure the kids are going to to want to put the tree up this weekend, so probably not, unless you want to try a real tree? We SHOULD look for one after Christmas and get a deal…but…” and I finished his sentence, “…but we won’t, because after Christmas we the last thing we want to do is spend more money. Especially on stuff we can’t use for another year.” And B said, “Exactly.”  Our tree has been around for 7 years, and we bought it on clearance as a floor model back then. It has lots of holes in it, and it’s a little bit short, and the top branch doesn’t hold a tree topper straight. But the kids don’t care. And someday we’ll replace it, but for now, we’ll just make it work.

Living Room Tree

Back in 2007, I had a cute tree skirt made with our soon-to-be last name that matched our stockings. It was cranberry red. If you’re just joining us, I discovered a lot about myself after we bought our first house. The number one thing I discovered? I love red in other peoples homes, it feels homey and cozy and warm. But it isn’t me. I like cool tones. So I felt like our stockings and tree skirt always pigeon holed me into sticking to dark red and green Christmas colors. And I didn’t love it. I have been eying a galvanized bucket for a tree stand for three years – ever since I saw one on Terrain’s website in 2012. Last year I found one and they all sold out before I placed my order, so when I saw it back in stock this year, I ordered it immediately. And it has been sitting in our Dining Room since September 15th. When we pulled the tree out of the crawl space last Saturday, I was so glad I’d bought the tree collar. It’s way more us.

Rustic Modern Christmas

I have always loved the look of garland on the stairs, and now we live in a house that was made for Christmas garland. And that makes me happy. I love that from our kitchen table, you can see lights in every room – the kitchen, the family room, the living room, the upstairs hallway. We still have the traditional red and green stockings. I was going to buy us all new white ones (I always said when our family was complete, I’d buy all new stockings), but the practical side of me intervened. Also, Thomas told me he loves his stocking. So they stayed for this year.

Family Room

In the spirit of updating what we have without spending much, I focused on the finishing touches. I’ve also always had red and green and gold plaid ribbon on our tree and outdoor wreaths because it’s what my mom always put on her tree and wreaths. And it works for Caroline, but I realized very quickly that while my mom and I have similar overall taste, we have different styles. Does that make sense? So, finally this year, I bought some burlap ribbon. Burlap and galvanized metal. It’s beginning to look a lot like a B and Emily Christmas. About time. :)

Christmas Decor 2014 There are other little things here and there: our advent wreath in the kitchen that the kids and I made at church one snowy Tuesday night while B was traveling, and our activity Advent calendar that our friends gave us a few years ago.  Our Little People Nativity sits on the console table under our gallery wall, but is usually strewn about the family room floor. And that’s our house at Christmas this year.

Simple Christmas Card Display

simple christmas card display

I love Christmas cards. I love sending them. I love receiving them. I love displaying them. I will never forget the year Thomas was born and there seemed to be a shift against sending Christmas cards – pictures were already on Facebook anyway. And I remember, in a very Emily fashion, making a proclamation that I will always send Christmas cards – and I will never post the Christmas card picture to social media before our cards are out. But, with all of my cards addressed and stamped (and hopefully making their way to the post office today), I figure I can share it on the blog now. This year I picked this colorful “Definitely Merry” card from Tiny Prints – I love the twist on traditional Christmas colors and the theme just seemed perfect for this very merry year. Nothing merrier than welcoming a sweet baby into the family!

  christmas card 2014

In the past, I’ve always clipped the Christmas cards that come in throughout December to a piece of upholstery webbing hanging from our coat closet door. But last January, we hung the antique window that I found at a junk store in the cutout/niche between our living room and back hallway (you can read more about the hunt for the window here). And as soon as that window was up, I knew that’s where we’d hang our Christmas cards.

 

  window for christmas card display

 This was so easy. I just grabbed some twine intended for wrapping gifts when I found it this Fall. Last week, I strung four rows of the twine horizontally across my beloved antique window and used some heavy duty tape to keep them in place. I draped a paper circle garland across the top of the window, and as cards come in, I clip them up on the twine. It will get more and more crowded as the month goes on – and I can easily add more rows of twine if I need them.

Christmas Cards on old window

I love two things about this setup. In our home, this window is the first thing you see as you walk through our front door. It looks cool on its own, but when it’s decorated, it definitely draws your eye to the window, so a prominent display for our friends’ and family’s holiday cards is perfect. Also, when I’m walking down our back hallway, I can see the pretty backs of the cards through the window. When I was selecting our card for this year, I definitely paid attention to the backs of the cards. The card I chose has fun typography on the back, and some of the ones we’ve received have cute stripes and polka dots.

 

So that’s our Christmas Card display for this year. It makes me happy. Last year, we had just moved into our home 6 months before Christmas (and I was 6 months pregnant with Peter) and I didn’t really have a feel for Christmas decor in our new home. But as we’ve made this house more “ours” throughout the last year and a half, it’s been even more fun to decorate for the holidays. So, more Christmas decor coming tomorrow!

Happy Halloween 2014

halloween card

Just stopping in quickly to show the kids’ costumes this year – Thomas, in true Thomas fashion decided last November 1st he was going to be a skunk this year, and Nell has an obsession with “Gagas” (Penguins), so Pete needed to get in on the black and white animal theme! Have a safe and fun Halloween, everyone!

 

Halloween Costumes Collage

Updates

  • We had a great Easter (a week and a half ago now)…busy, but good. Starting with the kids coming down Easter morning to their Easter baskets. Side note: Our stairs have this diagonal in them for the bottom four steps. I’ve never loved it, but it wasn’t a deal breaker…I’d just prefer a more traditional staircase. But, Easter morning, I realized it’s perfect for three Easter baskets. It would fit four…but B says our stairs accommodating an extra Easter basket are not a compelling reason to keep having more kids. So there, one holiday transformed the way I feel about that crazy staircase layout. IMG_9203 The Saturday before Easter, we dyed Easter eggs using Kool Aid. It was perfect, and I’ll never dye eggs with one of those kits again!

IMG_9186

Easter morning, we woke up for Easter baskets, then booked it to church to get there at least 30 minutes before Mass was slated to start. The great Catholic dilemma arose as we arrived in time to hear the Homily and watch the 7 am Mass receive Communion – if we’re there in time for the Homily and Communion, do we call it attending and leave with the early birds? Or wait for our normal 8:30 Mass.  We waited for 8:30…but the debate absolutely took place. We love the church we’ve found and the community we’ve established going to church there for the last three years, but they could use some work on their time management. After Mass, we rushed home and before hosting B’s parents for brunch, we grabbed a quick family photo: our first, I’m ashamed to say, of all five of us (bonus that Casco posed!) since Peter was born.

IMG_9220

  • So that was Easter…Next up. Peter. We are loving life as a family of five, but it’s been loud :) . Peter is colicky and has reflux, but we’re doing whatever we can to get to the bottom of it to make our little guy more comfortable. I’m back off dairy (as I was with Nell, but for different reasons) and eliminating other foods from my diet, and we’re gonna get to the bottom of it.
  • I’m working out daily and eating clean to get back in shape (well, the clean eating was dictated by Peter, but the getting back in shape is a bonus) after Peter’s birth. My go-to workout after every pregnancy is the 30 day shred…and I’m so sick of it. But I’ll see it through the 30 days and post results here similar to what I did 3 years ago when I’m done. I am so passionate about not dwelling on body image – we have a daughter, and sons, who we want to raise to be healthy and confident young people, so I’m focusing more on being healthy than being back at my exact pre-pregnancy weight.
  • I loved Sarah’s thoughts on technology and kids from Monday. I’ve shared before that we really try to limit screen time and technology with our kids, like, the TV is rarely on unless there is a hometown sporting event in the background, and even then we turn it off if we notice Thomas paying too much attention to it. We started letting T watch an episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, or similar, about once a week a few months ago so that he’d know what his preschool classmates were talking about, but otherwise we keep screen time to a minimum. I don’t say this to declare our way the only way…or even the right way. It’s just what works for us and what feels important to us.  But anyway, coming from a technology minimalist mindset for kids, I really enjoyed Sarah’s thoughts on technology for me to process as our kids get older, so thought I’d share if anyone else was interested.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Peter’s room is ready for me to take pictures of, so hopefully I’ll get to that in the next few days!

Tips for An Inviting Home and Less Stressful Holiday Entertaining

I’m excited to share my tips for creating an inviting home and steps I take for less stressful holiday entertaining today! Click through to read more:

IMG_8246

[Read more...]

Holiday Gift Guide: Toddlers

I’m back with my toy and book recommendations for toddlers. This is a harder category for me, especially because my current toddler has an older brother, and so many of his toys are her favorites. But here are some tried and true things Nell has loved in the last few months (I’d say starting around 15 months for many of these):

Holiday Gift Guide Toddlers

*No affiliate links are used in these recommendations, and I am not sponsored by any of these companies to recommend these products. Just sharing what we love.

Melissa and Doug Fill & Spill Picnic Basket - Nell could happily put things in and out of containers all day long. She loves this picnic basket (and a similar purse), so any fill & spill type toy would be a huge hit for any kid. This was a favorite for Nell beginning shortly before her first birthday, and continues to occupy her time today.

Let’s Go to the Zoo (and most Lift the Flap Books) – My BFF Emily gave this book to T for his first birthday, and it saved us on several plane trips. We had to replace it when Nell was ready because it was so well loved, and I’ve accepted that we’ll just need to buy another copy when McKiddle #3 is about 1, too. The kids learn their animals and animal sounds reading this book (multiple times a day every day). I don’t know what it is, but this book (and other lift the flap books) just hook the kids in.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank - We don’t actually own this toy ourselves, but my kids both play with it everywhere they go, and when Thomas was in physical therapy, his Physical Therapist always pulled this out for him to practice fine motor and gross motor activities (the kid wouldn’t move if a boulder was rolling at him, but put a fake penny in front of him and he was motivated…and honestly, he’s still money [fake or real] motivated to this day).

Baby Lit Books – These are just fun for me (my sister gave them to Nell for her birthday, but she and I geeked out over them for a good 20 minutes together), but Nell adores them. They were the first books my little mover and shaker would sit still for, and whenever I need her to just calm the eff down, I pull out Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. If I had to guess now, I’d put my money on Nell being a high school English Teacher. She loves herself some Jane Austen, can muster up energy that no one else understands, and takes absolutely none of our – or anybody else’s – crap. Qualities every high school English teacher needs, I’d say.

Hide and Squeak Eggs – I do not understand why, but these are enchanting to babies and toddlers alike. That’s all.

Green Toys Shape Sorter – I’ve tried just about every shape sorter out there, and this is my favorite. We have a ball one that is really great starting around age 2, but this one is perfect because it sits flat for young toddlers to manipulate, but isn’t too uncomplicated – it still keeps their interest. Such important fine motor skills in shape sorting (and it’s always fun to watch your kid get it for the first time) and great for learning shapes, too. For the record, we have the Melissa and Doug box shape sorter which I assumed would be awesome and I loathe it (purchased two years ago, so it could have improved in that time) – the lid comes off too easily, and the shapes are too complicated – and many of them too similar for young toddlers just beginning to develop the fine motor skills and shape recognition necessary for shape sorting. This Green Toys one is perfect – like I said, complicated enough, but not frustratingly so.

For more favorite toys for the 1 – 2 age set, check out Toys for 1 Year Olds written after Nell’s birthday this summer.

What’s on your toddler’s Christmas list this year? Anything you highly recommend that your own toddler has loved lately?

Holiday Gift Guide: Preschoolers

It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s November. And while I’m firmly in the “No-Christmas-Music until December 1st” boat, I’m also firmly in the “wrap up as much of my Christmas shopping as I can before Thanksgiving” boat. So, I thought I’d do a few posts this week on the things my kids have been loving over the last six months or so. I always find holiday and other gift guides so helpful – if not for a specific toy than for an idea or genre of toy or book I hadn’t thought to explore yet, so for those of you wanting to get an early start on your Christmas shopping, these posts are for you!

Let’s start with my preschooler. These are some of our tried-and-true since his 3rd birthday. A lot of these really work for either preschool boys or girls, but keep in mind I have a 3 year old boy when reading these recommendations, and that he’s an All-American boy in terms of loving sports, cars, construction and all things letter and number related.

 

Holiday Gift Guide 3 year olds

 

*Please note, no affiliate links are used in these recommendations, and I have no affiliation with any of these companies, just sharing what we love:

Magformers - If I could only recommend one toy for this age group (and honestly younger and much older), these would be it. Last year I was planning on joining the Magna Tiles craze and getting those for T as a Christmas gift, but on our road trip out east Mr. B’s aunt gifted Thomas these Magformers to keep him entertained at her house, and then to take home with us. B and I are addicted to these – I could sit on the floor and build extravagant magnet structures for hours with the kids (Nell tears them apart, but I’m working on being okay with it). T has always enjoyed them, but has become particularly fond of them in the last six months. I think at some point me might still add Magna Tiles (or just more Magformers) to our playroom mix, but these are a bit more affordable and so much fun.

Activity Cones – Talk about a multi-useful toy. These are everything from an obstacle course, to football uprights in the backyard, to clown hats, to peg legs, to construction cones. Easy, inexpensive, imaginative fun.

Blutrack – This was how I bribed Thomas to potty train back in April (he’s a stubborn one, so he got a BIG gift for using the toilet the first time – I knew that was going to be our biggest hurdle so I took him to pick it out, and told him he could open it when he peed on the potty for the first time. It took two hours for him to decide toilets weren’t so bad, he wanted that race track so much). But anyway, I keep this put away most of the time, and pull it out on extra cold days or for playdates. A bucket full of match-box cars provides at least a solid hour of entertainment. And T’s face lights up when I get out his race track.

Bowling Set: Thomas received this from our old neighbors’ when Nell was born, and he has loved it for a year and a half. In the last six months though, this has been a favorite toy of T’s to pull out when he has friends over. Now that he can set up the pins himself, I like it more, too. Great for hand-eye coordination and beats the hell out of wearing borrowed shoes (though I’m sure a real bowling alley visit is in our future).

Garbage Truck and I Stink! – This is a great combo gift. I’ll be honest, the book took some adjusting to for me and Mr. B, but T and all of his preschool boy buddies absolutely adore it – and the more we read it, the more we understand why. T got the book from his birthday from a friend (after he repeatedly checked it out at the library, I suggested it when asked for ideas), and Nell gave him the garbage truck for his birthday, too. They’re both huge hits around here – and I’m pretty sure most boys would love this book with any type of garbage truck.

Mini Micro Scooter- Thomas was adamant about wanting a scooter for his 3rd birthday after watching kids scoot around all spring in our old neighborhood. He tried out a friend’s scooter and I wasn’t that thrilled with it – it didn’t turn well, it was tippy. So I started my research and settled on the Mini Micro Scooter. It’s the only preschool sized scooter we’ve actually owned, but having watched Thomas ride other scooters, this one is hands down the best out there. It’s a daily internal struggle for T to decide if he’s going to scooter or ride his strider bike on our walks and park outings, and he rides it up and down our street with the older neighbor kids all day long. This is a bigger ticket item (but under $100), but I can’t recommend it highly enough.

For more Toddler and Preschool gift guides, check out my recap of Toys for Boys Ages 2 – 3. All of these items are still solidly in use daily at our house almost 6 months later, but repeating them felt redundant, so feel free to consider that list for this age group, too! Tomorrow I’ll share the toys Nell’s been loving lately for all of you with a young toddler.

What are your preschoolers loving these days? Anything you already have on your kiddos Christmas lists?

 

A Walrus Costume (and mini-tutorial)

My 3 year old decided last year on November 1st that he was going to be a walrus for Halloween 2013. His walrus obsession began when his Gigi took him to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for a “Thomas Day” shortly after Nell was born, and continued into our trip to DC last November when we took the kids to the National History Museum. So, the walrus costume has been on my mind for a year, but I wasn’t going to get started until October since Rickie Fowler (I vetoed on account of no one in Colorado really following PGA golf outside of my dad, Mr. B and Thomas) and Peyton Manning (pretty sure he decided that he dresses like Peyton every day, so what’s the fun in being Peyton for Halloween?) were both thrown around as Halloween costume options for awhile.

  DIY Walrus Costume

Nell’s costume is a Carter’s Elephant (she loves elephants and we sometimes call her Nelephant, so it fit) and is basically a well padded sweatshirt with an elephant trunk on the hood, and her costume inspired me to create the walrus out of a brown hooded sweatshirt. We live in Colorado – chances are good there will be snow on Halloween, so Colorado moms know that costumes need to fit over a snowsuit (or just act like a snowsuit itself). When T was firmly decided on the Walrus on October 1st, I ordered a brown hooded sweatshirt from Amazon and found brown sweatpants at Walmart (of course they couldn’t sell a hoodie with their sweatpants, that would be too easy). Then, I googled around for my favorite walrus – the walrus costumes out there are kinda meh, so I just found a stuffed walrus whose face I liked and made the walrus face based on that.

Toddler Preschool Walrus Costume

First, I cut two bean shapes out of carmel covered felt to make up the walrus snout. Then, I cutout a quick heart shaped felt nose from black felt and hand stitched it onto one of the bean shapes at the top. I turned the bean shapes inside out and sewed the two sides together, turned them right side out and stuffed it to make a Walrus snout.  My mom was over while I was doing this and decided that a simple stitch around the snout would add detail and also that classic home-grown Halloween costume feel, so Caroline is responsible for the detailing. I also used the same colored felt for the walrus stomach – just to provide some variation in the costume. The tusks were the same idea – I cut four long curved tusks out of white felt, stitched two together twice to make two tusks, stuffed them, and sewed them to the snout. Then I attached the snout and tusks to the hood with a hand stitch, and cut two oval black walrus eyes to hand stitch on, too. Overall, it took me about an hour, and Thomas was giddy watching his long awaited walrus costume come together.

Walrus Costume

I love making Halloween costumes for the kids, but I’m also a reasonable person. Carter’s made a damn cute elephant and I bought it at Costco for $12.99. I spent more than $12.99 on T’s hoodie and sweatpants alone, though his costume didn’t total more than $20. Sometimes you have to make a costume (when your three year old decides he’s going to be a walrus, for example), and sometimes it’s okay to buy one (when your one year old’s only opinion is that every costume she passes in any given store is “MINE!”).

Walrus and Elephant costumes

Our walrus and Nelephant are pretty happy with their Halloween gettups – and Thomas is already scheming for Halloween 2014. Let’s hope it’s something I can make out of a sweatsuit. So, Happy Halloween from our zoo! Hope you all have fun and safe trick-or-treat adventures!

Simple 4th of July Mantle

*Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post with a book suggestion for a chance to win Ladies’ Night by Mary Kay Andrews and a Ladies’ Night kit to host a party with your friends.

The 4th of July is my single favorite holiday. Have I told you I tried SO hard to get Mr. B to agree to a 4th (or 5th) of July wedding? And I quote, “Em, I want our anniversary to be a day for us. Not America.” Cute, right? He’s persuasive, and since I hit gold in the husband department, I figured I could settle on the wedding date. But that’s beside the point. I love the 4th. There’s no pressure – just eat some unhealthy food, take a dip in the pool, wear some red, white and blue and have fun.

I’ve always had grand plans in the decorating for the 4th department, but as you probably know by now, my plans and my ability to execute sometimes have a disconnect. Or, I just don’t get around to things. More that.

IMG_7421

America the Beautiful Print

This year, I made an “America the Beautiful” print using Tagxedo and the lyrics to America the Beautiful – it’s basically Wordle but with shapes for the words – before we were moving. I like to procrastinate when I should be doing things like transferring our comcast service and packing, so I make art prints for holidays that are 3 months away. Whatevs. If you don’t want to make your own, you can download the one I put together here. And then I downloaded two free printables for the other side of the mirror on our mantle.

IMG_7420

The God Bless America Printable is available here. And the proud printable is available here (I had issues getting it to print, took me some time and then I ended up resizing the 8×10 to fit in a 5×5 square frame I already had).

That’s it. Our simple but patriotic mantle.

IMG_7427

You might have noticed that the 2 story family room – and especially this wall – is no longer 50 Shades of Brown. When I figure out the best time of day to photograph this room, I’ll show you all the changes – like our sectional, and kitchen counter stools.

IMG_7431

I have big plans for this wall eventually. For now, I’m making it work, because you have to love something in the meantime,too. But let’s just visualize for a second: Centering the fireplace (which peeks into the office behind this room) will be too costly, so instead we’ll just draw attention to the fireplace with molding and new tile surround, and change the cutouts into built-ins. Something like this. Or this. I just don’t love the drywall for a mantle look. Or the gigantic cutout that dwarfs what I originally considered to be a pretty substantial mirror. Or the cutout for a TV they stopped making in 1995. Why were they still designing houses for those TVs in 2001? But all of that is years down the road – when the other projects that are higher priorities have been done.

That’s our mantle as it stands today. With a little bit of 4th of July flair. Thoughts? Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday week. I’m off to Minnesota tomorrow for a whirlwind trip for a sorority sister’s wedding (the sorority girls together sans husbands and boyfriends, things are sure to get out of hand), and next week I’m in one of my best friend since high school’s weddings, so blogging will be scarce until after the holidays.

Love Themed Valentine’s Mantle

Every year I get a little more holiday-y. Last year my cousin and I made Sweethearts for each member of our families – and I haven’t ordered new vinyl for Nell’s name, so that decoration’s not coming out until I get that done – so in three or so years (insert reason #529 why it’s way more practical to find out if you’re having a boy or a girl and share the name before its born. But I’ve never been one to do the practical thing). So, this year, I made a paint chip garland.

Valentines Paint Chip Garland

A few weeks ago, when I had a few minutes to kill while both kids napped and I was all caught-up on my work for the week, I was combing through the archives of one of my favorite blogs – Jones Design Company – and came across Emily’s paint chip garland tutorial and was smitten. So I put it on my to-copy list.

 

 

While Nell and I were looking for a mirror at Lowes a few weeks ago, I swung by the paint chip aisle and grabbed a few red paint chips for valentine’s day – and a few gray ones for my future actual painting needs. I felt a little bit guilty about taking 5 red paint chips, but told myself that I buy enough paint from Lowes (and everywhere else) that they can probably handle me taking five paint chips every few years. I see a neutral colored one in my bulletin board’s future.

And then I threw this card that I gave to B into the frame that usually houses our wedding invitation. Our wedding invitation would be love-themed too and totally Valentine’s Day appropriate, but I was in the mood for a change for February.

Valentine's Mantle

I have the coldest hands and feet known to man (sorry to report, Tom and Nell seem to have inherited my cold extremities), and I always try to steal Mr. B’s foot heat when we’re tucked into bed at night. The card works on our mantle – B is my perfect complement: We’re so alike in many – important – ways, and so different in ways that make us grow and change and become better people together.  Love that man and our family we’re raising together. That’s our Valentine’s Mantle 2013 edition.