Monday, December 26, 2011

christmas reflections.

well, merry (belated) christmas! i can't believe christmas is over... i'm re-living it with this post, as one way to ward off my impending post-holiday depression. at least we still have NYE celebrations and another three day weekend fast approaching to look forward to, right? how will i fill my days, if not with burlap christmas crafts??? it will take an adjustment, that's for sure.

christmas was an absolutely wonderful time around here. i stayed in my pajama's for 24+ hours and reveled in jack's delight and wonder over the whole affair. we enjoyed some new toys, chinese food and a few glasses of wine. one of john's xmas presents to me was that he sat and watched an entire episode of the real housewives of beverly hills with me while jack napped. merry christmas to me!

we had quite the week of celebrating, kicked off by an overnight visit from a college friend of ours who now calls the grand state of texas home. that's right, texas teal came home to iowa. we had a lovely visit, complete with sushi and lots of reminiscing about old memories. it was too short, as every visit is, but i was so happy to see her! love you, teal, and thanks for making dubuque one of your stops!

we donned some festive christmas apparel on friday night....

and welcomed our friends whitney and bart back to dubuque from tampa, fl. whitney is a former colleague of mine, and a very dear friend. she about broke my heart when she left the firm in september to join her husband in florida, but at least we're only a plane ride away. it was great seeing the two of them and great seeing how happy she is down in florida. the best christmas gift you can receive is the knowledge that your friends and family are as happy and blessed as you are! it was a great night, complete with lots (and maybe too much, as the case may be) holiday cheer!

saturday we hosted christmas eve with my family, and it was a great night, as usual. i don't have many pictures because i was too busy enjoying every single minute of it, but, suffice it to say, everyone put up with my elaborate holiday celebrations/decorations/etc. and i am grateful for their good sportsmanship. it was especially nice to see my brother chris, someone who claims to be annoyed by christmas, embracing the holiday spirit. he played not one but TWO christmas carols during the night, and he also read jack "twas the night before christmas" before the wee one retired for the evening.

we continued a few of our favorite family traditions... chicken on christmas eve & the end-of-the-year confessionals, and added some more. first up, the confessionals. every year on christmas eve, everyone shares something naughty they did over the past year for which they receive immunity from my father... as in, he's not allowed to ground or otherwise punish anyone based on what is revealed during the confession. it's not as important for me anymore since my father's jurisdiction doesn't reach outside the confines of his home, but it's always a pretty entertaining conversation in which we all learn a little bit more about each other. my brother chris, in grinch-like fashion, usually refuses to share any confessions, but this year, he shared several year's worth, and it was quite satisfying for my sister and i to have him participate. john revealed that, by some fluke or miracle or what-have-you, jack had, earlier in the week, managed to tear down one of the paper lanterns hanging above his crib. he proceeded to shred the lantern and john discovered him giggling about this shennanigan. they both feared what might happen if i learned of the lantern's demise, so john carefully placed it in the trash under other rubbish, and figured it could be their little secret... til the christmas eve confessional!

thinking about the confessionals reminds me of the great times my family has at holidays, everyone gathered around the table, laughing, drinking, sharing a meal. we are blessed beyond measure, and i am eternally grateful for the blessings that touch my life on the daily. i have a warm place to live, a beautiful, healthy family, a job i love, the opportunity to advance in my career. thinking about all the things i have that i sometimes take for granted made me think that i really wanted to do something this holiday to help my family remember how good we have it. usually i scour the pages of my favorite cookbooks, looking for elaborate appetizers to prepare and serve with cocktails for the first hour or two of the night. this year, i set about trying to find some way to give back to those less fortunate in our community.

i divided the nine members of my immediate family who would be joining us for dinner into three groups of three, and wrote little instructions on sheets placed inside envelopes. when everyone arrived for dinner, we gathered in my living room and i handed out the envelopes. the deal was that no one could open their envelope until the group got into their car. everyone was supposed to follow the instructions, then meet back at the house to share what they'd done. my dad, jack and i took five bags of groceries to the teresa shelter, which is a local shelter for battered women and children. john, my mom and my brother, clayton, handed out gift cards to wal-mart, and my sister, jessica and brothers, marty and chris were supposed to buy hot chocolate and take it to salvation army bell ringers. i think that this will become a new tradition in my family because everyone enjoyed it so much. the surprised look of the woman who answered the intercom at the shelter was so touching, and when my mom described the response of the little girl and her mom who received one of the gift cards, i couldn't help but shed a few tears. because that's truly what christmas is all about: spending time treasuring your blessings with the people you hold dear. (from the mouths of "babes," my brother marty's initial response to this event was: "of course stephanie would have us participate in some elaborate event on christmas eve. remember when she made us take that long hike into the woods to find out that jack was a boy?" haha. they know me too well!)

after we had all shared lots of laughs and drinks and opened some presents, it was time to play santa. there's something about a house on christmas eve, the lights all twinkling so sweetly, the tree looking perfect, the presents all arranged underneath. the warm feeling you get observing the whole scene makes any pre-holiday stress worth every minute, right? totally. so i stuffed all the stockings and made my way to bed...

... when i was awakened the next morning by excited baby squeals. of course jack didn't really understand that it was christmas, but he's pretty excited about waking up most days, and christmas was really no different. we shuffled down the stairs, and upon surveying the scene, he let out a "ohhhhhh, cooooooooo," which is jack speak for "awesome. cool. mom & dad, you're the best." haha.

jack is thoroughly enjoying his workbench, particularly the drill, which he seems to have quite a grasp on how to use...

he's also been preparing many a delicious feast for john and i, and luckily they're low in fat, high in imagination content...

i was sort of worried that these gifts might be a little too advanced for the wee one, but he's been enjoying them non-stop since he discovered them... totally a "jack" of all trades! oh, and as you can see from above, while some of us refused to change out of pajamas, some of us refused to wear clothes at all. it was christmas after all. and who am i to stop him from naked celebrations, if that's what floats his boat???

it was the very first time in all of our years that neither john nor i spent the day with our extended family. it was just the three of us. and it was so wonderful. i feel like i truly got to hit "pause" for a little while and just enjoy my sweet little baby boy. while i did miss being with our families (we did get some skype action in, and of course a few phone calls to loved ones afar), it was really nice to stay put. we had traveled every single weekend of december, so the couch in our living room was really begging for us to cozy up and veg for the day. i have to hand it to my husband. it was really his idea for us to stay home this christmas, and i'd be lying if i said that initially i didn't feel some pangs of disappointment to be missing seeing my sisters and brothers and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. john reminded me that we make a great effort to spend lots of time with them throughout the year, and that we needed to start making our own holiday traditions. so i reluctantly agreed, and he couldn't have been more dead on. it was a lovely break with old traditions, and a sweet beginning to some new family memories of our own. of course, we did pay homage to an old fueger family favorite a la "the christmas story:" chinese food! no stress, no fuss, chinese food take-out on the christmas china. nothing says happy birthday, jesus quite like that!

jack's first attempt at coloring. he was partial to the orange crayon.

bathtub picasso

and of course, we had to spend 22 minutes with the bubble guppies on christmas!

so anyway, we were blessed with a wonderful, relaxing holiday, and i hope you were, too!

as for my twelve christmas crafts... how did i make out?

well, (surprise, surprise) my pinterest boards were a little too big for my allotted spare time. such is life. i did complete a few more christmas inspired things...

we traveled to michigan to see my sister, brother-in-law and their new puppy lemmi the weekend before christmas. i was admiring my sister's pottery barn initial ornaments that she had hung from the chandelier in her dining room. (i can't find a picture on PB's site, but i did find a similar version on this blog:)

the ornament reminded me of a coaster, and i remembered that i had saved several coasters from trip to the hofbraus haus in munich, germany in 2009. i added some glitter and jute and voila! my very own PB knock-off ornaments!

i also half-assed a christmas table runner. it wasn't my intention to be so lazy. i bought the holiday-inspired fabric over a month ago. and i folded it and set it on my dining room table, with a burlap runner over top. and i very much intended to hem the edges and take the fabric from remnants to runner, but i just never quite got there. and it was approximately 1 hour until my family was set to arrive on christmas eve, and i was all like, "john, i'm just going to quick hem this, and..." and he was all like, "NO! absolutely not. your family does not care about hemming table runners. are you insane?" and with logic like that, how could i argue? so, yeah... the next christmas craft is the tale of a trip to joann's that resulted in 2 yards of fabric that i folded to make it look like a sweet table runner. no one said a word about my no-sew faux pas; aren't they well-mannered? (i might never sew my runners again....)

and now... for my favorite christmas craft... john's gift (which, coincidentally, i can enjoy, too!) i've been wanting an old sign to hang above the window in our living room that faces the gallery wall (which we've discussed ad nauseum on several prior occasions). and after deciding that i had to have an old sign, i encountered about 99 more problems... (1) when would i find the time to hunt down an old sign at an antique store? (2) once i tracked down a sign i loved, how would i afford it? i could always sell my first-born son, but i've been growing increasingly fond of him... (3) i feel about signs the way i feel about tattoos. what should the sign say? we don't collect things (except dogs and burlap - and you can't very well make an old sign that says "wayward pet home" or "hi. i have a burlap addiction.") i wanted the sign to be meaningful, but the changes of finding an old sign that was in my price range and meant something to me were slim to none. so i headed to pinterest, where i found several old sign tutorials. and i enlisted the help of my father, who agreed to find an old crappy piece of barn wood for me to turn into an old sign for john for christmas. once the sign was safe and sound in the recesses of my garage so john wouldn't suspect a thing, i googled around for an old-fashioned free font i liked, downloaded it and printed out the letters i needed in 300 point font. i used an exacto knife to cut around the letters to make stencils and then painted the words on the sign. it's worth mentioning that i promptly ignored all the sign-making tutorials i found on pinterest because i was lucky enough to be given an old piece of wood (many of the tutorials show you how to make the wood look old using cider vinegar and other potions. i highly recommend checking out the other pinterest methods, if you're so inclined. the only drawback to my method is that my authentic piece of barnwood weighs like 30 damn pounds!)
anyway, without futher ado, here she is:

i really like the way it turned out, and i think john was touched. he's always surprised that i've pulled something off without alerting him to my schemes. he also made sure to point out that we could totally fit an "s" at the end of "son" if need be!

i also prepared a bunch of holiday treats from new recipes, including THIS fabulous one. ummm, white chocolate + raspberry + pecans = make it right now, and love it as much as we did! it's supposed to be a three layer torte, but i made a two-layer torte and had one thin cake, which, i told myself, totally cut down on the calorie quotient (don't read the nutrition facts at the end!), but really my three layers were starting to lean dangerously!

ok. so. in summary: i didn't quite pull off 12 christmas-related crafts (but 10 is pretty good, right???), i had a great holiday... and i hope you did, too! merry christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

girls' nite out.

so tonight some friends gathered for my first real christmas party of the season, and it was lovely! topics of conversation included pinterest, astro-glide, breastfeeding and felt food, and that range is pretty much par for the course with us ladies, right? anyway, while girls' nights never really need a theme or ulterior motive, this gathering's theme was "my favorite things." everyone was supposed to bring their favorite thing (x 5) for $6 or under. you draw names, pick gifts and come home with 5 favorite things of other guests. i am loving all my new treasures, but i have to say, my favorite was the gift brought by my genius friend, marie. she made 5 kids' growth chart rulers, which i just happened to have pinned to my "kid stuff i love" board on pinterest.

(image from pinterest)

that's not the picture of the growth chart i was lucky enough to receive, but very similar. it looks amazing, and i can't wait to hang it up! merry christmas to me!

and speaking of getting crafty, do you ever get the distinct impression that you're about to be handed a "cease and desist" letter from the fine folks in your home improvement store paint department? i have this sinking suspicion that the guys policing the paint chip holders at my lowe's are about ready to tell me i'm no longer welcome. my name is stephanie, and i like to collect paint chips. in my defense, i do have rooms i'm thinking of painting. and i might want to re-paint rooms someday. and i believe in doing research and being an informed consumer/decorator/painter. all of which is facilitated by the use of paint chips.

know what else paint chips are good for? making free art. (this might be why the guys in the paint department stare so intently at me as i shove various chips into my purse while making conversation with my one year old son. "hmmm, jack, do you like this color? i do, but i don't know if daddy will. best grab a paint chip to take home to show him? hmmmm, this color is more his style. better bring home a chip to see in the light.")

a few weeks ago, i found this glass shelf on clearance at lowe's, and decided it would be a nice addition to the space above my toilet. so i slapped her up on the wall, added some storage options, and proceeded to hate the whole shebang because i felt like it was missing something. on a recent jaunt to ikea, i picked up some plain white frames because you can never have enough picture frames waiting in the wings, can you? plain vanilla picture frame + paint chip obsession = art.

this project is best completed with the help of a spirited one year old boy and christmas carols sung on high volume. speaking of which, just tonight i discovered that onDemand has a karaoke channel. guess who's requiring all guests to sing christmas karaoke at our christmas eve celebration???

happy ho-ho-holidays... THIS GIRL!

xo, stephanie, the christmas elf

the straw that (almost) broke the camel's back, and other tales of woe.

forgive me blogfriends for i have sinned. it has been approximately three weeks since my last post. remember that whole bit where i was challenging myself to complete 12 christmas crafts before the big day? yeah, that was silly. i guess i should refrain from making promises in writing, spelled out for the masses to see and delight in my very public failures. or, maybe i can salvage that promise by bending the rules a bit. only time will tell.

anywhooo, where have i been? just celebrating babies and christmas and merriment and the everyday joys of living with a very spirited one year old, that's where i've been. auntie cathy took jack to build-a-bear a couple weeks ago, and they crafted an adorable new member of our family who, for the time being, has been named "brownie." jack has developed a very close bond with the bear, and threw a tiny tantrum on sunday as we were leaving to head to chicago for the day. i couldn't figure out what was causing the wee one to writhe and scream so, until he charged over to the christmas tree, and grabbed the little bear that had been placed so importantly beneath. it's safe to say that brownie will be a dear companion.

i have been wishing for snow (c'mon! it's december 13! where's the white stuff?!) and trying to finish crafts/projects/etc. a lot of the etc. and in that vein, let's talk about the straw that (almost) broke the camel's back or the gallery wall that almost preceded the dissolution of my marriage. (just kidding... i hope? :)

whenever a new divorce client comes to my office for a consultation, i'm always somewhat surprised (though really, nothing should surprise me at this stage) about the final thing that sealed the deal and forced them to make an appointment with a divorce lawyer. i imagine that if john had made such an appointment a few days ago, his attorney would have been somewhat surprised to hear him say, "this gallery wall my wife's been making. that's it. i can't do this anymore."

spoiler alert: the galley wall is finished (for the time being) and we're not getting divorced. but man, we were skating on thin ice there for a bit. i wanted to create this eclectic gallery that showcased a collection of treasured artifacts. and you previously saw exhibit a on this journey toward the final specimen.

i knew that the gallery needed something more on either side to really fill the space above the couch, but since i was going for that collected look, i didn't want to slap just anything up. thus, on thanksgiving, i embarked on a spelunking adventure at my parent's house.

Caving—also occasionally known as spelunking in the United States and potholing in the United Kingdom—is the recreational pastime of exploring wild (generally non-commercial) cave systems.
from Wikipedia

in my world, spelunking is more like casing your parents' old out buildings for cool old rusty stuff you can steal and hang on your walls for zero dollars and zero cents. my dad is generally pretty agreeable to these types of missions, so he and i took jack on his first four wheeler ride and proceeded to search through the barn on the back part of his property. i also cased the barn next to the garage, and lo and behold! i found an old oar and a rusty horseshoe, both of which were destined to become stars on my wall of fame.

can you believe pottery barn sells these distressed beauties for around $80? way overpriced if you're lucky enough to have a barn to root through.

(image from Pottery Barn)

anyway, i added a little white paint to the oar, then distressed it with a hand sander. (ok, to be completely honest, i added a lot of white paint and red stripes to the oar, and while i ADORED the look, it was all wrong for the style of my gallery wall, so i sanded almost all of it off, and happened to love the look of it that way even more anyway)

so, with my newfound treasures plus a few old forgotten loves from my basement, the gallery wall was looking like this:

i thought it was done. john prayed it was finished. (he might have been a teensy bit tired of me moving things, asking him to hold them up while i stepped back and pondered, etc., etc.) then i drove to chicago for a friend's baby shower and, on the way, started obsessing about the gallery wall. something was annoying me about it. it seemed way too orderly or something to me. the grouping was irritating me.

i came home and announced to john that i was going to take everything off, lay it out and re-work the wall. he said he was not helping and that i was crazy. i took everything down, spackled all the nail holes and proceeded to re-work the arrangement on the floor of my spare bedroom. then i re-hung everything, all amidst john's "seriously, stephanie, when is this going to stop? it looks exactly the same? why are you doing this over and over?"

putting up with that nonsense was actually worth it because i really love the way it looks now. there's even a bit of space at the bottom so i can add treasures later on, when jack stops thinking it's a good idea to stand on the couch and attempt to destroy my efforts!

where there's a will, there's a way, john! gallery wall: 0, stephanie: 1.

... and now a quick "12 days of christmas crafts" update. i get to count jack's christmas present as one of the crafts because... i make the rules! hahahaha (evil laugh). anyway, i proudly present to you a handmade gift from mr. & mrs. claus to the wee one:

a wooden workbench, complete with black & decker junior tools! i nagged john for a whole 45 minutes one saturday in october until he finally agreed we could make this, and i'm so happy he gave in to my demands agreed to help. we borrowed a cross saw from my boss and bought the supplies at lowe's. total cost for the project was approximately $15, which i think is a pretty sweet deal since i've seen wooden workbenches selling for upwards of $60 in magazines and catalogs. if you want the plans we used, search for them on pinterest or i can email. it was really pretty simple. i sewed the little canvas pockets (which are attached with boat upholstery snaps) as a place to store more tools and screws. i think the black & decker tools (which were $12 on amazon, ps) are SO adorable! i can't wait to give this gift to the little man on christmas morning!

... and you didn't think there would be a christmas craft update without a little burlap, did you??? i decided we needed some more burlap around for the holidays (who doesn't?!?) and made some new burlap stockings for the family. i haven't exactly finished jack's and john's yet because john did not want anything lacy or girly on his, so i had to re-work my original plan to masculin-fy their versions. here's mine though:

yes, that is light green tinted burlap. did you know that made such a thing? i didn't, but after my squeals of delight, the entire flock of customers at joann's now does. i just traced around another stocking already owned, flipped the pieces inside out to sew and added lace to the top. the boys' stockings are more involved, but i'll share some updates on those when i get around to finishing them.

annnnnnddddd finally... christmas in a jar. anthropologie was selling these little christmas jars for somewhere between $39 and $59, depending on the size.

(from Anthropologie)

i found a tutorial on a blog, and the rest is history. my own christmas jars for about $5 total. jack LOVES to look at the "dees" (that's the baby version of 'trees,' in case you're not fluent.)

if you're interested in the tutorial, i will email you the blogsite where i found the deets, but it's really just glass jars, shakers, etc. + tiny trees + glitter + hot glue gun = christmas in a jar. easy, peasy.

well, that's what i've been up to. hopefully, i'll be back to share some more updates on my progress with my 12 days challenge. accepting any challenges as of late? stop in and share your progress!

stephanie, the christmas elf