Tuesday, June 24, 2014

House tour: Master Bedroom

I feel a little bit funny about inviting y'all into our bedroom! It's such a private space, and yet still such an important part of a home. It's where we start and end our days. Where we relax and read. Where the kids know to come for help and comfort if they need it in the night. Where deep and difficult conversations take place. Where smiling children burst through the door with breakfast in bed and hand-made cards on birthdays and holidays. It's a little like the second heart of our home. 

Is there anywhere that feels more "at home" than your own bed?

Our bedroom is easily one of the most untouched rooms in the house. We basically moved our furniture in here, put some sheets on the bed and called it good. And short of hanging some pictures on the walls, that is basically how things have stayed for the past year. However, it is a really pleasant room, and there is honestly not that much I would change about it. In my opinion, it's just about the right size for a master bedroom. Lots of room for a queen-sized bed and two nightstands, but still room to fit a king-size if we ever decide we want one. And thanks to a big window, the room still gets a lot of light, even though it faces East. 

The door on the left leads to the hallway and the kids's rooms, and the door on the right leads to our bathroom.

One of the reasons I like about doing these house tour posts is that it gives me a fresh look at each room. Do you ever get so used to seeing something that actually sort of stop seeing it at all? I feel like I do that a lot with our home. So taking photos and looking at them as I put each post together really helps me to see what is working and what needs some help in a space. Plus I like the honesty of it. I try hard to show you photos of our home as it really looks (on a good day!) without staging or styling, so what you see is really what you'd get if you were visiting and I was showing you around in person.

We filled the big empty space above our bed with a few framed photos of our family.

Something that is working for me in our bedroom is the little personal touches we have added throughout: I have a little tea plate that belonged to my Granny on my nightstand, as well as a handkerchief case that she made, filled with handkerchiefs made by some of the women in my family. I never met my great grandmother, but it is a special thing to hold some of her handiwork that she made over 100 years ago in my hands. I like how it makes me feel connected, and like my own little family is part of something much bigger than just the four of us.

On my nightstand: A plate from my late Granny's kitchen for catching earrings, hair ties, etc., a little figurine Nick and the kids gave me for Mother's Day last year, and a photo of me and my dad.

Nick has a bridal photo of me on his nightstand, and uses a keepsake plate from when he was a baby to keep change in (you can just glimpse it in the bottom right corner of the last photo). And then there's the big photos of us and the kids that we added above the bed! We just found a few favorite photos that Nick took, printed them big and hung them in large, matching frames. I love how they fill the space and the personal touch they add, but the best part might be how much the kids love them! They both like to find themselves in the pictures, and I think it is a good reminder of how much we love them.

On the dresser: an heirloom handkerchief case, a silver jewelry box I was given as a baby, some favorite perfume and a wooden jewelry box handmade by my bestie's dad. 

We never really got around to doing very much to the master bedroom in our previous home, and I think we're fairly determined to not let that happen this time around. So we'll be adding some color and interest in the form of curtains, new sheets, maybe a slipper chair or two (I like these ones from Target, but am just waiting for just the right print), a few more pictures on the walls, and maybe a bookshelf. I'm kind of in love with this one from World Market, but would like to see it on sale before taking the plunge. I also quite like this IKEA one, but don't really know what we'd store in it that would be actually useful, rather than purely decorative. It has to be useful, y'know? As for color, I'm thinking accents in various shades of green (trust me, it looks amazing in my head!), but green is completely not in right now, which makes it tricky to shop for. I'm just trying really hard to not use blue, because I end up using blue in every single room.

Looking in on the bedroom from the bathroom. 

And that's our master bedroom! Do you love your bedroom? Is it the first place you decorate in  new home, or does it get neglected (like ours!) because you're the only one(s) to see it anyway? What would you change about your bedroom if you could? 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

No Trains After Midnight, 48 Hours of Child Care and Discounted Airfare, or a Very Long Story of How We Came to be Headed to Venice in a Month.

Warning: The following is a tale of a family that is lucky enough to travel internationally just about every year. While this means that we make some sacrifices to make this happen, we also realize that we are stupendously fortunate to be able to see the world together.

Friends, exciting things are afoot! While we were planning the annual trip to Norway to see my family (in 11 days!), I asked my mama how she might feel about watching the kids overnight during our visit. "That would be fine," she said. "How about two nights?," I said, and she graciously complied.

I was excited. We have always said that one day we would leave the kids with Granny while the two of us head off on an adventure together, and now that was finally going to happen! So I told Nick the good news, and suggested that London might be fun. It was only a two hour flight away, and somewhere we have both visited enough that we know our way around and could just enjoy the city without feeling obligated to see the sights. And I had been feeling homesick for England lately, where I spent all of my childhood summers. So for a while, London was the perfect plan.

Not here.
But, here was the thing: I could tell that Nick wasn't completely in love with the idea of going to London, where we have both spent time, when there are so many other places that at least one of us hasn't seen. Not that he would every say anything to that effect! So after a little bit of thinking and researching, I suggested Edinburgh. I have only visited once as a teenager, and Nick has never been there. His ancestry is from the area, so it's always been somewhere he'd like to see. And Edinburgh is an absolutely beautiful city, so I was excited to revisit. Plus, it's in the UK, so it would still scratch the itch for me and let me go shopping at some of my favorite UK chain stores (Primark! Tesco! Monsoon!) Brilliant!

Not here.

Until it got down to booking the darn trip. Try as we might, we just couldn't get our flights to line up with public transportation to get us to and from the airport. Our return flight would get in at 11:55 PM, and the last train home left the airport at 11:58. And my mum, who is our sole source of transportation in Norway, would be at home with our sleeping kids, so that wasn't going to work. We had been so excited to go, and then we just couldn't make it work.

One of the airlines we had been looking at was advertising discounted airfare, so more or less on a whim, we just started looking at different cities to see which were affordable and had flights that lined up well with buses and trains in Norway. Some destinations were quickly nixed because it took too long to get to them, and we only had two nights to spare. But Venice, which I had laughed at as an impossible dream ("we can't just go to Venice!") when Nick first suggested it, kept popping back up again as a possibility. Good dates, two hour flight from Oslo (who knew?!?) and a decent price. Could we?

It turns out that we could! Within an hour of deciding to go, we had our flight and our hotel (B&B, actually) booked, and a couple of books about Venice ordered from Amazon. I was so excited, I couldn't even be part of the booking process. I just sat beside Nick and kept bursting into tears of excitement and anxiety until everything was in the bag. The thought that I had could have the opportunity to go to Venice, and then even the faintest possibility that it might not work out was completely unbearable.

It's been about five days since we made our travel arrangements, and it still seems completely bizarre that it's even going to happen. I can't help but feel almost unworthy to have something so glorious happen to plain old me! I've wanted to go to Italy since I was about 12 years old, and now I am finally going. And not only am I going to Italy, I am going to Venice with my husband for two kid-less days of romance and gelato! And gondolas and shopping and art museums and famous churches and pasta and waterfront dinner reservations and no cars and water buses and and and!

To say nothing of the three weeks we will be spending in Norway in addition to our 48 hour escapade to Venice. I haven't had a proper Norwegian summer since 2004, and I haven't spent my birthday with my mother since the year I turned 24. I've already decided that we will have three weeks of glorious sunshine (with maybe a little rain here and there to keep things from getting monotonous), and we will basically spend our time recreating the highlights of my childhood summers: picking wild strawberries, swimming in lakes, barbecuing, tromping around the forest and lots of time spent with family. Of course, there will be a 10-hour plane ride with two children 4 and under, as well as dealing with their jet lag  before we get to that point, but I think it's going to be worth it, don't you?

Lots to look forward to.

Monday, June 16, 2014

On the subject of pillows - the Grandad pillow

The Grandad Pillow.

I wanted to share this pillow from Espen's room with you. When it was time to travel back from Norway after my dad passed away, I grabbed a shirt from his closet as a little something to remember him by. I don't particularly remember him wearing this shirt, but I do remember my dad wearing plaid shirts for all of of my life. This one was soft and the fabric had pilled, which means that it got a lot of use. And it smelled like my dad and like home.

Once we got back, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the shirt. I liked the idea of giving it a new life, so looked into shirts refashioned into something else. Finally, I found this pillow made from a shirt and liked the idea, only the tutorial was in Finnish! But it gave me a clear enough idea of what I wanted: I especially liked how the buttons and pillow were left intact, so it still looked like a shirt, even though it was a pillow.

At this point I enlisted the help of my kind mother-in-law, who is a wonderful seamstress. I knew that while I could probably made a pillow, she would make the right pillow. I love how she left the collar, buttons and sleeves on, so it still looks like a shirt. Espen loves that it has a pocket for tucking secrets inside.

I knew right away that it was going to be a pillow for Espen's room. He loved his Grandad so much, but I can tell that his memories of him are already starting to fade. So it's nice that he has a physical reminder of a Grandad that loved him and was such a big part of his early life. He sleeps with it in his bed most nights - although I suspect that has more to do with the nest-building phase he's in right now than feeling close to his Grandad. I prop the pillow behind my back when we read stories at bedtime, and I like to feel that my dad (or at least one of his possessions) is such an easy part of our day-to-day life. I think he would like that too.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Project Pillows: revamping boring pillows with a fabric marker

Some of you may have already seen my photos of this project on Instagram, but I thought I'd take a few photos with my actual camera and put together a quick post about the (super simple!) process involved.

Here's the scoop: We had a pair of plain white pillow cases (or cushion covers, if you will) that I once bought in a passion for the all things clean and minimal. Then we later realized that we were neither a clean nor a minimal sort of family, and the white pillows were relegated to the guest room. Where they certainly served their purpose, but didn't exactly magnify their calling in life.

Before: Nice and white and blah. 
Enter my Mother's Day present from Nick, the Young House Love book (check out their very cool blog here!), full of ideas for for relatively quick and easy home decor projects. Including one that suggested drawing on a pillow case with fabric markers. And pictured was the exact cheapy white IKEA pillow case that we had. So I bought a fabric marker in a similar blue to the one in our guest room, put the kids to bed and plopped the pillows down on the kitchen table.

Steady hand!
When it came right down to putting pen to pillow, I was nervous, so I made Nick do it. Which is the solution to many things in our marriage! At my request, he came up with a pretty cool pattern of squares and rectangles, similar to the one pictured in the book. He just freehanded it, which I think turned out better than futzing around with rulers. The only trick is to keep the space between the squares and rectangles pretty even on all sides to keep the whole thing looking cohesive and intentional. I loved it! And it didn't look too terribly hard, so when the first one was finished, I decided to give the second one a try.

Work in progress.

To compliment and contrast the squares on the first pillow, we decided to do circles on the second one. So we rounded up (ha!) a variety of different sized circular things from the kitchen, and just had at it. We tried to space things pretty randomly, while still keeping the circles a fairly even distance apart and filling the empty spaces as much as possible.


As you can see, the lines aren't completely perfect or even when you take a closer look, but I honestly think that just adds to the casual, playful look. Because these pillows really aren't trying to look like they were anything but handmade. And they definitely add a fun, personal touch to the guest room, don't you think?


If you want to make your own, you will need: 

  • Plain pillow cases. The exact ones we used are no longer available at IKEA, but they have plenty of other options, like this one, which is fairly similar to ours. 
  • Fabric marker. We used this one  in light blue from Joann, and one marker seemed to be just enough to do two pillows on one side, depending on the pattern you choose. But you don't have to stick to just one color! Wouldn't this be a fun project to do with kids? How about getting a plain white duvet and giving them a whole rainbow of markers to go crazy with? The possibilities are endless! 
And that's it! Quick, cheap, fun and easy. Off you go!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Family Pictures 2014 - The Norths at home

I was feeling like it was time to take some new family photos, so when my good friend and favorite photographer Emily said she was going to be in town for a few days, I leapt at the chance for a photo shoot. Emily has been documenting the growth of our family from our engagement and bridal photos in 2005 (nine years ago!), to maternity photos from my first pregnancy in 2009, so I felt really good about her working with her for our first official shoot as a family of four. Can I show you a few of my favorites?

On the couch in the sitting room. 

Because Emily lives in LA and therefore doesn't have a studio in Utah where we live, we had to find somewhere to shoot locally. Which coincided perfectly with the idea that had been rolling around in my brain ever since I decided to do family pictures: why not just take them at home? I feel like our home is such a big part of our family life anyway, so it was kind of a special thing to be able to document and record that. Looking at these photos, I love how very us they feel.

Gwen was pretty unsure about the whole process, but Espen tried his best to keep her happy.

 One thing I worked pretty hard at for this photo session, was to not stress out about it too much. I have a tendency to try to make everything absolutely perfect, which has a tendency to make people stressed out and unhappy, which is not perfect. So I reigned myself in quite a lot for this one. I cleaned the house, but only within reason, and I didn't let myself stage and style everything in sight. I planned our outfits to be pretty cohesive, but not matchy or too formal. And I didn't let myself buy anything just for the photos, which felt like a bit of an accomplishment!

Me and my mama's girl.

 When it came to the actual photo taking, I took a deep breath and a page out of the book of Frozen, and just let it go. It helped a lot that I trust Emily to the ends of the earth as a photographer, so I was able to just enjoy spending time with a dear friend that I don't get to see very often, as well as my cute family. And I think it shows in the photos that we were all pretty relaxed and enjoying ourselves.

On the porch steps.

 One nice thing about doing the photos at home was that we had everything we needed easily on hand. And when Gwen started falling apart because she didn't want to sit still and take photos, we could just let her roam until she was ready to come back again. And when Emily got a few shots of just me and Nick together, we just let the kids play in the playroom.

My boys. 

The flip side to that, of course, is that the kids were on their home turf, and used that to their full advantage. By the end of the shoot they were running absolutely rampant and definitely not cooperating for any family group shots! That's when it's handy to have a photographer worth her salt who can keep up with them and still get some great shots amid all the silliness.

Gwen in the playroom. 

Espen in his room with Woofy. 

Is it weird that my four year old is one of my very best friends?

And here is my very best friend. My goodness, I love him!

I feel like Emily did a really great job of capturing us and who we are as a family with these shots. There's a lack of formality to them that feels very right for a family with small children, and a sense of house and home that is very us. Plus I feel like you can see the fun and the love that we have for each other, which means a lot to me. I hope that in 10, 20, 30, 40 years our kids will pull out these photos and see that they came from a home where they were adored, and with parents who were absolutely besotted with each other.

All piled into mom and dad's bed. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How we're sleeping and a few goings on

So we are about 2/3 of the way through May, and therefore 2/3 of the way through our monthly challenge of going to bed early. Friends, we are failing miserably! We were doing fine for the first week or so, then one night we switched off the TV at 11, then proceeded to shop online for lamps until midnight. Great success on the lamp front, but then everything just sort of derailed from there. The thing is that we just don't like having an earlier bedtime. It makes us grumpy. We just don't have time to do the things we had planned for the evening, and that creates stress, which seems unnecessary before bed. So for now I'm torn between calling the whole thing a fiasco and giving into the fact that we are just night owls by nature, or doubling our efforts to get this whole challenge back on track before the month is up. We'll see!

Sliding into the future!

What else have we been up to? Well, Espen "graduated" from Joy School, and it was the cutest little event ever. My favorite part (besides the singing, which was hilariously cute) was when each little graduate received their diploma and then slid down the slide into the future. Definitely a preschooler favorite!
The Graduate.
I also loved their graduation caps. If you look closely, you'll see that they're made of  styrofoam bowls, card and yarn! Miss Stepper is, without a doubt, a creative genius, and we are so very lucky to have her for Espen's very first teacher. And I can't believe Espen has completed a school year already!!!

Last Saturday was May 17th, which is Norway's national holiday, and so we headed up to Salt Lake for the annual celebration. While not exactly a carbon-copy of what you might see if you were actually in Norway for May 17th, it captures the flavor and gives us a chance to eat Norwegian food and to dress our kids up in their national costumes.

Granny knitted this!
Gwen had outgrown her bunad (national costume) from last year, so my mum very obligingly knitted her a new one. Isn't it adorable? It actually has a little knitted white top to go under the dress, but I just didn't have the heart to make Gwen wear it in 80 degree weather, so put her in a white cotton onesie instead. She's a bit pink cheeked, but was a total trooper. Fun fact: my mum used the same pattern to knit me the same bunad over 30 year ago. You don't happen to have a picture handy, do you Mummy?

We bought Espen's bunad when we were in Norway last year, and I think, if we're lucky, that we can maybe squeeze a third year out of it next year. They don't wear them very much (once or twice a year), so it's nice to get our money's worth. Isn't he handsome, though?!? I love a man in knee socks. 

And in other news, we've booked our plane tickets to Norway! We leave July 2nd and get back on the 25th, which means that not only do we get just over three weeks in Norway, I also get to spend my birthday there with my family, which hasn't happened for 10 years. Very excited! I've been hungry for some Norwegian summer, so here's crossing everything we have for three weeks of glorious sunshine, firing up the grill, eating strawberries and swimming at the lake, and hopefully not three solid weeks of rain, which is probably much more likely, if what I see people posting on Facebook is anything to go by. Run on sentence! 

And that's how we're doing! How about you? 

Monday, May 12, 2014

House tour: Guest room

Happy Monday! Did you Americans have a good Mother's Day yesterday? I certainly did! I really slept in, then my cute little family brought me breakfast in bed with a side of cards and presents. Then Nick did double duty with the kids for the rest of the day (including making a gorgeous dinner!) so I really felt pampered and special. I hope your day was lovely too, regardless of your mothering status. Oh, and did you see this?

So, I thought I'd continue the house tour I'm doing and show you the guest room in its current state. I try really hard not to fuss and style and stage too much when I take these house tour shots, but rather think of them as giving a visiting friend a personal tour of the house. So bear in mind that all of these rooms are actual rooms that our family lives in, rather than something gorgeously styled for a photo shoot.

All disclaimers aside, this is where we would put you if you were to grace our home with an overnight stay:

It's kind of a funky little room with its slanted ceilings, big window and relatively small foot print, so we went with a similarly funky color scheme of yellow and teal/turquoise which (I think!) works well with the greige walls and browny grey trim (Benjamin Moore's Sparrow, if you were wondering). I feel like it's bright, fun and welcoming, as well as a good balance of masculine and feminine, so everyone should feel fairly at home.

Because the colors are pretty bright, we've been able to go with some fairly fun furnishings too, like the two mismatched teal nightstands and the even more mismatched lamps on top of them. It was quite the hunt to track down two cute lamps in the colors we wanted for a price we were willing to pay (why are lamps so expensive? Why?), so I was pretty happy when we found those two, especially the yellow one which just makes my heart happy. It's just so happy! There's also a teal trash that didn't make it into the pictures, but you can see it here.

We paired all the bright colors with some solid dark wood bookshelves in an attempt to ground the room a little so it doesn't completely go off into lala-land. I really like how the dark brown wood looks with the teal especially. The framed picture on the right of the picture above ties all the colors together nicely.

 Once upon a time my mother made the comment that being a guest is always a bit like camping, so I immediately made up my mind that being a guest at my house would be as un-camping like and comfortable as we can possibly manage. Challenge accepted! Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Give your guests as much space for themselves and their stuff so they don't feel like they're in the way. In our guest room that means that there is space in the closet for them to hang their clothes and stash a suitcase, as well as an empty nightstand. We also keep a luggage rack behind the door for guests to put a bag or suitcase on. 
  • Blackout shades. No one really wants to be woken up by the sun streaming through their window at 6:30 or kept awake by passing cars. Ours are also easy to operate and can let in light at the top or the bottom while still allowing privacy. 
  • A floor fan. For some reason our guest room is the warmest room in the house, so it's nice to know that guests can cool off if necessary. 
  • I also keep a stack of blankets in the closet in case they feel cold. 
  • I keep a set of teal towels (not pictured, because they are currently in the washing machine) that are exclusively used by guests. No one else in our family has towels that color, and because they visually tie into the guest room guests can feel confident that they are theirs. Towel ownership ambiguity is never good. 
  • I think it's nice to give guests something to do in their room, so we keep a couple of bookshelves in there with a pretty broad variety of books, including a couple of local guide books to give them an idea of what they might like to see while they're in town. A few magazines on the nightstand are nice too. 
  • Their own trash can. It's nice if they know where they can empty it too. Some things you just don't need your host to know about!
  • I'm still on the lookout for a good one for our guest room, but a mirror is always nice. 
  • A little dish or tray for corralling jewelry, change, etc. 
  • And for extra special guests (like my mum) I like to add some fresh flowers and a treat like a little candy dish. NOT like camping. 

So that's our guest room! It still needs a few touches like that mirror I mentioned, and a headboard for crying out loud (I like this one from World Market, but don't want to spend the money. It shouldn't be too hard to recreate, right?), as well as some curtains and a bit more art on the walls, but other than that, it's a pretty comfy little spot for a few friends to relax.

When can we expect you?

 Resource guide: