Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happiest Boy

I am obsessed with this child.  He is my favorite.  His colic is completely gone--it took just about six months for him to totally get over it--and he is a delight to spend all day every day with.  I finally love being a stay-at-home mom!!  As much as I loved my baby all along, it was an adjustment to be home with a screaming infant.  I've heard from lots of other new moms that the first few months can be the toughest, and I'd have to agree.  Noah will be seven months old this week, and he has gotten so interactive.  I think this age is the funnest yet, and I am savoring every moment.

Noah is my little buddy.  We hang out all day, and he loves to watch me as I prepare dinner or work in the kitchen (especially when I dance for him, and really, who can blame him for that?).  This is his favorite spot, on the carpet just outside the kitchen, so he can see me no matter where I go in the apartment:

He still isn't crawling, but he is getting darn close, and I think his new "mobility" is part of the reason that he's gotten so happy.  He isn't bored anymore.  He doesn't have to scream and whine every five minutes in order to be moved or entertained. He can spend an hour rolling back to front, front to back, over and over again, all over the room (this new habit makes it interesting to change diapers).  If he wants to get to a toy, he sorta rolls/scoots himself over to get it.  I am loving this stage because he is mobile enough to entertain himself, but not quite mobile enough to tear the apartment apart.

All of that rolling makes him tired, and he has consequently started taking long naps!!  Hallelujah!  For the first time in his almost-seven months of life, he seems to have a fairly consistent sleep schedule.  I am thrilled because now I can plan my days better, and I can get a few things done while he naps.

My favorite moment of the day has always been when Ryan gets home from work.  It used to be because I was so ready for a little break when Noah was super fussy, but now it's because Noah absolutely lights up with the world's biggest grin when his dad walks in the door.  Whenever I hear the key turning in the lock, I drop whatever I'm doing so I can see Noah's face the moment he spots his dad.   Melts my heart every time.

Noah's still not a huge cuddler, but he's been a little more "chill" lately, where he'll at least sit with me to read a book every once in a while.  And this week, when I left him with my grandparents so Ryan and I could go out for our Russian breakfast, Noah fell asleep in my grandpa's lap!  I was shocked because he never does that with me (he's usually trying to squirm out of my arms or grab my glasses or pull my hair or reach for the toy nearby).  Hopefully more snuggly days are ahead!  I've noticed that when he's in an especially good mood, he grabs at my face and kind of attacks me and slobbers all over me--I think it might be his way of showing affection, which makes sense since I am rather aggressive with my own kisses and squeezes.  I can't help it.  I get overcome with his cuteness, and I just have to give him a big, fat, forceful smooch.

Right before bed, when he's tired but not overtired, he gets in an almost deliriously good mood.  He laughs spontaneously, and lately, he's been doing what we call a "happy wiggle."  He is lying on his back, and he just wiggles his head and shoulders and butt back and forth for a moment, like a little happy dance.  I wish I had a video of it because, man, it is adorable.

We love him.  We are so grateful that he is ours forever.  And he is ours forever--that was made official two weeks ago in court and then in the temple.  I know I still haven't blogged about it (I've been feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of chronicling it all), but I am going to this week!  Stay tuned for photos of our handsome little man in white!

Life is so good!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I don't make things-but luckily for Noah, other people do

When my friend Brittany entered my apartment for the first time, she gasped and said, "Oh my gosh!!  Did you make those chairs??"

"Heck no, I didn't," I replied, "but somebody did!  I bought them from this amazingly nice and talented woman who sells salvaged furniture."

Looking a little let down, she sat on our couch and then suddenly perked up. "What about this cute coffee table?  Did you make this?"

"Um, no.  I don't make things.  I got it at an antique store in Castle Rock."

Later she went to the bathroom and came out excited.  "Rachel, did you make your cool jewelry hanger??"

By this point, I was getting a bit exasperated. "Brittany, I told you, I don't make things!!"

A few days later, I went to her apartment on a cold snowy day.  Noah was wearing his owl hat, and the first thing she said when I walked in was,  "That is the cutest hat ever.  Did you--?"  I gave her a warning look, and she stopped herself.  "I know, I know," she continued, "you don't make things!"

Yes, I just knitted this masterpiece on a Sunday afternoon.
This has become a bit of a running joke now.  Rachel doesn't make things.  And it's true, I don't.  I don't have the talent or the patience for crafts.  But I truly admire those who do, and I am fortunate to have a lot of very artistic people in my life who are generous enough to share their talents with me.

I never in a million years thought that my baby would have a cute nursery.  In fact, I kind of always thought the baby would be sleeping in a pack-and-play in the corner.  Fortunately for Noah, his grandmother and my girlfriends intervened to make sure this was not the case.  Sally bought him a darling crib and made all of the matching bedding (quilt, bumpers, sheet, quilt skirt, curtain), and my girlfriends threw me the most insane baby shower ever and gave me all of the decorations to use in my nursery.

I've been meaning to post these pictures for months, but better late than never, I guess...

  ...Welcome to Noah's room!

This wreath is made from the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird--
perfect for our little Noah Atticus!  Thank you, Tiffany!
This white dresser was in my room as a kid.
The apple on the second shelf is made out of a book (another decoration from my baby shower).  Thanks Rozannah!
Pennant banner made of children's books (made by Tiffany for my baby shower)
"My Heavenly Father Loves Me" sign (gift from Briste)
Matryoshka doll (from Ryan's mission in Russia)
A train made of toothpicks and baseball cards (more on that story below!)
A gumball frame (featuring a photo of me and Ryan on the night of our first kiss!)
Creamy the Llama (made by Aunt Sarah and Uncle Logan--this is a family joke)
A topiary made from children's books (made by Deseree for my baby shower)
Ryan first kissed me on the Heber Creeper train.  It was the most perfectly romantic night of my whole life.  The week after that blissful evening, he made me this model train out of toothpicks, baseball cards, and photos.  That was eight years ago, and I still have it.  I thought it was only appropriate to put it in our baby boy's room.
Our watermelon picnic basket has become a blanket basket
Special frames:
Mom and Noah
Dad and Noah
 Grandma Sally (my mom)*
*Noah has two grandmas named Sally
Special, handmade quilts by friends and family
Is Noah loved or what? 
Another baby shower decoration made by Tiffany (seriously, what a friend)--
a vintage Alphabet garland
My Aunt Muriel did this painting for me when I was in the midst of fertility treatments and adoption heartache. She said it was a "fertile image." :)
Ryan and I think the baby looks like Noah (before we cut off his hair).
Cute crib and amazing bedding from Grandma Nielson.
We hadn't even picked the name Noah yet when she made the animal bumpers!
"The animals, they came in, they came in by twosies twosies..."
Does the frame above the crib need to be lower/bigger?  It looks really awkward here, but the ceiling is higher than what is pictured.  Someone with an artistic eye please tell me what to do with it.
The frame features all of my favorite photos from the night Noah was born.
A dear family friend, Robyn Balli, wrote the scripture in calligraphy for me:
"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you."
Every time I look at these pictures, my heart swells with gratitude for Noah, Katie, and Drew.
The balls hanging from the ceiling are made from books
(you guessed it...another shower decoration!).
I know Laney made at least one of them because she told me how difficult it was for her
(she is craft-challenged like I am, which makes me appreciate her sacrifice all the more).
Ryan bought the glowing globe for $1 at a garage sale
I think the room is really darling, no thanks to me.  I am very lucky to have such talented, loving, giving women in my life.  With his grandmother, his aunts, and his surrogate aunts (my girlfriends), Noah will never want for anything handmade.

Thank goodness some people in his life make things, even if his mother doesn't!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

ATTENTION to those who live in Utah, visit Utah, or have friends/family in Utah!

My friend Molly Hunter is a fabulous photographer.  She majored in photography at BYU where she took countless classes on technique from professionals and experts in the field.  She is currently giving away a free session on her blog in order to get the word out about the orphanage in El Salvador (how awesome is that?).  She and her husband, Andrew, were volunteers at the Hogar a few years ago, and she is now the assistant director of the program, in addition to being a photographer and a mom (Wonder Woman, I know).  She took these photos of her husband working with children at the Hogar--beautiful!

She is insanely talented.  Don't believe me?  Check out some more of her work:

Yes, this is me and Noah. :)
You want to win the free session now, don't you??  You could use it for family photos, maternity shots, newborn photos, birth story photos, keepsakes of your kids, engagement photos...anything!  And it comes with a free DVD of the images, so you can print as many as you want for friends and family.  All you have to do to get entries is share the information about the Hogar (go to her blog to find out the exact entry requirements).  Oh, and even if you don't win the free session, anyone who enters the giveaway gets 40% off any of her session prices.  No joke.

If you yourself don't live in Utah or visit Utah, you can give the free session to a friend.  (Such an awesome gift!)  I want to win to give it to my friend who is pregnant.  Unfortunately, I don't think I qualify for the giveaway since I am the director of the program. :) 

This is such a great opportunity to help a worthwhile cause AND get some amazing photos.

Check out Molly's blog for details on how to enter, and do it soon because the giveaway ends February 29th!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Night at the Banya

A few months ago, Ryan told me that he wanted to take me to a Russian "banya" or bath house.  Apparently he had spotted one in a shady strip mall near where we live.

"A Russian banya?" I replied incredulously. "Like, where you sit in a sauna and then jump into an icy pool and then they whack you with reeds?"

"Exactly," he said, and we both had a good laugh, and that was the end of it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I was going through a coupon mailer a few weeks later, and I spotted a 50% off coupon for the very banya that Ryan had seen near our house.

I couldn't resist.

Ryan knew that I had a surprise belated-Valentines outing planned for his day off of work, and on Monday, he woke up to this:

"Open me to find out what you're doing on your special date."
Each doll had part of the message:
"We are going to a Russian crepe cafe and the banya!"
Ryan served a two-year mission for our church in Russia, and he majored in Russian at BYU, so you better believe he was excited about our Russian-themed date.  First we went to brunch at a Russian crepe cafe and tried oladies (fried pancakes filled with apples), vareniki (boiled dumplings filled with mashed potatoes), and blini (crepes filled with homemade farmers cheese and cranberry).  The food was yummy, and I just love little family-run restaurants.  The owner/cook came out to our table to ask us how we were enjoying our experience, and I put Ryan on the spot by telling her that he speaks Russian.  She immediately said, "Are you Mormons?":)  Then they spoke Russian to each other for a few minutes, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I think my husband is smart.

That evening, we left Noah Bug with my dad, and Ryan and I made our way to the infamous banya.

Now, I know what you're all thinking--because it's the first thing that I thought when I heard the word "banya."  Will I have to be naked??  Just typing that word makes my cheeks red.  Before I made the appointments, I wanted to make sure that no one would see me in the nude, but I didn't know how to ask the question, and I felt too stupid to actually utter it over the phone, so I sent the manager an email and asked, "What would I be wearing during an appointment?"  Hahaha...prudish American!  She responded that Russians do not wear anything while at the banya, but that I was welcome to wear a swimsuit (problem is, I only have one-piece suits with shorts).  She also said that, "should you choose to be nude," the facility is completely private--only my husband would be anywhere near me during the appointment--and any time the "sauna therapist" came into the room to heat the stones or to do the "oak leaf treatment" (AKA whack us with reeds) we could cover up with the towels that are plentifully available for such use.

I know this is going to shock a lot of you, but Ryan has seen me in the nude before, so I decided I could probably handle this little adventure and decided to live on the wild side and give it a try.

Here we are, fully clothed and headed out for our date, wearing Ryan's stylish уша́нка hats (yes I just used a Russian word--thank you Wikipedia!):

Also wearing my Russian matryoshka doll apron.  Didn't wear that out of the house.
And here we are, arriving at our classy banya:

Despite its location in a tacky strip mall, the banya itself was actually extremely nice inside--so surprising.  It was super classy and relaxing.  We were greeted at the desk by a beautiful and exotic Russian woman who looked like she should be in a spy movie, and then we met our "sauna therapist" Vladimir who had the thickest accent I've ever heard.  He explained how the evening would go, but I couldn't understand a word that he said.

He showed us to our changing room, where Ryan put on another stylish hat that was waiting for him:

Translation: 100% Man.
Not kidding.
They then took us to a cozy sauna room where we lay on our stomachs facing each other, towels strategically draped, and baked in the intense heat for several minutes.  I am slightly claustrophobic, so I couldn't decide if I liked this part or not.

Then, as Vladimir put it, it was "plunge time."

Outside of our sauna, there was a totally private little pool--about 8 feet x 8 feet x 8 feet--full of ice cold water.  It took me a few moments to get my courage, but then I dropped my towel and cannon balled in.

Ryan and I couldn't stop laughing.

Basically, this process repeated several times.  We baked, then we plunged, then our legs and backs and arms were whacked with a bunch of oak leaf branches, then we were slathered in a honey mixture, and we baked some more...

it was super funny...and super fun...a little bit refreshing...a little bit bizarre.  Definitely worth trying once in my lifetime.

And the best part?  I got through the entire experience without anyone seeing me in the nude who had not seen that sight before.

Thank goodness.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Very Romantic

As anyone familiar with the Nielson family knows, Valentines Day is a pretty big deal around our house.

In the week leading up to the big day, we are visited by a Secret Cupid who leaves all sorts of surprises and treats every day.  (For history on how SC became part of our lives, click here.)

This year, Cupid must've been scared off by the insane amount of people that were visiting us for Noah's adoption finalization and sealing--because he didn't show up very often.  He was either too scared or too tired to visit every day (I think it may have been the latter).  But he did show up twice, once on Ryan's behalf and once on Rachel's.

Ryan came home from work to find this sign hanging on the bedroom door...

and when he opened the door, he found a message, spelled with his favorite candy!

Rachel came home the next night to find that SC had decorated the bedroom...

Yes, we have an ugly metal octopus lamp. 

After that, Cupid disappeared.  There was a lot going on, so we didn't mind.  But we are expecting his return next year!!!

Our actual Valentines evening was very romantic.

Ryan got a steamy text message on his way home from work: "Can you stop and get a plunger??  The toilet is clogged and I need to use it!  Hurry please!"

He walked into the apartment bearing sweet Valentines gifts that swept me off my feet.

I then served him a romantic dinner of leftovers (thanks, Ashley!), but at least it was served on heart-shaped plates.

Do I know how to set an attractive table, or what?
We sipped Kool-aid through our heart-shaped straw, and then we played a dice game.  One dice stated an action ("Let's kiss," "Let's hug," "Let's dance," etc.) and the other dice stated a location ("In the bedroom," "In the closet," "On the porch," etc).  Let me assure you, these dice were rated PG.  I got them at the grocery store in the section with all of the seasonal decorations.  They prompted us to do romantic things such as "Let's hug...on the couch."

Happy Valentines Day!

P.S.  I am taking Ryan on a surprise Valentines Day date on Monday, and I am super excited because it is so random.  Can't wait to blog about it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Need Your Help..., actually, my friends do...

Ana Maria
Seven years ago, I walked into the Hogar del Nino orphanage in El Salvador for the first time.  I have returned every summer since (with the exception of last summer due to the arrival of little Noah), and my life has been immeasurably enriched by the relationships I have made there.  To read about my first experience at the Hogar, click here.

I run a non-profit program that recruits, trains, and oversees the work of American volunteers at the orphanage, and I am feeling desperate.  We'd love to have volunteers there year-round, and sometimes we do, but unfortunately we haven't had volunteers at the Hogar since August.  To make matters worse, we don't have anyone signed up to volunteer this summer.  It will be the first time in six years that we haven't had volunteers living at the Hogar during the summer months.  

Without volunteers, the residents of the orphanage sit in their wheelchairs under a pavilion all day every day and get almost no stimulation or education.  They deserve a better life than that.


I know there are people out there who would love the experience of living and serving in an orphanage for three months, but they just don't know that this opportunity exists.  Can you please help spread the word?

*Take a moment and think about the people in your life who might be in a position to serve.  Do you know anyone who loves children?  Do you know anyone who speaks Spanish fluently (one member of each volunteer team must speak the language)?  Do you know anyone who loves to serve?  PLEASE contact anyone whom you think would be a good fit for this program and ask them to contact me.  We send a pair of volunteers every three months; they sometimes apply together, or they sometimes apply as individuals and are then paired with another applicant.  We've had friends and siblings apply together, as well as young married couples.  I think it would be possible for a young couple with one child to volunteer.  It would also be possible for a retired couple.  Please think hard about the people in your life who might love this opportunity and get this information to them.  Even if they can't volunteer this summer, we could get them lined up to volunteer in the fall or winter.

*See the cute Hogar del Nino Project blog button on my sidebar?  Please post it on your blog, so we'll get more traffic to our site!  Copy the displayed HTML code, and add it as a gadget to your own sidebar.

*Please also add the Hogar del Nino Project blog to your "blog list" or feed.  I know from experience that I sometimes click on the links displayed on my friends' blog lists.

*Please post the link to our website on Facebook and ask people to share it.  Facebook is an amazing way to reach lots of people in a short amount of time.  I would really appreciate if you could share share share:ño

*Please "like" the Hogar del Nino Program on Facebook.

*Please think about if there is any other way you can help spread the information.  Do you have a high-traffic blog on which you would be willing to let me guest post?  Do you live close to a college campus or an Institute Building where you could hang fliers (most of our volunteers have been college students)?  Do you know any college professors who might be willing to share this information with their classes?  I welcome ideas of how I can get the word out about the Hogar to more people.

If you can't tell, I feel extremely passionate about this cause, and I want to do everything in my power to help my friends at the Hogar.  I know volunteers make a huge impact in their lives.  The photos say it all:

Thank you for your help!!