Monday, March 2, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Waikiki & Luau

+JMJ+

Aloha, everyone! We've been back on the mainland for over a week already, which means I've finally readjusted to the time difference, had some time to sort through 500+ photographs, and am once again in the throes of an epic Boston winter. What better time to jot down my memories of 80-degree warmth, bright blue (warm! not frozen!) waters, and all the special Hawaiian adventures I went on with my love - right?

For the sake of posterity, I'd like to recap the details of our week in Hawaii day by day with a little series I'd like to call "Aloha Oahu." After all, we experienced so much throughout our 6 days & nights that I honestly don't know any other way for my brain to process it all (!) save for one day at a time.

We left Boston and its negative 7 degrees early on Saturday, the 14th (St. Valentine's Day) and arrived in Hawaii in the evening (local time). Initially we thought we could see and do a bit more that first night, but thanks to some lovely delays both in Boston and San Francisco we had about 4 hours less time than originally planned. Instead, we simply checked into our Waikiki hotel and immediately headed out for a stroll down Honolulu's Kalakaua Avenue in search of a much-needed dinner. That was all we had the time or energy for, which brings me to Sunday - which I consider day one of our Hawaiian adventures and the first installment of "Aloha Oahu."


Sunday morning we were way too tired to attend the 6am mass (11am Boston time), so we quickly decided the best way to approach the day was in a manner that allowed us to simply relax, solidify plans for all our adventures, and slowly soak it all in (because who wants to burn themselves out the first day of a vacation?). We slept in a bit, enjoyed our hotel's complimentary breakfast (fresh pineapple juice! so much fruit! Asian-inspired breakfast rolls! yummm), spent an hour at the concierge desk booking all of our excursions for the week, and walked the half-mile to St. Augustine by the Sea in time for the 10am mass.

The only thing we booked for Sunday was a luau, which meant we had most of the day to explore locally at our own relaxed pace. After church we went down Kalakaua Avenue for lunch and enjoyed a mountain of delicious shaved ice (something Hawaii is well-known for).


As you can see, this was no ordinary shaved ice. It was topped with frozen yogurt, fresh fruit, and three different types of mochi. This "super island" was nearly too much after a light lunch for my muscular (read: almost always hungry) husband and my 24-weeks pregnant self, which is really saying something!

Japanese tour bus that made me smile with its cartoon characters and rooftop dolphin tail design
Moana Hotel opened in 1901, making it Hawaii's first hotel. It's nicknamed the "First Lady of Waikiki."
Next, we changed into our swimsuits and completed the 2 or 3-minute walk from our hotel to the infamous Waikiki Beach - where we played in the water and soaked in the blessed sunshine for a couple of hours.


Diamond Head Crater to the east

Soon it was time for my very first Hawaiian luau! We chose Chief's Luau because (unlike the other popular luaus on the island, which go through heavier traffic from Honolulu and happen on the western beaches) it took place between some of the eastern mountains and looked down on the water. It's actually hosted at Hawaii's Sea Life Park, which meant we caught some glimpses of the animals at a place we wouldn't be exploring further during our stay. Chief's is also known for including more Polynesian varieties of dancing than other luaus, which we thought was fun.



THE Chief at Chief's Luau

Dinner!

The view was gorgeous, the food was pretty good (especially the taro bread, which thankfully I got to eat on multiple occasions throughout the week), and the performances were entertaining and educational. We were given shell necklaces, taught the proper way for women to wear flowers in their hair (depending on their marital status), learned a hula dance, and overall just enjoyed a fun start to our trip.

Sunday was our first full day in Hawaii and we'd already eaten shaved ice, been to the beach, and attended a luau. What more could you ask for in an introduction to paradise? :) 


"The Hula is the heartbeat of the Hawaiian People."
-David Kalakaua (the last reigning king of Hawaii)

Friday, February 27, 2015

When the Sand Runs Out

+JMJ+

Vacations are wonderful, aren't they? Arguably the worst part about a vacation is the fact that it comes to an end. At some point the break is over and it's back to reality. In my experience, there are two main ways people tend to handle coming back from a relaxing vacation: 1) they feel so rejuvenated that they feel good about everything and tackle life's challenges head on with a smile on their face or 2) they s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e to get back into their daily groove and spend lots and lots of time wishing they could go back on vacation immediately.

I'd like to think my reintroduction to our daily grind was much like the former - and in many ways it was...until it wasn't, of course. I always try my best to stay positive, but upon returning I suddenly had to deal with the reality of getting our son readjusted to certain rules or practices that were naturally conceded in our absence to help ease the fact that we were gone. Gabriel started excessively whining and crying in order to get his way (which is never gonna fly in this household), had a tough time dealing with me telling him "no, we are not going to watch Blue's Clues right now" whenever he begged for screen time, and so much more. All in all, I thought I was doing pretty well and that the extra Vitamin D from our week in Hawaii (along with lots and lots of grace) was helping me do it all with surprising amounts of patience. However, if I'm being honest this week has been rough for our family. 

Here's a little sneak peek at a photo from my upcoming Hawaii recaps....

After enjoying a blissful week in paradise with my husband, we've found ourselves back in the land of snow and overcast skies, battling excessive toddler whines, and - worst of all - have fallen victim to pregnancy hormones unlike anything we've previously experienced together. I'm sure my husband has been left feeling baffled, frustrated, and worried, because my ridiculous nighttime tears have left me feeling all of those things and more. When I was pregnant with Gabriel my mood swings were never this extreme, so all these recent bouts of hyper-sensitivity that explode into crashing waves of angry and sad emotions (all accidentally sparked by comments from my unsuspecting husband) have left me feeling pretty miserable at times.

I guess you could say that our time in paradise has clearly come to a screeching halt.
Thankfully, though, that's never where the story ends.

As I drove home this morning from a weekly music "class" I attend with Gabriel, I popped in an old Rascal Flatts cd. When the song When the Sand Runs Out came on, I felt a sudden shift in my mood. I'd been praying/begging for many graces the past couple days to help our family find true peace and joy after what felt like some pretty big storms...and the lyrics of that song helped me find some much-needed perspective. After all, the things I'd been stressing over are so minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

Sure, Gabriel and I have both shed an unusual amount of tears this week (thankfully not at the same time - except for one brief instance on a particularly challenging morning) and my husband and I have exchanged our fair share of communicative confusions and frustrations (thanks, pregnancy hormones), but when I sat back and spent some time reflecting none of it really seemed to matter. In that moment I just wanted to thank God for all He has blessed us with. My husband had plans to come home for lunch which meant I would see him very soon and I suddenly wanted nothing more than to give him a huge hug and kiss and tell him not to worry about any of those conversations that had led to so many pregnant tears. Just like that, God had seemingly turned it all around (or rather, helped me see that it never was as bleak as I had painted the picture in my mind).

As I listened to that song, I felt such a conviction to be joyful, to revamp my patience, and to show my husband all the love that he deserves. I wanted to be "running when the sand runs out," just like the song lyrics suggest.

Fast forward a few hours and I've certainly realized that my efforts to live each day to its fullest, most joyful potential isn't going to be without its challenges. Gabriel fell asleep in the car for about 15 minutes, which means my husband's lunch at home with us was anything but the romantic vision I formulated in my mind. Many exhausted toddler tears were shed before I could calm Gabriel down for his real nap and I only managed a quick goodbye kiss before Michael returned to work, but I'm so thankful that God used that Rascal Flatts song to help get me get back to a place of pure gratitude. 

Yes, if the time I was blessed to spend with my husband in Hawaii was captured in an hour-glass that sand most certainly ran out nearly a week ago. However, the sand representing the bigger picture of our lives is plentiful. Our time in Hawaii was beautiful - and even amidst the unusual amounts of tears that have been shed this week I know our time together as a family has also been extremely beautiful in its own way. Life is too short to be caught up in crazy pregnancy tears; that doesn't mean they won't ever happen again (because obviously I cannot control such extreme hormonal changes) - it simply means that when I stumble or fall I need to keep moving. Just like any race worth running, there will be obstacles along the way, but the point is to get back up and ease right back into that run.

So here's to running. May I never get so distracted by the devil's attempts to knock me down that I cannot see clearly the real race worth focusing my efforts on.

How is your Lenten journey going thus far?

"Today is the first day of the rest of my life
I'm gonna stop lookin' back and start movin' on
And learn how to face my fears
Love with all of my heart, make my mark
I wanna leave something here...
I wanna be runnin'
When the sand runs out"
-Rascal Flatts, When the Sand Runs Out

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aloha!

+JMJ+

Happy St. Valentine's Day, everyone! May your day be filled with love and may you find some quiet time to bask in the merciful love of our Lord. Truthfully, God's love won't be the only thing I'll be basking in today...because right now we should be on a plane to Hawaii, ready to soak in some tropical sunshine!

Original image source.

And before anyone starts sippin' TOO much of that Haterade, let me remind you that we have had three hefty blizzards in the past three weeks...(with at least one travel ban issued by the Governor - which you know means you're in some deep, deep snow). And wouldn't you know, there's another foot of snow coming tonight! Happy Valentine's Day, Boston...I'll send you a postcard.

Anyway, all this was really just to say that things are going to be silent here on the blog for at least a week as we witness my sister-in-law's wedding, celebrate Mardi Gras and Chinese New Year and begin the Lenten season with a tropical flair, and hopefully make lots and lots of memories of blue skies, rainbows, luscious earth born of volcanoes, and so much more.

Prayers are always appreciated, especially for safe travels for those attending the wedding. It's also worth mentioning that this will be Gabriel's first time being apart from both of us (and vice versa, obviously) for more than a few hours - so I'm begging the Lord to have mercy on his precious one-and-a-half-year-old heart and bless my mother (who will be taking care of him in our absence) with all the graces possible for them to have a very happy week. 

Stay strong (and warm), my northern friends! 

"Hawaii is paradise. It sounds cheesy to say it, but there's music in the air there."
-Bruno Mars

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's In My Bag?

+JMJ+

Are you familiar with Lily Jade? They first popped up on my radar at some point within the past couple of years, but as a first-time pregnant mama I struggled to justify putting a designer diaper bag on my wishlist considering I had no idea yet what I would need, like, and prefer when Gabriel entered our lives. So, I did the practical thing and found a perfectly lovely and suitable bag that seemed to have all I would need without breaking the bank (or someone else's bank when they generously bought it for me as a baby shower gift).

Fast forward to the present and I'm now one content owner of my very own Lily Jade bag (thanks to a sweet gift card I won on Black Friday and my dear husband - who generously offered to pay the remaining amount to give me my dream diaper bag as my Christmas present). Honestly, I could go on and on about how and why I chose the bag I did (and why it's amazing) after using my first diaper bag for several months, but that's another post for another day.


Today I simply want to share with you WHAT's inside my bag, because the sweet people at Lily Jade are offering to give away a free bag to three(!) individuals that give everyone a glimpse at what they're toting around. Yes, you're right: I DO already own a Lily Jade bag, which is why I'm promising right here and now that IF I somehow win I will pass the bag on to another deserving mother. After all, it took me a very long time to feel okay investing in a bag that is on the luxurious side...but Lily Jade bags are wonderful not just because they're stylish - but because they are insanely practical (have you seen their removable "baby bag" insert that has 16 different pockets? And did you know my bag can be worn as a backpack?!). I would love to spread the Lily Jade love to someone else who is always putting their family first but deserves some pampering themselves. So let's do this (and here's hoping I'm a winner!).

First, here's what it currently looks like with everything inside:


It actually looks pretty empty, right?

In many ways it is - because now that Gabriel is 18 months old, carrying 5+ diapers and at least one back-up change of baby clothes for an outing are thankfully a thing of the past. However, even with this much left-over room I still manage to carry a surprising amount of items with me...which gives me confidence that this bag will undoubtedly be large enough and live up to its title of "worthy investment" with our second baby boy on the way.

Now, here's what's inside:


On the bottom left is (obviously) my bag and in the upper right you'll see the Lily Jade removable "baby bag" insert that comes in all their bags (seriously - 16 pockets). Here's a list of everything you see in between:

-2 baby washcloths (because we ate at my sister's a lot over the holidays...and sometimes wipes aren't enough)
-Gabriel's water bottle
-bib and spoon
-bag of crackers
-2 prayer cards
-rosary
-Our Lady of Guadalupe necklace
-3 hair ties and a bobby pin
-hand sanitizer
-a pen
-3 (don't ask me why) variations of lip balm
-a Christmas gift card
-my wallet
-Avengers cell phone and TMNT key chain
-Lily Jade changing pad (comes with the bag)
-disposable bags for those diaper changes that don't occur near a trash can (it happens)
-Orajel and teething tablets
-diaper rash cream
-infant comb
-one diaper
-wipes case

Make sure you head over to Katrina's (where I'll be linking up) for more details about the giveaway! Also, inquiring minds want to know: what do you keep in your diaper bag? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gabriel: 18 Months

+JMJ+


The last time I hashed out specifics about Gabriel's growth and development was way back in August when he turned the big oh-one. Six months have flown by, because as of today he has officially hit the one point five (1.5!) mark. Sometimes I question how and when our little baby transformed into a full-fledged toddler, but if I'm being honest with myself it happened several months ago already....


SO much has happened in the past 6 months! When Gabriel turned one we were a family of three living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now Gabriel is one and a half, our family has a second little boy on the way, and we're living near Boston (down the road from some family, no less!). Throughout all the changes, Gabriel has continued to grow, learn, and play in new ways all the time. He has transitioned from being a baby that eats solids and nurses multiple times a day to a little boy who is fully weaned, can communicate hunger with specific sounds, words, or head nods, listens attentively and does prayer hands when we say grace, and can joyfully proclaim that he is "Done!" with perfect pronunciation at the end of each meal.


Now that he is 18 months old, Gabriel babbles incessantly, telling us all kinds of stories with gestures, facial expressions, and various intonations of his voice. He dances happily in his high chair when he's particularly content with a given meal and boogies in his own way whenever we turn some music on. He is still obsessed with instruments, but my favorite musical development is that he now uses his increasing knowledge of his vocal sounds and intonation to sing...not just by joining in as I sing him a song, but often when I'm doing chores and he's playing by himself. There's something about hearing that boy humming or singing his own, made-up melody as he dances or concentrates on whatever else he's doing that has yet to keep me from pausing what I'm doing to listen and just...smile. How sweet it is to witness such simple yet happy milestones as we watch our boy grow!


Beyond the physical growth and cognitive developments, Gabriel has continued revealing to us more and more throughout the past 6 months about who he is as a person. We've known for months that he tends to be calm, happy, social, observant, and playful - but these traits manifest themselves in new and more complex (and often entertaining!) ways all the time. I adore his playful tendency to make games out of whatever he's doing and I always get a kick out of watching him soak in new people or surroundings. All children are curious and constantly learning, but Gabriel takes this to a whole other level - hanging back in new social settings not because he is shy, but because he wants to first scope out the lay of the land and get a feel for how other people are acting or what possible next actions are available to him. Once he collects and absorbs the data he's looking for, he jumps in and happily inserts himself into whatever the scenario may be. He is a busy little boy always on the go and exploring, but that doesn't mean he can't slow down and sit to complete puzzles or entertain himself with a more complicated task (nor does it mean that he's always getting into trouble like many boys his age! He is, thus far, shockingly non-destructive and peaceful compared to most boys I know). He also loves books so much that by the end of each day I know I've read to him for a total of well over an hour (or two).


Honestly it's hard to fully remember what life was like when Gabriel was 12 months old. Currently we're deeply immersed in his young toddler days, which are filled with his ever-growing sense of independence. I've heard from so many moms that they don't find this age as enjoyable - because that sense of independence can easily turn into stubborn, nonsensical tantrums, but so far I'm still loving it. The best way I can describe our daily lives is by saying that we simply need to pay attention to what Gabriel wants to do and give him opportunities to do it (assuming it's safe). If I pick out all his meals without any thought about his preferences or carry all the things over to the table without letting him help carry a spoon or a bib it's not surprising that this could lead to frustration on his end! He has preferences and he really wants to help out, so by giving him options ("do you want this cereal or this cereal?") and asking him to help where he can keeps him happy and feeling like he has more and more control over his own life. In my (limited) experience, 18 months (and several months prior) are all about finding the right balance in our parenting in order to keep harmony in the home. We have to know when to step in and help and when to sit back and give Gabriel the room to try things and learn to do them for himself - which is really just a precursor to the rest of our lives as parents, right? In any way, gone are the baby days of utter dependence on Mommy and Daddy for everything...but the thing I love about this age is that we're still very much needed (and will be for many years to come!) and around to see every little change as he discovers more and more about the world and we discover more about him. It's all a balance of letting him go but being right there when he comes running back for reassurance.


I love Gabriel's current age (what age of his haven't I loved??) and there's no doubt in my mind that our family is in the midst of a wonderfully blessed season. These past 6 months have brought forth many changes and I can't wait to see where we'll be at in another 6 when we have a two-year-old and a newborn on our hands!

A few specific milestones that jump out at me from Gabriel's ages 12-18 months:
  • 12 months: he began walking on his own right before his birthday, and really took off with it about a week or so later.
  • 13.5 months: he fully weaned from nursing and transitioned to solids 100% of the time. 
  • 14 months: all of a sudden I began noticing that he understood some key words and basic commands beyond the "not food", "not for babies", or simple yeses and nos he already knew (like "close the door, please", "go get your shoes", or "put it back", etc.). What a great, new chapter in our lives.
  • 15 months: he started singing!
  • 16 months: somewhere around this time I wrote down all the words and phrases I knew he understood - and the list contained upwards of 75 separate items! By that time he was also saying about 6 words.
  • 17 months: because of the timing of our move, the holidays, his molars getting ready to break through, and possibly other factors he went through a nasty couple of weeks of separation anxiety filled with lots and lots of tears any time he wasn't clinging to me and/or my husband...but settling into a routine, staying home a lot, and narrating exactly where we would be at all times helped immensely. For months he never called me by name (any name! Even though he already used both "Da-da" and "Daddy" for Michael), but this was the month he finally started calling me something ("Mama").
  • 18 months: he says about 15 actual words and makes almost just as many animals sounds...so including those would put him somewhere near 30 words already! He's also been showing early signs of potty-training readiness...but we aren't crazy enough to jump on that boat yet. 

"Isn't it funny how babies laugh a lot? I read a toddler, a young child laughs 300 times a day. The average adult laughs, like, four times a day. God put it in them. He put the laugh in us, but I think sometimes we let life get us down, you know, have bad breaks, and we lose our breaks."
-Joel Osteen

Monday, February 2, 2015

Our Abode: Boston Suburbs

+JMJ+

Another city, another apartment. This could very well be one of those topics that only interests me, but I love recording photos of the various places we've called home. In fact, as I compiled these pictures of our new place I glanced at the photos from our previous apartments in Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania. It's kind of amazing to me to see our same furniture and decorations in different places - because even though our things are almost always the same (with a bunch of donations and a few new additions along the way), each of our places has looked and felt distinctly different from one another! Experiencing so many floor plans (and amenities, appliances, cabinetry, closets, etc.) has certainly helped shape our preferences and allowed us to think about what we would probably like/dislike in a house, which is yet another reason I'm grateful for this time in our young lives and my husband's career when we get to explore so many parts of the country.

Before you all scroll ahead to see our new home (spoiler alert: this apartment is hands-down my favorite thus far), let me first apologize for the potentially weird editing of the photos. I uploaded and edited the exposures on my husband's laptop - and when I saw them there the lighting was almost breathtaking; then I began working on this draft on my laptop and let's just say the saturation is less than realistic in more than one photo (because wait until you see our bedroom dresser - there's no way it actually looks THAT blue! Oops). Maybe they look normal on your computer/phone/device? If not, my bad!

ENTRANCE & KITCHEN


That looks like a lot of doors, I know. But on the far right is the entrance, the middle doors contain our washer & dryer, and the door on the left is our coat closet.


No big deal - this is only more than DOUBLE the size of our previous kitchen (and we won't even mention the size or configuration of our kitchen in Michigan).


You guys. An island. And it has cabinets & drawers on one side! I still sometimes stare at this piece and just marvel. May I never take for granted the sheer amount of counter-top and storage space this apartment provides us.

LIVING ROOM



Inquisitive toddler not included. We brought him along for the ride. And yes, I just saw that apparently I used the same joke last time...but I'm keeping it all the same. ;)



DINING ROOM


Okay, it's not technically a separate room, but this bay window in our living room offers a lovely dining view!

GABRIEL'S BEDROOM


His room was so cold before we requested maintenance that we lined the windowsill with towels (okay, they're still there).



We purchased that little bookshelf unit (Babies R Us) and owl lamp (Wal-Mart) once we got here because his old lamp got broken in the move & we realized we had nowhere to put his things - and I'm probably obsessed with them more than I should be.

GUEST BATHROOM


Not pictured: shower stall to the left. Caught on camera: a 20-week baby bump (I'm now at 22)!

MASTER BEDROOM


To the left we have a small nightstand in front of another window & next to that is our closet (in case you were curious).


That mystery door leads to the master bathroom (mystery solved!). Also, no, our dresser isn't actually that brightly colored; photo editing fail.

MASTER BATH


Bathrooms are never too exciting to capture on camera, so one angle will do. However, not pictured is a little window on the left wall. On that windowsill I put a picture frame and some cute candle holders and candles. Just trust me - it's cute.

Not pictured: Hallway that connects Master Bedroom, Guest Bathroom, and Gabriel's Bedroom. Linen closet (found in hallway) and almost all the other closets.

---

This concludes our virtual apartment tour! Sometimes people question the authenticity of such home photographs published on the internet because things might look "too put together" or "too clean" to reflect the messes a normal family is sure to make. However, I'm being honest when I say that - most of the time - this really is what our place looks like (and I'm confident that my real-life friends and family would attest to it). Yes, throughout each day messes are made, toys get strewn about the floor, and sometimes piles of paper build up on the kitchen counter, but - for better or worse - my husband and I are both neat freaks and I'm a clean freak to boot! Gabriel is now old enough to help put his toys and books back where they belong and we make him do this every night at the start of his "bedtime routine." I could have taken pictures later in the day and shared our daily messes with you, but why bother if I can just as easily snap photos first thing in the morning before Gabriel goes to town creating obstacle courses? ;)

A large reason I like to keep our place so tidy is because it makes it easy to host friends or family at the drop of a hat (without me stressing out like the Martha I would otherwise surely turn into), sooo who wants to come visit?! I love getting the chance to entertain company!

"Home is the nicest word there is."
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Top 10 Favorite Posts of 2014

+JMJ+

I know, I know, it's late January already and posts about 2014 are so last year already (get it?)...but our move from Philly to Boston, the holidays, and the birth of my nephew kept us busy busy busy for so long that I'm still getting caught up on all my holiday/start-of-the-new-year recaps (but this should be the last - I promise!).

I don't have much to say about New Year's (it was a quiet, fun evening spent with family), but before pushing forward with all the things I want to write about now that we're getting into a normal routine in our new home, I wanted to at least write something that gives some closure to all we did and experienced in 2014. Or perhaps more accurately, I wanted to put something together for the blog that highlights/gives closure to all that I wrote here in 2014 (tomayto, tomahto). What better way is there to do this than to make a list of the Top 10 Favorite blog posts of the year?

Now, let me preface this by saying my original goal was to make a list of the 10 posts you readers loved the most. I even went so far as to attempt installing Google Analytics on the blog awhile back to make this happen...but for some reason it didn't work. Don't ask me why, because it seems simple enough - but clearly copying and pasting HTML code into the right place isn't my strong suit. Instead, this is going to be a list of MY favorite posts of 2014. Maybe you liked some of them, too?

Either way, this is my "official" list of my Top 10 Favorite Posts of 2014! In chronological publishing order:



This one makes the list because it shares some very real reflections and realizations I've had on our family's path to "living liturgically." Sometimes it's better just to accept that you're on a journey, don't have it all figured out, and need more time to learn what's right for your family. I shouldn't let the big picture goals and high standards I'm working to (eventually) achieve prevent me from experiencing the present ways in which I can be loving the Lord and my family.




This is probably my favorite link-up I participated in all year! I wrote this piece for fun and posterity - and loved every second of choosing the photos and jotting down the behind-the-scenes details about my "old, new, borrowed, and blue" items from my wedding day. I mean, who doesn't enjoy reliving and sharing the details of what is arguably the most important day of a married person's life?! Thank you, Stephanie (of Captive the Heart), for inspiring me to take this walk down memory lane (P.S. If you or someone you know is a Catholic bride-to-be, make sure you check out Stephanie's blog!).




Probably some of the saddest news I shared details about on the blog last year, but it chronicles important, cherished memories leading up to the sudden, unexpected death of my husband's grandmother. This piece is also a good reminder that even when we think we know our plans (and wouldn't have wanted to change them for the world), the Lord's plans are always better. Sometimes we can't see or understand right away, but blessings often come in disguise.




Do you ever get really excited to write something and the reader response is just...meh? I got a few sweet responses about this piece, but let's be honest: it makes the list of favorites not because of some fabulous response or discussion from readers - but because I enjoyed writing it and felt pretty proud of it. I remember how I felt as I was writing it - and it challenged me to use my brain in far more intellectual ways than I need to when I jot down updates about my family's life (though I enjoy doing those, too!). And as a stay-at-home mom who spends her days talking to little people and/or myself most of the time, I like feeling like I can still be intellectual when I want to.



5. Gabriel: One Year

Our baby boy turned one in 2014! This is a big milestone in the life of a baby and our lives as (first-time) parents, so naturally it's on my list of favorites. Can you believe he's nearly a year and a half as I currently type this? Time flies, and I'm so grateful I was able to document so many details from our little man's first year.



6. To the Family that Sat Behind Us in Church Yesterday

All of you other bloggers out there can probably relate to having an experience that made a great impact on you - so you turn to the blog to process and share it. My heart was genuinely touched by the simple, kind actions and affirmations of one particular family at church at a time when I don't think I even realized how badly I could use such moral support as a parent with a young child at mass. This experience still stands out to me months later. God bless them.




This one describes such a sweet memory of watching our son play with one of his little friends. I experienced and wrote a lot about community and friendship in 2014, and I think this piece is a good representation/summary of many of those reflective writings. It's no surprise that friendships evolve once you get married, nor should it be any surprise that they can (and should) evolve when you become a parent. I always knew this, but my baby boy helped me to better understand why this is such a good thing (for my entire family and myself).



8. Singing for Jesus

It's common sense that once you become a mother, the ways in which you can give back your time and talents to the Church will alter drastically. Serving my family as a wife and mother is one of the utmost important aspects of my marital vocation, but that doesn't mean that I will forevermore be confined to giving back within the walls of my home. This piece shares the ways in which I found I could give back and get more involved in ministry while still being fully present to the needs of my husband and child. Ministry work has always been important to me and is a big part of my spiritual life, so this was a great thing for me personally that came out of 2014 - earning it a spot in the top 10 posts of the year.



9. Gifts are Freely Given

This contains some healthy realizations and reminders for me about marriage and love languages. I think it's important to learn, based on our personalities and love languages, when it's better for me to simply ask for my husband's opinion & when to be patient and allow him to notice and comment on his own. After all, a gift is only a true gift when freely given. I like this post because I think it shows growth in my understanding and approach towards my marriage - which is always a positive!



10. A Bit of What I Do Everyday

This one is self-explanatory...but I like it because it puts into words what I so often struggle to relay to others about my role as a stay-at-home mom. It also describes my growth as a wife and mother when it comes to how I handle the "what did/do you do all day?" question. Being at peace with the fact that I can't put it all into words and some people simply won't ever understand - and genuinely feeling like that's okay - is crucial for my own mental health as a SAHM.

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Each of these were chosen for varying reasons, but when I look at them collectively I see so many themes that do well to represent our overall experiences in 2014. We grew so much as parents and within our marriage, suffered a couple great losses of loved ones, found opportunities to get involved with ministry that fit our family's lifestyle, and through it all we were incredibly blessed to find a wonderful community that enriched our lives, supported us, and simply shared our family's many joys (and thankfully few sorrows) along the way. If I had to choose one word that seemed to describe our lives in 2014 it would unquestionably be "community."

Thank you to all of you that have joined us on our journey! Now, 2015: let's do this.

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective."
-G.K. Chesterton