Friday, February 5, 2016

Early December {A Photo Diary}

+JMJ+

Blogging breaks are hard. Not taking them, that is - but returning from them! I always find myself at the start of the new year with lots of photos, stories, and memories of the holiday season that never got documented in a timely fashion because I just can't seem to blog when family is visiting, we're traveling, or my husband has time off work. And that's okay. That's what I choose. It's my blog and I'll do what I want, right? 

But...I want to catch up before an entirely new season is upon us! Because something about blogging about Christmas in Lent just feels so wrong....

Realistically, I won't have time to hash out what we did for all of December and January before Lent begins - but if I resort to mostly posting photos without much writing I just might catch you all up through New Year's before Ash Wednesday. So that's the plan.

I already wrote about my birthday (which was in mid-December), but I have quite the collection of images I never shared from the earlier parts of the month. Without further ado, here they are! This is what early December looked like for us:


We moved from our apartment down the road into a new townhome merely days before Thanksgiving, so we spent the first week of the month unpacking ALL the things. That photo is a glimpse of our new living room almost entirely put together!

Then, my dad came to visit my older sister's family and mine for a weekend. He came bearing some early gifts for all the grandchildren, which they had lots of fun with.


Gabriel is becoming a pro at riding that little bike all around the house, which means he is also developing some mad skills to follow all the rules of not riding into any doors or walls and staying on the (fake) wood floors only - NOT the rug (which is where his baby brother usually is). Come springtime he will be so well-practiced with his pedaling that he will be cruising effortlessly down the sidewalk!

Later that same evening we all attended a Christmas party, which gave my nieces the perfect excuse to wear ridiculously adorable holiday outfits...and play with their toy ponies (of course).


Thankfully, they were kind enough to bring plenty of ponies to share one with Gabriel because we totally did not get the pony memo.


Then, after church on Sunday we went out to brunch and spent the rest of the afternoon just visiting with my dad before he needed to head back to the Midwest. We also tried to get photos of my dad with all of his grandchildren, although we failed to do it before Gabriel said his goodbyes and went upstairs for a nap. Come to think of it, Peter slept through all the photos, too:


What can I say? My kids need their naps (and thanks be to God, they usually get them).


Since we had eaten brunch at the Cheesecake Factory, we took home an entirely-too-big seasonal peppermint cheesecake. It was delicious but OH so rich - so we brought it with us to a St. Nicholas party we attended that evening with a few other families. The kids did a surprise gift exchange and the adults got to eat THIS:


Since it was a party on the feast of St. Nicholas, you know there was a very special guest who made an appearance for all the children....


Most of the kids were really wary of this jolly man who came bearing gifts, but my sister did a good job talking up his introduction. Gabriel hung back most of the time, but (probably thanks to all the Christmas books I had stocked up on from the local library and all our talk of who St. Nicholas was) I could tell that he was dazzled in a good way:


After St. Nicholas passed out lots of goodies, some (not all) of the kids were comfortable enough to get their picture taken with him - although the crying babies had no say in the matter.


My screaming nephew and Gabriel's expression...perfect.

In all seriousness, though, this was the first year Gabriel was old enough to learn about St. Nicholas and it was SO FUN to have discussions with him all throughout Advent; it really helped build the anticipation we try to create leading up to Christmas in a new way Michael and I had not yet gotten to experience as parents. St. Nicholas even left him a little Shining Light Doll of - you guessed it - St. Nicholas in his stocking on Christmas morning (Peter received St. Patrick, who mysteriously disappeared last week...so if you have any clues regarding his mischievous whereabouts do tell).

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic 
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.” 
-St. Nicholas of Myra

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

28.

+JMJ+

Happy birthday to ME!

Just kidding.

Well, kind of....

Let me back up. Today is not actually my birthday. However, I did have a birthday not too long ago - which I'm finally getting around to writing about today (only about a month and half later).

Just for fun, here's a little recap of what was going on in my life on my birthdays in recent years/since getting married:

  • 25: I was a brand-new newlywed of only a few months, living in Michigan, and pregnant in the first trimester with Gabriel. I remember I had a cold, but Michael and I made some fun memories exploring nonetheless.
  • 26: We were doing a brief stint living in Florida (I know, my husband's career has taken us all over) and considering our baby was 4 months old I was figuring out all this parenthood/life balance which made fun for a fun, tired, beautiful time in our lives. We were blessed to have my sister and her family visiting us that week!
  • 27: We had been living in Pennsylvania for nearly a year, Gabriel was 16 months old, and I was a little bit beyond the first trimester with Peter. On my actual birthday Michael was temporarily in Colorado for work, but I found myself surrounded by the beautiful community God gave us during our time there as we celebrated - and prepared to say goodbye with a bittersweet move coming up less than a week later. I also made some comment that since I took no pictures, I would have to get a picture with my TWO kids on my lap the next year to make up for it.... ;)

So, 28!

My actual birthday (which is 10 days before Christmas) was on a weekday, so we made plans to celebrate with my sister and her family on the preceding Sunday evening. Since it was Gaudete Sunday (apropos of a celebration in Advent, no?), we had fun decking our little Christmas tree. It was the first time Gabriel (age 2) got to help hang up ornaments and potentially make some tree-decorating memories, which automatically made it a sweet endeavor.


Let me back up and say that the night before we enjoyed a family outing to our local Whole Foods (Saturday night at Whole Foods - stop the presses for these party animals!) so that I could pick out a special birthday dessert. In the past few years Michael and I have developed this tradition of going to whatever nearby grocery store we feel has the "fanciest" desserts in order to choose our birthday cake/cheesecake/whatever we want. Personally, I love the sentimentality of baking cakes (or cupcakes!) so I will continue doing that for our kids - but my baking skills are not nearly as much of a treat for my foodie husband and I know I'm not baking myself a birthday cake EVER, so...that's where we stand on that.

While we were having fun at the grocery store we discovered that our Whole Foods has b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l flowers at no higher cost than the ones at our usual grocery store - so naturally I asked my husband if I could get some flowers for my birthday. And, of course, he said yes because he is a good man.


If there were a love language for having your entire home spotlessly cleaned (and unpacked after a recent move!), a decorated Christmas tree brightening up your living room, and a vase of some of your favorite fresh flowers in the middle of the kitchen...that one could possibly trump "words of affirmation" for me. In other words, I was in a very happy place by the time my sister and her family arrived for dinner!

I've already forgotten what we cooked for dinner (baked ziti, maybe?), but I remember clearly the most important parts of the evening - namely, being with people I love, listening to all of them sing Happy Birthday to me, blowing out candles (with Gabriel's earnest help, of course), and eating a most heavenly strawberry shortcake.





It was good.

And then, only a couple of days later I felt the birthday love again when my husband came home on my actual birthday with more gorgeous flowers! Red roses and lilies, to be exact.



What can I say? Michael's love language isn't gifts, but the man knows how to give his wife some flowers (am I right or am I right?).

The flowers and family dinner(s) were more than enough of a gift to remind me how incredibly blessed I am, but Michael also ended up gifting me with some new non-toxic products to add to my growing collection (love!) and an Indiana necklace that has a heart cut-out over Bloomington (where we met! Love love love!).

And yes, I DID get that photo of me with my two boys on my lap after all!


Truly, my 28th was a very happy birthday indeed.

"I'm not getting old, I'm getting better."
-Anonymous

Monday, January 25, 2016

Thanksgiving in Rhode Island

+JMJ+

Do any of you have formal arrangements with your spouse in regards to how you spend the holidays with each other's families? In autumn of 2012 when Michael and I got married we hashed out what I think is probably a typical newlywed plan - we would take turns spending the two "biggest" holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with his family and mine.

Thus, the rotation was born. Here's a brief look at where we have been for the holidays these past few years:




If you've stumbled upon my blog recently, you might be shocked to see that we were living in 4 different states for all 3 of those years - but all of the moving is a sacrifice we have been willing to make while our family is young in order to benefit my husband's career and, therefore, our family (you can read more about that here).

So, we have been all over the place and so has my family (grad school, taking care of other family members, new jobs and big moves across the country, etc.), but we have made our travel plans work according to this "rotation" pretty successfully thus far. It hasn't always been easy, considering sometimes we can drive and other times need to fly (and we've added 2 little boys - and a whole lotta travel gear - into the mix)...but it's been working out alright (I'd be lying, though, if I didn't admit that part of me cannot wait to have our own house and request that everyone come to us!).

According to the rotation schedule, 2015 was our year to spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband's. Naturally, we made plans to be in Ohio in December, but Thanksgiving was a bit of a different story....

Ever since December 2014 we have been living in Massachusetts (where my older sister and her family have been for 6 years), but the rest of my immediate family is still pretty spread out. Not to mention, our lease was coming to an end so we opted to move from our apartment into a townhouse a couple miles down the road - right before Thanksgiving.

Yep, we moved right before a major holiday again.

With everything going on with my family (you know, them all living in 4 different states at the moment) and us moving literally 5 days before the holiday we weren't in a position to travel very far. Quite fortunately for us, being where we are right now means my older sister is right down the road and her in-laws are in New England, so we've been graciously invited to join them for several occasions throughout 2015 (Easter, a weekend trip to the ocean, etc.).

I must admit, it was incredibly nice to be with a handful of family members without hopping on a plane or driving for hours and hours and hours (especially with a 2-year-old and 5-month-old). Plus, we were able to make it a day trip, return home to sleep in our own beds/cribs, and maximize the amount of unpacking in our new place we could do over the long weekend.

I imagine that our Thanksgiving day looked like many of yours, with lots of good food and good company...and perhaps a little bit of watching The National Dog Show (which, by the way, my husband was totally perplexed by because that is just NOT a thing in his family at all).

There's not much more to say other than...it was lovely! But perhaps photographs will better do the day justice than my words....

Here are a few of my favorite family shots:

^Christmas card photo right there
The baby cousins (less than 6 months apart in age!)
Peter and his Aunt Christina
Making its big holiday debut this year: THE KIDS' TABLE

My sister's mother-in-law had their home and Thanksgiving table beautifully decorated, so I would be remiss not to share these lovely pictures:



And you'd better believe I didn't hesitate to snap as many photos as I could of the boys all dressed up before a delicious meal had the chance to potentially mess up their outfits:

5 months old with two teeth already - which means I have a lot of photos of that tongue trying to figure out what those new sharp things in his mouth are ;)

Full disclosure: for every photo like this one on the left, there are at LEAST 4 like the ones on the right preceding it :D

I know I'm nearly a couple months late to the party, but I would love to hear about Thanksgiving in your families as well! Do you eat turkey? Or maybe (my Asian-American husband's favorite Thanksgiving food) lobster? Do you dress up or do you rock sweats? Do you watch the Macy's parade, Dog Show, football game, or none (or all) of the above? Do you travel or stay home? However your family does it, I hope it was a day of true Thanksgiving for all that He has given us!

"If you are grateful for everything, then whatever you have is enough."
-J. Baadsgaard

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Search is On: Mixed Race Marrow Donors Needed!

+JMJ+


Image Source

As a blogger I am frequently contacted by individuals and/or companies asking me to promote their product or cause - and if I'm being honest, few of those emails merit a response and most of them quickly find their way into my "trash" folder. After all, I don't blog to make money, nor have any of those offers included any hint of compensation for my efforts, so I prefer to focus what precious little blogging time I have on my own topics of interest.

Occasionally, though, a real gem of a message finds its way into my inbox that I genuinely feel deserves a platform. No strings attached. Cue #match4lara.

Have you heard of Lara? I hadn't, which makes me think that I could actually do some good in spreading her story. If you can spare a few minutes to watch the video, please do (you may have to click through if you're on a feed reader) - but if not, simply keep reading.


Lara, a 24 year-old living in the UK, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia (AML) and is urgently in need of a bone marrow donor. However, Lara is half Asian. Her mixed Chinese, Thai, and Italian heritage make it difficult to find a match because only 3% of donors on public stem cell registries worldwide are mixed race. Three percent!!! 

Her only brother isn't a match, so unless we do something to help diversify our donor registries individuals like Lara have an incredibly slim chance of finding a timely match.

As the mother of half-Asian children this issue matters to me, which I'm sure is why Lara's cousin contacted me in the first place. Little did she know, though, that I have also been on my national bone marrow registry (Be the Match) for more than 8 years. 

Being on my nation's bone marrow registry is something that I care about, but I believe it has only come up one single time in conversation (other than with my husband) over the past 8+ years. Why is that? Probably, I suspect, because being informed about it and handed an opportunity to join is far less mainstream than the local registry of motor vehicles asking you about being an organ donor each time you update your driver's license. In other words: it's a cause that many people know nothing about.

So let's change that, friends.

Let's talk about HOW EASY it is to join your national bone marrow registry. Seriously. You can be registered with a simple blood test, cheek swab (how I joined), or by spitting in a test tube. If you're in the United States, just visit Be the Match online and follow their instructions. If you're outside the U.S., look for your national bone marrow registry here.

And let's talk about the fact that - despite the diversity of our "melting pot" nation - being mixed race makes it extremely difficult to find a bone marrow donor. For the sake of people like Lara and my own precious children, I want to do what little I can to help spark some change.

Let's diversify the donor registries.

Want More Information?


How You Can Commit to Help

I've copied and pasted much of the following list from the email Lara's cousin sent to me:

Now get out there and spread the word - especially if you or any of your friends are mixed race. You just might save a life!


“All of us must care for life, cherish life, with tenderness, warmth…to give life is to open (our) heart, and to care for life is to (give oneself) in tenderness and warmth for others, to have concern in my heart for others. Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing..So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.”

-Cardinal Bergoglio (aka the future Pope Francis), a 2005 homily

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

(Another) Doctor in the House!

+JMJ+

Y'all may remember that my husband's sister graduated from medical school about 2.5 years ago, and I'm very proud and excited to say that we officially have another doctor (of a different sort) in the family! Hooray!

I didn't mention it in my October recap because I felt that such BIG family news deserved more than just a small mention among a list of other highlights, but shortly before Halloween my sister's husband successfully defended his thesis (in Mechanical Engineering) and presented his work, "Mixed-integer convex optimization for planning aggressive motions of legged robots over rough terrain."

In other words: he sure knows a LOT about making legged robots move. In fact, some of you long-time readers may recall my posts about the DARPA Robotics Challenge his lab competed in (you know, the ones about the Real Life Terminator and Team MIT competing in the finals?).

Shortly thereafter, my brother-in-law celebrated his 30th birthday and began his new job in early November, so my sister threw an epic birthday/graduation party at their new house.

Here are my boys, ready to celebrate their uncle and all of the significant 2015 milestones in his life:


Truly, my sister and her husband had a LOT to celebrate come November! And naturally, she rocked hosting a festive party for many of their friends and family members. She even tied in an apropos robotics theme for all of the decorations. Check it out:

My sister and the distinguished Doctor (and birthday boy) himself
My sister's mother-in-law (did you follow that?) always brings the most delicious cake to their parties
Nbd - my sister only made that banner by hand
In order to create less chaos, she set up this coloring station in my nieces' room (instead of the playroom). Brilliant!

A couple of months later, Gabriel still sometimes talks about his "blue birthday hat."


And can we just take a moment to note that my sister and her husband's parties are never short on food or drink? Whenever I need party food ideas or recipes, let's just say I know who to call....

There were even juice boxes and fun finger foods (and dip!) for the kids

In the last 6(ish) years, my sister and brother-in-law got married, completed Masters degrees from prestigious schools and programs (both of them - not just him), and have birthed and been raising 3 marvelous children (while living in a less-than-700-square-foot apartment on MIT's campus). Respect.

In the past 6 months alone they bought a house, he successfully completed his PhD, and began his non-academic/working career...all before they were 30. If that doesn't make for an epic 30th birthday party, I seriously don't know what does.

Cheers to you guys! I'm so grateful we live down the road and could help witness and celebrate such a big moment in your lives!


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” 
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Monday, January 18, 2016

100,000

+JMJ+

Today is day one of potty training Gabriel (more on that another time), which basically means I have z.e.r.o plans to leave the house for 3 days. Not to mention, both of the boys were sick all throughout last week with some nasty colds and mucousy coughs which means I barely left the house last week either. So, my husband has graciously agreed to "help me not go crazy" (my words, not his) by giving me one hour to myself each day when he gets home from work.

Initially, I thought I would use my hour to flee to our townhouse community gym - but considering how infrequently I have been able to carve out time for myself to blog the past 4 months (okay, maybe 7? which clearly has nothing to do with having a 7-month-old baby and a toddler -ha) I chose instead to close myself off in the "nursery" (aka extension off the master bedroom that houses our mini-crib and desk) to hash out some things for the blog that I've been desperately (read: unsuccessfully) attempting to complete the past couple weeks. Yes, that was all one sentence. 

I had grandiose plans of finalizing a post detailing my brother-in-law's epic celebration of his birthday and official completion of graduate school FOREVER (unless something drastically changes), but then I logged in and noticed something....

I'm not one for paying too much attention to pageviews and stats, but last week when I was getting caught up on some writing I noticed I was nearing a large (for me) milestone. Lo and behold, when I logged in today I saw that I already passed it (whoops).

Now I can officially say that my blog has over 100,000 unique pageviews!


Yep. It's true.


Thanks for your enthusiasm, my boy! ;)

Naturally, I spent a good 45 minutes of my hour alone sifting through photographs before deciding to add a bit of text to those pictures of Peter from last month...which means a bigger recap must wait until a later date.

But still, wasn't this fun?

It's crazy for me to think about how much I have experienced in the past few years since getting married - and how much of that has been recorded in this personal space. To all of you that have been journeying with me as I've unpacked more and more about what it means for me to be a wife, a mother, or to have moved with my husband from Michigan to Florida to Pennsylvania to Massachusetts in just a few years' time...thank you. And to those of you that have found Bluebird Songs a bit more recently: welcome! I'm glad to have you.

And regardless of whether you've stopped by once, twice, or a whole boatload of times, I'd love to hear from you! What brought you to my blog in the first place? And (assuming you came back) what has brought you back? What are some of your favorite types of posts? Inquiring minds want to know!

...and considering my husband asked me if I was done 15 minutes ago, I requested 5 more, and my 2-year-old is suddenly waiting waiting waiting a foot away from me I'm going to call it a day.

Thanks for reading!

"Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments."
-Rose Kennedy

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Husband's 30th Birthday Surprise

+JMJ+

My husband's birthday is in early October, which means that every year it falls on the heels of our wedding anniversary. In the few years we have been married, we have opted to celebrate our anniversary with a weekend trip - and sometimes (depending on what day of the week everything falls) Michael's birthday celebration has gotten lumped together with our anniversary weekend. Because he just turned 30, I wanted to make sure I did something to make this extra-special milestone stand apart from our wedding anniversary.

When I think of a 30th birthday, I see it as a natural time of reflection. I have a hunch that most people look back on their twenties and think about all the places they've been, the people they have encountered, and what they may have accomplished leading up to the "big" three-zero. If you've been reading for awhile you already know that we have moved a LOT since getting married in 2012 - which means we've been a lot of places and met a lot of people. We are currently blessed to have some family nearby, but obviously not ALL of our friends are here because we haven't been here that long. So, in order to surprise my man I thought of a way to bring the community to him, so to speak.

For his birthday, he chose to celebrate with a family dinner at a local restaurant along with my sister and her family. What he didn't know was that I had a surprise gift for him at that dinner....

A few weeks before Michael's birthday I secretly sent out emails and Facebook messages to some family and friends I thought he would like to hear from. I even snagged some phone numbers from his phone when he was at the gym one night so I could text people I didn't have a way of contacting online. I felt so sneaky!

I explained to everyone that I planned to compile a bunch of birthday messages in a scrapbook of sorts and requested that (if they wanted to participate) they email or text them to me by a given date. As far as guidelines went, I told everyone it could be whatever they wanted - keeping in mind that the goal was to wish Michael a happy birthday and help make him feel loved and appreciated.

And you guys - my husband has been blessed with some pretty amazing people in his circle of family and friends. I compiled no less than twenty-seven messages (in addition to my own) for his surprise! A handful of individuals even sent accompanying photographs, which was really sweet (and in many cases, very funny)!

I knew I wouldn't have much time to get the book together, so I kept it really simple. I copied and pasted or typed up the messages in a Word document, adjusted some fonts and sizes, and printed everything out. I picked out some cute scrapbooking paper from my stockpile, cut the messages out, and pasted. And that was it. No fancy borders or extra details. The messages spoke for themselves anyway.

Michael thought his only gifts were a new watch and wallet, which made giving him the scrapbook all the more exciting. When he first opened the book he had no clue what it was - and once he read a few lines from my opening page and glanced at how many pages there were, his reaction was PRICELESS.


He seemed legitimately stunned when he asked, "you got messages from ALL these people??"







After a delicious dinner we stopped by my sister's house to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake.

Ever since his 2nd birthday, Gabriel has been SO excited to watch and/or help
people blow out their birthday candles
Our family: ages 30, 27 (almost 28), 2, and 4 months

We celebrated Michael's 27th birthday (that link will take to you to my old, old blog) with cave tubing and zip-lining in Belize on our honeymoon, I completely surprised him by decorating our home with 28 love messages on his 28th, and for his 29th we took a day trip to Baltimore's inner harbor...but, in my opinion, his 30th really took the cake (pun intended).


"People are similar to wine; some of them will turn to vinegar but only the best will improve as they age."
-Anonymous