Thursday, December 11, 2014

I think I'll go to Boston....

+JMJ+

Do you all know that song by Augustana? Well, I thought that lyric made for an appropriate title because the latest news around these parts is...

...that we are moving to the Boston area! This month. 

Isn't this image of the Boston Public Garden so beautiful?

Fortunately, the rest of those song lyrics do not apply to us because there are people there that know our names. My older sister and her beautiful family are in the Boston area - which means that for the first time in our married lives we will be living near family! Leaving our amazing Philadelphia friends will be incredibly bittersweet, but I cannot tell you how excited I am that this is where the Lord is leading us next.

When we shared the news about our plans to move, one friend pointed out that we continue moving while I'm pregnant - because at this point I'm literally 2 for 2. She's so right - but thankfully this time around it's when I'm between 3 and 4 months along instead of 9. And we aren't moving in 4 days like that one time either. ;)

Still, the move will be quick and there is a LOT to do considering my husband is currently in Colorado (and scheduled to go back again next week). So, if you'll excuse me, our toddler is sleeping and I'm about to get started on some serious packing. Please pray for us as we prepare to move (hopefully) before Christmas. It's going to be a lot of work for this pregnant mother with a husband that is temporarily across the country for work.

Before I forget: tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! I just love her.

+Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.+

“The will of God will never take you to where the grace of God will not protect you.”
-Anonymous

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thank Yous All Around

+JMJ+

Do you all remember when my husband got sent to Colorado for a work week? Well, as I type this I'm counting down the days until he returns because, once again, he has been sent to the Colorado plant to help out. The difference this time is that they need him for TWO whole weeks! Thankfully, he'll be back this weekend before returning for the second week, so I'm focusing on one week at a time, one day at a time.

My husband's current view

The last time this happened I was incredibly blessed to be surrounded by many supportive friends. It truly helped me pass the hours watching Gabriel with far more energy and joy than I possibly could have mustered on my own at that point (especially considering I was in the midst of some of the most tiring days of the first trimester).

This week I've entered the second trimester (hooray!) and do have more energy, but I've booked a full social calendar just the same. I'm so happy to report that, thus far, things have been going smoothly and my awesome friends have filled my life with good (much-needed) conversations that involve more than Gabriel's toddler responses of facial expressions, hand gestures, two-syllable sounding words, or animal sounds. All of those things are adorable, but for my mental health I do need some time to talk to adults as well. :) Not to mention, different friends have prepared and brought me dinner both nights since Michael left.... So thoughtful and generous!

I probably won't find much time to write this week, but I wanted to at least jot down a little update and say "thank you" to everyone who has helped keep me so positive in my husband's absence!

Additionally, I want to thank all of my readers that have sent me various emails over the past few weeks. Typically I tend to correspond with only a small handful of lovely ladies I consider to be some of my best "blogging friends," but recently I've received an outpouring of email from some of you for the first time. I absolutely love getting to know my readers and feel so blessed to learn of the many reasons some of you relate to my life and what I've shared on the blog - whether it has to do with faith journeys, family traditions, or budding relationships that echo much of my love story with Michael. I truly appreciate hearing what you all have had to say! So thank you to all of you that have shared encouraging words, personal anecdotes, or even asked for my advice in recent weeks. You all have been so kind and supportive, which has been a real gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
-William Arthur Ward

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fall Family Photos

+JMJ+

Back when Gabriel was about to turn one we thought it was a great idea to do some professional family photos. Unfortunately, photographers were booked out the wazoo...but we at least found one whose work we liked (along with her prices - definitely one of the better deals I've found in this area for her level of quality work) and decided to postpone our photo shoot for a time when she was available. We decided to do some birthday portraits of Gabriel at the mall and thought we would do our family session as an anniversary gift to ourselves at the end of September/early October. Alas, the photographer was booked for what felt like a year and a day - but was really about 3 months. So we waited and waited and finally our mid-November session rolled around.

We just got all of our photos back a few days ago and I can't wait to share them! All photo credit goes to Daniella Bella Photography. Here are some of my favorites:







Spoiler alert: this will be on our Christmas cards...but I couldn't resist posting it with all the others!
A lot of times people say Gabriel looks more like me (because of the light hair, I think) - but check this out. I think he looks strikingly like Michael much of the time.

Michael saw this one and said, "He really does look like an angel." (something people used to say as soon as they found out his name when he was little)

^My favorite!
I had to push my stomach out a bit to capture this image at 11 weeks - but this is
basically what my bump really looks like today at 14 weeks! Hello, second pregnancy.

Didn't she do a beautiful job?! If you're in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, you should consider hiring Daniella Bella Photography. If her photos aren't enough to convince you to hire her, maybe this will:

We initially hired Daniella for an hour-long family session but when we arrived she suggested we opt for a "mini" (30-minute) session instead. Because of the time of year, the daylight was fading quickly and she didn't want us to pay for a session that we might not be able to complete. If we did the mini session, she guaranteed that she could get enough good shots for our final portfolio. The smaller session meant less time and fewer final photos, but it also saved us a significant chunk of money and - you'd never know it from the pictures - it was absolutely freezing that day. It was one of the coldest days we've had this season and we all had layers upon layers of clothing (for real - Gabriel had no less than a onesie, 4 additional shirt layers, and a couple layers of pants on). Obviously we chose to go with the mini session because it just made sense - but there were so many blessings in disguise that came from that decision. Not only did we save a lot of money, but I have no idea how much longer we could have lasted in the cold. Daniella ended up shooting for almost 45 minutes instead of 30 just to ensure that she got enough shots to work with (and she was very patient working with Gabriel!). When all was said and done, she gave us basically the same number of final photos as we would have received if we had paid for the entire hour-long session and frozen nearly to death. The fact that she was honest about wanting to deliver the best product possible - even if it meant her making less money off of us - really impressed me. In case you couldn't tell, I sincerely do recommend her.

“Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”
-Pope Francis, Interview on Radio Catedral

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent in Our Home

+JMJ+

I've written before about how, as newlyweds, my husband and I are constantly figuring out what traditions we want to keep from our childhoods and pass on to our children. Likewise, we are often creating new traditions that perhaps neither of us did growing up but we enjoy and would like to introduce our children to. When I think about it for awhile it quickly feels like a daunting task - because eventually I'd like to create a family culture that celebrates and acknowledges our various cultural backgrounds but revolves around our Catholic faith, living out the liturgical seasons and certain feast days that have special meaning to us. Deep breaths, baby steps.

Michael and I have been married for 2 years and we're still navigating what "living liturgically" means for us specifically. The Catholic Church has so many prayers, feast days, and traditions that it's impossible to explore and experience every single one. The key, for us, is to start small and work our way up to bigger, more elaborate things in future years. 

After all, in our 2 years of marriage we have lived in 3 different states, had a baby, and are now expecting our second child...so I guess you could say we've had a lot going on. If we tried right now to do ALL the things I envision us doing years down the road I think I'd collapse from exhaustion. I want our family to create and experience specific liturgical and holiday traditions, but they have to mesh with and enhance our daily life - not overwhelm or complicate it.

Last year I read a lot of blogs and thought quite a bit about various ways Michael and I could celebrate the Advent and Christmas seasons respectively...but, considering we had a newborn and spent much of our Christmas break packing and planning a move across the country, a lot of it stayed inside my head. This year Michael and I had a good talk about all the ideas I had and decided together which things we liked, thought were feasible, and would like to begin implementing this year and next. After a nice discussion and some healthy compromise, here's what we came up with:


I've broken our Advent (and Christmas) plans down into categories, which gives me a better sense and understanding of our overall vision. Not to mention, I think it keeps everything a lot more manageable when I can glance at each category and see how we're doing - rather than creating one, big list.

Advent Wreath
We do not yet have a real wreath and candles, which means currently we don't have anything to light. Instead, we're keeping the toy felt wreath my sister gave us in the center of our dinner table. Once we have a real wreath we'll light the appropriate candle(s) each night before dinner, possibly accompanied by a brief prayer. Here are some ideas we might use to pray:
  • Brief prayers from a book or prayer card - the book pictured above was a gift from my friend, Sr. Elizabeth Ann, so I plan to use it this year and see how it goes for us.
  • Prayers for loved ones - I love the idea of taking a few minutes to pray for any person/family that sends us a Christmas card or letter in the mail when we receive it.

Advent Calendar
  • Eventually I'd like some sort of nice, permanent Advent calendar that we can re-use, but for now the disposable ones with the little flaps you open each day are perfectly fine.
  • Once our children are older I love the idea of having one children's book for each day in Advent; that way you can wrap them all up and let the kids choose one to open and read each night. Those books would be "special" Advent books that we only pull out that time each year. So fun, right?!

Other Decor
  • Nativity scene - but baby Jesus doesn't get to make his debut until after we attend Christmas mass (confession: we don't yet own a nativity scene, but this is what we plan to do in future years).
  • Christmas tree - we will set up our Christmas tree any time in Advent, but plan to keep it bare until we get closer to Christmas. I love the idea of decking it out on Christmas Eve, but I'm not sure we'll be able to wait quite that long. The idea behind this is to create a sense of longing and anticipation so we really feel Advent. Looking at an empty tree is a visual reminder that Christ is coming soon, but has not yet come (I'm thinking the earliest we might ever decorate would be Gaudete Sunday).
  • Stockings - we have agreed that while stockings tend to make you think of Christmas morning, there's no harm in hanging them for decoration during Advent...especially considering how little we currently have in the way of seasonal decor (plus our beautiful stockings have an angel, holly, and a snowflake on them which is not at all inappropriate for Advent!).
  • General seasonal decor is good for both Advent and Christmas (a festive tablecloth, holly, mistletoe, wreaths, you get the idea).
Music
This is a big one this time of year. Our goal is to do our best to listen to Advent music - not Christmas music - as much as possible during Advent (think of songs like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"). Then, once Christmas season hits we can go all out with ALL the Christmas hymns and songs. This one will be hard, but worth it I think.

Movies/Shows
Much like music, we're going to do our best to hold off until closer to Christmas. We own a collection of the old, animated Christmas classics with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, etc. The idea behind all this waiting is, once again, to create that sense of longing and anticipation in our hearts - but we're realistic about all of this, too; there's no way we're waiting all the way until Christmas to watch these (especially since they're aren't religious in nature). We compromised and said we can bust them out once we light the 4th (final) Advent candle...and if that's too hard I imagine Gaudete Sunday might be a good time to start watching. ;)

---

As a general rule, things that are SEASONAL (i.e. hot chocolate, eggnog, mistletoe, etc.) are welcome to make their appearance in our home at any time. The things we're holding off on until Christmas have more to do with the liturgical seasons and our Catholic faith. However, we are still newlyweds and slowly learning what it means for us to live liturgically within our growing family - so there are bound to be changes as we continue figuring it all out. I think the key, for us, is to set tangible goals and strive to implement them - and see how it goes. If we need to make changes, we will. But hopefully this is a good foundation upon which we can expand our family's traditions next year and the next year and the next.

It's also worth noting that just because we plan to wait to partake in certain festivities at home doesn't mean we expect everyone else to do so. Nor would we ever turn down invitations to Christmas parties simply because they might take place during Advent (how silly!). So if you want to invite us over during Advent and offer us Christmas cookies while rocking out to Joy to the World we will not be offended in the slightest. In fact, I'm sure we'd all have a jolly good time. And if our children ask, we'll simply explain that all families tend to do things differently and in our family we do x, y, and z.

I'm genuinely curious (and always on the lookout for new ideas): What are some things YOU do to celebrate the Advent and Christmas seasons???

"Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.… 
It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope."
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI), Seek That Which Is Above

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gabriel Meets Santa Claus

+JMJ+

A couple weekends ago we spent some time at the largest mall in the U.S. and couldn't help but notice their MASSIVE Christmas display for the children to meet Santa Claus. We thought the mall in Florida was oh-so-fancy last year, to the point that we never thought another mall could top their display...but we were wrong. As we walked towards it I got so excited that there was a carousel of reindeer - a huge carousel of reindeer! What fun! Gabriel would have so much fun riding the carousel!

And then I realized that it was fake.

If I was disappointed, I can only imagine how many hundreds of children had the same reaction to this epic tease. It makes for beautiful photographs, yes, but whoever designed that didn't really think it through that children would be walking through to meet Santa Claus....

Anyway, the display was over the top but it reminded us that we wanted to take Gabriel to meet Santa Claus at some point this year. Last year he was 4 months old and the lines were absolutely not worth it, but this year we thought it would be fun.

Needless to say, the mall was packed on the weekend and we weren't about to waste time in those nonsensical lines for a 15-month old, but we did head back on a weeknight and were quite pleased to see that there was absolutely zero line. :)


Of course Gabriel had nothing to say to Santa and had no idea what was happening, but he seemed intrigued and perfectly content to sit on this curious man's lap while his daddy snapped some photos.


Afterwards, Santa gave him a page of stickers and a reindeer hat which I wasn't expecting at all - especially since we didn't pay for them to take professional photos or buy the merchandise they flaunt as you exit. He didn't think much of the reindeer hat, but he did have fun wearing it for 30 seconds - just long enough to catch another photo. After that he focused on the stickers, which he happily held for an entire ten minutes before attempting to eat one. 


Before heading home, we made our way to the new pho restaurant because their bubble tea is much better than what is sold at the mall's bubble tea kiosk. On the way we stumbled across a big jewelry sale and Michael slowed down to look at their collection of pearls. Before I knew what was happening, we had found a beautiful 5-pair set of earrings that I loved and Michael just...bought them. My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, so I thought he was going to ask if I'd like them for my birthday...but instead he told the sales person that they were a "just because" gift. Honestly I'm still soaking that moment in, because even though I'm not huge on the "gifts" love language that gesture meant so very much to me.

We eventually ordered a bubble tea to share and, because Michael knows it's my favorite, we got taro. Then, as if I didn't feel loved enough, the person making the milk tea accidentally made a taro smoothie as well - which he gave to us for free. Taro bubble tea and a free taro smoothie right after my husband bought me beautiful earrings for no reason?! For a second I actually thought it might be my birthday but then I remembered that it isn't even December yet.

Since we had an extra drink, we let Gabriel try the taro smoothie and let me tell you: little boy was in heaven. He practically jumped out of his stroller trying to drink it, which led to this hilarious photo that I love:


He ended up drinking nearly half the smoothie and was one happy boy. All in all, it was such a lovely family outing that left me feeling completely blessed.

Now we're off to Ohio to stay with my in-laws for the next 4 days! May you all have a blessed and very Happy Thanksgiving surrounded by your own loved ones!

"It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all."
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Sock Monkey Goes Trick-or-Treating

+JMJ+

Happy Veterans Day! May God bless all the men and women who have served and continue to serve our blessed nation. +St. Martin of Tours, pray for us+

It's taken me awhile, but I've finally compiled the best of the best Halloween photos from Gabriel's first time trick-or-treating!

First, here are the links to look back at Gabriel's very first Halloween when we dressed him as Winnie the Pooh. Secondly, here's a little peek at this year's costume inspiration and the costume itself:

Left to right: Gabriel's sock monkey and comfort object, costume front, costume back (it's hard to see, but there is a tail!).

Originally we wanted to dress him as a different character, but it would have required me to make a costume from scratch...which needless to say, I was not up for this year. Perhaps I can work on some of my domestic, crafty skills this year and get ready to create costumes for future Halloweens...but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

In mid-October, I began searching for baby/toddler costumes that were cute and affordable, which led me to this fantastic sock monkey costume. As soon as I found it and saw that it was only $10, I knew the search was over and my husband readily agreed. We began introducing Gabriel's sock monkey blanket as a comfort object when he turned one (as part of the weaning process - something I'll write about later, I'm sure). Ever since then, he has been making monkey sounds - long before he uttered his first word (which happened 10 days before Halloween when he was 14.5 months old). To top it off, his first word was none other than "nah-nah" which means...you guessed it: banana. Imagine a little boy obsessed with his sock monkey toy making monkey sounds and running around asking for bananas all day long and try and tell me this costume wasn't perfect for him. :)

On Halloween night we joined a couple of my friends from my Catholic moms' group (and their husbands and children, of course) to take the children trick-or-treating. There were 4 little boys in our three families ages 16 months, 14 months, and two under 6 months. My friend Lillian's son was one of the babies who clearly couldn't gather candy for himself, but he was dressed as a monk and had a little box they labeled "alms" that people happily tossed candy in all evening. Clever and adorable to boot!

My favorite photo from the evening! Gabriel and his friends: a sock monkey, a monk, Pooh Bear, and Tigger

My friend who hosted us all in her neighborhood managed to score a two-seater wagon for Gabriel and his friend dressed as Tigger - and they had so much fun being pulled down the street! It made me smile to hear them squealing in delight and pointing at all the decorations and older children in costume.

After collecting some candy with his daddy

Everyone was especially in awe as we visited THE best-decorated house in the whole neighborhood. Their entire lawn was filled with all the things one could possibly associate with Halloween - complete with abundant lights, robotic displays that danced or moved and/or played music, and smoke machines. We made sure to take our time walking by as we admired the intricate details of their elaborate display (and of course all the boys were amazed).

This photo only depicts about half of their lawn display!

Once we made our way back to our friends' house we all relaxed and enjoyed hot chocolate, which is apparently a sweet tradition my friend has always done with her family each year after trick-or-treating (we just might take that and add it to our own, growing list of traditions...). Then, of course, we scoped out what goodies the boys had collected because we had zero plans to give our 14-month old any of the candy he received (I know! So mean...except that Gabriel has no idea what he missed out on and he couldn't eat over half of what he was given anyway). Because I can't handle sweet things at this point in the pregnancy, Michael made out like a bandit.

Even though Gabriel couldn't enjoy the candy this year, he had such a blast riding in the wagon, walking up to all the doorsteps, and staring at all the people and lights. With all that excitement, who needs candy? ;) Next year he is in for a REAL treat when he'll experience trick-or-treating and getting to eat some candy all in the same night! It's going to be so much fun.


"There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch."

-Robert Brault

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On Smelling Powers & Pickles

+JMJ+

Now that the online world is caught up with the latest and greatest happenings in our family life, I'll probably be sharing a lot more thoughts about pregnancy - aren't you glad?

Lately I've been pondering lamenting the fact that I'm at that stage of pregnancy when I have super smelling powers. Trust me, it sounds greater than it is. Far greater.

Honestly, I do not remember being this sensitive to smells the last time around. Which makes me wonder...did I just block it out? Was it the same as this time around and I conveniently let that slip from my memory (kind of like the female power to forget about labor and delivery long enough to set yourself up for another one)? Or...dare I ask the other question it brings to my mind? If I am more sensitive to smells this time could it mean we're having a girl? 

These are just a sampling of the endless thoughts a pregnant woman has in the first trimester.

But really. Are you able to detect that your husband somehow got his hands on a grape-flavored Jolly Rancher and decided to eat it during your trip to the grocery store...when he's standing at least a few feet away from you down the aisle? Quite unfortunately, I am. Blegh.

Or how about this weird one (which totally grosses me out): can you smell the hint of left-over/old dairy subtly wafting from the spoons you fed your child cottage cheese with - when they have been thoroughly rinsed, are placed inside the dishwasher, the dishwasher is closed, and you find yourself standing in front of the dishwasher eating a pickle (which should completely overpower any other smells, right?!)??? Gross.

I could go on and on about the nasty things I've been able to smell that have made my stomach churn, but you'd probably prefer that I didn't. Instead, I'll simply take this opportunity (which could be an entire blog entry in and of itself) to say that pickles are officially God's gift to me during this pregnancy. Of course they have no calories and hardly contribute to the nutrition in my diet, but if they never fail to keep any queasiness at bay then, by golly, they're a blessing I wouldn't know how to live without right now.

Thankfully, this time around has been much smoother with figuring out what I can eat during the first trimester. Last time I remember feeling that for weeks (literally) I had no idea what I could stomach. Granted, I never got morning sickness like many women, but food aversions were out in full force and I was often left feeling hungry but overwhelmingly frustrated that everything seemed to make me feel ill. It took a long time for me to get in a groove of eating foods that didn't make me feel sick just thinking about them.

This time I've had a better handle on understanding what kinds of foods I have strong aversions to/make me feel queasy and, in turn, which foods I can eat to help the queasiness subside. Once again I cannot handle much meat or anything sweet - but unlike last time, I can barely handle the sweetness of fruit, so in addition to things that are bland, salty or somewhat sour foods have been my friends. Pickles take it to a whole new level, though. Sometimes I eat something I think I can handle, only to be left with an aftertaste that is far too sweet or upsetting in some way. Solution? Eat a pickle. Problem: I feel queasy right before bed but am not hungry. Solution? Eat a pickle. Zero calories with all the powers to make my stomach feel well again with only a few bites.

So there you have it. Super smelling powers are terrible, but pickles are a gift sent straight from God Himself. All things considered, I'm feeling really well...and am seriously thankful for pickles. Did I say that yet? :)

For those of you that are/have been pregnant, what food aversions did you have in the first trimester (or beyond)? What helped to soothe your stomach? Inquiring minds want to know!

"Pregnancy is the happiest reason ever for feeling like crap."
-Anonymous