Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Three Years


Yesterday was a very special day for our family. Not only was it the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (ora pro nobis!) - which makes it the "name day" of my husband and our eldest son, but it was also Michael's and my third wedding anniversary!

Thus far we haven't been big on anniversary gifts, but it's worked out that each year we've taken a weekend trip on/around our anniversary. On our first anniversary we were living in Florida and took a trip to Miami, on our second anniversary we were living in Pennsylvania and took a trip to the inner harbor of Baltimore, and this year (while living in Massachusetts) we spent our anniversary weekend on a pilgrimage with a million (plus) other people attending the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis in Philadelphia.

I'm not gonna lie - a trip to see and attend Mass with the pope for our anniversary is going to be pretty hard to beat in future years....

Right now I'm still mentally unpacking all that we experienced in Philadelphia and doing some behind-the-scenes planning for my husband's upcoming birthday (this weekend!), so I can hardly write a lengthy, romantic anniversary post about all that we've done in these past 3 years together as husband and wife.

However, we managed to go on a dinner date last night while my sister watched our two-year-old and at one point we found ourselves reflecting on just how much life we have lived together in such a short amount of time.

In 3 years we have lived in four different states and been blessed with two children. Job changes, big moves across the country, and having children can put a lot of stress on couples and I won't pretend it's always been easy on us doing so much of that in so little time - but as we reflected on all of this together we agreed that we've done a pretty good job loving one another through it all. We're NOT perfect and we have much to learn about this wonderful Sacrament called marriage, but the bottom line is that each of us have continued to choose to love one another - especially when it gets hard...and that's what it's all about.

Here's to the many, many small gestures of love we have offered to and received from one another over the past 3 years - and here's to learning more about God and His love through one another and our little domestic church for many years to come!

Anniversary dinner date (not pictured: sleeping baby)

"Faith opens the "window" to the active presence of the Spirit and shows that, like happiness, holiness is always linked to small gestures.... They are minimal gestures you learned at home; Family gestures that are lost in the anonymity of everyday life but make it different every day.... Gestures are home. It is the blessing before sleeping and hugging his return from a long day of work. Love is manifested in small things.... Faith grows with practice and is shaped by love. Therefore, our families, our homes, are true domestic churches." 
-Pope Francis, homily at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long and Short of It


Whew! What a weekend we have planned! Tomorrow we will be journeying to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families where we have plans to participate in the Festival of Families and (of course!) attend the Papal Mass on the parkway with Pope Francis. This week has had me thinking and/or stressing non-stop about logistics and checking off lots of "to-do" list items, so I thought I'd take a little break and share something that takes very little mental processing whatsoever: my new hair cut!

I mentioned it once before, but leaving my hair long/not allowing myself to chop it all off during my pregnancy with Peter really helped me feel more like myself throughout those 9 months. For me, personally, I've realized that having longer hair as my face fills out helps me focus less on how I look as I gain pregnancy weight and still feel kinda-sorta stylish by having enough hair to do braids, buns, or simply just wear my hair down (because, hello, pregnancy hair is real...and notorious for being gorgeous).

I like to think that my long locks helped me rock the pregnancy hair pretty well (and if you disagree I'd be perfectly content not to have my little bubble burst). However, I hadn't had it properly trimmed since right before our trip to Hawaii (yikes, I know), I'm not pregnant anymore, and the summer heat finally got to me. The hair needed to go.

Long story short (see what I did there?), here are some photos:

That view from the back is cringe-worthy at best. Which is why I'm so happy to share with you that it now looks like this:

Just looking at those comparison photos makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I got that situation taken care of. First world problems, I know.

I'm also happy to report that the woman who cut my hair seemed incredibly skilled and helped me achieve the actual side-swept bangs I love but hadn't had for about 5(!) years. Because my hair had been SO long and without bangs for awhile it took a few days for the bangs to "settle" into their proper place...but here they are a few days later looking exactly how I wanted them to be:

Hooray for hair stylists that know what they're doing! Hooray for feeling nearly 12 inches (yes, you read that right) of hair lighter! And hooray for having a hair cut that does not get in the way at all when nursing an infant!

Sometimes it's the simple things in life, y'all. 

And a BIG HOORAY for our upcoming pilgrimage to Philadelphia! Please keep us in your prayers and let me know any prayer intentions I can offer up for you as I pray AT MASS WITH THE POPE!

"A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life."
-Coco Chanel

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Day in Thomas Land


Do your children love Thomas the tank engine? Do they enjoy children's rides? Do you live anywhere near New England? If so, then I highly recommend checking out Edaville USA!

Initially we had some ambitious plans to go to Canada for Labor Day weekend, but considering we are traveling to Philadelphia for the upcoming World Meeting of Families, we regained our sanity long enough to realize we had no desire to do more than one lengthy road trip with a 2-year-old and an infant within the same month.

Instead, we chose to spend some time on Labor Day weekend exploring Edaville and the brand-new Thomas Land portion of their amusement park! It had been on my radar since back in July or so when I saw that Thomas Land (which was opening in mid-August) had been named one of the Best New Amusement Park Attractions in the United States.

I must say, Edaville (and especially Thomas Land) really exceeded our expectations. We thought it would be good and a lot of fun for Gabriel (it was his first time experiencing an amusement park and/or rides!), but we had no idea just how good it would be.

We purchased our tickets online the night before and printed them off at home which I definitely recommend doing, because we happily (and a bit smugly) bypassed a line of about 50 families as we cruised right inside. After a pit stop for diaper changes/bathroom breaks we made our way towards the back of the park (a pro tip my parents taught me as a child in order to minimize line waits). However, as soon as we saw THE Thomas train that takes you all around the park we went and "said hi" and took photos.

I rode a little caterpillar coaster with Gabriel since there was zero line whatsoever, which was his very first ride. It was a bit fast and bumpy and he told me he was "all done" a few times, but it was good preparation for him because it allowed me to calmly explain that they have to stop the ride first and then we can get off. He seemed fine with it - and then we were off to the Island of Sodor!

Thomas fans will surely recognize this iconic landmark behind us

All of Thomas Land was quite adorable and the rides were all characters from the Thomas and Friends show. We saw Bertie the Bus, Harold the Helicopter, Fire Engine Flynn, Cranky the Crane, and countless trains.

Gabriel (who is less than 36 inches tall) was able to ride all but a few rides in the entire park (accompanied by an adult) and there was even one (Fire Engine Flynn) that he could ride all by himself. There was also a large Tidmouth Shed with a few trains (Gordon, James, and...Emily?) that is used for a couple of shows (with Sir Topham Hatt, I believe) during the day which we did not manage to see - but Gabriel had plenty of fun just taking pictures, climbing inside the one kids can explore, and had no idea he was missing out on any sort of show.

Riding all by himself!
Getting ready to pilot Harold the Helicopter

Because we arrived when the park opened at 10am we barely had to wait in any lines (the park got noticeably busier around lunch time) and Gabriel even got to ride some things more than once. We made our way through all of Thomas Land by lunch which was the perfect time for a break.

After we ate we did some more diaper changes and I nursed the baby (who made our morning incredibly easy by taking a nap until lunch) we were off for more fun.

It's worth mentioning that the main building that contains the restrooms has a lovely room for nursing mothers (complete with changing tables and toys for babies and toddlers to play with) and upstairs is an area completely geared towards little ones that has more rides AND...a ball pit. Gabriel raved and raved and raved about that ball pit the rest of the day (and the next) because Michel took him there to play while I nursed Peter.

Then, we hopped aboard the Thomas train for a 20-minute ride around the park!

Riding the Thomas train!

By that time of day it was getting hot so we ventured into Dinoland, which is a shaded area containing more than 20 life-size animatronic dinosaurs. We weren't sure how Gabriel would react, but he LOVED the dinosaurs so we took our time strolling through the woods to see them all.

After Dinoland we headed back into Thomas Land to let Gabriel choose one more ride to go on again before we prepared to head home. Then, once the kids had been properly fed and changed we made our way to the parking lot...but not before stopping for one final ride - the carousel.

It was a good thing I snapped this before it began because that carousel was fast!

All in all it was a fun, memorable day for everyone. Michael and I enjoyed taking turns going on rides with Gabriel (who had a blast) and we thought Thomas Land was very well done. Edaville is actually constructing new areas with pirate and water-themed rides AND there will be even more rides in Thomas Land opening soon; we felt the trip was money very well-spent and would happily revisit the park and explore their new attractions in the future.

"They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight,

shunting trucks and hauling freight.
Red and green and brown and blue,
they're the Really Useful Crew.
All with different roles to play,
round Tidmoth Sheds or far away.
Down the hills and round the bends,
Thomas and his friends."
-Thomas and Friends Theme Song

Friday, September 18, 2015

Some Weekend Fun (with kids) in Boston


It had been a long time since Michael or I had been into the city (especially long for me, considering I hadn't done any city outings since well before Peter was born), so when our social calendars were clear the last two weekends in August we decided to change that.

In keeping with the ocean theme after our trip to Rhode Island, we decided to check out the New England Aquarium the following Saturday. Now, I'm just going to be up front and say that Michael and I have been to a lot of aquariums. Previously, our most recent aquarium visit was about a year ago when we went to Atlanta for a friend's wedding - and if you've ever been to the Georgia Aquarium then you know it's kind of a tough act to follow (after all...whale sharks!). So, you can imagine our surprise when we anticipated spending all day at the New England Aquarium and it took us less than a whopping 3 hours to get through it in its entirety.

However, the brevity of the trip worked out well for our two-year-old and we didn't even need to worry about ruining nap time! A larger aquarium would have been fun for my husband and me, but it was a great size for small children so I didn't mind. Witnessing Gabriel stare in fascination at the tanks was enough for me. :)

Excited to watch the seal training show!

Peter was a very accommodating infant and slept through the entire aquarium trip right up until the seal show was about to begin. Seemingly everyone in the building was crowded around the tank trying to catch a glimpse, so I left Michael in charge of Gabriel to watch the seals and went back inside to the dark exhibits; I easily found a bench on which to nurse Peter and when he was done we were ready to go grab lunch down the street at Quincy Market

The weekend after that we returned to the city so we could finally do something I've wanted to do all summer long: introduce Gabriel to the historic swan boats in the Public Garden! 

When we arrived at the Public Garden we first did something anyone that is a tourist and/or has children would do - we visited the Make Way for Ducklings statues. It is said that the statues supposedly never need any professional polishing because children sit on them so frequently...and I'm inclined to believe it.

Sitting on the duckling named Quack
Clearly sitting on Mrs. Mallard is not as enjoyable as sitting on a duckling

After our visit with the duckling statues we made our way to the swan boats. Because my plan of nursing Peter right before we left home and hoping the 25-minute drive would lull him into his morning nap worked so well, I opted to stay with the stroller and let him keep sleeping. The plus side to this is that I was able to take plenty of (paparazzi?) photos of Michael and Gabriel on their swan boat ride.

After Michael pointed me out to Gabriel everyone on that boat quickly knew who I was...because Gabriel excitedly (and repeatedly) yelled across the pond (quite a distance - because I was utilizing a whole lot of zoom to take this photo), "Mommy! Mommy - over THERE, Mommy! Look, Mommy over THERE!" 

To wrap up our time in the garden we took a little stroll over the bridge and showed Gabriel some flowers. 

Not pictured: stroller containing a sleeping baby

At that point we desperately needed food, but the combination of the heat and nursing a baby (aka feeling miserable if I don't have enough calories) squashed any hopes we had of walking to Chinatown for lunch. Instead, we hopped back in the car and quickly made our way to a great dumpling place in Cambridge.

We didn't need to spend much money and nothing about that particular visit to the city was very fancy, but Gabriel had tons of fun. To top it off, I borrowed Make Way for Ducklings from the library this week and I reminded him about all the things we had done in the Public Garden; his eyes lit up with happy remembrance, so I would say that our simple trip was every bit as exciting to him as the previous week's "fancy" visit to the aquarium. 

"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Big Pool" in Pictures


Living in New England has certainly allowed my sister and me (and our husbands and children) to play a much larger role in one another's daily lives, but it has also placed us much closer to my brother-in-law's parents. Earlier this year, when my sister and her family celebrated Easter Sunday with her in-laws in Rhode Island we were generously invited and had a lovely time. And, despite the fact that our presence at Easter unfortunately passed an awful norovirus on to nearly everyone, my brother-in-law's parents kindly invited us back to spend a weekend with everyone at their place this summer.

Considering I had a baby the first week of June (which kept the children and me indoors far longer than I wanted to be), I was so grateful for the opportunity to finally get out and more fully experience summer as I feel it should be experienced.

Even though we lived in Florida when Gabriel was born and we spent last year's 4th of July in Ocean City, Maryland, our weekend in Rhode Island was our first ocean experience that Gabriel could seriously enjoy and possibly remember. To prepare him for the trip I explained that the ocean is like a reallllllly big pool with sand to play in. He latched onto this explanation and still (a month later) refers to the ocean as "BIG pool!"

The minute details of the weekend escape me already, but what I do remember is that we spent a lot of time enjoying good company, delicious food, generous hospitality, and an abundance of sunshine and water. It was exactly the mini-vacation Michael and I didn't even know we needed.

Who wouldn't enjoy a weekend here?

The four oldest cousins (because let's be real: 10-week-old Peter didn't do much but eat, sleep, and happily coo and smile at people) had a blast playing in the little kiddie pool,

I was surprised, but he seriously LOVED this

there was a lot of playing down by the sand and rocks,

My sister won all the cool aunt points by showing him how to knock down this rock tower

my husband and I were able to do a little bit of kayaking,

and we even got Gabriel to tolerate getting in the ocean on a couple of brief occasions (only while being held by me, of course), which is a significant, happy improvement from last summer.

Sunday morning after Mass we headed down to the beach for one last visit with the ocean. Michael showed Gabriel that he could throw rocks in the water, which (naturally) was a highlight of Gabriel's weekend. I spent the next 20 minutes or so sitting on a large rock, soaking up the sun and the image of my husband expertly skipping rocks across the water and guiding our oldest son in his attempts to do the same. It sounds super cheesy, but in that moment I experienced deeply the quiet calm and love that comes from knowing God and recognizing His presence in our everyday lives. What a precious gift my family is to communicate that to me.

Now, a month later, any mention of Rhode Island immediately prompts Gabriel to regale us with his tale about the "big pool" where he got to "throw rocks [with] Daddy!" 

"We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came."
-John F. Kennedy

Monday, September 14, 2015

Gabriel's 2nd Birthday Celebration(s)


Gabriel's 2nd birthday fell on a Wednesday, so we decided to have a little family celebration that day and a slightly larger gathering with some extended family that weekend. His actual birthday was pretty low-key and consisted of giving him a few gifts, allowing him to pick whatever he wanted to eat for dinner, and (of course!) singing Happy Birthday as we gave him a special birthday cupcake.

The first gift we let him open that morning was a book from my grandmother - and I just about lost it because I made some comment like "ooh, I wonder what it is," and as he prepared to rip open the wrapping paper he looked me in the eyes and knowingly said, "Book!" So funny.

Opening a little Totoro from Michael and me

The details of the day while my husband was at work are a bit fuzzy (everything I'm recapping did take place over a month ago already - whoops). However, thanks to photographic evidence I remember that we happened to be outside our apartment playing ball in a small grassy area when Michael came home. Then, when we all came inside together I enlisted Gabriel's help in baking his birthday cupcakes.

After we played ball in the "yard"

It was the first time I've ever let Gabriel help me bake and he was so excited to help me crack the eggs, stir the cake mix, and place ALL the cupcake liners in the baking tin. He truly did a fantastic job and it was so fun to have his help!

For dinner Gabriel got to choose whatever he wanted - and he contentedly feasted on his choice of not one, but two granola bars. Living the life, I tell ya. This was followed, of course, by a birthday cupcake. That boy could not have had a happier dinner!

Clapping excitedly after he saw his cupcake and we sang Happy Birthday

That weekend we had a lot of big family events going on and my mom was visiting from out of state, so we invited my mom along with my sister and her family over for a birthday pool party and cookout lunch for Gabriel.

Singing Happy Birthday to the boy of the hour
Why yes, that is the outfit we got him from Hawaii in February

These little cousins are always scoping each other out and it's adorable

The pool party was a blast, cupcakes were (once again) a big hit, and it was so nice to have my mom visiting for all the celebrations. Later that day was my sister and brother-in-law's big housewarming party and it was their 6th wedding anniversary - but that's a post for another day.

"Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one."
-Dr. Seuss

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Welcome to the Fold


...also known as "Peter's baptism!"

On Sunday, July 12, 2015 we proudly and officially welcomed our baby boy into the Catholic Church!

Admittedly, I was a little bit worried about how everything would pan out because our parish only offers baptisms at a 1pm ceremony (instead of during a Mass or even after a morning Mass). One o'clock is Gabriel's nap time and everyone was quite toasty in our non-air-conditioned church on an almost 90-degree day - so you can probably understand my trepidation. Yes, Gabriel did get much fussier than he normally is in church and I was secretly thinking it was silly of me to wear my long hair down as I struggled to keep cool, but those things are of no real importance in the grand scheme of things.

I was surprised (and impressed) that Peter slept like an angel (assuming angels sleep peacefully and hard) throughout the entire baptism ceremony, barely stirring as he had water poured over his little forehead three times. I don't think he even noticed having the sign of the cross traced upon him or having chrism oil rubbed on his forehead - but what's important is that those things happened.

Back when we asked my younger sister and my friend to be Peter's Godparents we had no idea if either of them would be able to travel and actually attend the baptism, so I'm incredibly happy to report that they were both with us for the weekend!

My sister stayed at my other sister's house (they recently purchased their home and moved literally 3 minutes down the street from us in early July!) and Peter's Godfather stayed with us. I wasn't entirely sure how much quality time we'd have with everyone since the Godparents were staying two different places, but everything about the weekend showed me how silly my unspoken worries were and how utterly in control the Lord is. We were blessed with ample time to catch up with everyone and everything went off without a hitch.

It's really an amazing thing to have my older sister and her family living down the street from us. To be able to share in one another's big life moments and milestones without having to travel across the country is a cherished gift (especially after how many places we have lived - not near any family - in the past few years). To have them in attendance along with both the Godparents made for a happy group with which to celebrate and eat cake afterwards.

Truly, everything about the entire weekend was beautiful and we found ourselves surrounded by loved ones as we celebrated Peter's first Sacrament. I could not have asked for a better weekend and I'm so thankful for the gift of faithful family and friends.

But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Matthew 19:14