Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Special Feast and Saying "Yes" to the Lord

+JMJ+

Happy Feast Day to our little Gabriel! Yes, we know that September 29 is the Feast of the Archangels - but that's already our wedding anniversary, so we've decided to celebrate our son's name day on this date instead. ;)

Cassie Pease Designs

If you're familiar with our love story, you'll remember that my husband and I first met on this date 4 years ago. At the time I was busy with my final semester as a college student and Michael knew little to nothing about the Catholic Church, so neither of us realized that we had met on such a significant date until several months later. However, the Feast of the Annunciation and all it represents has played a pivotal role in our relationship every step of the way, which is hardly something one could chalk up to mere coincidence.

In the very beginning, we assumed that our religious differences would prevent us from becoming anything more than friends. But as God continued bringing us (randomly!) into one another's lives our hearts were slowly transformed. Eventually we reached a point (July 29, 2011 to be exact) which would require a leap of faith if we wished to continue spending time together - so we said "yes" to pursuing a romantic relationship despite the fact that it would mean long distance.

Later on Michael would say "yes" to the Lord as he embraced the Church's teachings and became Catholic, we would say "yes" to the promise of a future as husband and wife, "yes" to love and honor one another all the days of our lives (along with the rest of what a marital vocation would require of us), and have said "yes" to receiving the two sons God has blessed us with into our hearts and home (we can't wait to meet you in a couple of months, little man #2!).

We have said "yes" every time we have packed up and moved to a second, third, and now fourth state in our 2 years of marriage, trusting the Lord to guide my engineer husband's consulting path to the clients and locations where He wants us next. Not only that, but all of you that are married will understand that since we first said "yes" to sharing our lives in matrimony that we've been saying countless "yeses" - the biggest of the big and the smallest and most unseen of the small - to our marriage and one another every single day since.

The Lord constantly presents us with the opportunity to say "yes" to His plans for us. Are our responses always as abiding and unquestioning as Mary's wholehearted, absolute "yes" to the Lord's plan for her life? No. But Mary and her fiat are, nonetheless, a perfect example for our imperfect selves to strive to follow in our lives as Christians. 

May Our Lady continue to lead us closer to Christ and pray that we may better follow Him with unreserved trust all the days of our lives.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

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For even more about what this day means to me, check out last year's post: The Annunciation: A Favorite Feast within Our Family.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sláinte!

+JMJ+

Happy feast of St. Joseph! I wish that I had something insightful and timely written up for this special day commemorating the head of the Holy Family and well-known patron Saint of husbands and fathers. Instead, I'll simply guide you to Daniel Stewart's reflection I read earlier and loved about St. Joseph & Overcoming the Fear of Fatherhood...while I continue playing "catch up" and offer you all a recap of that other important feast day we recently celebrated - St. Patrick's Day!

Some of you may recall that my husband is a convert to the Catholic faith; when he entered the Church on Easter Vigil 2012 he chose St. Patrick as his patron and namesake for confirmation. I grew up loving my Irish heritage (however small it may be!) and celebrating the well-known feast of the much-beloved patron Saint of Ireland, but my love for this feast day only grew when it also became the feast day of my then-fiance/now-husband. 

I rarely do as much as I'd like to in my efforts to live more "liturgically" (it's a daunting, ongoing effort I can only achieve with baby steps), but St. Patrick's Day is one feast that our family never fails to commemorate. By the time Tuesday rolled around I had instructed my husband to decide what he wanted for dinner on his feast day and I had secretly plotted to run some errands while he was at work so I could surprise him with some decorations.

After some successful trips to HomeGoods and the grocery store (which heavily relied on keeping Gabriel content with a special bribe of cookies I bought along the way), I returned home with a happy springtime tablecloth, fresh flowers, and some sparkly green cut-outs of shamrocks that I planned to use in a home-made banner.

At some point that morning I sat down to take a few pictures with Gabriel in an effort to document our St. Paddy's Day green. He had so much fun laughing at my phone that we basically held an impromptu photo shoot.

He insisted that his (naked) baby doll be in the photos, too
A blurry image of his giggling self
I told him to say "cheese" and I'm pretty sure he heard "cheeks"
because this is what he did next! Too cute for words.

Once Gabriel went down for his afternoon nap I got to work changing out our tablecloths, making a banner from the shamrocks, and putting together a small but festive display on our table. The centerpiece was a combination of the flowers and some special St. Patrick decorations that normally reside in our bedroom.



Because the shamrock banner was hanging in the windows, I couldn't capture an image of the entire display until it got dark outside because everything was silhouetted during the day.

Ta-da!

Michael had requested that we swing by the store to pick out desserts, which we did shortly after he got home from work. We already had dinner planned out at home, but while we were out he admitted that what he really was craving was...Chinese food. 

I can honestly say I don't think I'd ever had Chinese food on St. Patrick's Day before, but it was my husband's feast day and that's the special meal he chose so we made it work by eating at a nearby restaurant instead of returning home to cook (no cooking, no dishes to clean, the toddler ate well, and my husband was content so that's what we call a win-win-win-win).

Somehow I'd managed to get through the entire day without letting Gabriel have any screen time (which I consider a 28-weeks-pregnant and winter [no spring here near Boston yet, friends] miracle), so when Gabriel begged to watch his beloved "liiiines" (lions - aka The Lion King) Michael and I said yes. After all, we skip all the scenes that are remotely dark or distressing which makes it less than 35 minutes long. ;) Those next 35 minutes were so precious to me as Gabriel crawled into my lap to snuggle while he watched and I shared some undistracted conversations with Michael.

St. Paddy's Day snuggles with my boy(s)!

Finally, I made sure that we captured at least one good family photo in our St. Patrick's Day attire before everyone changed into pajamas.

Sláinte from our family to yours!

Our family was blessed with a very happy St. Patrick's Day and I can only hope you and yours experienced the same. Sláinte!

"May your troubles be less
and your blessings be more
and nothing but happiness
come through your door."
-Irish blessing

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Final Day & Returning Home

+JMJ+

Want to start from the beginning of the "Aloha Oahu" series? Make sure you've read: 
Waikiki & Luau 
Manoa Falls, Pali Lookout, Kailua Beach, & Diamond Head
Pearl Harbor
A Waikiki Wedding
Ash Wednesday & Polynesian Cultural Center
Wai'anae & Chinese New Year

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When Friday rolled around, I could hardly believe it. Our time in Hawaii had flown by! If it weren't for the fact that we had an 18-month-old to come home to, we would have loved to stay at least another week. Coming home to Gabriel was probably the one thing that kept me from dragging my feet or turning into a total Debbie Downer about returning to this crazy Boston winter.


Initially we planned to spend our final morning on Oahu snorkeling at the infamous Hanauma Bay, but the weather forecast and timing of shuttles caused us to forego this excursion. We had enjoyed brilliant sunshine all week long, but that morning was overcast and rainy (and still in the 80s, so you won't hear me complaining!). Additionally, catching our airport shuttle would have been stressful had we gone to the bay, so we opted instead to just relax and leisurely experience our last morning in Waikiki.

We were able to enjoy one more beach visit before the rain came down and we finally took a picture in front of the huge banyan tree we'd seen every day that week.


Our "final Waikiki Beach visit" photo - 25 weeks baby bump and all
Since we knew we wouldn't be taking these flowers with us, we decided to leave them for
other beach-goers to enjoy. This actually gave me a great sense of closure as I bid the beach farewell....

After saying goodbye to the beach, we spent the rest of the day packing, window-shopping up and down Kalakaua Avenue for the last time, eating our final Hawaiian meal, and being whisked away for our flight back to the mainland.

The next morning we arrived back in Boston - where we would spend the remainder of our weekend catching up with family (before my mom flew back to the Midwest), washing ALL the laundry, and doing our best to readjust to Eastern Standard Time and our everyday lives as parents.

Michael's family didn't need souvenirs since they were also in Hawaii, but we got my family some postcards and had fun sharing our pictures and stories with everyone. Usually we bring home an ornament from each place we go, but this time we got ourselves a mug and a magnet (which may or may not double as an ornament come Christmas time).


As much as I adore that mug and little turtle magnet, they just can't compare to the souvenirs we picked up for Gabriel and the new baby:


Obviously it's still too cold for Gabriel to wear his little Hawaiian shirt and shorts, but that didn't stop us from at least trying the shirt on when we gave it to him...and my, oh my, that boy was thrilled! He danced happily around the living room showing off his new threads, so I can only hope that he'll be just as enthused when he gets to wear it again this summer.


Readjusting to our normal lives wasn't always the smoothest transition (especially as we worked to re-establish some rules with Gabriel - who suddenly thought he could work us over with all sorts of toddler whining), but the trip made everything worth it. I'm so grateful we could be there to witness my sister-in-law's wedding, that Michael and I could experience a fun vacation before baby boy #2 arrives, and that Michael and I were given an entire week of long-overdue one-on-one time without the beautiful noise and distractions of parenthood. 

It will probably be awhile before we experience another vacation remotely like this one, so please forgive me if I happen to blabber on nostalgically about Oahu until then. ;) And just for fun: where did your favorite and/or most recent vacation take place? I'm all ears!


"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us."
-Anonymous

Friday, March 13, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Wai'anae & Chinese New Year

+JMJ+

Want to start from the beginning of the "Aloha Oahu" series? Make sure you've read: 
Waikiki & Luau 
Manoa Falls, Pali Lookout, Kailua Beach, & Diamond Head
Pearl Harbor
A Waikiki Wedding
Ash Wednesday & Polynesian Cultural Center

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Thursday was one of our earliest mornings on the island because we were scheduled to catch the shuttle for that day's adventure at 6:05am. Because we were so tired from our long (but fun!) day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I groggily turned off my 5:30 alarm. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and discovered that it was already 6:00am! I immediately woke my husband and what happened next is both comical and nothing short of a small miracle.

Thankfully, we had laid out our swimsuits, clothes, and shoes the night before. I also had every item we needed to toss in our backpack (water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, our on-the-go breakfast, snacks, camera, etc.) sitting in a row on top of our hotel room's desk (sometimes it pays to be a neat freak). After hurriedly putting in our contacts, brushing teeth, getting dressed, and gathering our belongings we rushed out the door and set off on a mission to catch that shuttle. Our pick-up location was at a hotel 2 blocks away, so the few people that happened to be out in the dark on the street at 6:05am were treated to a rare sighting: a 25-weeks pregnant woman jogging and then running to flag down a shuttle bus at the last minute.

Fortunately, most shuttle pick-up times have a grace period of 10-15 minutes and our driver wasn't actually scheduled to leave until 6:15. Whew! We made it and were actually considered early. Apparently I ran for nothing, but I'm incredibly grateful we didn't miss that bus because we were soon on our way to Wai'anae for snorkeling with wild dolphins, sea turtles, and more! If you want to see dolphins, whales, or sea turtles in their natural habitat then Wai'anae is one of the best places to go on Oahu.


Considering it was humpback whale season, we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of the whales but had no such luck. Still, our boat sighted pods of spinner dolphins on more than one occasion and we were given the chance to hop in the ocean and see them from below surface level with our snorkeling gear. It's really fun to say we technically swam with dolphins, but the downside of trying to see wild dolphins is that the entire ordeal is unpredictable and those fast swimmers do just that - swim fast. Michael barely caught a glimpse of a dolphin as he peered below the water and it rushed past him and I found myself constantly at the back of our tour group, unable to see for myself. This was doubly disappointing because our guides saw my baby bump and started telling me that dolphins love pregnant ladies because they can sense the baby's rapid heartbeat. I wanted so badly to get close enough for them to notice me, but it wasn't meant to be (not for lack of trying on our guides' part, though - they worked very hard to do their best to give everyone a good view of the dolphins under water).

View from the boat. Don't let the cloudy skies fool you - the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

Next our boat took us to an area filled with beautiful coral where turtles were commonly found. Pretty quickly the guides found a group of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, which were much more my snorkeling pace. Michael snapped some amazing photos and we had lots of fun snorkeling in that area.





Then, our boat pulled into a shallow area and gave everyone a chance to paddleboard and/or kayak while they served some food. Michael and I have done our fair share of kayaking, but one thing we had both wanted to try for a long time was paddleboarding. I was so happy that this was included on our snorkeling tour!




A few people (ourselves included) had only seen the spinner dolphins from the boat, so our guides found another pod to give everyone a second chance to see them while snorkeling. Instead of hopping back in the ocean, Michael and I chose to stay on the boat with a couple others to just relax, soak in the sun that had finally broken through the clouds, and enjoy the spectacular view of the dolphins circling the boat while everyone else tried chasing after them in the water. In all honesty, I saw far more of the dolphins and had way more fun doing this than desperately trying to keep up with them in the water.

Taking in the view
Spinner dolphins in their natural habitat. There were at least 20 in this pod and we saw one that was definitely a baby!

Pretty soon it was time to head back to Honolulu. We ate (once again) at Heavenly, spent the rest of the afternoon on Waikiki Beach, then met up with Michael's family to enjoy some of the Chinese New Year festivities.


Just another gorgeous day at Waikiki Beach....

One of the big shopping plazas on Kalakaua Avenue hosted several performances and traditional festivities for Chinese New Year, so we met up with everyone there before heading out for dinner.

This former Miss Chinatown (Honolulu) and former Miss Hawaii was the emcee
Lion dance!
Traditional Chinese dancing

Instead of eating in Chinatown as originally planned, my father-in-law admitted that he didn't care what kind of food we ate - so we decided to trust one of our previous cab driver's recommendations and hit up a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for some authentic Korean food. We had 8 people in our party, but judging by how many dishes were ordered and plates had to be taken away to continuously make more room you'd probably think we had at least twice that number. The food was delicious and I was/am so grateful that, despite the fact that I'm (once again) very sensitive to spicy foods, I've been able to eat some Korean food during this pregnancy (which was completely out of the question during my pregnancy with Gabriel).

Very full and happy after an incredibly satisfying meal

The Korean restaurant happened to be close to the Ala Moana shopping mall, so after dinner we spent some time walking around window-shopping with Michael's family before heading back towards our hotel. That night we simply enjoyed one another's company as we walked up and down Kalakaua Avenue searching for the perfect souvenirs. Just like that, we were doing our best to soak in what would be our final night in Hawaii after a beautiful whirlwind of adventure after adventure on Oahu.


"Aloha! wherewith they will greet

Their own or others on the way,
That in their rambling they may meet,
But would prefer the live-long day
To slumber 'neath a banyan tree,
Or eat their poi near Waikiki....
When twilight's silvery moon appear,
And twinkling stars with brightness gleam,
Naught but the murmuring waves we hear.
'Tis then that near me angels seem
That smile on me, lull me to sleep
Within the cradle near the deep."
-excerpt from Hawaiian Islands by August Wilhelm Wern

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Want to read more about our time on Oahu? Next up: all about our Final Day & Returning Home!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Aloha Oahu: Ash Wednesday & Polynesian Cultural Center

+JMJ+

Want to start from the beginning of the "Aloha Oahu" series? Make sure you've read: 
Waikiki & Luau 
Manoa Falls, Pali Lookout, Kailua Beach, & Diamond Head
Pearl Harbor
A Waikiki Wedding

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Wednesday, February 18th, was one of our longest days throughout the week. Our excursion to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) was the only Hawaiian adventure we had planned for the day, but if you've never been, the PCC is easily an all-day long experience. Our shuttle didn't leave until about 10:30am and we wouldn't be returning to our hotel for about 12 hours, but because it was Ash Wednesday we didn't use the free time in the morning to sleep in.

Instead, we quickly walked the half-mile to the church in time for the 7am mass. While we were praying beforehand, the priest made a brief appearance to announce that ashes would be distributed at the conclusion of mass - explaining that ashes used to be distributed sooner but they would no longer be serving "drive-by Catholics." Perhaps some people were put off by his comment, but I couldn't suppress the grin I felt spread across my face. In that moment I thanked God that this particular parish happened to be the closest to our hotel, because I felt so grateful to be at a parish that wanted nothing more than to encourage its people to first and foremost experience and participate in the liturgy, encountering Christ in the Eucharist. Even though Ash Wednesday isn't a holy day of obligation, it seems as if almost more Catholics come out of the wood-works on that day than on either Christmas or Easter; how wonderful that this priest wanted to ensure these individuals first spent some quality time with Christ before going on their merry way!

After receiving our ashes, we took advantage of our excursion's late departure and decided to have breakfast at a restaurant for the only time that week. The place we wanted to try was a half mile from our hotel in the opposite direction from the church, so we hungrily walked a mile or so. As we walked past Waikiki Beach back towards the main stretch with all the shops and restaurants, so did most of the other Catholics we had just attended mass with. I could not help smiling once again as I imagined what people heading to the beach were seeing - because all of a sudden a flock of people with ashes on their foreheads were all heading west down Kalakaua Avenue. I nearly laughed out loud as I heard one woman say to her friends (with what sounded like slight irritation), "apparently we chose to go where all the Catholics are."


Proof that we had ashes before they got rinsed off (because let's be real: we eventually needed sunscreen)

At this point I had been awake for about an hour and a half without anything to eat at 24 weeks and 6 days pregnant, but that hungry mile walk was so worth it as we heard at least three different people say to themselves something along the lines of, "Oh, that's right! Today is Ash Wednesday. I nearly forgot." Later on, before we left the restaurant I even got approached by a man who inquired where I got the ashes and if they had a noon mass. The thought that the Lord was using us to remind others of Him and the first day of the Lenten season helped sustain me the rest of the way.

Soon enough we arrived at the restaurant, which was quite appropriately named Heavenly. And heavenly it was. Our bill was a bit pricey, but that's because their policy is "local first, organic whenever possible" and the food itself was worth it. The back of their menu had a fun map of Hawaii that showed the traceability of all their ingredients...and everything was delicious. In fact, it was so good that we went back for lunch on Thursday.

Once you drank enough coffee the inside of the mug said "Aloha!"
Michael's breakfast: blueberry and acai French toast
My breakfast (pre-mixing) was basically a pregnancy super meal: 2 eggs, spinach & greens, purple sweet potatoes, tomatoes,
avocado, with an English muffin on the side (half of which had taro in it)

Once we hopped aboard our shuttle to the PCC we enjoyed gorgeous views of mountains on our left and the ocean on our right as we headed up to the northern side of the island. Along the way our guide pointed out numerous locations that have been featured in movies and I snapped a lot of photos.


Not bad considering this was taken through the window of a moving bus, right?

As we traveled, the tour guide explained that he would get our tickets for us and added that anyone on our bus could pay an additional fee of $25 to have him as a guide for the rest of the day, which would also cover a buffet lunch. Considering the only other lunch options would be greatly overpriced concession stand snacks and our guide had proven himself to be quite knowledgeable, entertaining, and efficient with our time (our bus arrived 2nd out of 37 scheduled buses!) we took him up on this offer - which was definitely worth every penny.

The PCC is essentially like Disneyworld's Epcot Center; it's basically a theme park separated into 6 distinct sections - which represent 6 different Polynesian islands. Each "island" has educational demonstrations and/or mini-shows with singing or dancing, hands-on activities, and various things to read or look at to learn about their culture. We learned so much and had lots of fun, but I can't imagine how we would have gotten our money's worth without our guide. He helped us figure out how to get Michael's parents in our group (after arriving on a different shuttle from their hotel), he worked hard to show us every single part of the park without missing any of the mini shows, and got us front-row seats to the afternoon "canoe pageant" (which is like a parade on the river that highlights performances from each of the 6 islands). He even used palms to hand-weave fishes attached to a "fishing line" that you could cast and reel back in for all of the women as a "thank you" for choosing to be in his group that day. Needless to say, he got a well-earned tip.

The 6 islands you can explore and learn about at the PCC are Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, and Tahiti.

Aotearoa (New Zealand) represented at the canoe pageant
Samoa
Fiji
Hawaii
Tonga
Tahiti
With the fish our tour guide made
Impressive, right?

A day at the PCC is broken down into two portions: the island activities and mini-shows which run throughout the morning and afternoon and the evening portion which includes dinner and ends with a full-scale theatrical production with a cast of more than a hundred people. Now that we've already been there we would only go back for the evening portions, but the whole day event is worth doing once.

More fresh leis and impressive mango smoothies served in pineapples

Along the way we learned that the PCC is partnered with Brigham Young University-Hawaii and they have a program that gives students from the islands free tuition, room, and board to earn a Bachelor's degree of their choice if they work 19 hours a week at the PCC. Once they earn their degree, they must go back to their home island in order to use their education to give back to their local communities. At least 70% of the PCC staff is comprised of these college students, so tickets purchased to visit the theme park go directly towards funding these students' educational and housing needs. Pretty amazing, right?

All in all, it was a very long day...but I think the PCC was one of the most fun ways to learn a good deal of information about Hawaii and several Polynesian islands. If you find yourself on Oahu and enjoy learning about other cultures, it's worth checking out!


"The allure of old Polynesia lingers among the Pacific island people who demonstrate their traditional arts and crafts and perform their lively songs and dances at the Polynesian Cultural Center....The Polynesian Cultural Center has concentrated this spirit in a beautiful North Shore setting and consequently become world-renowned as a special place of enchantment, entertainment and education."
-PCC website

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Want to read more about our time on Oahu? Next up: Wai'anae & Chinese New Year!