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

Friday, October 31, 2014

7QT (Vol. 31): Happy Halloween!

+JMJ+

Last year (when Gabriel was almost 3 months old), Michael and I painted our pumpkins for Halloween. Personally, I think this is more fun (and less mess!) than carving, so I'd like to see it continue on as an annual tradition within our family. Sure enough, we painted again this year and considering I told all of you to come back today to see the finished product, I'd better show you the results!

Because it's also Friday, I thought I'd join back in with Jen and her faithful quick takers. Are you ready for what is bound to be my shortest (quickest) quick takes of them all?! Here it is. Seven words and a photo:

1. Happy 2. Halloween 3. from 4. our 5. growing 6. little 7. family!


Your eyes don't deceive you; that IS a fourth pumpkin! We cannot wait to meet him or her circa June 4, 2015!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Epic Orchard

+JMJ+

Earlier in the month I had a fun, fall-themed outing planned for the families of all the mothers in my Catholic moms' group. A bunch of us were really looking forward to spending some quality time together on the weekend with all the husbands because many of us still don't know each other's husbands (nor do many of the men know one another!). We were supposed to meet up at Linvilla Orchards, a local hot spot for picking apples, pumpkins, and more. As you can probably guess, the outing had to be cancelled due to some yucky, rainy, gloomy weather...and I'd been dying to go ever since.

Well, fortunately last weekend (the final weekend before Halloween - aka our last chance to get pumpkins before the holiday!) was absolutely gorgeous. It may not have happened with my mom friends, but Michael and I decided to take advantage of the sunshine on Sunday afternoon and had some family fun picking out our pumpkins.


It was my first time at Linvilla and let me tell you: it is an epic orchard if I've ever seen one. Not only do they have apple and pumpkin picking, but they have hayrides, playgrounds, a free barnyard where kids can feed the animals, a market, cafe, and more. Their fall-themed store that connects to the rows and rows of pumpkins for sale is named "Pumpkinland"...which sounds excessive until you see it in person. I fully admit that the area deserves its name because it is a serious pumpkinland


The place was insanely crowded, so we kept Gabriel in the Ergo the entire time. I'm sure he would have had so much fun exploring the grounds, but it was just too chaotic to let him run free. However, I still think he managed to have a blast.

After exploring the grounds, we ended the afternoon by selecting our pumpkins to take home with us...and I was so excited to see how much Gabriel loved his "wee little" pumpkin (that's actually how they're labeled....). 


I hope all of you have been able to get in the fall and/or Halloween spirit this week! Check back here tomorrow to see the finished products after our pumpkins were all painted. :)

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."
-Anne of Green Gables

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Costumes of Downton Abbey

+JMJ+

Fear not - I've made sure this post doesn't contain any spoilers. Just a ridiculous amount of photographs. :)

I began watching Downtown Abbey sometime in the fall/winter that we lived in Michigan. I quickly devoured seasons one and two and anxiously waited for season three to finish airing and make itself available for viewing on Amazon Prime. It must have aired that winter, because I distinctly remember watching season 3 later that spring - when I was hugely pregnant with Gabriel. Season three + pregnancy hormones make for one hot mess of tears, in case you wondered. I wasn't sure I could handle watching any more seasons after that, but once a year rolled around and season 4 was available you'd better believe I dove right back in.

Every single time I began a new season, I did my best to persuade Michael to watch with me. I kid you not - I attempted to rope him in for nearly two whole years and I'm happy to report that we recently finished watching seasons 1-4 together! Michael now admits that the show is far better than he imagined (and far less girly, too).

My joy over finally convincing Michael to watch the show with me was twofold: first, because I wanted to introduce him to the show and second, because there was a nearby exhibit I was eager to see. I hadn't told Michael about the exhibit because before he watched, I assumed he wouldn't be interested - so you can imagine my surprise when he came home from work one day telling me all about this estate museum hosting an exhibit with costumes from Downton Abbey!


I had nearly forgotten all about it and was amazed at the timing of it all. The exhibit only lasts a couple more months and, having just watched all the seasons together, it seemed the perfect time to check it out. Adding to the fortunate timing of everything is the fact that this exhibit was going to tour across the U.S. - but now it isn't. We saw it at the only place it will be available to us and it was less than 30 minutes away!


The exhibit can be found at Winterthur (pronounced "Winter-tour"), a mansion-turned-museum. There's a lot to see if you ever visit the Winterthur estate - including house tours, 60 acres of gardens (with a fantastic children's area in the woods), and special gallery exhibits. The only thing I really cared about, though, was the costume exhibit.

The costumes we saw are the very same ones the actors and actresses wore in the filming of the show and I'm not ashamed to say that I felt like a giddy fan girl the entire time I snapped photo after photo after photo. For some reason I found it thrilling to look up close at all the outfits I had just recently seen on television.

The exhibit itself was cleverly orchestrated as a side by side comparison of the British lifestyle depicted on the show vs. the real-life American lifestyle at the Winterthur estate. But enough about all of that. You'd like to see the photos, wouldn't you? They aren't the best quality or most artistic because it was a busy exhibit and I wanted to be polite to others, but I think they help paint a solid picture of what we saw. :)

Outfits worn by Anna, Thomas, and Mrs. Hughes
Dresses worn by Anna, Lady Sybil, and Lady Mary
Self-explanatory
Summer whites worn by Lady Mary and Mr. Crawley
Remember their trip to Duneagle Castle?
Coats!


Outfits worn by Daisy and the one and only Mrs. Patmore
The infamous harem pants



And last, but certainly not least - costumes from THE scene we all know and love between Lady Mary and Matthew:


This particular display was, in my opinion, every bit the highlight and epic grand finale I can only imagine the exhibit designers hoped it would be. They had a television looping the conversation between Lady Mary and Matthew while screens filled with images of snowflakes fell all around the costumes. It sounds silly, but it took my breath away. 

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey and find yourself traveling to southeastern Pennsylvania or near the Wilmington, Delaware area in the next couple of months, I highly recommend you check out this little gem of an exhibit. Plus, you can take a picture in front of Highclere Castle. ;)


"If you are tired of style, you are tired of life."
-Mr. Carson, Downton Abbey

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What I Learned When My Husband Was in Colorado

+JMJ+

After our day trip to Baltimore, Michael had to travel to Colorado for week. He was gone for the entire work week, Monday-Friday. Now, considering that we move to wherever his current project is, this was a new experience for us. He has never had to travel anywhere else for his job since we've been married...and we certainly hadn't spent this long apart since Gabriel was born.

In essence, the week was bound to make me feel like a single mother...but without a job to do beyond the walls of our home. Have you ever stayed at home with your child 24/7 for multiple days in a row - without your spouse's help in the evenings or their much-needed conversation and company at the time of day when you could use it most? If so, you know how lonely it can be...and how easy it might be to lose one's sanity.

From Michael's adventures in Colorado

Thankfully, I was blessed with a beautiful week. It could have left me lonely, craving conversation that isn't one-sided, overwhelmed, and two shakes away from losing it completely. But it didn't.

Before Michael left, I posted a status on our Facebook page explaining that he would be gone and I could use some people to hang out with. Lo and behold, a handful of local friends (and even some that aren't local!) offered to spend time with us and/or talk on the phone if I needed to.

Through the sincere efforts of friends and by the grace of God, my social calendar quickly filled up. I had play-dates or outings every morning and made lots of plans to have friends over for dinner or to spend time together in the late afternoons/evenings. Some of my single friends even offered to come hang out one night after Gabriel was already in bed for the night.

Everything about that week left me constantly thanking God for the community we have been blessed with here. I caught myself thinking more than once about what would have happened if Michael had been whisked away when we were first married and I was pregnant in Michigan - or worse, when we were in Florida with a brand-new baby to care for. Honestly I think I would have had to go with him for the week or traveled somewhere to be with family...because despite our best efforts, we simply lacked the kind of social support network that we have found here.

Michael and I have said over and over again that this place has been such a refreshing, much-needed change for our social lives and overall sanity (especially for me as a stay-at-home mom!). We haven't lived here as long as we did in Michigan, yet we have more friends and a better network of support here than we did in Michigan and Florida combined.

That week I was shown in tangible ways just how greatly we've been blessed here in the friendship department. Seriously. The Catholic moms' group I started and the local young adult group for Catholics have been invaluable in our daily lives here. Not only that, but I trusted that God would carry us through the week and He did just that. It could have been a week that dragged, but I honestly had a lot of fun.

Additionally, it gave us a taste of what it's like for most of Michael's co-workers - the ones that don't move to the project and travel back home on weekends to see their families. We were confident entering into marriage that we wouldn't be following that path if we could avoid it - that we would stick together, no matter where it took us...and boy, was that the right decision for our family. I'm so grateful to constantly have my husband by my side, helping me raise our little boy and supporting me along the way.

My heart truly goes out to all the military wives and mothers married to men who travel for whatever reason. In my joy I found myself constantly praying for those who are often forced to be apart from one another - and hope that you will take a moment to do so, too.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 
-Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Day in Baltimore

+JMJ+

Can you believe that our two year anniversary was nearly a month ago already?! This is one of the worst, unintentional blogging breaks I think I've ever taken...but at least it's due in part to how busy October has been for us - which means I have plenty of stories to share!

The hardest part about getting caught up on blogging is knowing where and when to start, but I've found in the past that the best way is to simply dive in and give it a go. So that's what I intend to do.

Because our anniversary and Michael's birthday are so close together, we decided to celebrate both with a day trip to Baltimore - but before I tell you all about it, here's a brief recap of the little ways we still managed to celebrate each of those special days:

Anniversary
Our anniversary was a quiet one spent at home as a family, but we did manage to surprise one another with a couple of unexpected gifts. I bought a festive bouquet of fall flowers to brighten up our dining room table and I snagged a box of Michael's favorite, local cookies for him. Imagine my surprise when he arrived home from work carrying a bouquet of two dozen long stem roses! Needless to say, they dwarfed the little display I had created and I was incredibly glad that I thought to get those cookies. ;) Our apartment was beautifully decorated with more fresh flowers than we've ever had at once for the next couple of weeks - or however long it took for them to dry out (because I just couldn't bear to throw them away too soon!).

Good thing I got him the cookies, right?! :P


Michael's Birthday
After last year's "28 reasons I love you" surprise for Michael's 28th birthday, I wanted to attempt something similar for his 29th. My brother-in-law had the brilliant idea of baking cookies, so originally I planned to bake 29 of them as a gift for the occasion. Then, I failed to think ahead when I bought cookies for our anniversary. The night before his birthday, we found ourselves wandering around the bakery of a local grocery store and Michael made it pretty clear to me that he had his fill of cookies for the week. I didn't know what to do, until he expressed interest in a seasonal pumpkin whoopie pie that was for sale. I quickly talked him out of splurging on it and headed back the next day to snag it for him. In case you're wondering why I didn't bake a cake, it's because Michael isn't always a huge fan of cake; he loves cheesecake, so I got him a small, personal cheesecake with fruit on top, but I also wanted to do something different from last year.

How I surprised Michael with his card when he got home

While he was at work on his birthday, I decorated with a few streamers (orange, because that meant I could leave them up until Halloween). After work I surprised him with a card and after Gabriel went to bed, I lit a candle atop the whoopie pie and sang Happy Birthday to my man. It was a quiet Friday evening at home, but we were gearing up for our trip to Baltimore the next day.

---

Baltimore
I had never spent any time in Baltimore (unless you count the airport), but Michael had been to the inner harbor with his family when he was younger. We kept our plans simple so we could roll with the punches, which I think was the perfect way to approach it with an almost-14-month-old in tow.

Our basic plan was to drive into the city and park by the Cathedral. After checking out America's first Cathedral, we would walk the mile or so to the inner harbor, where we would spend the rest of our day window shopping and leisurely exploring. The only thing that had any sort of time table that we wanted to do was a boat tour of the harbor - but even that was flexible since they had tours every hour from 12-6pm.

We actually started off our trip by ducking inside an Asian noodle restaurant that we saw on the street behind the Cathedral as we searched for our parking. It was a good place to grab a quick bite for lunch and I think the staff enjoyed seeing Gabriel (I get the feeling they don't see a lot of babies in their hip, urban restaurant that caters to the young professional crowd).

Since we were behind the Cathedral, we saw a little prayer garden dedicated to Saint Pope John Paul II that we probably would have missed entirely if we had approached the church from the front. After lunch we took a brief stroll through the quiet garden before heading inside.

Outside the Baltimore Cathedral in the garden

When we went inside, they were clearly preparing for a wedding, so we said a few quick prayers, walked around the perimeter of the sanctuary to admire the architecture and side statues/devotionals, then politely took our leave. Before leaving entirely, however, we took a trip down into the crypt.


Immediately upon entering, I could not help but think (and say) that while it was really cool, this was the creepiest crypt I had ever been in. The low ceilings, the dim lighting, and the small, brick pathways lined with graves created an eerie atmosphere - so eerie that I probably would have wanted to leave immediately if the signs hadn't indicated that there was a chapel. Sure enough, we rounded the corner to find the most peaceful presence known to man - a tabernacle with a lit, red candle by its side.


I kneeled down to say some prayers while Gabriel, who was clearly not creeped out in the slightest (oh, to be a baby!), gleefully ran around exploring the brick pathways (we were the only people there at the time).


After that we were off to the inner harbor!


Gabriel fell asleep in the stroller on our walk, so we continued to simply stroll around sightseeing and window shopping until he awoke. Neither Michael nor I had thought to bring our sunglasses (which was a silly mistake), so we bought a couple of cheap pairs. Thankfully I had chosen to wear contacts that day so I could actually wear them! In addition to the sunglasses, we purchased a cute, little Baltimore crab ornament to add to our souvenir collection.


Not bad for cheap sunglasses, right? I especially like Michael's!

Beyond that, we just walked around until we got near the ticket booth for the boat tour. Gabriel woke up right at that very moment, so we went ahead and purchased our tickets for the upcoming 4pm tour.

If you ever find yourself exploring a city near the water, I highly recommend taking a narrated boat tour. Michael and I have taken a handful of these guided water tours together (in Belize on our honeymoon, on our 1st anniversary weekend trip to Miami, & on our 4th of July trip to Ocean City), and each time we've learned more about the area than we possibly could if we simply did all the sightseeing on our own. We intentionally chose only to pay for one Baltimore adventure that day and we weren't disappointed with our boat tour selection.

Look at these cuties. I'm sad to report that at some point in the past month we seem to have
lost this beloved hat!

After cruising through the harbor and learning about the area's history, we got rid of our sea legs with a short walk to the restaurant where we would be having dinner.


If I had to choose to do only one thing in Baltimore, I think it would have been the boat tour of the inner harbor (since it gives you unique views and history lessons)...but if Michael had to choose it would have hands down been to eat some good seafood. All he wanted was some good crab (which we hadn't had since the 4th of July), and Phillips delivered. My husband was a happy, well-fed customer, which was the perfect way to end our day.

All in all, it was an enjoyable, leisurely trip. Realistically, there was a lot on the harbor that we didn't do, but most of the things we passed on were things we've done not too long ago in other cities (aquariums, science museums, a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, etc.) that would have been time-consuming. We wanted to keep our day trip affordable and relaxing, which I think we managed to do well. We both left feeling like we had a better sense of what Baltimore had to offer and didn't feel the need to come back and explore more any time soon (which I think shows that we managed to do everything we really wanted to).

Have any of you been to Baltimore? What were your favorite things to do/see?


"Maryland holds a special place in the history of American Catholicism, indeed in the religious history of the nation."
-Saint Pope John Paul II