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."
-Pope Saint John Paul II

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Simple Morning Stroll

+JMJ+

Whenever I take a blogging hiatus (intentional or not) I always find it so difficult to jump back in. Within the past few weeks we have attended a wedding in Ohio/visited my in-laws, celebrated our two year wedding anniversary, celebrated my husband's birthday, taken a day trip to Baltimore, and I spent an entire week watching Gabriel on my own (thankfully with much support from some amazing friends!) while Michael had to travel to Colorado for a week for his job. Honestly that's a lot to get caught up on! But, if there's one thing I've learned about myself and blogging breaks it's that it's always easiest for me to start small.

I'm leaving all the re-caps for another day. Today I'm just going to focus on...today.

This week has been a mess of nap strikes, with Gabriel skipping a morning nap one day, his afternoon nap the next, and that brings us to today. After more than one refusal to sleep when he was exhausted this morning, Gabriel has finally just gone down for a nap at around 11am. Before that, though, he made it pretty clear he wasn't going to relax and simply wanted to play and play and play and play some more. I was quickly running out of ideas to keep our little explorer occupied, so I pulled out the big guns and told Gabriel to get his socks and shoes on (clearly something he doesn't do on his own yet at 14 months old, but he understands it nonetheless) and he began squealing as he ran towards the front door.

What can I say? The child loves to leave the apartment.

Somewhat-related photo from one of last week's park visits

Initially I thought we'd walk down to the small playground in our apartment complex, but I felt a few sprinkles of rain so I decided it would be better to stay near our building in case we had to run back inside. After all, the landscaping in front of our building includes a bunch of rocks, so what more do you need to captivate a child, really?

Something I've noticed about Gabriel in recent weeks that I find to be quite endearing, is that he likes to follow sidewalks. Instead of wanting to run into the middle of the parking lot and check out cars or go roll around in the grass (although he does that sometimes, too), he will almost certainly choose to follow a sidewalk when given the chance. He loves to see where the path leads us and explore the change in scenery as he makes his way further down the cement, so that's precisely what we did.

It wasn't fancy and we didn't make a lot of pit stops to check out the trees or flowers like we normally do. Instead, we just walked. And as we took our little morning stroll, Gabriel happily reached out his hand towards mine. So there we went, hand in hand, as my boy joyfully explored our neighborhood via the sidewalk.

This all sounds simple, but if you recall much about the sidewalks in our neighborhood, you'll know it wasn't without a few tricks of the mom trade that I managed to keep our adventurer excited and curious while walking over a few of the same sidewalks again and again (children really can be so easy to please!).

As we made our rounds I couldn't help but think about how grateful I am for this time in our lives. Gabriel is at an age when he often runs off to explore and play independently, but he is still often eager to hold my hand and experience the world with me right by his side. It's a heartwarming, fun age and I know that as he grows we'll have plenty of fun in other ways, but for now, I just want to relish these memories of a simple walk, hand in hand with my smiling son. 

Plus, as soon as we got back inside Gabriel FINALLY calmed down enough to rest. I guess our journey provided him sufficient exercise and new scenery to wear him out enough to (at last) take a nap without a fight. Sweet memories, excitement for my boy, all ending in a blessed, much-needed nap. Win, win, win.


"For the 99 percent of the time we've been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world. Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine."
-Janine M. Benyus