Thursday, December 11, 2014

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

+JMJ+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.+

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thank Yous All Around

+JMJ+

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

My husband's current view

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

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

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

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


"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

-William Arthur Ward

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fall Family Photos

+JMJ+

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

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







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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent in Our Home

+JMJ+

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

---

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

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

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

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