Thursday, December 3, 2015

Baked Ziti with Spicy Italian Sausage (recipe)


Today you can find me at Raising Barnes, where I'll be sharing a little bit about my cooking journey and (more importantly) you can access my easy baked ziti recipe. Emily has brilliantly been compiling a Blogger Family Cookbook of sorts while she takes time away to enjoy her adorable newborn and I'm honored to contribute to her series!

Bonus: by hopping over to Raising Barnes you can find all the other recipes in the series and see photos of Emily's precious newborn, George. What are you waiting for?!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Five Favorites: Naps Caught on Camera


Remember when I used to link up on Wednesdays with others to share 5 of my favorite things? No? Well, that's probably because it's been a year and a half since I've joined in the 5 Faves fun!

Whenever I write about a trip or big event on the blog it usually means that behind the scenes I'm sifting through photos, figuring out which ones to share. When I recently recapped our journey to the World Meeting of Families (WMoF) in Philadelphia I quickly realized I had an entire collection of hilarious images. These pictures didn't find a place in any of  my recaps, but they're just too good NOT to share.

So, here are 5 of my favorite photos from our WMoF trip that all fit into a funny little category I like to call "Sleeping Or Trying to Sleep?" Let's see if you can guess what's what!

--- 1 ---

If you guessed "sleeping" you're right! At this age he only needs one afternoon nap, but the poor kid was so tired from traveling Friday and going to bed later than usual that he passed right out while we were walking from the museum exhibit to the Festival of Families location on Saturday morning. 

Funny story: when we passed through the final security checkpoint they saw that my children were sleeping and graciously let them stay in the stroller, but one of the guards had to peer down in the stroller basket and asked if we could remove the doll. She tried to lift Gabriel's beloved babydoll, but his grip was so firm that she could not possibly have taken it without waking him up - so thankfully she just gave up and said it was fine. 

--- 2 ---

Also clearly sleeping. This was a snapshot of my niece and nephew as we waited to board the train after a loooong day waiting to see Pope Francis at the Festival of Families.

--- 3 ---

This one is tricky! It looks like he could be sleeping, but he's actually trying desperately to get some rest on Sunday. It was early afternoon (his normal nap time) but we were camped out for that afternoon's Mass with Pope Francis which means he didn't have the lull of the stroller to help him in his public napping efforts. 

--- 4 ---

When he couldn't rest on his own, Gabriel attempted to join his daddy - but unfortunately he still didn't fall asleep. Jury's out on my husband, though.

--- 5 ---

I actually have no idea if my brother-in-law slept or not, but this is possibly my favorite of all the "Sleeping Or Trying to Sleep" photos! I just love how he's resting with obvious signs of children running around (Pope Francis doll, pacifier, and multiple comfort objects, anyone?)...while a baby climbs on him. Welcome to parenthood, folks!

BONUS! Because I'm sure you're all dying to know whether or not Gabriel managed to snag that elusive nap, here's a sixth favorite photo:

How did he do it without a crib or the relaxing motion of a walk in the stroller? Well, I picked him up and cradled him as we stood singing the processional hymn at the start of Mass...and he passed out in my arms in (literally!) the blink of an eye. I then reclined him in the stroller, where he proceeded to sleep through everything until the very end of the papal Mass

Make sure you head over to The Big White Farmhouse and meet Ashley, the latest hostess of Five Favorites, and see what everyone else is sharing about today!

Monday, November 16, 2015

World Meeting of Families: Papal Mass


This is the third (and final) installment summarizing our World Meeting of Families pilgrimage. In case you missed it, here is part one (all about the journey) and part two (recapping Saturday's Festival of Families)

Sunday, the final day of Philadelphia's World Meeting of Families, was my (all-around) favorite day of our trip. The day was - rightfully so - all about attending an outdoor papal Mass with about a million other pilgrims.

Just like Saturday, we awoke and caught our early train into the city and had a good head start on many others that would also be attending Mass that afternoon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Our passes that would gain us entry into the closest/most restricted public areas helped us arrive quickly at our final security checkpoint where the lines were already quite lengthy by 9:00am.

I cannot remember whether or not the woman who approached us was an official WMoF volunteer or perhaps one of the employed security guards, but regardless of her title she forever remains a merciful figure in my mind - because she informed my sister's family and ours that we could proceed to the very front of the line with our strollers. She then created a pathway for us to get through as we followed her right up to the gates (Alleluia!). Later on it would take many of our single/childless friends a minimum of 4 hours to get through security and some of them couldn't make it in at all and just watched from afar - so I definitely appreciated the consideration they showed to us families with young children.

Once we passed through all of the security check points we made a beeline for an area we had scoped out during our many hours of waiting the day before. Because we had already had our up-close and personal glimpse of Pope Francis, we made the wise decision to avoid the fences lining the parkway. Instead, we chose a little grassy hill that was perfect for our young families; it would allow us to look down on the papal parade that was scheduled to take place prior to Mass, it would keep us out of the surprising amount of dust and dirt clouds we were unfortunately subjected to the day before, and it gave us easy access to food and porta-potties.

At that point we spread out our blankets and simply did everything we could to enjoy the 5ish hours remaining until Mass that afternoon.

Truth be told, Sunday was about 100 times more enjoyable for us than Saturday was. There were a few performances on the main stage here and there, but there were no plans for Pope Francis to be anywhere near us until the Mass - which made for a much more relaxed atmosphere (in contrast to the antsy anticipation of the previous day's crowd that would jump to attention and charge the fence every time anything with a flashing light drove by).

From our spot we were able to walk around and look at souvenirs, get lunch, or access the porta-potties whenever we needed to or wanted to kill some time (without fighting crowds for at least 45 minutes to return). The blankets and the surrounding grass made a nice space for our children to spread out, which certainly made for happy campers. Plus, I brought a handful of board books that helped occupy the 5 children in our two families when they weren't making up their own games or dances.

My sister and her family (minus one sleeping baby)

So tired, but still smiling

One of my favorite memories from those hours of waiting was seeing a group of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal set up camp (not too far from us) to hear people's confessions. So many people lined up to partake in the Sacrament of reconciliation

Time seemed to pass by quickly that day and before we knew it the pope was making his rounds on a brief popemobile parade! Initially we had no desire to be anywhere near the fences after our experiences from the day before, but as soon as we saw Pope Francis stopping to kiss babies Michael and I quickly locked eyes and shared one of those knowing looks; immediately we knew what we had to do. We jumped into action trading children (initially he was holding Gabriel up on his shoulders) so that he could take baby Peter and hightail it down the hill to the fence. I was too excited to hang back on the hill with Gabriel, so I hoisted him into my arms and we followed only a few feet behind.

Admittedly, it was a lot of fun to follow my husband through the crowd crying out, "Baby coming through! We have a baby! We have a BABY!" Everyone was more than accommodating as they quickly created a path for us (many of them even cheered us on!) and I found myself stopping my insane baby chant only to thank everyone profusely. Before long Michael had made it RIGHT UP TO THE FENCE - something we had camped out more than 8 hours to achieve the day before (you live, you learn).

I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to think, "It could happen. It might happen. Agh, I can barely let myself get my hopes up - but it wasn't realistic last night because of the dark and the speed of the parade, but could happen today. The pope might actually see our baby and give him a kiss!!!" 

I continued agonizing internally for several minutes, but I'll spare you the theatrics and let you know that, unfortunately, by the time Pope Francis cruised past us he had already informed the guards that he wasn't going to make any more stops. Womp womp.

My disappointment was fleeting as we made our way back up the hill and began to prepare for what just might be a once-in-our-lifetime experience: Mass with the pope.

No kisses from Pope Francis but still ALL SMILES

The Mass was everything I had imagined it to be. At one point I reveled in the fact that Michael and I were able to sit and truly listen to the homily because, amazingly, both of our children were asleep for much-needed naps. I distinctly remember sitting on the blanket next to my husband, holding his hand, and thinking with amazement that the preaching we were listening to was coming from the Vicar of Jesus Christ. In that moment I was fully present and just so grateful to be there.

There were far too many people for everyone to receive communion, but I'll never forget the beautiful sight of so many priests - easily spotted by the yellow and white Vatican flag umbrellas that volunteers were carefully holding above the consecrated hosts - heading into the crowds to bring Jesus to the people.

And truly, Jesus was brought to the people that day.

Pretty soon the Mass was over (hooray for being blessed by the pope!) and we began to pack up our things. When I returned from using the restroom I found my husband chatting of YOU! A reader named Kristen (or Kristin? Cristin? Christen? I really should have asked...) recognized our family from the blog and made a point to stop by and say hello once the crowds cleared, which is always so much fun (and mind-blowing! Because hi, I'm a small fry blogger). So Kristen, if you're out there, thank you for a happy and encouraging memory!

Finally we headed out...but our day was not done quite yet.

At the last minute my younger sister - who is in graduate school - had made the trip with some of her Franciscan University friends. So, while massive herds of people flooded the train stations we made a little detour to meet up with her.

World Meeting of Families, indeed!

Being with both of my sisters was the PERFECT way to celebrate and conclude the World Meeting of Families. Our reunion with my little sis was probably less than an hour, but the entire thing seemed apropos; after all, it just makes good sense to be able to celebrate and recognize the strength and importance of the family with as many family members as possible. 

The entire weekend made for a whirlwind trip that I still sometimes have to remind myself was not a dream. During Mass at our local parish this past Sunday the priest mentioned Pope Francis and Gabriel (age 2) grinned at me as he whispered, "We saw him!" As soon as I realized what he was telling me I smiled back and responded encouragingly with, "Yes! We did!"

Yes. We did.

"We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness. And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

World Meeting of Families: Festival of Families


Here's part 2 (out of 3) about our weekend pilgrimage to see the pope and participate in the World Meeting of Families. Missed part 1? It was all about the journey and you can read it here.

We awoke early Saturday morning to catch the train with our allotted ticket times. We were quite nervous about the parking situation, because all the authoritative sources had recommended being dropped off (not a possibility with all our kids in car seats!) and made us think all the spots at the station would be full and we would need to search for something nearby and walk.

Lo and behold, the Lord was watching over us once again and parking at the train station could not have been simpler. The police directed us where to go and (thanks to our early ticket time) there were plenty of empty spaces! Sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference - because once I realized there were no hoops for us to jump through to board the train I felt 100% relieved and began to get really excited!

"We get to see the pope today!"

After a short ride we arrived in the city and then we began to get even more excited. The pilgrims arriving in the city, the individuals selling souvenirs, the civil servants doing their jobs, and the volunteers aiding all the pilgrims seemed to be universally in good spirits. Of course the day was still young and plenty of officials didn't seem to know much about what was going on, but if I could summarize the atmosphere in just one word I would say it was: lighthearted. 

So happy to be back!

Thankfully I had asked some of my friends attending the Congress the day before to find out whether or not a specific exhibit would still be open on Saturday, because everything I found online had conflicting reports. Most of the special exhibits that ran throughout the week were entirely closed that weekend, but I had managed to find one that we could see so we headed there first. As we asked a few officers for some directions they all expressed doubts that what we were seeking was open, but because of my friends I knew it definitely was and we pushed on.

The plus side of all the confusing reports was that no one else seemed to know that an exhibit hall in the convention center was, in fact, open to the public that day. This meant we had the place almost entirely to ourselves!

The exhibit we saw was called Verbum Domini II: God's Word Goes Out to the Nations. It showcased over 80 pieces from one of the largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts in the world. It was beautifully done and now I can say that I've seen fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

By the end of the exhibit I needed to nurse Peter so I prepared to occupy a little bench in the lobby - but to our happy surprise we were told the VIP lounge (including free refreshments and drinks) was open to us. At this point I could barely handle how amazing our trip had gone thus far....

Cousins (minus the babies) at the exhibit

We took our time eating snacks and made sure everyone had used the only indoor restroom we would use all day long/all the diapers were changed before heading back out into the crowds. On our walk to the final security perimeter into which our tickets would gain us entry, both of our boys fell asleep in the stroller. At our first checkpoint of the day we had been instructed to remove the children (just like airport TSA), so I literally thanked the Lord that the people working our security line allowed me to leave the sleeping children alone. Truly, all you mothers of the world know what I mean when I say that I was SO grateful for this kind, familial consideration.

After that we were home free! The rest of the day we would be attending the so-called Festival of Families. We made our way up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and camped out right along the fence that Pope Francis would later be driving by in the Popemobile.

And we waited.
And waited.
And miraculously (thanks to some assistance from friendly pilgrims nearby) kept our children (mostly) happy for the better part of 8+ hours.

Truth be told, there wasn't a whole lot going on in terms of entertainment all day long. At one point my sister's family and ours sat down to pray a rosary together, which I'm sure helped (better) maintain our patience and optimism as the crowd grew thicker all around us. Around noon there were some musical and dance performances televised on all the jumbotrons that we took minimal interest in.

At one point in the afternoon we were blessed to have a friend from our time living in Pennsylvania (who we had not been able to see Friday night) come find us. I had been doubtful she would make it up to where we were, so the fact that she persevered and made such an effort to join us (along with some of her other friends) made for a happy reunion!

Finally, at 5:30 or so some of the main stage performances (including Matt Maher!) began, which helped ease a little bit of the tension the crowd was feeling as we eagerly continued waiting for Pope Francis to arrive. By that point in time everyone had been crowding the fence for quite awhile and I was kicking myself for not tossing a baby carrier in the bottom of the stroller that morning as my husband and I traded off holding Gabriel (age 2) and Peter (just under 4 months).

Eventually THIS happened,

but the Popemobile was going so fast this was the best my camera could manage. My husband was proudly holding Peter up like baby Simba in the Lion King, but to our dismay Pope Francis didn't make any stops or even see us on this all-too-quick parade in the dark.

Honestly, I was not prepared for how emotional I felt as the pope breezed right past us. Of course I had been eagerly awaiting the experience for several months (not to mention at least 8 cramped hours that very day), but as my family and I chanted "Papa! Papa!" I was overcome by this sense of urgency - no, desperation - to have him slow down or look at us for just one second.

The moment the pope passed by I felt sheer longing for him to return, which spoke volumes to me about the reality of this Successor of the Prince of the Apostles. If I felt this way about such a brief encounter with the Servant of the Servants of God, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church that Christ himself instituted...then imagine how the people alive in Jesus' time must have felt if they were fortunate to catch a passing glimpse of the Messiah.

I've wondered on more than one occasion if I would recognize our Lord if He were right in front of me, but after my experience at this papal parade I have no doubt in my mind that NOT recognizing Him would seem nearly impossible. I'm confident that the unseen power of the Holy Spirit would be simply overwhelming/all-consuming if one were fortunate enough to be so physically close to God. At least, I'm hopeful that this is the case.

It's so difficult to describe and it probably sounds silly in writing, but I felt like our up-close glimpse of the pope hinted at what it must feel like to be united for all eternity with Jesus Christ. Because if I felt such a longing to be near the successor of His church once more, I can barely fathom how much more fulfilling it must be to experience a permanent reunion with God himself.

Once Pope Francis drove by we probably stuck around less than an hour so we could get our children (and ourselves) some much-needed rest. Unfortunately this meant we missed the better part of all the headlining performers and the testimonies of a handful of pilgrim families, but our little kids (who had been SUCH troopers) simply couldn't handle any more.

Stay tuned for the final installment about our pilgrimage: the papal Mass!

"Thank you to everyone who gave us a message here and [thank you] for the presence of all of you, which is also a testimony, a true testimony that it is worthwhile to live as a family, that a society grows strong, grows in goodness, grows in beauty and truly grows if it is built on the foundation of the family."
-Pope Francis, Address to World Meeting of Families 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

World Meeting of Families: The Journey


Remember that time Pope Francis came to the United States? Right. About that.

The World Meeting of Families (WMoF) first got on my radar back when we lived near Philadelphia (in 2014). Learning that your diocese will be hosting a week-long congress with amazing Catholic speakers that will culminate in a giant Festival of Families and be concluded with an outdoor Mass with the pope is not exactly small news, after all. Needless to say, I was beyond excited!

However, we moved away from Philly and I concluded that there was no way I could manage the week-long congress on family life - but we knew we wanted to be there. And despite the fact that my brother-in-law would be less than a month away from defending his thesis(!), my sister (who we currently live down the road from) knew that their family wanted to be part of such a powerful, memorable, probably-once-in-a-lifetime experience as well. So, many many months ago we made plans to caravan our two families to Philadelphia for the concluding weekend (which would put us there for the Festival of Families and Mass with Pope Francis).

From that point on our journey became a true pilgrimage requiring research, planning, and (of course) a good amount of prayer.

On Friday, September 25th we hit the road and, amazingly enough, experienced a seamless drive that only required us to stop for one bathroom break and lunch. As we traveled I had no doubt that God was watching out for us - because previously Michael and I had taken the kids on a couple of adventures less than an hour and a half away that were (to put it gently) not the quietest or most peaceful trips for our littlest. Yet, on our big road-trip baby Peter napped at all the right times, I had plenty of snacks and/or activities to keep Gabriel from becoming restless or whiny, and we didn't even encounter bad traffic. God is good.

Philadelphia or bust!

One of the simplest, funniest memories I have from that day of travel took place as we got close to Philadelphia. I turned on the radio and the first station that came through was playing - no joke - the Rocky theme song

Full disclosure: I've never seen the Rocky movies, but after living near Philly it would have been impossible for me not to know about the famous movie scene in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not to mention, that infamous sprint took place down the very same Benjamin Franklin Parkway where we would first lay eyes on the hearing the theme song as we drove in got us PUMPED.

We stayed the weekend with a couple of our friends in the suburbs, but because we arrived early we decided to kill a little time at the King of Prussia mall; that way Gabriel and his slightly older cousins could get all their pent-up energy out at the play area.

Then, before we headed out to see our friends we discovered that there was a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis at the mall! Naturally, we snapped a photo of this first "meeting" with the pope.

Not pictured: my sister (snapping the photo) and Peter (in the stroller to the left)

Friday night was just what we needed after our two families traveled with our (total of) 5 kids; we ordered pizza, stayed in, and enjoyed some good company. Although pretty much everyone we knew locally had their own plans for seeing the pope and were staying all over the place (in the city and suburbs) we managed to see a good many of them that first night. It meant so much to Michael and me that they made an effort to connect with us on such a crazy, busy weekend.

To an outsider it would appear that our journey to Philadelphia was an ordinary, uneventful road trip but in all actuality it was a journey I won't soon forget. I have no doubt that we experienced many graces traveling with our young children and when I reflect on all of it I cannot help but think how immensely blessed we were to have the weekend that we did...and it's worth noting that many of these blessings came from our wonderful friends.

Anyone with toddlers or babies knows that one little hiccup can turn a positive, peaceful experience into one that is mentally and physically draining - but we were blessed to set out on the longest (and most exhausting) day of the weekend with a fresh, joyful outlook and I have no doubt that our friends played a role in that.

Thanks to our friends in the Philadelphia area we had a place to stay free of charge. We had VIP/restricted area tickets to both the Festival of Families AND Sunday's Mass with Pope Francis. We were given maps, instructions, and advice from those who had been at the WMoF Congress and those who were coordinating all kinds of things for the Archdiocese. We were given beds to sleep in, food to eat, and access to the best public views of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

So while the journey itself may seem a small thing to dedicate an entire blog post to, in my recollection it is anything but. The support, the kindness, and generosity we were shown helped set the tone for the very long weekend we would soon experience. Truly, everything and everyone that got us there is part of a journey worth remembering.

"Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Three Years


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anniversary dinner date (not pictured: sleeping baby)

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long and Short of It


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Day in Thomas Land


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas fans will surely recognize this iconic landmark behind us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding the Thomas train!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Some Weekend Fun (with kids) in Boston


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

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

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

Excited to watch the seal training show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not pictured: stroller containing a sleeping baby

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Big Pool" in Pictures


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

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

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

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

Who wouldn't enjoy a weekend here?

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

I was surprised, but he seriously LOVED this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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