Baby DIY / Maya’s Magnetic Fridge Wall

October 18, 2016

Do we call this a DIY? By my old standards, probably not. By current standards, it totally makes the very low bar.

When we were in Maine this summer, Maya loved inspecting and staring at the family photos my mom has had plastered across the side of their fridge for years. We may not have left the fridge wall quite as pristine as we found it. Sorry, Grammy!  maya-fridge-2 maya-fridge There’s Maya practicing standing on her own in Maine – that feels so long ago!

When we returned to Houston, I thought I’d create one of our own here in Houston so that Maya could have her own magnetic fridge wall to stare at for hours. Or minutes, but still. That’s practically hours in one-year-old land. Plus, most fridges in Ireland are built into cabinets, so I figured we’d better take advantage of the magnetized fridge front while we’ve got one!

The other reason I wanted to make us a wall of fame, as I call it, is that I wanted Maya to see photos of her family and friends who live so far away – at eye level, whenever she likes. It’s so fun to watch her recognize everyone. Whenever she sees the photo of my dad she blows raspberries at it since that was the game the two of them would play together this summer.  diy-fridge-wall Our very complicated and fancy fridge wall included three items. Magnetic photo holders, photos printed online at CVS and picked up an hour later, and a box of magnetic animals. Assemble accordingly and prepare to rearrange (or pick up off the floor and stick back on) daily. maya-fridge-wall-houston I landed on those magnetic photo holders because we found the plastic ones don’t keep the photos in very well and Maya likes to take them off and inspect them and sometimes throw them, and the plastic ones would chip and break (again, sorry Grammy!). These flexible ones are great, with a sheet magnet covering the entire back (aka – not ingestible!) and the photos never slide out.

The Melissa & Doug animal magnets are a hit as well – and also have magnet sheets across the whole back. I would say, though, that they could be laminated a little better. The kitty and the pig are a little worn around the edges since Maya likes to chew those in particular.  maya-fridge-wall fridge-wall-diy And a gratuitous shot of the cutie’s curls.

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Poetry on Houston Streets

October 17, 2016

houston-street-banners-5 A few months ago, I wrote about new banners going up along the streets of downtown Houston for Local Magazine. I interviewed the design team at Core Design Studio, Alan Krathaus and Fiona McGettigan (who’s Irish!) for the article and learned all about them but hadn’t seen the banners in real life yet. On my way across town the weekend before last, I pulled the car over to take a few photos.  houston-street-banners To compile the words for the banners, Alan and Fiona enlisted the editing expertise of Miah Arnold at Grackle and Grackle Literary Studio, as well as Writers in the Schools, Inprint Poetry Buskers, The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. Layered over images of Houston in white text, each banner offers a poetic and vivid description of the city pulled from the work of some of Houston’s most talented writers, songwriters, poets and celebrities.  houston-street-banners-14 houston-street-banners-13 Houston downtown on a Saturday morning in the almost-crisp sunshine was delightful. I couldn’t help but think how much I enjoy an underappreciated city, especially when I’m spared the traffic headache. I love an underdog! And Houston certainly is one. But like most cities, there’s lots to be loved and explored if you dig a little. I’m so grateful I was given the assignment to write about the banners. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have given them a second thought. houston-street-banners-12 houston-street-banners-11 houston-street-banners-10 houston-street-banners-9 I think these would make such great posters for Houston fans!  houston-street-banners-8 houston-street-banners-6 My heart is a map full of dreams and tears.  houston-street-banners-5 houston-street-banners-3 houston-street-banners-2

The Best News, A Year Later

October 8, 2016

meeting-maya (I wrote these words yesterday, but didn’t manage to press publish until this morning. If you’ve missed this (admittedly over-blogged 😉 episode in our lives, you can catch up with Maya’s birth story here.)

One year ago today, at 10:30am, our life changed with one phone call. One phone call to tell us that our daughter was waiting for us in the NICU. One phone call followed by one texted photo of the most perfect tiny baby girl. And then one long day of waiting to meet her.

I was chatting with my mom yesterday and saying that I don’t think I fully felt everything that happened at the beginning after Maya arrived because everything felt so surreal and unbelievable. We were instantly in the throes of caring for a newborn, so there wasn’t so much time to really feel everything and the enormity of what had happened.

But there are ways in which that has actually turned out pretty perfect as well.

First, I’m grateful that Maya instantly felt like she’d been there all along. We didn’t feel the enormity of it right away because it felt (after the first few moments) not so much like a surprise but an of course. Of course you are here. Of course you are you. Of course you are ours. I’m grateful that Maya never felt like an added responsibility or an extra piece. Instead, from those first moments, she felt like a limb I’d always lived with. And once she was here, I couldn’t remember life without that limb. Leaving her in the hospital late that night felt like I’d left a piece of myself ten miles away, like I couldn’t quite breathe until I could see and hold her again.

The transition from pre-Maya to life-with-Maya was seamless. Now, lest you think that our transition to being parents was seamless, that isn’t what I’m saying at all. That was a learning curve! But the transition from our two-person family to a family of three, feeling totally whole as three, was seamless.

Second, I’m grateful that I feel and remember every aspect of that day. I can vividly picture exactly where I was and how I felt and how the light struck the bed as I made it that morning and how I felt a *ping* in my soul that I thought was God telling me there was a baby coming, that He had a baby in the palm of our hand that was already here on this earth and that it would be revealed soon. I remember thinking, hopefully, maybe we’d meet him or her in just a few months.

I remember racing to the car when Kim (our agency angel) called so I could get better reception. Our sweet little apartment is a concrete bunker with the worst cell reception, so I sat in the parking lot of the garden center around the corner and stared at the shrubs in front of me while she told me that our daughter was here.

I remember shaking when I saw Maya’s photo come through in a text and knowing in my soul that she was ours. I remember wandering around Target wanting to shout at the top of my lungs that she was here! But instead trying to choose a handful of baby clothes to bring to the hospital. I think I spent two hours in Target and only bought three things!

I remember standing in the parking lot of Michael’s school and trying to explain that she was here. She’s here, look! She’s perfect! Can’t we go already and get her?! But Michael was only one week into a job as a teacher with a classroom full of kids and a principal who didn’t yet know we had come to Houston to adopt. Knowing her now, she would have understood, but those first weeks were tenuous.

I remember the heavy, humid clouds and the grey day as we drove along equally grey concrete to the hospital that looked a little like a space ship. I remember not being able to find the right building or the right entrance or the right elevators. I remember making Michael stop in the lobby so we could brush our teeth and fix our faces so that we were fully prepared to meet our daughter.

I remember squeezing his hand in the elevator as we rose to the NICU floor and thinking, this is a moment I hope I’ll never forget. 

I remember meeting our friend (and fairy godmother) Debs at the doors to the NICU where she handed us bright yellow nametags. Future Mom. Future Dad. 

I remember setting my tote down at the door and squeezing Michael’s hand again as we walked over the threshold into a little twin room.

I remember seeing my girl all bundled in her little plastic box, sleeping so peacefully.

I remember standing over her, touching her soft skin, and saying to the nurses, But can we have her? I meant can we take her out, can we hold her, would you hand her to me already, I need to feel the weight of her to make sure she’s real. But I also meant can we have her. Can we have her forever. Is she really ours. Have we really just been given this perfect gift. 

I’m grateful now that I didn’t fully feel any of those things at the time. If I had, I would have melted into a paralyzed puddle on the floor. I’m grateful that I can feel it all now, a year later (and hopefully just as vividly in the years to come), but that at the time we were able to get down to the business of loving and caring for her without completely losing our minds with emotion. Apparently that was to be saved for 365 days later!

As I tidy up this post and fix my made-up words, Maya is standing over her basket of books, picking them up and inspecting the covers, and then choosing another one. She is our miracle who almost walks and exclaims uh-oh when she throws something out of her high chair. This time last year, we weren’t looking this far ahead. Thankfully, instead, our overwhelmed brains were making memories of that wonderful day to last our lifetimes.

Tonight we’ll put Maya to sleep and leave her with her aunt for a few hours while we go to the same burger joint we did on the night we met Maya. After hours of cuddling and calling family, we needed sustenance and a breath of air. As we ate, not even tasting anything, we could only say to each other, Can you believe it happened? Isn’t she perfect? Tonight, we’ll linger, toast to the best day of our lives, and perhaps only say those same things just a few times.

It happened, and she’s perfect. And we are our family of three.

A few more photos from meeting Maya:

meeting-maya-3 meeting-maya-2 maya-aunt-debs michael-maya-2 tiny-maya michael-maya

Maya Catharine / Turns One!

October 5, 2016

maya-turns-one Today we woke up to a one-year-old. A wonderful, enthusiastic, expressive, brave one-year-old who made us parents and instantly fulfilled our wildest dreams. Most nights, once she goes to bed and we’ve cleaned up whatever disaster she left in her midst, we miss her and talk about how God couldn’t have designed a more perfect member of our family. He couldn’t have given us a bigger gift.

This year has been one heck of a wild ride beyond even our wildest dreams. We are so grateful for the support and love we have felt from our friends, family and strangers who have become friends around the world, grateful for our village that has helped us raise one sweet baby girl to the age of one!

Today involved cake, repeated tears of wonder from her mama, kisses from her dad and birthday felicitations from around the world.

Maya Catharine, we love you billions. Forever and ever.

And now, a few more photos from the cupcake celebration! I’ll make a cake for another little we’re having this weekend with family, but we opted for a cupcake from Red’s Dessert Dive for her treat today. Pumpkin with vanilla buttercream for our October birthday girl!  maya-turns-one-7 maya-turns-one-9 maya-turns-one-2 You’d think we were in the jungle, but can you believe this is the corner of our back patio? I love the bamboo and hopefully we’ll spruce it up for relaxing and playing next month when the mosquitos pack up for the winter.  maya-turns-one-1 maya-turns-one-8 maya-turns-one-3 maya-turns-one-5 Maya went for the frosting more than the pumpkin cupcake – she’s not much for baked goods. Too many crumbs!  maya-turns-one-6 We’ve hit the sharing phase! It’s cute but slimy! 😉

A Shibori Workshop at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

October 3, 2016

houston-craft-workshop-3 Over the weekend, I left Maya napping with Michael and took myself on a mini adventure across town to a little free shibori dying workshop held at the Center for Contemporary Craft. I had seen a little info about the workshop in the weekly 365 Things to Do in Houston this Weekend email that comes into my inbox every Thursday. Turns out, the Center for Contemporary Craft holds a free workshop in their garden on the first Saturday of every month. There were loads of families and kids there! In fact, there were very few adults on their own, which probably made me seem a little weird, but it was so fun to see what Maya and I will be able to do together in a few years. So much crafting!

It was my first foray into shibori indigo dying and the workshop was enough to make me think there will be shibori dying in our back yard during naptime this winter.  houston-craft-workshop center-for-contemporary-craft-workshop I think those buckets are from Home Depot, and not bespoke printed with inspirational sayings. But they were still cute with all those legs waiting to dye their creations!  houston-craft-workshop-dying houston-shibori-workshop There was a crew of older ladies in charge of dipping and dying and explaining the process. The fabric is dipped into buckets of indigo, which is an oxygen free solution, and when it hits the air it turns from green to deep blue. Once they turn blue, they’re rinsed and hung up to dry.  houston-craft-workshop-shibori houston-shibori-workshop-2 center-for-craft-free-workshop And some of the finished products hanging from trees in the garden, like very beautiful laundry.

Happy Weekend!

September 30, 2016

houston-art-fair-4 Happy weekend, friends! How was your week? Ours was full of admin – changing Maya’s name on alllll her official documents is proving just as time consuming as it was when I got married and had to change my name. And it all has to be done before we can get her passport to travel back to Ireland for a visit this winter! I also got to cover the Houston Art Fair for a Houston-based blog I write for called Urban Swank. It was a swanky event and fun to be out and about on such a lovely evening. It seems the humidity has broken and there’s a hint of fall, albeit 80+ degree fall, but I’ll take it!

This weekend, we’re going to be laying low as my family up north puts my aunt to rest. We have plans with friends to smoke some brisket (we’re totally not going to be much help, but thankfully they’re real Texans!) and will probably find a margarita or two in our neighborhood. We’re also planning a little weekend jaunt to New Orleans at the end of the month when two of our best friends from Ireland fly in to visit. And we even have babysitters (in the form of Maya’s Grammy and Granddad) flying in for the occasion! October is shaping up to be busy, busy around these parts! And it starts with a big first birthday next week!

Now, a few links. I hope your weekend involves time to read them while sipping coffee in the sunshine.

This man illegally documented his trip to North Korea and smuggled the photos home.

Inside the bureau of way too many guns – what it means to “trace” a gun. It’s the opposite of efficient and the journalism is top notch.

An interesting take on never wanting to have a baby.

DIY bubbles! We’re nearly at the bubbles phase and these sound less icky.

I can hear Maya talking to herself in her crib, so I’ll leave you with those. Happy weekend, friends!

Sweet Summer

September 28, 2016

Summer feels like a very long time ago and also a little like it’s still going strong, what with the temperatures down here only now lowering into the mid-80’s. But Maya and I left Maine summer almost a month ago, so I figured a round up of photos from enjoying nearly two months in Maine would be in order.

First, Maya’s first trip on my parents’ boat, the Blood Vessel! (A 1970’s Boston Whaler creatively named by my brother when he was about three, bloody since my dad writes murder mysteries. 😉 maya-blood-vessel maya-blood-vessel-4 Lathered in sunscreen and crusty from rice cakes. I’m so glad she keeps a hat on.  maya-blood-vessel-3 maya-blood-vessel-2 boat-life-maine With every passing year, the amount that I go into the water of China Lake diminishes. I think it’s even been about two years since I’ve water skied. Must add that to next summer’s bucket list! This year I went up to my ankles. Very lame, Emily!

We couldn’t believe Maya would tolerate the life jacket. I worried she would squirm and fuss but I think it functioned more like a straight jacket and almost always put her to sleep!  maya-life-jacket michael-boat My handsome man. Once Michael went back to Houston to start school and my parents were in work all day, Maya and I spent a ton of time around the house and lawn. The stairs were her absolute favorite pastime. They were not my favorite pastime, but I did enjoy hearing her say puh-puh instead of up-up. maya-stairs-china-village maya-rock-climbing Because my phone wasn’t working to take photos, I took out my big camera more often and caught so many nice photos of Maya exploring the lawn and tracking down the kitties. maya-china-lawn maya-crabby-crawl maya-lion

maya-catharine maya-giggling She loves squishy stuffed animals and likes to give them big squashing hugs.  maya-crawling-china maya-crawling-4 maya-crawling-3 maya-crawling-2 maya-clapping Clapping with extra enthusiasm! I love those polka dot shoes so much, I should have bought the next three sizes up since she’s already growing out of them!  maya-china We also had such nice times with family while we were home. We celebrated my parents’ 60th birthdays since both fall when we couldn’t all be there. My niece is scrumptiously squeezable but also quickly catching up to Maya in the weight department.  fam-china-village claire-elizabeth-china maya-summer-china-village fam-summer-china maya-coffee-table And a wedding celebrated for my aunt and new uncle’s marriage at their beautiful property on the ocean marsh on the Maine coast. It was a chilly, misty day that made my hair extra frizzy and Maya’s curls extra tight.  em-maya-wedding maya-squirming-wedding My mom and my brother’s girlfriend, Emma, put together the flowers for the wedding and they were stunning. My grandma was supposed to help but was very sick, so they brought all the flowers and supplies to her house and she got to be the creative director from the couch.  marthas-wedding maya-greta-wedding I love watching Maya love the people I love so much. These photos of her with my cousin Greta are some of my favorites. Such giggles!  maya-laughing-wedding cheeky-maya And a cheeky will-you-just-give-me-the-darn-plant-to-eat smirk.

Well, that turned quickly into the Maya show. Whoops! I think the ratio of photos of Maya to photos of anyone else is solidly 100-1 at the moment. But that’s Maine summer, at least, over and out. Another good one for the books.

Another Legacy

September 27, 2016

maya-catharine-mary-catherine I was sitting in a coffee shop around the corner from our house last week when my dad called. My aunt Mary Catherine had passed away. Expectedly, but still unexpectedly. After we hung up, I sat there at my computer scrolling aimlessly through pictures of Christmas decorations for a freelance post I was working on, thinking about another sadness for my family and another legacy to be passed on.

After a short battle with a very aggressive and terminal brain cancer, the end part, which can be so painful and bad, was mercifully short. But it’s still a shock to us all. She was my godmother, and one of my biggest cheerleaders, especially here on FCV. She loved my posts and commented often. She prayed so fervently that we would be able to start our family, and was overjoyed to meet Maya earlier this summer. Maya, of course, loved her instantly, giving kisses and then laughing hysterically each time.

Michael pointed out that Mary Catherine was a link to my grandparents on my dad’s side, who both died of cancer (can I get an f-you cancer?!) before I was old enough to really know them. She would tell stories of my grandparents so vividly that I could just picture my grandmom through her. I think she carried my grandmom’s elegance and grace and old fashioned-ness, which was such a gift to experience.

It’s been a sad time in our family, with both of my parents losing a close family member in just six weeks. And it’s my first real time facing loss and experiencing missing people who were part of my life on a regular basis. It’s such a strange feeling to be carrying on with day to day things with added pangs of sadness every day or so. I suppose everyone goes through it eventually, and I’m grateful it took me until now to hit with real force.

I hope you’re all well and healthy. I’ve missed you and hope to be back more regularly soon. xx em

Notes from the Village

September 1, 2016

hydrangeas-china-village A smattering of thoughts on a Thursday, if you please.

Tomorrow is our last day in China Village, so we’re soaking up all the hugs from Maya’s Grammy and Granddad and booking them in for Houston visits this fall. The downside of a long visit here is that it’s harder to say goodbye. We have a few errands to run today before we start our weekend-long journey south tomorrow.

My phone has nearly bit (bitten?) the dust after several years of utter predictability. A first world problem, yes, but also frustrating, to not be able to snap photos and video of Maya and share them with family on the fly. Luckily it can still Facetime and sometimes text, depending on its mood, and even more luckily Michael found me a used but new-to-me phone for when I get back to Houston. The upside of the enforced break is that I’ve been taking out my big camera more and the light in China Village is so lovely. The other upside is that it’s meant I’ve taken a break from social media except maybe once a day on my computer. It’s been a nice break.

We’re missing Michael quite a lot as he’s been back in Houston for the last month (?!), getting all his kids sorted with their schedules. Saturday morning we’ll be reunited when he arrives for a wedding weekend in New Hampshire! We’re very ready to be a family of three again.

Did I mention we’re staying in Houston for another year? Yep, another year before we return to Ireland. It was a hard decision because we both miss our lives in Dublin, but Michael really loves his job in Houston and we’re really still hoping to find a sibling for Maya, the perfect fourth member of our family. After two heartbreakingly close calls (here and here), we decided we had to give it another year to see if one will stick! We’ll be back in Dublin at Christmastime and we can’t wait to introduce Maya to Ireland and all our friends there!

I just finished Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and it was so different than any other book I’ve read. A little hard to get into his style of kind of useless description – as in description that isn’t necessary to the plot but is necessary to character development. I picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and it’s not the kind of book you say you love, but it feels very important and I’m not yet halfway through.

My aunt and godmother has become very sick with aggressive brain cancer, so that has been weighing on our family. Cancer is literally the worst and it seems to just keep coming.

A few other more cheerful bits and pieces.

A stocked candy drawer in the Senate.

Olympic venues that transform into schools post-games.

Introducing differences and disabilities to school children with these thoughtful tips.

A quadruple amputee building a Maine retreat for “recalibrated” veterans is incredibly inspiring.

Hasta luego!

A China Village Tour

August 24, 2016

This summer, Maya, Michael and I got to spend a lovely chunk of time in China Village with my family. Michael has already started school back in (still sweaty) Houston, but Maya and I are extending our visit by another ten days so that we can attend my Grandma’s memorial service this weekend. While my parents are at work during the day, Maya and I have been left to our own devices. Sometimes we drive an hour and visit my sister and her little family, but sometimes we just bop around China Village.

My dad is always suggesting that I should do a China Village tour for my blog, since it inspired the name. And now we’ve had time to make that happen! So today, a small photographic tour of even smaller (but still sweet!) China Village.

maya-china-lake It’s about a five minute walk down the hill to China Lake, where there’s a little ice cream/fried foods stand with picnic tables near the boat launch. Maya had her first licks of ice cream here last weekend and it was glorious. I’m tempted to give her ice cream every day just for her reaction of pure delight. But I’ll refrain, if only because I ended up eating most of the ice cream and I have very little restraint when it comes to chocolate.

A little ice cream interlude before we continue on our tour…

maya-first-ice-cream maya-ice-cream-smile Total and utter happiness. I feel ya, girl! And we started with chocolate and with sprinkles because that’s how ice cream should be done!

Right, so, back to business.

At the edge of the lake is the little Baptist church with a bell that tolls every hour and half hour. I rarely notice it, but Maya notices it every time and starts boogying.  china-village-baptist-church china-village-fire-department Right next door to the church is the fire station, where I learned to ride my bike because it was the only paved parking lot in the village. We’ve also got major respect for the fire department – it’s made up completely of such brave and dedicated volunteers. We had a fairly large fire in our house in the early 90’s and they were all brilliant despite the scary night. It was started by a plumber who came to thaw a frozen pipe (such is January in Maine in a really old house!) and smouldered up the inside of the wall in the kitchen for hours before my mom heard a crackle.

My dad worked nights at the newspaper back then and heard about it on the police scanner they used to pick up stories! He had a big old (slightly mortifying) bright orange former utility truck at the time and he always says he must have hit 100 miles an hour on the straight aways racing home to us that night! As soon as my mom called the fire department, she sent the three of us across the street to the neighbors (Charlie was maybe 2, so I was 9?) with our new puppy, where we waited while they got the fire under control. Turns out the walls had been stuffed with old newspaper for insulation and they had to take half of the second floor off and rebuild. It was dramatic! But I also remember all the teachers at our primary school sent us meals and someone brought over homemade donuts. Small towns are the sweetest.  china-village-home You might recognize this one. Built in 1811 and lovingly (and sometimes grudgingly) restored and continuously repainted by my parents, it’s why China Village is such a cosy home to me. They bought it when I was just ten months old and my mom reports that I was so chubby and uninterested in moving that she could set me on the counter and I wouldn’t move an inch. Maya would fling herself off the counter and be halfway up the stairs if you turned your back for a second!  china-village-library We grew up within shouting distance of the village library and took full advantage of the somewhat lax neighbor return policy. Luckily, the librarian Mary still likes us all! I used to go to story hour there, and then in middle school I ran the story hour. I wish I’d been on the ball, I would have resurrected it this summer since we’ve been here so long!

Next door to the library is Peggy’s house, she taught us piano lessons for years and there was a recital every spring. One year I got a bee sting on the behind right before the recital and still managed to play my little song! She still lives there and always makes homemade bread for us at Christmas time.  china-village-hydrangeas china-village-maine-2 A few other stately clapboard homes in the village. We actually lived in the one above for a few months while our house was being rebuilt after the aforementioned fire. The owner back then was another teacher at my mom’s school and they were selling the house, so they let us live there while it was on the market. I do remember having to go to the library a lot so we weren’t in the house while they were showing it! I also remember the aforementioned puppy pooping on the Oriental rugs!  china-village-maine china-village-shed china-village-post-office And the sweet little post office! Priscilla has been the post lady there since I was too small to even see over the counter, although I think she’s retiring soon. I used to come visiting with tiny, sweaty handfuls of earthworms plucked from the garden. It’s no wonder I’m still remembered there! 😉 There was also a phase when that handicap ramp came in really handy for our rollerblading laps. We used to love when they repaved the parking lot!

Thanks for touring my China Village and sticking around for my memory lane moments!