A Snowy Maine Walk

January 13, 2017

Before the Christmas plague arrived and took nearly all of us down, we tried to get outside with Maya for at least a few minutes every day. Clearly we’ve been away from Maine too long because that sentence shows exactly how wimpy we are. Ha!

One day we bundled and took a walk out in the field behind my parents’ house. I really wanted to walk in the woods, but it was so cold we just walked to the tree line and back again. Maya lost a mitten somewhere along the way, but we retraced our steps and found it on our return.  family-of-three-walk-maine Thanks to various family members for letting us cobble together warm outfits from your belongings! Michael robbed my mom’s Patriot’s hat (and almost didn’t give it back), and I had to borrow a warm coat and gloves.

Maya was in the beginning stages of the Christmas green goo, so she had her lovie and pacifier tucked into the Ergo just in case. She’s also got a piece of cereal in the hand that lost the mitten, probably the reason for the mitten shirking to begin with!  mom-and-maya maya-and-mom snowy-field-entrance maya-hat-eyes Poor Maya, I couldn’t always see when her hat had fallen over her eyes.  field-behind-house-china snowballs Pretty sure Maya and I got pelted with both of those snowballs!  maine-snowy-field trees-china-village blurry-family-three

Little blurry but two out of three happy to be out in the fresh air! (Thanks, Dad, for the pics of the three of us and Michael for the ones of Maya and I!)

The real winter weather was nice for a few weeks, but boy are we glad to be back in the Houston winter heat! Getting outside is tough when it’s so cold and cabin fever with a 15 month old is real!

2017 / Goals for the New Year

January 10, 2017

2017-goals Happy New Year, friends! 2017 is getting a slow start around these parts since Maya and I only returned to Houston at the end of last week. Michael had to come back earlier to start school, but it was cheaper for us to fly back a little later and take advantage of a few more days with Maya’s grandparents, with whom she is 1000% obsessed.

She would be even more obsessed if they had been around this weekend to save her from the pacifier weaning we embarked upon Saturday night. I realized a month or so ago that the pacifier Maya was fully attached to for sleep and sick/sad moments was made for a 0-3 month old baby. Very much not made for a baby with 12 teeth and very much already affecting those teeth. I felt guilty every time I let her have it once I realized what it was doing to her gums and mouth, but I knew we couldn’t put my parents through the misery of taking it away from her. We tried snipping the end of the paci first – the idea being that you cut bits off until there’s nothing left to suck and by that point they’re over it – and she took one look at it and basically said oh, hell no. She kept holding it out and looking at it like she was wondering what the heck we did to break her most cherished possession. Then we offered a different pacifier that’s made for older babies and that only made her more mad.

In the end, we cold turkey-ed it. She screamed for a while last night going to bed, and then promptly slept 11 hours. She screamed her way through most of both her naps today, except when she was chewing on the side of her crib (while I ate my weight in Hershey kisses). And then tonight we added a stuffed goose and a teddy bear to her crib and lo and behold, a nearly peaceful bedtime. Thank goodness!

Anyway, beyond that drama we’ve been easing into the new year. The end of 2016 was hard for me as it was for so many. The election felt like a kick in the teeth to an already emotional and trying rollercoaster year. I think I might have been running on adrenaline for most of the year as we went through such high highs and quite low lows. Between Maya’s adoption day and then babies in and babies out, babies maybe happening and babies not happening anymore, I ran out of adrenaline when we returned from Ireland and I’m only now starting to feel like myself again. Even though we spent most of the holidays sick with various bugs between us, it was a break and I returned feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Michael and my parents picked up my slack big time in the last few weeks. I read two books in three weeks, enjoyed a glass of wine with my mom every night, and started watching This Is Uswhich is watchably light and thought-provokingly deep at the same time.

While 2017 is slowly getting rolling, it’s already looking like it will be a very different sort of year than last year. I’ve picked up a new writing gig as well as some hours as a teaching assistant at Michael’s school, and it looks like Maya will be starting daycare at least a few days a week soon. She’s so social and loves being around other kids, so I think it will be good for her even though it will be a huge adjustment for both of us. But 15 months is a pretty long time to get to spend every day together, and I’m grateful we’ve had so much time.

I have a few goals for the new year, loose ones without trying to put much pressure on myself after the stress of the last year. Just a little more fun and a little more exploring.

More Houston exploring

I have a running list of Houston spots to explore, so we’ll try to check those off maybe one per weekend. We want to visit Brazos State Park in the daylight, finally get to the MFAH, go back to the cosy wine bar we visited a few weeks before Maya was born.

More date nights

I can count on one hand the number of times Michael and I got to spend time just the two of us last year. This year, at least monthly date nights.

Meal plans maybe?

Meh, maybe not. It always seems like a great idea in theory, but I can barely plan a day ahead let alone a week. We’ll see what happens when things get a little crazier around here.

Get a house plant

It seems that’s what our tiny apartment is missing – something green. Although we’ll need to find a place where Maya can’t get into the dirt. She’s a sucker for dirt.

More books

I’ve got a stack next to my bed and a Kindle that hasn’t gotten nearly enough use in the last year. I just finished The Trespasser by Tana French, which I enjoyed but wasn’t my favorite of hers. I read The Magnolia Story last week and predictably enjoyed it.

Fight for the least of these

Because it’s gonna be important this year, more than ever. Last year, I felt our giving back role was with the tiny people who shared our home. This year we might not be taking on those situations as I try to get back to work a little, so I need to find the way we can fight for those who need back up in this scary time. I’m open to suggestions.

I hope you’re feeling glimmers of hope in the new year, despite the scary times ahead. I hope we are all able to enjoy abundant peace and happiness in 2017.

Stoic Sledding

December 28, 2016

maya-sledding-china-village-2 Once a day, we’ve been getting in some Maine action – cutting down Christmas trees, tonight a sunset walk in the woods, and a little sledding down the tiny hill in front of my parents’ house. Maya’s general reaction to cold is fairly stoic. For such an expressive kid, the cold just sucks it out of her. We got a few smiles out of her when she first got a ride in her red sled going to get our Christmas tree, but sledding didn’t result in half as much excitement. You know what did? When she finally tried eating the snow halfway through our ten minute sledding excursion. She thought that was a great time! And Michael got such a kick out of pushing her down the tiny hill, even if she wasn’t so impressed.  maya-and-mike-sledding maya-sledding-china-village china-village-sledding Very excited Michael, very sceptical Maya.  maya-falling-sledding It’s like she knew that hill was too steep and she’d topple onto her head. Oops! Absolute parent fail. She was strapped into that sled with a little seatbelt and the snow was about a foot deep. My dad scooped her up and she just stared at him blankly. Ha!  china-village-sledding-2 Once we tried the new track, she wasn’t any more impressed.  maya-eating-snow-3 maya-trying-snow But eating the snow. That’s when things got really good. maya-eating-snow maya-eating-snow-2 If there ever was a Maya face, this would be it. Utter and sheer excitement while exclaiming ooh-ooh-ooh! usually followed by a very serious wow.  maya-sledding-maine maya-sledding-maine-2 By next year, she’ll be bombing down that hill and we’re going to have to construct a fence to keep her out of the road!

Merry, Merry!

December 24, 2016

merry-christmas-card-big

I have about 3 tabs open with Christmas cards that I can’t commit to. I accidentally sent all of Michael’s gifts (of which there weren’t very many since we’re minimalizing Christmas this year) to Houston and we are currently very much in Maine for the holidays. We are not on top of our holiday game.

But we are trying focus not on the minor to-do list fails and instead focus on the fact that we are with family, the snow is falling instead of forecast rain, and there’s a big cheese plate waiting for Christmas Eve dinner. Life is good, we are grateful, and we are holding onto the hope of the Saviour’s birth to carry us into the new (and in some ways scary) year.

Thank you for spending time with me here this year. May your holidays be merry and bright.

 

Oh, Christmas Tree

December 23, 2016

maya-sled A few weeks ago, I asked my parents if they would mind waiting to get their Christmas tree until we arrived from Houston. I really wanted to bring Maya, even though I know she probably won’t remember it, to cut down a Maine Christmas tree in the snow. They agreed (thanks, parents!) and my mom even found the cutest Christmas tree farm of all time and made my photo op dreams come true. And thank goodness the weather cooperated making it it tolerably cold (as opposed to the enforced hibernation cold we arrived to earlier in the week!) as well as bright and sunny. Winning all around!  sled-christmas-tree christmas-trees maya-grandparents-sled We tried a new tree farm in Norridgewock, Maine, a long half hour from our house. When we met my mom at my dad’s office that morning, she whipped out this amazing red sled that was perfect for the excursion. It even has a little seat belt so Maya would sit tight in there and get pulled around! She loved it, even if she was a little overdue for a nap and zoned out a little too.  maya-sled-4 maya-sled-3 I kept saying to Michael yesterday that I don’t think there’s been a cuter Maya day in a long time. Her tiny pink snowsuit and sparkly boots just kill me. Plus, the cold weather makes her extra snuggly. family-of-3-christmas-tree family-christmas-tree maya-grammy-4 My mom offered her snow to taste but she was having none of it and kept shaking her head back and forth. She knows what she doesn’t want, that’s for sure!  maya-grammy-3 maya-grammy-2 Maya loves her Grammy – and I love their matching pom pom hats!

Once we got home and napped and had dinner, we got to trimming the tree.  maya-fireplace Maya is obsessed with the nutcrackers on the mantel and their fuzzy beards. All she wants in the world is to pull that fluff off and rub it on her cheek. Her favorite ornament to pull off is one my sister made when she was in kindergarten that has grubby cotton balls on it – and there are definitely fewer cotton balls on the ornament 24 hours later.  maya-christmas-lights maya-christmas-decorations maya-christmas-decorations-2 Maya was also mostly on snack duty. Tree trimming makes a girl hungry!  maya-snacks-tree maya-christmas-star But then, after jim jams, we let her place the special tin foil star at the top. She somehow knew exactly what to do with it!

It was one of the best days and most relaxing days I’ve had in a long time!

Houston Holiday: Steel City Pops

December 14, 2016

steel-city-pops-christmas On Sunday we needed a reboot. We missed church, we were grumpy with each other (major understatement), it was humid and rainy, and it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. So we hopped in the car and headed for popsicles. If it had been dry we could have walked, the popsicles live so close to us – and since I learned that fact a few weeks ago I haven’t stopped pestering Michael for popsicle trips.  steel-city-pops michael-maya-popsicles-2 Not just any old popsicles, but fancy popsicles from Steel City Pops in their cheery little shop.  steel-city-pops-2 I ordered peppermint and at the last minute realized I could dip it in chocolate. Best decision ever. Just like a peppermint patty but in frozen form and not too sweet. You an also dredge, drizzle and dust which sounds way more fun. I’m opting for the works next time!  peppermint-popsicle create-pop Maya loved it, which isn’t so clear from her expression but she kept going back for more. I think the coldness confused her, which I found hilarious.  michael-maya-popsicles maya-first-popsicle maya-emily-popsicles In black and white photos it almost looks cold out there. In reality, it was 75 and humid and Maya definitely didn’t need to be wearing tights nor did I need to be wearing a sweater. (Which, thank you Carolyn for letting me borrow for so long 😉 maya-puddles The perfect little Houston holiday tradition. Thanks for being our neighbor, Steel City Pops!

Rain Installation at the Buffalo Bayou Cistern

December 14, 2016

buffalo-bayou-park-houston On Friday night last week, I zipped over to Buffalo Bayou Park to have a peek at the opening of Rain by Magdalena Fernandez at the Houston Cistern. I’ve been wanting to get to the Cistern since it opened a few months ago – a 90 year old water cistern discovered a few years ago and turned into a space for visitors. It has a 17 second echo!

While I waited for the tour to start, I had a good look at the Houston skyline. It’s one of the most beautiful and Michael is always telling me that it’s used in lots of movies for skyline scenes.  houston-skyline houston-skyline-buffalo-bayou The cistern is basically a big, open space with lots of columns. At the beginning of the tour, they warned us not to drop our lens caps or phones because they have to get park rangers to retrieve them! buffalo-bayou-cistern-2 buffalo-bayou-cistern And the installation itself was mostly dark, making photos a little hard to capture!  rain-magdalena-fernandez-houston rain-installation-magdalena-fernandez It kind of looks like a video game in photos, but in person it was more like slowly flashing lights. There was also a huge sound component, which of course sounded like rain and capitalized on the incredible echo in the space.

If you’re in Houston, it’s free on Thursdays and runs for another few months! After that the Cistern will be open as normal without the flashing lights and sound.

Happy Friday!

December 9, 2016

heights-christmas Happy Friday! It’s been a chilly week here in Houston, which means low 50’s, so really not too bad. We’ve still been able to go outside and to the playground, saving our sanity. We ended an era with Maya this week, saying cold turkey to her bottles once and for all. I think we’re technically about two months late to that game, but oh well. I packed them away on Tuesday night and she hasn’t even noticed. Next stop, removal of the pacifier. I’m really not looking forward to that one, but it’ll be better for her teeth in the long run!

In non-Maya news, I’m off an installation opening tonight to cover it for UrbanSwank, a Houston-based blog I write for occasionally. It’s called Rain: Magdalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern. I’ve been wanting to get to the Buffalo Bayou Cistern since it opened so this will be a great excuse. Tomorrow we’re going to brave the Lights in the Heights insanity – where they shut down streets in our neighborhood and people flock from all over to see the Christmas lights – I gave myself a preview drive through last night and it does indeed look lit up! And if it’s at all sunny this weekend we’re going to pop in to get some holiday popsicles. When in Rome, eh?!

Any fun plans for the weekend? Are you feeling festive yet?

A fake US embassy operating in Ghana for the past decade has been shut down

A super collection of Irish foodie gifts from Imen.

You can now send Christmas gifts directly to children in foster care via Amazon.

This Chinese man spends every weekend saving people from suicide on one of China’s deadliest bridges.

Ikea’s amazing paid parental leave.

A scant peek inside the Obamas’ private quarters in the White House.

I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Family Photos at Malahide Castle in the Cold

December 8, 2016

westy-family-malahide-castle When we were home, my friend Naomi offered to take a few family photos for us. I so wish Naomi had been around for more of Maya’s little life – these are some of the best photos we have as our family of three! You know a photographer has talent when she can pull great photos of all three people, including a squirmy and sick one-year-old out of 10 minutes in the freezing cold! We should have bundled ourselves better. Why did I wear Converse with no socks, I have no idea! My toes were freezing!  westy-family-malahide-castle-6 westy-family-malahide-castle-7 We landed on Malahide Castle to take a few photos because it’s pretty close to Michael’s parents’ house and we needed to be able to zip in and zip out and get back to the cosy fire in their living room! But it’s a great spot for photos if you’re in Ireland and need a good backdrop. It’s free, parking is easy, and it offers a range of ‘looks’, if you will. Castle, rolling hills, even nice woodsy areas when the leaves are still out – and there’s a giant playground with a zipline if you need a reward! And as you’ll notice in these, even in late November the grass was still bright green – and stays that way through the winter. Finally, if you stand in front of the castle (as though you live there ;), it’s west-facing so you’ll get nice light in the afternoon as the sun sets. Which is so darn early in the winter!  westy-family-malahide-castle-2

westy-family-malahide-castle-4 maya-malahide-castle maya-and-dad maya-and-mom-3 Her ‘let me do it myself’ face. I should have yanked her jacket down a little in the front. It is the cutest (and a generous hand-me-down from a friend!) but her big baby belly made it ride up a little. And the hoodie she was wearing underneath plus her giant hat made it a little bulky!  maya-and-mom-4 maya-malahide-castle-2 And two bloopers for your enjoyment: maya-and-mom-2 Maya makes an oooh noise whenever she sees something interesting. Or when she hears a hairdryer. Or a vacuum cleaner. Or a leaf blower. Ha!  maya-and-mom And clearly we were both very enthralled with whatever was going on across the way. Probably a very impressive woo-woo (woof-woof for puppy ;).  maya-and-mom-5 My happy girl. Love that toothy grin and loved introducing her to our other home.

Well and Truly Irish – I’m an Irish Citizen!

December 6, 2016

convention-center I applied for my citizenship last summer and finally got to receive my naturalization certificate when we were in Ireland last week!

We had originally planned to go to Ireland for Christmas this year, but barely 24 hours after we booked our flights, we found out that I would have to attend my citizenship ceremony over Thanksgiving. Luckily, Michael had the week of Thanksgiving off from school, and even luckier we were able to change our flights without penalty because we found out in time! (Thanks, Michael, for being so on top of these things!)

When Michael and his parents were naturalized (his other siblings were born in Ireland), there wasn’t a ceremony at all. They just showed up to the courthouse and there wasn’t much fanfare. The ceremony last week was quite the opposite! There were probably 500 people accompanied by 500 or more guests who filled the Dublin Convention Centre, people of all different colors and nationalities. And it was just the first of two ceremonies that day. citiznship-ceremony-queue Hehe, the lady giving us a very suspicious look in the background!

We all lined up outside the Convention Centre in the freezing cold before we were let in to find our registration desk – there were 25 registration desks! The whole process was seamless though. Queue up, zip in, collect naturalization papers and sign for them, then up the escalators into the convention hall for the ceremony.  citizenship-ceremony-queue-2 citizenship-ceremony-queue-3 emily-naturalisation Michael, Maya and I were separated for the ceremony; I got to sit with all the other people getting their citizenship as well, and the two of them were up above us in the balcony with the guests. The Garda band played (a very odd selection of American tunes like YMCA, Michael Buble and something by Johnny Cash) while we waited for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, to arrive. img_2078 I have to be honest, I’d never even heard of a Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, so I was thinking his remarks might be a little dull. But he was brilliant! He spoke wonderfully about inclusion and diversity and the endless opportunities afforded to all citizens of Ireland, whether born or naturalized. He remarked that he was just speaking on behalf of people who had been in Ireland just a little longer – that naturalized citizens aren’t second class citizens at all. em-and-maya-bridge maya-before-citizenship-ceremony Prior to the ceremony I was excited, of course, but I didn’t anticipate feeling so much emotion about getting my citizenship. The Minister’s remarks were very moving and so welcoming. It was such a stark contrast to what has been going on in America these last eighteen months that I felt unexpected relief for myself and for Maya and Michael, that we have a safe place to be no matter what happens come January. Before the ceremony I was thinking that maybe it would be quite moving for people coming from war torn countries to get their citizenship, and probably still it was. But it was actually very moving for me as an American to feel so openly welcomed after the election in November, and very therapeutic. Michael and I both got teary listening to the minister’s remarks and thinking about what it means for our family’s future when we return from Houston permanently.

Once it was all over, we were retrieving Maya’s stroller from the lobby and Michael spotted the RTE television crew. He said something like, “Hey, let’s go get on the news!” To which I think I said, “I don’t think it quite works like that.” But sure enough, it kind of did! Ha! As we walked by they asked if we would be willing to say a few words, so we did. And we made the national news! It was such a fun bonus to go home and watch the 6pm news to see if we’d made the coverage!  em-and-maya-news maya-news Maya was definitely the star, although I was a little bummed you couldn’t see the shamrock on her sweater! (And thank you to our dear friend Dee for the perfect addition to her outfit for the occasion!)

After all the excitement, we hopped in the car to go grab some celebratory lunch. Maya promptly fell fast asleep so we had a peaceful pub lunch in a cute little place called The Old Spot – new to us and found in a flash by my handsome (albeit bearded) husband. We’d both highly recommend it – especially at Christmastime. It was ultra cosy and delicious. Nothing better than pub food on a chilly day!  pub-food-after-ceremony img_2088 And Maya woke up just in time for a cucumber 😉 . Bummer she missed the good stuff!

For those curious, we are fairly certain Maya will qualify for Irish citizenship because we are both (!) citizens, but we’ll deal with that process fully when we return.