Our Biggest News Yet: Welcome Maya Catharine!

November 25, 2015


Well, friends, it happened. It really and truly happened. We’d like to introduce you (kind of, and I’ll explain that below) to our daughter, Maya Catharine Westbrooks.

On October 6th, I closed my eyes and clicked publish on a post about beginning our adoption journey here in Houston. I was finally able to explain to you all why we hadn’t made it back to Dublin yet after our summer travels and I went to sleep that night feeling that a weight had been lifted after the beans had been spilled. The response from you all to that post was so encouraging and heartwarming. Michael and I could actually feel the weight of all of your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes from around the world. They felt strong and powerful.

The next morning, not twelve hours after I published that post, we got that magical phone call from Kim, who runs our adoption agency. It’s known in the agency that Kim will always start these phone calls by saying, “We have a situation.” I had actually received two phone calls like that in the previous two weeks, about situation with children who just weren’t meant to be ours, for various reasons. But this phone call was different. I’m not even sure Kim said there was a situation. I think she might have said “There’s a baby.”

Our baby.

I knew it, I knew in my bones that she was ours from that very minute. And she was. And she is.

I barely held it together on the phone as Kim explained that the baby girl was in the NICU and she needed a family. She had been born three days earlier by C-section to a mom who wasn’t equipped to keep her. Her birth mom had already signed her over to our agency and left the hospital.

As soon as I got off the phone with Kim, she texted me a photo of the sweetest little bitty baby girl with one of those hospital issue hats with a bow. She was fast asleep, bundled up to her chin and had the sweetest turned up nose. I hope I never forget the moment I got to see my daughter’s face for the first time, it was wonderful.

Of course, Michael has been in school when I’ve gotten these phone calls, and usually I wait patiently until he’s free so I can talk to him. This time, I didn’t wait. I drove the ten blocks to his school and texted him from the parking lot that he had to come outside right away. I certainly wasn’t about to text him that we had a daughter. It was too important. Michael believed that teaching the class he was in the middle of was also quite important, so he wouldn’t come outside. Honestly, if he had left his class, his students might have burned the building down. They’re a little unruly, so I do see his point. But at the time, I was not happy. So I went to the gym and counted the minutes until 12:08pm when he could come out for his lunch break.

And at 12:08, I was reminded that Michael is the worst for those moments when you want someone to jump up and down and cry and have a big old show of emotion. He just doesn’t work that way, especially when he’s in school mode. So, I left him to process the news (and, poor thing, go back to work!) and headed home to shower and get dressed. Oddly, choosing what to wear to meet my daughter felt really important! I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze, wandering aimlessly around Target trying to figure out what we should bring her in the hospital. I settled on a few swaddle blankets and little outfits, and then dazed myself home to put wash and dry and fold and re-fold, marveling at the teeny tiny size of those little clothes.

It was possibly the longest afternoon of my life, waiting until Michael was out of work so we could meet her. When we arrived at the hospital, our friend Debs was already there and had gotten our nametags all set and was waiting in the room to take a video of the moment we met our little girl. I’m so grateful (on about a million levels) for the support Debs has given us for years leading up to this moment, and I’ll be eternally grateful that she captured those first moments with Maya. Without that video, I’m not sure either of us would have believed it really happened when we got home that night! It was just too surreal!

We had loved the name Maya for a long time, and after holding our Maya for a little while we decided that she did indeed look just like a Maya! Her middle name is Catharine, named for my maternal grandmother, who is fiesty and strong-willed, smart and industrious. All qualities we want Maya to have as well. My grandmother is also quite small, and we think Maya might end up on the diminutive side. We don’t think she got the Westbrooks height!


I’ll take a break here to let you know that at some point, I’ll be able to share that video and lots of photos of Maya. But for now, we aren’t able to share her image on social media or online. We will have Maya in our home for six months, and then we will get a court date for the final adoption. At that point, we’ll get a new birth certificate with our names and hers on it. While both Maya’s birth parents have signed her over to our agency, this is a rule they have for this interim period and we’re making sure to follow every rule to the letter so that we don’t jeopardize anything.


Now back to the good stuff.

We spent a few hours in the hospital that first night holding Maya and staring at her, and then trying to reach as many family members as possible, both in Maine and in Ireland, to tell them the news. It took us a few days before our immediate family members were all in the loop. Those were very, very fun phone calls and Facetimes to make. I wish we had those recorded as well.

Maya was in the NICU because she was born with cocaine in her system. Her birth mother admitted to using crack and drinking alcohol while she was pregnant, and she had no prenatal care during her pregnancy. Maya had some withdrawal symptoms, mostly extreme irritability, during her first few days. My heart breaks that we weren’t with her for those first hard days. But miraculously, Maya is developing perfectly normally. She improved quickly in the NICU and was released a few days after we met her. I was with her during the days in the NICU and the nurses were so kind. They called us mommy and daddy from the moment we walked into her room. They told us they had prayed for a family for her in her first hard days. They said she cried until we came.

Maya is now just over seven weeks old and chunking up beautifully. She was born with a full head of black hair and it’s growing fast, as are her cheeks! She no longer fits into her newborn clothes, which is quite sad, but also feels like such an accomplishment for us all. She has started cooing and smiling, and this week she discovered she likes to poke her tongue out at everything and give it a lick.


For the last few years, since we decided on adoption, I’ve dreamed about that moment. Whenever I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d let myself picture what it would be like to get a phone call telling us we had a baby. Or going to the hospital and meeting her for the first time. The odds of that dream coming true, almost exactly how I pictured it for so long, were very slim. Our agency deals primarily in foster-to-adopt situations with rescue babies and children. Newborns are rare. Newborns that are headed straight to adoption are even more rare. We were prepared for much more complicated situations with birth families and babies coming from very traumatic situations of neglect, homelessness or abuse.

But after years of heartache in wanting to start our family, we got the dream. Finally, after a giant leap of faith and a whole lot of work to set up everything in Houston, this part was just easy.

A few weeks before Maya joined our family, my friend Joi sent me the most beautiful email and reminded me to listen to a song that had been impacting her lately. Little did she know I had been listening to it on repeat for weeks. It has turned into my little Maya song, and I can’t help but cry when I hear it. This is my favourite verse:

From my mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into your family
Your blood flows through my veins

I change all the pronouns so they make sense for us, but the funny thing is that I feel so strongly that her blood runs through my veins. Michael said to me recently that he felt like we gave birth to her. “She’s never belonged to anyone else,” he said.

There isn’t a word big enough to describe that gift. She is all our Christmases in one tiny little package.

Maya was chosen for us from the moment she was conceived, which, not coincidentally, was exactly the time we made the decision to move to Houston this summer. And over those nine months, God protected her from the trauma of drugs and alcohol while she was being carried by her birth mother. And He split the sea so we could walk into that hospital and hold her in our arms.


In our adoption classes, we learned a ton of useful information. Two things stuck with me, repeating in my head every so often. There is no adoption without great loss. Before we even got to hold Maya in our arms, she had experienced the greatest loss of her life, a loss greater than most of us experience during our whole lives. Giving her up so she could be with our family was also an enormous loss for her birth mother and father. We will forever pray for them that their lives become stable, that they know they are loved and worthy, and that they know our family’s love for them. We will be forever grateful for the sacrifice they have made.

The second thing is what Kim, who runs our agency, calls the “But God” Factor. Maya had no prenatal care and is 100% healthy. For us, there is no explanation for that except “But God.” That the social workers called our agency, when they so rarely do, is so unlikely. But God. That Kim felt called to choose us, that our paperwork was finished so early, that I hadn’t gone to Ireland that week like I had originally planned. But God.

A few months ago, we heard a sermon somewhere (we were in a lot of churches this summer over our travels!) and the pastor was encouraging the church to consider asking God for God-sized things. It was a turning point for me. I stopped praying around the edges of a new member of our family, and began praying directly for that big, God-sized thing.

On the morning we got the call about Maya, about an hour before the phone rang, I was making the bed. I was tucking the sheets in on Michael’s side of the bed when I felt the strongest words in my soul. It’s here. I had no idea that meant like really, right now, today here. I simply thought it was a perfect reassurance that God had chosen a child for us and it was already here, somewhere out there, waiting to be united with us in the coming months.

Little did I know she would be in our arms that evening, part of our family forever.

We can’t wait to share more about her, and more about our experience soon. In the meantime, bear with me as I juggle life as a mom of a nearly-two-month old! Posting will be light, but I hope it will become more regular in the coming weeks.

Our little family of three, pretty much bursting with gratitude at the moment, wishes you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving day tomorrow.

The Prettiest Trash Can Giveaway! Orla Kiely for Brabantia Bins

October 26, 2015

orla-kiely-bin Legendary Irish designer Orla Kiely has teamed up with legendary bin maker Brabantia to create the prettiest trash cans you ever did see! And I get to give one to one lucky reader!

Even if you’re not in Ireland, I’m sure you’ve seen Orla Kiely’s prolific leaf print all over the world, on bags and clothing and furniture – she even had a line at Target!  orla-kiely-bin-4

Today, I get to give away one of her pretty trash cans to one of my readers.

To enter, comment below and tell me your least favourite chore (mine was always taking out the brown compost bin in Dublin, but here in Houston we have a disposal in the sink! It’s way less yucky!). I’ll announce the winner on Friday and they’ll be contacted by email to give their address so the pretty Orla Kiely bin can be delivered to their door!

Good luck and happy Monday!

Happy Weekend!

October 24, 2015

junk-store-houston Happy weekend, everyone! We’re holed up in the house while it pours down buckets of rain here in Houston. The strangest thing is that it’s still about 82 degrees outside! Not like Irish rain, that’s for sure!

We have some pumpkin-carving plans tomorrow after church, but otherwise we’re relaxing and waiting for the rain to pass. What are you up to this weekend? Any autumn plans? There was a little pumpkin festival at a church in our neighborhood, but it was too soggy for us to go over.

Just a few interesting things from around the internets for your enjoyment, in case it’s pouring buckets where you are, too!

Nuit Blanche Paris 2015 looked really fun.

The beautiful Cooper Lounge at Union Station.

Pep-talk poems for a rainy day.

China will apparently try anything seen on the internet. Tiny mushroom headwear!

Oslo is banning cars. This would be interesting in Dublin!

Sweet potato and coconut milk soup with lentils.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!


Texas Exploring / The Rodeo!

October 23, 2015

horse-rodeo-texas-san-jacinto A few weeks ago, when my brother was here, we went all out Texas with our first visitor. We went to a big high school football game, the Battleship Texas, ate a whole lotta barbecue and tacos, and then we topped it off with a trip to the rodeo. texas-county-fair And this wasn’t any glitzy, fancy rodeo like you get in downtown Houston, this was rural county rodeo at the San Jacinto County Fair, north of the city by about an hour. And it was awesome. We were very close to the action, sitting on wooden bleachers with all the locals instead of up in the nosebleed seats in a giant stadium.

We didn’t spend much time at the fair part because I’m totally allergic to rides, but I did love watching the whole scene.  san-jacinto-county-fair-2 san-jacinto-rodeo-1 san-jacinto-county-fair san-jacinto-county-fair-3 And then we went over to the rodeo! san-jacinto-rodeo I had no idea that a rodeo involved so many different events with so many different animals! And there were even events for kids to participate in, like seeing how long they can hold onto a sheep! That was pretty hilarious. san-jacinto-rodeo-fair I had mixed feelings about the calf-tying event. It just seemed a bit cruel since they’re only baby cows! But We really liked the barrel run, they get those horses going so fast! I don’t have a whole lot of action shots, mostly because it was dark and everything was turning out very blurry. My photography skills have limits, that’s for sure! rodeo-watching Sometimes I’m still surprised that we live in a place where people wear cowboy hats.  rodeo-spectators michael-rodeo-texas cowboy-rodeo-texas Between rounds of the barrel race, there was a guy who came around in a tractor to smooth out the dirt, just like a zamboni at a hockey game!  cowboy-horse-texas-rodeo horse-rodeo-texas cowboy-hat-texas champion-rodeo-texas I haven’t yet been to one of the glitzy, big-production rodeos like they have in downtown Houston sometimes, but if you’re ever in San Jacinto County when they’re having their rodeo, I’d recommend the small town version!

Thank You

October 20, 2015


Just thank you. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement from all the ends of the globe on my last post. I clicked “publish” after writing about our adoption journey and thought, uh-oh. Did I really mean to do that? But I woke up the next morning to the kindest comments and emails, some from people who have never commented before.

Michael and I feel your thoughts and prayers and well wishes. We do. We feel like we have an army of support behind us, lifting us up.

I will be so excited to share the next parts of our adoption process with you. I thought I might share about what you need to get sorted first and fastest. Look for that post next week, perhaps!

A Patio (Barely) DIY and a Few Spilled Beans

October 7, 2015

diy-patio-set-seats Welcome back from the longest blogging break I’ve ever accidentally taken! Whoops!

After months of strictly enforced vagueness about our plans and what’s going on behind the blog, today I’m ready to spill some of it.

If you were here with me, we’d have a seat on our new little patio set that I’ve just spruced with some new cushion fabric, and I’d set about explaining. I’d explain that we’re in Texas (although you’d likely already know that because we’d be sweating), and I’d explain that we’ll be here for a while. We’re not sure how long, but we’ll be here long enough that this little patio set is sitting outside our apartment. Our Houston apartment.

And the reason we don’t know how long we’ll be here is that we’re hoping and praying and planning to adopt a baby. diy-patio-set In person, when I spill those particular beans, I somewhat sheepishly rush through that big, fat sentence at the end. I think because it’s a sentence I’ve said in my head for years before uttering it aloud to anyone other than Michael. It still sounds a little surreal to say the words. It feels surreal to be here, spending my afternoons avoiding the Texas heat, filling out adoption paperwork.

Why Houston, you might ask if we were hanging out on our little patio? Well, to adopt, we couldn’t stay in Ireland. This heartbreaking article in the Irish Times explains in more detail why that is, but it essentially boils down to a shortage of adoptable babies, a years-long application process before you can begin your search, and the insurmountable cost of foreign adoption from Ireland.

We have known for a long time that there are babies who need families here in Houston. Michael’s godson was one of those babies ten years ago (this is a video about his adoption story, I cry every time I watch it), and our dear friends here have told us stories of many more since then. When Michael and I got married, we knew adoption would be part of our plan, and we envisioned it would happen at the end of our children, adopting a bonus baby to round out our family. Instead, it will be our beginning. diy-patio-set-metal We’re working with an agency here, and the couple who run it have known Michael for many years. We trust them completely, and we trust that God has a baby for us. I know in my heart that he or she has been chosen already, and that that baby will be so loved.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever share this part of our journey online. In my head, I really only pictured writing a post that introduced our new baby once we had our birth certificate in our hands on adoption day. I’ve written that post in my head at least once a week for a year. But this story isn’t only mine to tell, and while Michael is grudgingly agreeable when I ask him to model something for a blog post, he is otherwise quite private and I have wanted to honor that.

A few days ago, I mentioned to Michael that I was having a hard time with my blog, and he suggested that maybe it was time to start sharing part of this journey. I’m grateful. I’ve never been the type of blogger to share all the nitty gritty details of my life, but this is one big detail that is dictating every move we make at the moment. It has been a hard to speak so vaguely about it all. diy-patio-sets-lime My days here in our Houston Heights neighborhood have been split between working on freelance projects and working on our adoption paperwork. Michael has started a job teaching in a local charter high school. We adore our neighborhood and our apartment is becoming more and more cosy by the day. We’ll be finished with our paperwork later this month and then we wait for the phone to ring, with the news of a baby who will join our family. And I probably won’t stop crying for a month.

Since the start of FCV more than five years ago, Dublin has been so much of my identity and a huge part of what I write about and share with you all. For now, that will change. I worried that you all would expect stories from my life in Dublin and that you would be disappointed by this change. But I was reminded recently that this has always been a space for me to share my life and my adventures. This isn’t Dublin (oh, man, this so isn’t Dublin), but it’s our biggest adventure yet. I hope you’ll come with me as I share it with you.


As an addendum, our patio set. I found it on Craig’s list (thank goodness for Craig, our apartment would be empty without you!) for $30 and ordered $8 of indoor/outdoor fabric from Amazon to cover the seats and had a piece of glass cut to fit the tabletop. The DIY instructions go like this: cut fabric, staple gun to the bottom of the seat. Place glass on top. The end. It’s still too hot in Houston to really sit there for very long, but those days are coming and before you know it, I’ll be sitting there with a cup of coffee and a baby in my arms.

Texas Exploring / Battleship Texas

September 30, 2015

battleship-texas-houston So, turns out there’s a big ol’ battleship just south of Houston. And it’s so cool!

Michael and I spotted a sign for Battleship Texas when we were coming back from the beach a few weeks ago, so when my brother was in town we took a little adventure south for the morning. battleship-texas battleship-texas-3 We spent just over an hour there, but easily could have wandered for longer (except it was very hot!). You can climb up the ladders and down into the decks below, and there are a lot of little areas that are preserved from when the ship was decommissioned in 1948. You can see where the officers ate, and where all the food was prepared. You can see where the sailors slept (hanging four cots tall in the hallways) and how tiny the brig was. It was fascinating.  charlie-battleship-texas Charlie’s a huge history buff, so he knew much more about the battleship and the Battle of San Jacinto, for which there’s a monument across the water.  battleship-texas-san-jacinto-monument reflection-battleship-texas Both my grandfathers served in the navy in World War II, so Charlie and I were thinking a lot about their experience while we were there. Although I called my grandpa today and he said the ship he was on was much smaller, maybe a quarter the size of the battleship, but it was still interesting to think about what their experience was like when they were even younger than Charlie.  mops-battleship-texas ropes-battleship-texas I loved all the details, and the beautiful blue colour. Can you even believe how much paint you’d need every year just to keep her covered?!  uss-texas-deck rope-knots-battleship-texas battleship-texas-2 The guns swivel, by the way, which Charlie found pretty fun. Some of the Battleship Texas’s missiles could travel for twelve miles. So hard to even comprehend how that could even be possible. battleship-texas-deck-water The Battleship Texas would be a great day trip adventure from Houston, and we paired it with a quick pitstop at the beach and some homemade breakfast sandwiches which was a pretty winning combination.

Battleship Texas / San Jacinto Battleground State Park / LaPorte, Texas 

Texas Exploring / Friday Night Lights

September 26, 2015

friday-night-lights-texas-football Michael and I spent the evening with our siblings (my brother and his sister) watching our friends’ kids’ school football game. (Complicated much?) We literally (and I don’t use that word lightly) couldn’t pick our jaws up off the floor for the whole game. None of us had been to such an enormous production!

There were around around 7,000 people there for the Klein Oak vs. Klein Collins district football game. You can see from the photo above, the football team itself was so many kids! Then there were strutters (still unclear what they were all about) and their dads dancing, the 200-strong marching band, some interpretive dancers, a rifle team (also unclear), and countless support staff making it run smoothly for live television! A serious, serious production. houston-high-school-football None of these photos are spectacular, but I want to remember the absolute spectacle of this football game for years to come. I’ve never seen anything like it! The marching band had fifteen xylophones, for crying out loud!  football-game-entertainment-texas high-school-marching-band-texas dancers-high-school-football-texas The strutters (dancers, maybe?) performed a hilarious 80’s dance with their dads. Can you see some of those (blurry) leaping splits in that photo above?! Those weren’t the dads, but the dads were working it, too! We had such a laugh watching them all put in maximum effort for their performance.  klein-oak-klein-collins-football-texas There was some football played, of course, in addition to all the other entertainment, although when we left in the third quarter our team, the Klein Oak Panthers, were getting creamed. Better luck next time, guys!  texas-high-school-football-half-time That stand on the right is where that whole band came from! Almost every seat in the stadium was full.  texas-high-school-football klein-oak-high-school-football At one point, they blew up these giant creatures for the teams to run out of to come on for the second half, led by waving flags. It was insane!

If you’re ever in Texas during football season, find the most important game you can and park it in the stands. The Klein school district north of Houston has serious entertainment value, even if you don’t know much about football!


September 24, 2015

moroccan-poufs-blush Only in writing the word poufs did I realize exactly how strange a word it is. There’s nothing terribly pouf-y, in the onomatopoeic sense, about the cushion-ottoman hybrids, but the name has stuck.

All that to say, I recently came across these gorgeous Barcelonian poufs through sfgirlbybay’s home tour. They’re from a shop called MuiMa in Spain and they’d add an extra cosy vibe to any lounging situation.

Also? I think blush is having a moment in interiors right now. In case you were wondering my thoughts on the matter.  crocheted-poufs

Hoping one of these will be under our feet one day!

MuiMa / muima.bigcartel.com / Barcelona, Spain 

Texas Exploring / Rice University and the Chase Tower

September 23, 2015

rice-university-houston-texas My little brother flew in to Houston late last night so we spent the gloriously sunny (also very hot and humid) day exploring together. We started with a stroll through Rice University, which is such a beautiful campus. My dad took a few graduate classes here when he was trying to figure out what to be after college, and our close friends got engaged here! The architecture is incredible and the trees are enormous.  rice-university-patio rice-university-architecture-2 Charlie, my brother, pointed out that when we were all in college we never fully appreciated what a treat it was to live in such a perfectly manicured place. It’s so true! And also, we never fully appreciated how often we could take naps. We overheard some students talking about how their “undergrad was so hard.” Oh man, I think you’re in for a shock when it comes to real life then buddy! College was dreamy, although I’m not sure I realized that until at least my senior year.  granite-sculpture-rice-university These granite sculptures were enormous. There wasn’t a plaque we could find to learn about them, but we really wanted to know how they got them there! Imagine seeing a slab of granite coming down the highway!  rice-cafe-patio architecture-rice-university rice-university-architecture rice-river-rock-pool This rock pool was so inviting. I might have dipped my fingers in for a few seconds.  trees-rice-university archway-rice-university Trees and archways and brick and towers. It was the perfect spot to stroll and catch up.

When we left Rice, we headed across town to Ray’s BBQ Shack for lunch. No photos but it was beyond delicious and the people were all so friendly. I ordered the sliced beef sandwich and Charlie had the beef tips sandwich with potato salad. We even brought back some of Michael’s favourite as a little surprise – banana pudding! Can’t get that in Ireland, that’s for sure!

Fully stuffed, we headed over to the Chase Tower to see if we could check out the view.  chase-tower-houston-texas art-sculpture-houston charlie-chase-tower-2 And did we ever?!  houston-view-chase-tower-1 Of course, we lucked out with the most perfect weather day possible. Not a cloud in the sky!

The Chase Tower is a 75-story office building, but you can walk into the lobby and take the Sky Elevator to the 60th floor lookout deck. The elevators open right onto this view and a whole wall of windows.  chase-tower-houston houston-view-chase-tower Oh, those freeways. I’ve never seen so much concrete in one place. This girl from teeny tiny China Village has gotten awfully brave on the six-lane highways! And I only get lost 60% of the time!  charlie-chase-tower-houston It’s so nice having my little brother in town. He’s even trying to teach me how to play Snapchat! He’s @09cboyle and he documented most of our day exploring Houston today if you want to follow along!

Chase Tower / 700 Travis / Houston, TX