Exploring Houston / Downtown Art Blocks

April 8, 2016

reflecting-pool-houston Maya and I zipped downtown this morning between naps to snap a few photos of the city’s new art installations, Art Blocks.  trumpet-flower Patrick Renner’s Trumpet Flower is made up of a whole lotta wooden slats painted by the people of Houston at a painting party earlier this spring. I think they used the extras for another sculpture along Heights Boulevard as well. It looked like they were doing some work on the structure’s base, but normally you’re supposed to be able to sit under it on benches. art-blocks-houston-main-street-square art-blocks-houston-texas main-street-square-houston Jessica Stockholder’s Color Jam covers a whole corner in paint – even the trash cans and the painters!  houston-art-blocks-2 Maya and I had a fun little half hour walking around among all the people in suits. The Art Blocks certainly add extra color to the area!  main-street-square-art-blocks houston-art-blocks It’s been fun to get my camera out again!

Art Blocks / Main Street Square / Houston, Texas

A Day in the Life Around Here

April 7, 2016

family-of-three-6-months An outtake from photos my sister-in-law Leah took of us on Easter. Gosh, I love that little bald spot! 

I’ve read a few “daily schedule” posts this week and always find them fascinating (this one is much funnier than mine, but then again, she has 5 kids under 5 and you’d have to somehow make that funny!). It’s interesting to get a glimpse behind closed doors to learn what people really do all day long. And I want to be able to look back and remember what days with six month old Maya were like, because I know how fast I can forget the everyday things. Neither Michael nor I can remember what it was like to have a one month old, or even a two month old. It’s like really strange amnesia!

So, a day like today, perhaps.

7:15am 

Maya wakes with chats and giggles. It’s gone from squawks to ba-ba-ba in the last few weeks. The last few days she’s been debuting a new dinosaur roar like a little quiet growl. It’s hilarious. We leave Maya to chat to herself for 15 minutes while we hit the snooze and have one more snuggle in the dark. One thing about Houston is that the sun doesn’t rise until way later than we’re used to by this time of year. It’s still dark at 7, making it really hard to motivate, even for this morning person.

7:30am 

Michael goes to get Maya from her cot, which is something we both love the chance to do (mostly, depending how much sleep was had the night before!). When she sees the person who’s going to free her, she gives her biggest smile that takes up her whole face. Michael changes her diaper, makes her a bottle and then delivers bottle, baby and burp cloth to me in bed. It’s probably the most luxury I enjoy all day!

8:00am 

Michael leaves for school and Maya’s fed and gotten a few wiggles out in our bed. She and I get up and get the day going. I get her changed out of pjs first and lay her down on a blanket in the living room (slash dining room slash kitchen) while I put the house back together. Michael always manages to make more mess after I go to bed, go figure. I put away the remnants of his late night snacks and unload the dishwasher. I do whatever dishes are in the sink and wipe down the counters. I make the bed and put on work out gear (just until lunchtime, most days).

Maya usually manages about 90 minutes of awake time, so we sit on the floor and play. She’s just mastered rolling from her back to her belly, so she wiggles around until she gets frustrated that she can’t get too far. She’s working on sitting, so she’ll sit in the bumbo seat and bash at the toys on the tray. Sometimes we sit on the couch and she tries to sneakily grab big handfuls of my hair and yank them. She giggles when she meets resistance and I yelp with pain. If she’s not grabbing my hair or my chin, she’s grabbing at my neck with tiny lethal pinches. She likes to get right up close to my face and look right at me, especially if I’m looking away. It’s hilarious to turn around to her face two inches from yours, staring intently.

9:00am

She’s starting to get grumpy, so I swaddle her and put her down for her first nap. I pull the string on the musical bunny (thanks for that one, Grammy!) and shut the door. Sometimes she chats to herself for ten or fifteen minutes, but sometimes she’s quiet straight away. We worked hard on nap training, so I always count her falling asleep as a major victory. I make myself two eggs, scrambled, with a wedge of cream cheese (I’m aware that it’s odd) and reheat coffee from the French press that Michael made before work. I sit at the dining table to eat breakfast and then answer emails and work on articles or blog posts for the two-ish hours she’s asleep.

11:00am

I can hear Maya waking up so I go free her from her swaddle. She’s wiggled herself sideways so she can kick the side of the bassinet. I always wonder how long she’s been awake in there before letting me know. She’s oddly content in the dark by herself sometimes. I change her, then feed and burp her straight away and she slowly waves her tiny little hands in the air while she eats. It’s like her interpretive dance, swishing them around in circles and running her fingers over the ridges on the bottle. She’s very deliberate and extremely tactile.

We usually try to Skype or Facetime with a grandparent when she’s up again. They love seeing her as a little bonus during their work days. We try to make her perform her latest tricks and it rarely works. She definitely recognizes her grandparents and likes watching them while we catch up.

Sometimes we’ll try a snack now that she’s starting solids. Today I made an extra scrambled egg and let her gum on a few chunks. I’m not convinced she’s getting much down the hatch, but my sister-in-law reminds me that “food before one is fun” so I count it all as exploration. So far, we’ve tried oatmeal, Greek yogurt, banana (too slippery to grab really), corn on the cob, sweet potato and red pepper.

12:15pm

Michael comes home from work on his lunch break. He grabs leftovers from the fridge while we chat about his morning. Then he takes over from me when he’s finished eating so I can go to the gym or go for a run. Another luxurious perk of my day!

1:00pm 

I come home and Michael’s already put Maya down for her second nap. I shower and put on real clothes for the rest of the day. I pick up the trail of toys again and put away whatever Michael took out for lunch before finishing up whatever I was working on online. For her second nap, Maya sleeps for 45 minutes then usually wakes up. We give her the pacifier and she’ll knock out for another 45 minutes to an hour. It’s not perfect, but she’s fairly easy to figure. If she wakes up whining, she’s still tired. If she wakes up talking to herself, we’re good to go.

I make myself a smoothie with bananas, strawberries, spinach and Greek yogurt and eat it with a few spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter for lunch. My favorite combo! But did you know how hard it is to find peanut butter without added sugar in this country? Took a while. In Dublin, I used to make almond butter but here I don’t have a food processor and almonds seem more expensive. Such is the season we’re in, folks.

2:00pm 

I hear Maya chatting so I go free her from her swaddle again. She has another diaper change and another bottle before we head out the door to run errands or go for a walk. She’s a trooper in the car seat and loves watching what’s going on around her but she always gets so sweaty! And that’s only going to get worse as it gets hotter in Houston!

Errands get a 90 minute window, sometimes two hours before Maya will fall asleep in the car seat and mostly ruin her last nap, because there’s no way she’s staying asleep once I bring her in the house.

3:30pm 

Naptime again for one sleepy lady. Sensing a theme? Ha! We recently weaned her from four naps down to three but it’s still a little bit of a stretch to keep her awake between those. I try to remind myself that some babies need more sleep than others, but we do really try to maximise her awake time with action and play because she sure sleeps a lot still!

While she naps, I work more on my computer, put away the car seat and stroller, and think about getting dinner ready. It’s nearly always some version of meat and vegetables, and I rarely know what it’s going to be until a half hour before I start making it. I try to make it interesting with a few new recipes each week, but we are fairly boring clean eaters during the week (but more than make up for it at the weekends). Last night it was grilled chicken (Michael’s purview) with onions, zucchini, asparagus and thin spaghetti and vinaigrette. The night before that I made Camille Styles’ sweet potato and black bean chilli which was super fast and yummy. Definitely a make-again recipe. Tonight, we had a very bizarre combo of chickpea, kidney bean, corn and green chili salad and a chicken dish I made up as I was making it. Sometimes I even impress myself. Michael always reminds me that I learned all my made up dish ability from my mom. She even coined her own term for it – wung food – what you come up with when you wing it! Ha!

4:15pm 

Maya wakes crying so I pop the pacifier in and hope she knocks out for another half hour. Go back to looking up recipes for non-boring vegetable recipes on Pinterest.

4:45pm 

Maya’s up again so I get her out, change her and give her another bottle. I remind myself once again to order the Level 3 nipples for her bottles because she gets fed up halfway through. There’s exploring to be done, enough laying around, mom! We struggle through the end of the bottle and play for a little while on the floor before Michael comes home. He goes to the gym after school so he’s usually home by 5:15. We load Maya into the stroller and head out for a walk around the neighborhood if the weather is nice enough and not too hot. We stroll and chat for 45 minutes and it’s one of my favorite parts of our routine.

6:00pm 

We get home in time for another snack for Maya. If we feed her anything with a spoon, like mashed avocado or sweet potato, she insists on holding the spoon with you and shoving it into her mouth. At which point, her little tongue pokes whatever is on the spoon farther from her mouth. It’s not efficient and usually results in her needing a bath directly after. The mess of feeding babies isn’t my strong suit but I’m trying to let it go. She eats sitting in her Bumbo since she can’t sit upright enough in her booster seat yet, so I hose that down in the sink while Michael runs her a bath.

6:45pm 

Bedtime follow bathtime. Pajamas, another bottle (usually the most quickly gulped ounces of the day), then she’s into her swaddle again for bed. We put her in the cot (she’s been sleeping there at night since the first week we brought her home, thank goodness), explain that it’s bedtime and that means time to pray with her. We both stand over her crib and one of us prays while she looks up at us with that giant smile. Every night we pray that she has a peaceful night sleep, that she has sweet dreams, and that she wakes with a smile on her face in the morning. Then we pray for her birth parents, for our family around the world, or for anyone who might need extra boosts from our family of three. For whatever reason, Maya loves this part of the night.

Then we give her way too many kisses, tell her we love her billions, and pull the cord on the bunny that plays a little tune. (We use that bunny for naptimes and it’s a great Pavlovian reminder of what should be going on!) We close the door and listen to her babble for fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on the night.

7:00pm 

I usually make dinner while Michael takes care of most of the nighttime routine, so we sit and eat together while Maya babbles herself to sleep. We usually leave dishes on the table and decamp to the couch when we’re through. We should really try to clean up before but that never happens.

7:30pm 

Veg out time on the couch with either sports if Michael’s in charge or West Wing if I’m in charge (did you know Connie Britton was on West Wing? Completely forgot.). Kind of depends on who gets there first and/or what important sport thing is happening that night. You’d be surprised (maybe not?) how many very important sport things usurp my right to the remote.

8-10pm 

Some version of me working on the article that’s taking me too long to finish, one of us running to the grocery store for half & half before we really need it the next morning, and slowly picking up the dinner mess. Sometimes we talk to Michael’s brother in Colorado since he’s the only one behind us in the time zones.

9:30pm 

I make moves toward bed so that I can read for a little while (part of my anti-insomnia plan that, so far, is working brilliantly). I just picked up a Camilla Lackberg mystery novel on our weekly library run (a whole one block away!) and I usually read approximately seven pages before knocking out.

10:30pm 

Michael usually dream feeds Maya, although if I’m up and he’s still doing school work (or watching important sporty things) I do it. She sleeps through the bottle and whoever feeds her usually sits there and looks at her sleeping face for five minutes before putting her back in the crib. She’s been sleeping in a cot or bassinet or bouncer for naps and nighttime since she was six weeks old, so sleeping Maya is a novelty. In some ways I wish there was a happy medium between having her trained to sleep on her own so well and getting some snoozy cuddles. I have millions of photos of my niece Eabha sleeping on me but so few of Maya. Sometimes I snap photos of her sleeping during naps just to remember how peaceful she is.

11:00pm

By 11, I’m definitely passed out. Sometimes Michael watches more sports and then comes to bed. That guy can run on way less sleep than me! If I’m still awake when he’s done feeding Maya, he always comes in and we talk about how cute she is. We are so in love with that girl, it’s silly!

It feels like we’ve had this routine for ages, but it’s really only been about a month. When Maya was still waking for a bottle between 3-4am I would have to nap during her first nap. And of course, when she wasn’t able to stay up more than an hour at a time (which wasn’t that long ago!), there were even more naps involved. But I’ll count her sleepiness as a blessing – I get a whole lot done and still get to spend quality time with her whenever she’s awake. And she is one happy chica when she is awake.

I can’t wait to share photos of her sweet face with you soon. Only a few more weeks!

Travelogue: Austin, Texas

April 4, 2016

austin-capitol-building Two Fridays in a row I made the drive to Austin from Houston and I’m here to tell you all about our hip neighbor city!

The first visit, Michael and I decided to take Maya because he had Good Friday off from school and we needed a little adventure. We packed her into the car and hoped she would nap while we drove. And she mostly kind of did! By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but it was so nice to get out of Houston and see something different.

Then last Friday, my brother flew in to look at the University of Texas law school, which is in Austin. At first we thought he could just take our car for the day, but it’s a standard and it’s a long drive with a lot of stop lights at the end, which would have been stressful for someone who’s only driven a standard a few times! So Michael stayed home with Maya while Charlie and I went to Austin for another day trip.

I’m not sure I’d really recommend Austin as a day trip from Houston, but I’d definitely recommend it for 48 hours. It’s a long two and a half hours in a car that was built before cruise control! But that said, when I put the two long days together and I really enjoyed Austin. It’s surprisingly different than Houston – the nieghborhoods are quite similar to our Heights ‘hood but not quite as manicured. And it’s hilly, which made me realize how flat Houston is. The drive between the two is beautiful, with ranches and pastures and beautiful enormous trees. If we hadn’t already had enough driving, I would have loved to just turn off the highway and see where the little rural roads end up. One day!

Day One: No clouds in the sky, perfect 70 degree weather.

Houndstooth Coffee – Very good coffee and friendly service, but in my humble opinion, overpriced. $4.60 for a latte that comes in a paper cup? Where are we, London? But there was a line to the door the entire time, so who knows. austin-capital-building The Capitol Building – Just had to Google the difference between the words capitol and capital because I knew I was doing something wrong. And I learned that the capitol building in the capital city was a great little cultural stop! It’s free to stroll right in, and you can take free half hour tours all day, which was the perfect length for us. The building is grand – it’s the largest state capitol building in the country! Go figure, right? texas-capital-dome texas-state-capital Food Truck Lunch – We headed to South Congress to find some lunch and with it being a holiday, it was very busy. So instead of dining in, we decided to try out a food truck. I wish I had taken a few photos of the food trucks – there were so many! I expected a few, with Austin’s reputation for food trucks, but there were so many more than I anticipated! Here’s a site that has lots of different food trucks you can track down. We opted for schwarma pitas but I can’t remember the name of the truck.

Barton Springs Pool – After lunch, we zipped over to Barton Springs since the weather was so nice. Barton Springs is $8 for non-residents for the day (and you can get a stamp to come and go as you please) and $3 for residents. It’s a natural pool that they’ve cordoned off and clean every Thursday. It’s quite large, is manned by several lifeguards and there are lawns on either side for lounging. We had a great time and even put Maya in her bather for the first time! It’s pink with ruffles, and even with her lumpy swim diaper was about the cutest thing ever. The water was too cold for her, so the bather wasn’t really necessary, but it made me happy! Michael swam and loved it, but he’ll swim in any temperature water. I’m not so brave but I did enjoy the whole scene. barton-springs-austin

Day Two: Pouring rain and thunder and wind! It felt like a Dublin summer day!

Manana Coffee – Also overpriced (what is up, Austin?), but they have really lovely blue tile and it’s very quiet tucked just off South Congress.

laguna-gloria-museum Laguna Gloria – After dropping Charlie at UT I drove myself along the Colorado River to Laguna Gloria, which is an arm of the Contemporary Austin museum that’s out on the water. It’s an old estate with beautiful grounds that is often used for weddings and events, and there are giant sculptures dotted throughout the paths. It also has an art school, which looked really fun. Part of it is open air, which reminded me of my time at Haystack on the Maine coast when I was in high school. There’s something about creating art with no walls around you that’s especially lovely. sunken-garden-laguna-gloria sculptures-laguna-gloria sculptures-laguna-gloria-2 I wandered all around the grounds and mostly got soaked but had the nicest time. It was so good to be tromping through the woods right next to water. Everything smelled like wild honeysuckle and a few swans even swam over to me while I was waiting out a downpour under a tree. Very soggy, but very magical.

laguna-gloria-lagoon laguna-gloria-palms

laguna-gloria-sculptures-3 laguna-gloria-sculpture-loop laguna-gloria-swans You know a place is good when you enjoy it even in the soaking cold rain!

Foodheads Lunch – While I warmed up in the car after my Laguna Gloria adventure, I was texting Michael for Maya updates and mentioned I was hungry. He sent me just a few blocks away to Foodheads. It was a little mobbed with college students (Austin has 60,000 college students! That’s a whole city itself!), but the food was yummy. I had a Thai curry soup and a squash and chicken sandwich with pesto. I sat alone and wrote in my notebook and felt old. Ha! There’s a lot of outdoor space, so on a nicer day it would have been lovely to sit outside.

elizabet-ney-museum-austin Elisabet Ney Museum – With about an hour to kill, I was driving around the Hyde Park neighborhood looking at all the pretty houses. I pulled over to see if there was anything I could squeeze in before I had to pick up Charlie, and typed ‘museums’ into Google Maps on my phone. Lo and behold, just around the corner was the Elisabet Ney Museum. It was such a serendipitous find. It’s a big old stone estate called Formosa on an overgrown lot, which is intentional – they’ve let it be some kind of natural habitat. It looks like a castle with a turret and a Texas flag flying from the top. The building was sculptor Elisabet Ney’s home and studio in the late 1800’s and it’s full of marble and clay busts she made both in Germany and there in the studio. She was so talented and sculpted a lot of famous people, like Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. elizabet-ney-tower scary-stairs-elizabet-ney-museum The museum is free and you can get a peek from their blog. You can climb this tiny iron spiral staircase to the turret, which she had built for her husband. The down part is not so fun, but there’s a typewriter up there and you can type a note!

A few kind friends left more recommendations on my Facebook post about my visit. I’ll be noting those for our next trip, which hopefully will involve staying at least one night!

Happy (April) Weekend!

April 1, 2016

IMG_9961

I’m on my way to Austin today! My brother is in town looking at UT Austin’s law school and I’m playing chauffeur and hooky for the day. It’s the longest I’ve been away from Maya in about five months and I think it will be good for everyone to get a little break. Michael will be with her for most of the day and he’s looking forward to a little undivided (read: un-micromanaged!) time with his little girl. It has been so fun to see their relationship grow as she becomes more aware. He’s rocking a serious beard at the moment and keeps claiming he can’t shave it because Maya loves to grab onto it. The hierarchy has changed quickly!

While my brother attends law school seminars today, I’ll be exploring Austin. Any suggestions? We were actually there last week for a day and took a tour of the capital, ate pitas from a food truck and visited Barton Springs. After this trip, I’ll have those to share and more.

This past week has been more productive than previous weeks. Some of you may have noticed, also, that we actually exceeded our goal with Maya’s adoption. We’re still floored. Thank you for all your help. I think the relief contributed to the productivity this week; there’s a new lightness that, paired with Maya finally sleeping through the night, has made me feel so energized! We are so looking forward to Maya’s adoption day in May. We’re pretty sure we’ll be able to live stream it using Periscope! Which means if you’re looking for a distraction on a Friday in May, you could see Maya’s adoption in real time! I also have approximately a million photos of our girl, from birth to present, that I’ll be sorting through and hopefully sharing in some cohesive and chronological way.

And now, a few little links for your weekend.

Champagne jello shots with edible gold dust are about the only jello shots that sound at all appealing.

How American individualism is destroying our families. An interesting read and I think I agree. Being away from our families has been the hardest part about having a baby in Houston.

All that Instagram hoopla and what it says about our need to be liked. Spoiler: it’s not good.

I just finished reading A Man Called Ove this week and I’d highly recommend it. My dad gave it to me for Christmas and it was such a lovely read. I laughed out loud and cried several times through it!

An inspiring video about a high school program in Oakland for young black men, headed up by black men.

Why fewer toys – and a little enforced boredom – is better for kids.

We’re saying extra prayers this week for my godmother, who underwent emergency surgery this week. It’s all quite scary and we’re hoping she’ll be okay. She’s always been one of my biggest cheerleaders, so it’s hard to be so far away at a time like this.

Hope you and yours are safe and healthy this week.

Weird and Surprising Parenting Things I Never Expected

March 30, 2016

em and stroller Michael shot this photo while we were running home after getting caught in an unexpected downpour. We were soaked but Maya was dry in her little chariot. We laughed so hard.

On the topic of unexpected things that make you want to run for the hills (or at least your bed)….a few surprising parenting things I never knew I’d be thinking about before Maya arrived.

  1. You can hear the baby’s cries in your ears just about all the time, especially when she isn’t crying. And then you say things like “Is that her?” over and over again and drive your husband nutty.
  2. There are things like wonder weeks and sleep regressions that like to partner with growth spurts to totally mess with sleep and naps and eating and that makes everyone nutty.
  3. The most useful thing about Google at 4am is to tell you that every other mom of a one, two, three and four month old baby is going through some version of exactly what you’re questioning. And they are also up at 4am googling sleep regressions and wonder weeks and simultaneously going totally nutty.
  4. Make a clear plan on what to call the pacifier, since calling it the paci is too Texan and soother is too Irish and nuk-nuk (I think my German aunt called it this?) makes Michael look at me like I have three heads.My parents used to call it the plug, as in put a plug in that baby to shut her up! Ha! Choose a name that doesn’t make you feel nutty when you say it eight million times a week. (We’re still working on this – suggestions?)
  5. You spend so much energy getting them to go to sleep, and then thirty minutes after they’ve fallen asleep you miss them and half-wish they’d wake up. I’m pretty sure it’s the definition of nutty.

Any other new parents as nutty as we are I am?

The Best Spots in Houston Heights

March 29, 2016

best-spots-in-houston-heights I’ve mentioned before that we’re camping out (not quite literally, although sometimes it feels like it!) in a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Houston called Houston Heights while we wait for Maya’s adoption to be finalised in May. We chose it after spending approximately three hours exploring – three tacos, two hipster coffees, and a few boutique strolls later and we were sold. It’s biggest selling point? Extreme walkability. We hoped against hope that we’d have a baby that we’d need to be walking around the tree-lined blocks at all hours of the day, and we could picture ourselves enjoying the varied architecture at any time of day. Or, as Michael put it so eloquently, “I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to walk around and look at houses all day long.” Too true, old chap, too true!

Little did we know that we’d have barely a month to set up shop and explore our neighborhood before Maya arrived and we started all that walking. (We’re still pinching ourselves, nearly six months later!) But we made quick work of the neighborhood and established firm favorites in just a few weeks.

So first, a deluge of neighborhood details. And then, below, our favorite spots. If you’re familiar with the neighborhood, I’d love to hear your suggestions! We do still have a long list of places we want to try, although Maya is not always invited which makes getting through the list a little tricky!  mansion-houston-heights Oh, the houses. The houses are such fun to walk around and imagine living in. This is one of our neighbors’ houses. It’s enormous and I’d love to see inside that turret!  houston-heights-houses We call this house Pottery Barn. Everything about it is exactly pottery barn.  houses-houston-heights houston-heights-details houston-heights-festive They don’t mess around with Christmas decorations either!  trees-houston-heights snack-cart-houston-heights This is our neighborhood snack man. I’ve never caught up with him when I’ve had cash in my pocket, but one day I will!  houston-house-numbers Just in case you forgot you were in Texas!

And now the best spots (according to us and our seven months here!) in Houston Heights.

First, coffee, because we’ve spent the most time in these places looking for boosts of energy after broken sleep.  2nd-cup-coffee-houston-heights A 2nd Cup – The closest coffee shop to us – and the one with the best mission (all profits to end human slavery). Very nice staff and lots of room for the stroller without going over anyone’s toes. But also very, very slow. So just make sure you have time to wait.  boomtown-coffee-houston-heights Boomtown – The most reliably delicious coffee but very busy on the weekends and most of the time it smells really strongly of cigar smoke. Apparently they share a vent system with the cigar lounge next door. I haven’t a clue how people work all day on their laptops there! I usually make Michael go in while Maya and I wait outside.

Revival Market – Revival is our favorite coffee spot in the neighborhood. The coffee is good, the staff knows Michael by name, and they have fun events that make our big neighborhood seem like a small neighborhood. Also they do delicious lunch.

19th Street at Yale

Food:

Torchy’s Tacos – Famous in Houston for their funky tacos. My favorite is one with a fried hatch chilis and scrambled eggs with salsa verde. Sounds insane but it’s delicious. Also, margaritas are a good bet.

shade-houston-heights Shade – Shade just got refurbished, so it’s new and spiffy inside. It’s great for a glass of wine and one of their small bites – and you can get home before a certain tiny person’s bedtime!

Carter & Cooley Delicatessen – An old school deli with walls covered in old photos of the Heights. Their sandwiches are positively packed with yummy ingredients. Their chili is also very delicious and their lemonade is perfectly artificial-tasting. houston-heights-19th-street Browsing:

Crazy vintage/antique/junk spots – There are lots of vintage, antique and junk shops all around 19th Street at Yale and down some of the side streets west from Yale. Some of them are hilariously overpriced, but some of them have some good deals. There’s also a Goodwill at 20th and Yale and because it’s an affluent neighborhood, it also has some good finds.

manready-mercantile-houston-heights Manready Mercantile – Everything you’d need for the hipster dude. It’s well curated with a mix of new and vintage.

Big Blue Whale – The sweetest little old school toy shop.

6th/ White Oak

Los Cucos – This is a chain and I think very under the radar. But their margaritas are my favorite, they have a killer happy hour deal, and it’s walkable from our house. Plus their food is really delicious. Their patio is on a busy street but it’s spacious and Maya likes the fresh air. coltivare-houston-heights Coltivare – Another outdoor patio with even better ambiance that only makes the gourmet pizza tastes more delicious. Bistro lights over a garden and outdoor coolers (I know, only in Houston!) make it lovely almost year round. The indoor seating is really loud, so we always prefer the patio.

Christian’s Tailgate – Kind of a giant sports bar and not totally my speed, but the sandwiches are yummy and it’s a necessary evil when you don’t have television and want to watch the Patriots or any sports in real time!

11th Street lola-restaurant-houston-heights Lola – for brunch! And milkshakes. It’s fast and the pancakes are delicious.

8 Row Flint – Very new, very popular, and $5 cocktails from 2-6pm. Michael claims they make one of the best old fashioneds he’s ever had. Also, a tad trendy and a tad pretentious. They have valet parking which makes me roll my eyes whenever we drive by, but we don’t need that since we live two blocks away!

Ruggles Green – Casual healthy food. You order at the counter and they give you a number and bring it to your table. Great salads and pastas.

The Boil House – For months we walked by the Boil House and wondered what the story was. It was always closed. Turns out, it’s seasonal! They do boiled shrimp and crawfish, New Orleans style, and they’re BYOB with picnic tables out the front that are always packed. The owner is also pretty much the nicest – a self-proclaimed foodie who, by day, sells medical supplies or something like that.

Red Dessert Dive – I have one neighborhood mom friend and whenever we need a late afternoon break from our respective mom duties and don’t have the energy for walking the streets with our strollers we go to Red’s for coffee and sometimes dessert. I brought a huge piece of cheesecake home for Michael a few weeks ago and he declared it was the best dessert he’d had since getting to America. High praise! Plus, they make really yummy chai lattes that taste like spices and aren’t too sweet.

And now, a few more little spots around our hood….

houston-heights-fire-department The old Houston Heights Fire Department building, now used for parties and events.  antique-stores-houston-heights Overpriced antiques!  greetings-from-houston We take all our visitors to this sign on the back of the gelato shop on 6th near Heights Boulevard. Photo op! houston-installations Houstonians love their lawn sculptures. And more often than not they involve guns. Go figure.

houston-heights-19th houston-heights-library And lastly, our sweet library a block from our house. I will always have fond memories of finishing our adoption paperwork here before our internet was installed in our apartment. I can still feel how hot and muggy it was outside and the air conditioning inside while I printed page after page of paperwork.

 

Happy (Grateful) Friday!

March 18, 2016

elderflower Happy Friday, everyone! Michael and I are enjoying one last weekday of his spring break. It’s been such a nice week having him home and spend time as a family of three. When Maya arrived he wasn’t able to take any time off work, having only started a few weeks earlier at his school, so this time together has been extra special.

It’s also been even more special because we come so far toward reaching Maya’s adoption fundraising goal – like 3/4 to the goal in just one week! It’s the first week we can remember when we haven’t had a fraught and worried conversation about how to make it happen. And for that – the generous donations from so many of you and the perfect timing with Michael’s week off, we’re so grateful. It has been a quiet, peaceful week full of lots of Maya’s giggles and family walks around the block.

Little did I know when I started From China Village five years ago that it would end up being such a big piece in the puzzle of growing our family. The number of people who have commented on our fundraising site to say they’ve followed along from their little corner of the world and have been inspired by Maya’s story brings me to tears at least several times a day. Or the grade school and high school friends I’ve been able to reconnect with and plan summer visits through this part of our journey to adoption. Or Michael’s former Irish students who have donated or shared our story. Or my sweet sister-in-law in Dublin whose classroom full of fifth graders decided to designate half of the profits from a school entrepreneurial project to Maya’s adoption fund. Or even the complete strangers – Michael and I look at each other in disbelief and say “But we don’t know that person, we don’t know them at all!” It’s been quite a week and our cup of gratitude runneth over.

And now, gushing over (for the moment), here are a few things I found around the interwebs.

I’ve started writing occasionally for a lifestyle site here in Houston called Urban Swank. I have my first post up about European spots that are more enjoyable in the off-season.

A short video about a program in Texas taking care of teen moms. So much heart in this – and let me tell you, so much need.

Incredible wall murals make for great one-day house inspiration.

A visit to pretty pastel Estonia.

And a little trip to Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

A heartwarming story of strangers scooping up a woman who had just learned her father had died in the grocery store.

The Dublin Science Gallery is hosting a Mexican feast with my favorite Mexican chef!

Just reading the word posture makes me sit up straighter! Here are tips for improving your posture and why you should bother (hello, 320 extra calories burned a day!)

Our favorite store for baby lovies is having an Easter sale through Saturday!

I have long been a Modern Farmette fan – although Imen and I have yet to meet in person! – and she has just released the most beautiful cookbook.

Happy weekending, everyone. I hope it’s downright lovely!

Best of Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17, 2016

dublin-spike

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from muggy Houston! It’s so strange not to be in Ireland on Paddy’s Day for the first time in seven years. Not that we’d usually get up to anything special, but it’s odd not to be freezing cold!

Michael is still on spring break, so we’ve been taking it easy and gearing up to give Maya a taste of her first solid food. We’re thinking avocado since it’s green – for the day that’s in it! I imagine we’ll all end up covered in it before long.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite posts about Dublin with you, in case you’re looking for a little Irish fix and aren’t feeling the corned beef and cabbage (which we never ate over there anyhow!).

First, if you’re ever in need of a whole lot of info about my favorite spots in Dublin, just click on the Dublin tab up at the top of the page. It’s a great place to start!

My Styled in Ireland posts always remind me of lovely afternoons in some of the best Dublin spots.

How to say I love you in Irish might be particularly useful today.

Or how to make the best Irish coffee with a recipe from one of the fanciest restaurants in Dublin.

A few sweet Dublin details.

How to survive driving in Dublin – although Houston drivers make me miss Dublin driving!

And of course, even more Dublin inspiration in my e-guide, handy Delightful Dublin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends. I hope it’s a nice March day for you!

With Gratitude

March 15, 2016

Thank you. Thank you to all of you who shared my post, who donated to our adoption fund, and who wrote the kindest comments that warmed our hearts. I woke up on Saturday with the lightest heart I’ve had in months, full of sheer relief and in awe of the generosity of so many of you.

In just twenty-four hours, we achieved HALF of our goal. Twenty-four hours! It’s so incredible. We still have a little ways to go, but the finish line is in sight and we’re so grateful for the village that’s helping to make Maya an official Westbrooks.

We received donations from family members, blog readers, my high school classmates and college classmates, friends from Ireland and friends from Houston. It’s a feeling I can’t really explain, except to say that it felt like hundreds of the people who care about us most were lifting us up. It’s a relief to know we aren’t alone in this.

Thank you. xx Emily, Michael and Maya

Another Nursery Nook Look

March 11, 2016

maya-nursery-quilt Maya’s nursery is slowly coming together. We started with an empty room and a five day old baby back in October, so the fact that there’s art on the walls and it’s feeling more cosy is an achievement! We’ve come a long way from the early days of just a pull out couch and a bassinet! (Truth be told, we’re not in a position to collect very much anyway, considering we’re heading back to Dublin and we can’t take it all with us! Although I may try…)

Yesterday while Maya was napping, I hung two new things over her crib. First, a mobile my mom whipped up while I was back in Maine a few weeks ago, with the stuffing help of my friend Becky’s kids – Lola and Dexter. We thought fish might be cute, and my mom had leftover fabric from making Maya’s quilt. She sewed, then we stuffed! But seriously, she also made the quilt. And the bunny (see below)! And the bunny has bloomers! When I got back to Houston, I assembled the mobile and very quietly tapped a nail into the wall to hang it while Maya napped. maya-nursery-bunny The other fun thing I hung with the mobile is a little heart-shaped plaque that I ordered from an Irish Etsy seller, The Mood Designs. About a month ago, Etsy Ireland reached out and asked if I’d like to do a little shopping in return to sharing what I find online with my readers. I was so excited to find a new-to-me shop with just the perfect something special for Maya’s nursery.

One thing I’ve just learned about the Etsy site is that you can search by where things are made, which is really fun and especially useful if you’re looking for something made in Ireland, for example. There’s a little box you can tick on the left hand menu that will filter by location after you’ve searched. I just chose a category, I think ‘baby’, and then filtered for all handmade things made in Ireland.   maya-nursery-crib I have to admit, I almost had the plaque inscribed with the day we met Maya instead of her birthday, because to us that’s when it feels like she was born. It just feels like there’s no way she could have existed before we knew her! But I went with her real birth date instead. We’ll probably just celebrate both days forever and ever!  maya-nursery-mobile I’m hoping the last little details of her nursery will come together next week while Michael is on spring break from school. We’re going to grab a shelf from Ikea this weekend and I’m going to run to Staples to have a color engineer print made – for $7! Once those are hung, the only thing that’s still on the list is a rug to cover those bare polished concrete floors. I do love them, and they hide all manner of dirt, but when Maya starts crawling I want something cosier under her knees and hands. Right now, we just bring her into the living room to play on a blanket on our living room rug, but another space for her to play in our tiny apartment would be much appreciated.

Thanks to Etsy Ireland for letting me do a little guilt-free shopping and continue my Etsy appreciation!