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.

Maya Meets Santa (It Doesn’t Go Well)

December 5, 2016

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Just in case your Monday is as dreary and rainy as ours, here is something that will surely make you chuckle. Maya met Santa! And it didn’t go very well at all. Santa was completely unfazed – I think he was meditating. Or counting the minutes until his shift was over?

We went to Bering’s Hardware store, a Houston institution with a free (thank goodness, because imagine paying for tears?!) Santa two Saturdays before Christmas. If you’re in Houston, you can catch stoic Santa next Saturday from 12-4. We got there at 11:55 hoping to beat the rush and Maya was probably the 10th kid in line. I maintain that we might have been fine if the kid in front of Maya hadn’t cried, but who knows. Strange men with facial hair aren’t exactly her favorite at the moment, so the result probably would have been the same. She was fine once we picked her up, so her drama only lasted a few minutes – but this photo will be giving us laughs for decades!

Hope your Monday is fresh and bright.

Happy Friday!

December 3, 2016

img_2193 Happy Friday, friends. TGIF, for real. What a week. After ten days in Ireland (photos and stories from that visit next week!), we had a slightly hairy journey home – complete with airsickness and missing seats on flights. (Meanwhile, Maya was a dream traveler. Go figure!) But this week was jetlag central with one very tiny human. Said tiny human has also had a major case of the baby plague, making her doubly miserable. Make that triply miserable. We miss our happy girl and we are very much hoping she recovers sooner than later.

We’ve been trying to put the house back together and start to make it a little festive for Christmas, even though it doesn’t feel much like Christmas outside here. It has gotten cooler, but it’s still far from chilly! But now that it’s December, we’re trying to get in the holiday spirit and venture out for a few holiday activities before we head to Maine for Christmas in a few weeks.

My mom made Maya the cutest Christmas tree/advent calendar stuffed with little alphabet magnets and finger puppets. We don’t have much space for a real tree, so it’s fun to have something we can hang from a door and not worry about Maya tipping it over.

I hate to make exact statements about what we might do to get in the holiday spirit because it seems half of what I plan these days gets scrapped for some reason or another. But weather permitting, we’re hoping to see the Zoo Lights next week, meet Santa this weekend, zip over to the Galleria for Shake Shack’s holiday milkshakes (the Houston version of holiday hot chocolate? 😉 and then drive back through the posh neighborhoods to see the Christmas lights. Last year we went to the Houstonian Hotel to see their decorations and have hot chocolate, but their hot chocolate was so disappointing and their decorations were a little terrifying. So I think we’ll skip that this year.

Love these festive holiday desktop backgrounds! Festiveness everywhere, por favor!

Emily Henderson is always great for a roundup – this one of oversized ottomans that can function as coffee tables covers a range of prices.

Parabo Press is doing 12 days of giveaways with some great deals on photo gifts if you’re on their newsletter list. Time to actually make those photo books!

A sweet holiday orange garland. I’ve tried to make these before and ended up with very crispy burned oranges. Think I needed a little lesson 😉

The ten best books of 2016 according to the New York Times.

We’re watching this movie at the moment. Vaguely interesting and watchable.

I love a good baby name list – here’s Babycenter’s 2016 most popular list. Maya is 53, just where we like to hang, a little under the radar.

Happy weekend, lovelies!

Another Goodbye

December 1, 2016

img_1732 This will be the third post I’ve written about saying goodbye to a foster baby in the short time we’ve been fostering. And this will be the second post about the same baby, if you can believe it. I wouldn’t say we’re getting better at it, that wouldn’t be the goal. But stronger, maybe, better equipped at least.

We got a call on Michael’s birthday late in October that the baby boy we thought we were going to be able to adopt at birth back in April had reappeared after six months of silence from his birth mom. She thought, once again, that she wanted to give him up for adoption. We got the call, said yes immediately, and he arrived three hours later.

It was the strangest feeling to meet the baby we thought was going to be our son six months earlier, to meet a baby we had prayed for for two months, to meet a baby we thought we’d never get to meet.

After a lot of drama and details that I can’t really share, he left us just over two weeks later, headed to a family member to take care of him, hopefully forever.

I will say that when he arrived, he had some medical questions we spent quite a lot of time figuring out over the two weeks. It was exhausting – bringing him and Maya to appointment after appointment and trying to keep them both occupied and calm for hours while we waited for answers. The good news in the whirlwind of disappointment is that we know now that that was our job. We know God needed us to step in and stand in the gap for that little man in order to put his health back on the right track. God needed our persistence and our network of resources to get him the right care. Hopefully, because of his two week vacation at our house, his life’s path will be different and healthier.

Little man had a sweet, sweet disposition and a bigger-than-average appetite. He had big, beautiful eyes and a super strong grip when he’d latch onto your finger. Maya learned that quickly!

***

At a foster/adoption training last year, a fellow foster mom from our agency who has become a dear friend gave her testimony about the first time she had to give back a foster baby. I remembered her exceptionally honest story of immediately not wanting to hand over the baby – much less anything she had collected or bought for her in the months she had had her. But in the short time she had to get the baby ready to return to her birth mom, God stepped in and softened her heart. In the end, she packed up everything that belonged to that baby girl – clothes, toys, blankets. And she stopped on her way to pick up flowers and a card for birth mama.

I know that feeling now, twice over. You want to stick your head in the sand and hand over the bare minimum (which, of course, is the utter maximum). But you grieve for a minute and remember this just isn’t about you right now. It’s about Baby E and Baby J and Little Man. It’s about sending them off to their next journey in better shape than they came and with a little more than they arrived. Little man arrived with the clothes on his back and barely enough formula and diapers to make it through the day. But you can bet he left with more than that.

***

When little man left, I packed up the travel crib and the baby jumper and the extra bottles. That was the hardest part, the few hours of a relatively empty house. With half as many babies as we started the day. It’s amazing how quickly that level of insanity and juggling becomes normal.

We loved watching Maya as a big sister again. It confirmed what we’ve believed since she was even littler – she really is meant to be a big sister, and we look forward to the day that happens and it isn’t followed by a goodbye a few weeks or months later. In the meantime, we’ll keep loving whatever babes get to come stay in our home for as long as they need us.

xx

A Return

November 30, 2016

img_2105 Late last night, we returned from ten cosy and heart-restoring days in Dublin. There’s a pile of laundry the size of Maya sitting in the closet and the contents of our suitcases piled on the living room rug. There’s a Maya needing to be held, confused by the jetlag and somehow teething even though I’m not sure where these new ones will fit into her already toothy grin. There’s an empty fridge and a pile of mail to be sorted, folded practically into origami by our mail lady trying to fit ten days of mail into our little box.

But, there’s also sneaking, hinting motivation to return here for the first time in over a month. So I’m seizing the moment and trying to get back into practice. I’ve missed the therapy of this space, and the camaraderie of this space and the creativity of this space. I’m embarrassed that most of my posts this year have come after long silences, explanations of time away and drama that has occupied the space my brain used to have to write.

I’ve been asked often in the last year and a bit whether I miss working full time. I’ve been trying to freelance here and there, and I’ve started looking for full time work again, but I haven’t missed it. Instead I’ve really tried to embrace the season that I’m in, getting to stay home with Maya every day and getting to soak in all her tiny-ness. Even if some days we drive each other a little batty and really look forward to Michael walking in the door. I know work will be there when this season is over, so I’ve been trying not to be too hard on myself if this season means that I don’t get to blog daily like I used to.

Michael woke me up very late on Saturday night to tell me he ran into an old friend from his school days at the pub. He was a little surprised when she seemed to know quite a lot of details about his life since they hadn’t seen each other in years, but as it turned out she reads FCV. (Hi, Sinead! 🙂 And she told him she missed it. So in the wee hours of the morning in the cosy attic bed he said, “So you have to start writing again, okay?” and promptly fell asleep.

Turns out it was exactly the little shove I needed to log in again.

Since I last wrote, we said hello to a baby we thought we’d never meet, and then said goodbye to him much too soon. We introduced Maya to Ireland for Thanksgiving (ironic, yes), I became an Irish citizen and then made the national news. We froze our toes off running in front of castles, and now we’ve returned to muggy, sweaty Houston heat just in time for a palm tree Christmas.

I have more to say on all of those things, but this will serve as a start. Thanks for bearing with me through this season. And thanks, Sinead, for encouraging me to return.

Baby DIY / Maya’s Magnetic Fridge Wall

October 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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