Houston Home

May 25, 2016

dining-area-houston How about an impromptu and imperfect and mostly unstyled tour of our Houston home? There was a clean moment a week or so ago and we snapped some photos. Maya makes a cameo. She’s the cutest.

We live in an apartment in a building with only four units, two upstairs and two downstairs. The bottom floor was apparently renovated just before we moved in, which is so nice! The floors are polished concrete, which doesn’t photograph terribly well since it’s a little on the dark side. And totally worries me with Maya learning to sit, crawl and walk someday. But we’ll likely never live with concrete floors again so it’s kind of a novelty.

I’ve already shared a corner of the nursery. The few tweaks I’ve wanted to make still aren’t made to finish off the nursery, but this is the rest of the apartment (minus the bathroom). My one complaint about the apartment is that it’s darker than I realized it would be. I miss our light-filled living room, especially on days that are too hot to go outside or pouring rain. It can feel a little cooped up faster than our old apartment did and faster than our new house in Dublin will. There’s good light in that little house! But otherwise, this apartment has been a perfect little spot for us as a new family of three.  kitchen-dining-houston Here’s the view from the front door. You can see the patio out the back. The time has passed for us to spend much time back there — too hot and too many mosquitos! But Michael grills back there every day. houston-kitchen This is also possibly the only time we’ll have stainless steel countertops. I’m not sure they’re my favorite surface since they show every mark. But they go with the concrete, so that’s fun. Know what else is fun? The disposal. And the dishwasher. We haven’t had either of those in seven years. And a little pantry on the right there, which is more storage than we know what to do with! It’s mostly filled with formula and pretzels.  houston-kitchen-shelves I’ve enjoyed the open shelving, but I think it would be way more fun with all my pretty kitchen bits that are currently in storage back in Ireland. When we make some changes to our kitchen back in Dublin I think we might have just a few small open shelves for the pretty things. I’d rather the everyday things be tidied away. houston-kitchen-shelves-2 living-room-couch For the living room walls I picked up two big pieces of handmade marble paper with gold ink swished throughout. I tacked them onto mat board and had Michael secure them to the wall with copper nails. Cheapest and cheerful-est. Funny enough, we ended up with a used Ikea couch that was my vote when we bought our last couch in our old apartment. I didn’t win but now that we’ve ended up with this one, I think I’ll win when we get back to Dublin.  living-room-houston living room houston A tiny baby hand made it into this photo! Ha! Couldn’t bear to crop it out. We haven’t managed to cover the TV cords, but at least we hid the boxes and all that behind this little bookshelf. The bottom piece needs a better cover, but for now it has contact paper draped over. Like I said, we’re not shooting for perfection these days. Our Irish house is getting all my perfectionism when we get back. Maya’s toys are in the bin on the right. so far, they’re mostly contained and haven’t taken over. But as you can see there’s very little room if they do start taking over!  maya-jumping You can see Maya’s nursery on the left, dark from blackout material pinned over the windows. That kiddo needs total darkness or she’s convinced she’s supposed to be partying. Also, Maya in her hilarious jumper (here’s an action video!).  bedroom-houston Kind of wonky curtains (left Michael in charge of that one weekend 😉 and a pillow my mom made from a Nicole Miller dish towel for me. I do really like our quilt but I don’t think Michael will let me take that back to Ireland. That won’t stop me from trying though! bedroom houston I found the side tables for $15 – for both! – on Craig’s List and painted them dark teal. The rattan boxes, if you can believe it, I’ve had since my first apartment after college. They fit perfectly. I found a lamp for my side because I am in charge of bedtimes. Michael gets sucked into books and keeps the lights on for hours and it drives me nuts. One day he’ll realize there’s a reason he never has a lamp, but for now it’s a very sneaky trick. 217 bedroom I found this painting at the creepy second hand Sand Dollar store in our neighborhood. It came in the frame below, which I painted and put a Rifle Paper card. The painting is coming back to Ireland with us, I find it so cheery.  bedroom vignette Michael and I have been walking two blocks over to the community tennis courts to practice for the family tennis match this summer. We’re going to win. Maya is a great cheerleader, so long as she gets to keep one ball at all times. maya-jumping-houston Maya looks like she’s walking out the door. Won’t that be a crazy thing to see! My aunt made the batik fish wall hanging decades ago and it used to live in my dorm in college. My mom sent it down when we first moved in and Maya and I counted those fish a million times while rocking her when she was tiny.

Thanks for visiting!

Cushions and Quilts from Live Love Smile / Etsy Ireland

May 24, 2016

002 We unexpectedly had a tiny temporary visitor arrive Friday evening, so forgive me while I dream about all the pretty pillows I can lay my head on while I wrangle a 5 month old and 7 month old all week. So much cuddling! So many bottles and diapers. Thank goodness for sleep training, though, Maya slept 13 hours last night and her tiny friend slept 9! I think they’re wearing each other out!

Looking for some Irish baby gifts on Etsy a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the sweet shop Live Love Smile. Owner Lise O’Malley sews the prettiest cushions (not so much for babies) and affordable baby quilts, among other bits and pieces. In related trivial information, did you know that in Ireland pillows are called cushions? Fair warning, this post uses both words interchangeably.   004 Lise’s baby blankets are so lovely – her fabric choices are impeccable. This papel picado printed play mat is my favourite.  016 (1) 025 I asked Lise for a little advice on choosing cushion inserts, because she sells mostly the cushion covers and you’re responsible for finding your own insert. She said to always use a pillow insert that’s two inches bigger than the pillow cover. That sounds like a brilliant idea and is probably the reason so many of my pillows look so sad!  sidebar-1 Lise also told me that ikat (the print above and below) is pronounced eee-kat. How have I missed that? Two very interesting pieces of information in a very short interview. Thanks, Lise! sidebar-2 I love these pillows that are backed with linen. The combination of modern colors and two different textures is really fresh.

Live Love Smile

Happy Weekend!

May 20, 2016

maya playing

Happy weekend to you, friends! The weeks are flying by at the moment, mostly because we’re cruising to the end of Michael’s school year and Maya’s adoption day. Wahoo! We start every week saying, gosh, I can’t believe it’s only Monday, and end them saying, how is it already Friday?!

Well, this week I became an aunt again! My little sister had a baby girl, Claire Elizabeth, and I’m unnaturally obsessed with her already. I won’t likely get to meet her until July and until then I’ll be bothering everyone looking for more, more, more photos! I can’t get enough!

When I wasn’t ogling tiny baby toes on my phone, this week was spent working on a few articles, rolling around on the floor with Maya, trying to keep her from licking the library books, and watching her bounce up and down a million times. Even though it’s been seriously sweaty outside, we’ve been trying to get out for a walk every day for fresh (ish?) air, which has helped my mood tremendously.

We don’t have many plans yet for the weekend, but we’re hoping to make some and make the most of it!

Lots of links I’ve been collecting during my last little hiatus. Enjoy!

My dad’s latest book came out this week and it got an awesome mention in the New York Times! He’s kind of a big deal and he turns 60 today! Giant happy birthday hugs from Houston, Dad!

Really helpful explanation of Muslim headwear, although I wish the gif moved slower so you could really remember which is which!

A career site that helps combat the motherhood penalty. All of a sudden, this became especially relevant to me.

Throw a crepe party!

The all-white-wall debate heats up. Oddly interesting.

A few Houston fourth graders are petitioning to ban plastic bags and I already voted. If you’re Houston based, you can vote too!

Michael and I have been dreaming of an RV trip around the American west. This family has tons of tips (start here and here) and makes it look amazing.

The long form story of the million people buried in mass graves on Hart Island off New York City will blow your mind. The drone footage is incredible, too.

And on a lighter note, great ideas to make your week feel more like the weekend.

Until next week!

Time for Good News!

May 19, 2016

mike and maya I promise it’s not a sad post today, friends! But first, I wanted to thank you all so much for your enormous virtual hugs on my last post. I received so many emails and comments and texts from people sending us comfort and encouragement. I love you all and I am so grateful that I have this blog that connects me to the nicest people with the biggest hearts. I’ve said before that it’s taken a village to make Maya official but it’s taken my (From China) Village to carry us all through this adventure. Who would have thought?!

And speaking of making Maya official, that’s where the good news comes in!

Two weeks from tomorrow, Maya will be an official Westbrooks! Her court date has been set for June 3rd in the morning. We won’t know exactly what time her case will be called, but our caseworker told us they always finish by noon. So at some point on the morning of June 3rd, Maya will be official! We are hoping to be able to live stream her adoption on Facebook Live (through my FCV Facebook page), so if you haven’t already, you might want to ‘like’ FCV on Facebook so it will come up in your feed. If you miss the live stream, you’ll still be able to watch it from my page later in the day.

If we can’t make that technology happen, we’ll post a video to my FCV page later that day. And then you’d better get yourselves ready for an onslaught of Maya photos because she is the cutest little lady and I have a lot of catching up to do. (Speaking of cute, you might want to check out this little video I posted of her on Instagram yesterday. I’ve watched it eleventy million times already, ha!)

I hope you’re having a wonderful week, ours is definitely picking up a little each day, thanks to you all!

Waiting and Wondering

May 17, 2016

em and maya may 2016 If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ve probably guessed from the few weeks of silence that we’ve been working some things out. I hemmed and hawed about writing this post, like I do with all the posts that are especially hard to put into words and then end up lifting a huge weight off my shoulders. Like when I finally wrote about moving to Houston to adopt a baby – and Maya arrived less than 24 hours later. Or when I wrote about how hard we were finding securing Maya’s adoption fee – and it was funded and raised in 2 weeks. If there’s anything I’ve realized in the last year’s adventure, it’s that no matter how hard it is for me to write the words, the power of writing and sharing them is bigger and better than the fear I have in getting them out.

So, here’s what’s going on behind the scenes. We found out in late February that a birth mom had chosen us to adopt her baby boy once he was born. We were in the thick of quite agonizing discussions about whether to try to adopt another baby before going back to Ireland when the phone rang on a Friday afternoon. We just couldn’t believe it could be true. Another possible miracle adoption baby. No fostering, no visitations with struggling parents, just straight adoption.

We said yes within the hour. It was an offer we couldn’t have ever refused, despite the financial cost and the insanity that would ensue in bringing a newborn home to a seven month old. So we said yes, and then we waited. For nine weeks. We thought of baby boy names (tougher than girl names, that’s for sure!), we picked up a handful of baby boy outfits and washed Maya’s neutral newborn clothes. And then we held our breath for two months, slowly allowing ourselves to think about what life with two tiny people would be like, imagining Maya as a big sister, imagining our two little buddies playing together in the yard behind our house in Ireland one day. We prayed for him and for his birth mom, for their health and safety, for peace in their time together. And of course, we fell in love.

There is always uncertainty in adoption. Birth mom could always change her mind, no matter how certain she may seem in the months leading up to the birth. That’s what we prepared ourselves for, as much as humanly possible.

I wrote these few paragraphs below when we were still waiting and wondering but I left the post half written until tonight.

We aren’t at that threshold yet, in fact we are still waiting to hear that she has gone into labor. But the waiting has taken on a slightly painful edge. Baby boy’s due date was last week, and our agency hasn’t heard from the birth mom since a week before her due date. They haven’t been able to get in touch with her, although our caseworker explained that this is normal for her, that it happens with her fairly regularly. They have a strong relationship with her; her last son was adopted through our agency. Our caseworker is still confident she will get in touch when she goes into labor or shortly thereafter.

Since we heard last week that birth mom has ‘gone dark’, as Michael and I have been calling it, time has nearly stopped. Michael, my strong husband, is utterly confident that baby boy will come home to us when he is ready. And until anyone tells him otherwise, he is looking forward with excitement and expectancy. I, on the other hand, can’t breathe. Every fiber of my body hurts from waiting and wondering, playing out every possible scenario about a woman I’ve never met and a baby who hasn’t been born but I already love. Two months of cautious optimism has used up nearly all my patience reserves.

But not quite.

We’ve got a little wait in us yet. And I’ll let you know when our wait is over, for better or worse. Until then, you’ll find me snuggling Miss Maya, checking my phone every three minutes and praying without ceasing for strength to make it through whatever happens next.

And of course, this time it’s not news for better. A week past birth mom’s due date, after an excruciating wait in which our agency hadn’t heard from birth mom in nearly two weeks, we found out that she had changed her mind. That her baby boy had been born and that she had found a mother-and-baby home to help her get her little family back on their feet. And all our cautious optimism and preparing for possible disappointment was instantly useless. It was good news, of course, it’s what you want for families, to stay together and thrive. But it was also impossibly hard and heartbreaking. A baby boy who gets to stay with his birth mom, but a baby boy we’ll never know or meet or welcome into our family. A baby boy already loved by two moms, but a baby boy who will only be held by one. No baby boy for us for now, for now instead we heal and put one foot in front of the other, simultaneously mourning a loss and rejoicing for a family intact.

When I heard the news a week and a half ago, I had a short, heartbroken cry by myself in the bedroom while Maya slept in the next room. Michael came home from work as Maya woke up and we had a family hug and then went around the corner for a margarita in the last of the day’s sunshine. I watched Maya giggle and smiled from behind sunglasses with sporadically tear-stained cheeks as she charmed everyone around us. We went to bed a little numb that night and woke up sore around the edges. Michael turned to me and said, “Well, I’ve definitely felt better.” And we both laughed a weary laugh.

Michael feels strongly that our role in this difficult situation was to be obedient to what God was asking of us, to give birth mom peace in the last few months of her pregnancy knowing that her baby boy would have a home. My mother-in-law thinks our extended family’s collective prayers for birth mom lifted her up and gave her the strength to keep her son. I think they’re both right, and for my part, I’m grateful that God answered, over and over, my many prayers for peace in my heart as we waited, and for strength for whatever would come.

I’m grateful for the role we played and for the outcome, however hard. I’m grateful that I know that with time my heart will heal the little baby boy sized hole that’s left. And, as I have continually felt through our journey with fostering and adoption, I’m grateful to be surrounded by so many people who love us, especially when we struggle and wait and wonder – and that as a family, we have so much love that we even have extra ready to give. Our cup still runneth over, even with slightly sore and worn out hearts.

And that, my dears, is the latest explanation for radio silence on FCV. I’ll be back again soon. xx

Personalized Nursery Prints / Etsy Ireland

April 29, 2016

larollie_cool_cat_2 I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trolling Etsy lately for baby gifts. Does anyone else know approximately eight million babies due in May? I love the idea of personalized baby gifts, and this new Irish Etsy shop Larollie has some sweet and cheerful options.  larollie_balloons_girl larollie_cloud larollie_pirate_bear I did a quick interview with Kirstin, who runs the Larollie, for my Irish Independent column and it should be in the weekend magazine next weekend. Consider this a sneak preview!

Happy Friday!

April 23, 2016

magnolias Happiest of Fridays to you! After a week of thunder, rain and flooding (for a lot of people in Houston, but thankfully not us), it’s clear and sunny today and we are so looking forward to a weekend outside the apartment! Every time it rains here, I’m reminded that when we return to Dublin, we’ll be returning to much more regular, chillier rain. But somehow here it seems to affect everything so much more. It could be because our apartment is a little on the dark side to begin with, so rainy days mean the lights are on all day long. Our old Dublin apartment was so bright, even if it was pouring outside. I miss that and I’m so grateful that our new house in Dublin will be bright as well.

Speaking of that new house, most of the time I forget we own it! Ha! But I’ve been remembering a little more frequently and starting to pull together some inspiration for it for when we return. I might share that with you next week, despite the fact that the finished product will be a long while in the making.

Do you have nice weekend plans? Michael and I are going on a date tomorrow night! For the first time since Christmas! We have no idea what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go, but we are excited.

And now, for some links I think you’ll like. Enjoy your weekend!

My friend Ruth is discovering the history behind Irish freedom fighters who lived in her apartment a hundred years ago.

Inky the octopus’ great escape.

Marie Kondo for parents is a hoot.

This long form article about immigrant caregivers in the United States is not a hoot. I’ve been thinking about this article all week, it’s really shocking and devastating on so many levels.

My dad’s latest book, Strawman, his 11th Jack McMorrow novel, comes out in May. He’s sharing a preview on his website this week! I’m absolutely biased, but Strawman is hands down my favorite Jack book yet. It’s so, so good.

A few great tips for getting more green as a family. We’ve run out of paper napkins and I’m ordering cloth replacements today.

Have a lovely break, everyone!

Video / Missing Springtime in Dublin

April 22, 2016

My friend Nora made this lovely video of seven things to do in Dublin in the springtime. It’s egging on my Dublin homesickness this week, although it’s probably compounded by all the (flood-inducing) rain we’ve been getting as well. I miss those Irish springtime’s cherry blossoms and sheep, that’s for sure!

Nora and I shot a few videos in Dublin before I left last summer. Hopefully we’re getting close to being able to share them! In the meantime, enjoy this dose of pretty springtime!

Weekend Breakfast on the Bayou

April 16, 2016

dunlavy-big-tree-houston Maya woke us with her little chats this morning at 6:30, as usual, so our little family of three decided to take advantage of the early morning wake up call. We got spiffed up and took the ten minute drive down to Buffalo Bayou for a little weekend breakfast at the Kitchen at Dunlavy.

dunlavy-houston It’s only open to the public from 7am-2pm for breakfast, brunch and lunch all week. Which means it’s perfect if you have to be awake so early on a Saturday morning anyway! In the evenings, it’s an event space. Michael and I both remarked what a lovely spot it would be for a wedding or a big birthday bash. There’s lots of outdoor space with a terrace behind and cafe seating down near the pond. dunlavy-restaurant-houston You wouldn’t know that it’s sandwiched between major roads because it’s tucked in behind trees and sits just on the edge of the bayou. There’s a running path we’ll have to go for a stroll next time we’re not under so much pressure to get our tiny Texan back to nap! dunlavy-counter-houston dunlavy-big-tree avocado-toast-dunlavy-houston I had avocado toast with lemon ricotta and poached eggs and Michael had the southwestern breakfast bowl. Both were yummy, and I’m pretty sure I could recreate that avo toast so I can relive it without having to leave the house!  maya-romper-dunlavy And a little blurry, slightly sleepy photo to document our daughter in the cutest romper you ever did see. Pom poms!   kitchen-at-dunlavy-houston

The patio was full but the indoor seats were just starting to fill up as we were leaving. I imagine the brunch rush is busy!

Happy weekend, friends, I hope it’s full of avocado toast and a few extra snuggles!

The Kitchen at Dunlavy / 3422 Allen Parkway / Houston, TX 

Bursting Bougainvillea

April 15, 2016

bougainvillea-houston There’s an enormous bougainvillea bush in bloom at the moment a few blocks from our apartment. Maya and I took a walk to take a few photos today, since the sun has finally shown its face for the first time since the weekend. Every time we go out for a walk or I go for a run, I make sure to go by this giant bush. It’s pretty fun!  springtime-bougainvillea-houston bougainvillea-houston-spring The bougainvillea starts in someone’s yard and grows over this metal archway over the sidewalk. There’s kind of a hostile dog behind the fence in the owner’s yard, so it’s more peaceful take photos when he’s inside, but he eventually got bored of me and lay down for a nap. houston-bougainvillea bougainvillea bougainvillea-texas I hope you’re having a nice week – and I hope that spring is springing wherever you are!