Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some quick marriage advice

Hi friends! Just a quick note letting you know that I wrote a post for Stephanie of Bluebird Songs and it's up today. I would love to hear your best marriage advice too!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 reasons to live in McKinley park

… or more accurately, five reasons *we* like living in McKinley Park. But that title's not quite as snappy. :)

Thank you to Walking Dot Photography for the great shot!
I grew up near Chicago, but I still found myself in a bit of culture shock when I moved here from Virginia two years ago. This city is SO DIFFERENT from Washington, DC! Not only is Chicago a much bigger city, but there is a culture of neighborhoods here that took some getting used to.

The best way I can describe it is to say that Chicago is composed of a bunch of small, close-knit little towns that each has its own very distinct culture and "feel" and that are all squished up right next to each other. Little Italy is all Italian families, Wicker Park is hipsters, Lincoln Park is well-to-do yuppies, Hyde Park is artsy intellectuals, Bridgeport is a slice of old Chicago (think lots of Polish, Irish, German and Lithuanian families) that's slowly getting "gentrified" with hipsters, Wrigleyville is kids just out of college, etc. Of course those are very rough stereotypes and each neighborhood is a lot more diverse than that, but that gives you a general idea. 

The coolest apartments in McKinley Park ... inside what used to be a church!
There are so many neighborhoods here that even people who have lived here all their lives don't know all of them. In fact, in the entire time we have lived in tiny McKinley Park, I've only met two people who actually knew where it was when they asked me where I live. So usually Frank and I tell people we live in Bridgeport, since it's a much larger and better-known neighborhood that's just a mile away.

Even though McKinley Park is one of the smallest and least-known Chicago neighborhoods, we have come to really love it over the past two years … so much so that we convinced some of our friends to move here too!

Here are the top five reasons we love living in McKinley Park:


Oh my goodness, I can't say enough how great this is. Everywhere else in Chicago (it seems like) parking is such. a. pain. Either you have to pay to park (and the sky-high rates in the downtown areas are practically extortion) or you have to have some special sticker that expires way too fast or you need an expensive permit… It's a complete hassle. But here in good ol' McKinley Park, our friends can come visit and be guaranteed ample, free parking right on our street. That is NOT the case when we visit a lot of other neighborhoods, let me assure you!

2. Awesome restaurants

We are completely spoiled with many fantastic restaurants within just a few miles of our home. Tio Luis has fantastic Mexican, Chiu Quon has delicious Chinese (and the best pork buns you'll ever eat), Huck Finn is the quintessential classic diner (you have to try their apple fritters!), and Frank is mildly obsessed with Lindy's for chili and Gertie's for milkshakes (they share a location).

If you include Bridgeport, which we do since it's so close, there's also these:
  • Pancho Pistola's for Mexican food
  • Husky Hog BBQ for some of the best BBQ you will ever eat (we have not found better BBQ in Chicago, and believe me, we've looked)
  • Pleasant House for amaaaazing British meat pies, Scotch eggs, etc.
  • Zaytune for Mediterranean
  • Nana for local/organic and slightly more upscale dining
  • Bridgeport Coffee for casual sandwiches and truly excellent coffee
  • Jackalope Coffeehouse (which serves MAPLE BACON DONUTS, omg)
  • Bridgeport Restaurant for another classic diner
  • Ed's Potsticker House for lovely upscale Chinese (think white tablecloths and hushed voices) and the most authentic Northern Chinese cuisine in the city (according to a former co-worker from northern China)
  • Scoops Ice Cream (voted one of the best in Chicago!)

Whew! That was quite the list. But seriously, we are spoiled with the amazing dining options around here. And now I kind of want to eat out tonight…

3. Walking distance to parks, playgrounds, the library and the grocery store

Ok, so I suppose that not every single home in McKinley Park is walking distance from all those things … but probably, since this neighborhood is so small.

The actual eponymous park is FAN-tastic. The park is huge and includes basketball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields, football fields, a playground, AND a big beautiful pond that you can fish in and that always has lots of ducks and geese. There are lots of walking trails and some big grassy fields where we like to take picnics.

From a walk in McKinley Park over the weekend

Frankie was obsessed with the ducks and kept saying "Guck! Guck!"
There's another playground down the block from us, and several grocery stores within a few blocks. Our library is only a few blocks away too, and is small but cute and has a great movie selection.

4. A wonderful church community

Again, I'm sure this doesn't apply to every person living in McKinley Park, but for us it's a huge selling point. The closest Catholic church to us is St. Mary of Perpetual Help. We had never even heard of this little parish until we moved here, but as luck would have it, it's a vibrant, dynamic, incredibly welcoming community led by two amazing priests. We switch off between the Tridentine Mass at 8:30am and the Novus Ordo Mass in English at 10:30am—either way, you can count on sound, sensible preaching and a beautiful service.

Over the past two years, Frank and I have thrown ourselves wholeheartedly into our church community. He serves on the finance committee and is the Deputy Grand Knight for the new Knights of Columbus council. I started the moms' group and together we are working to start a welcome committee (with our pastor's enthusiastic support). All this is possible because our pastors are such wise, energetic, and devout leaders. I truly cannot say enough good things about those two kind, saintly men and the wonderful things they are doing there.

Even in just the two years we have been going there, the parish has grown by leaps and bounds (in fact, recently Father shared that the number of parishioners has grown by 25% in the past two years!). You see dozens of babies and little kids at Mass every Sunday—helped along by the fact that our pastors make a point of welcoming young families and saying how good it is to see the little ones at Mass (can you see why I love them?!). We are lucky to count our pastors among our dear friends, and even luckier to have such an amazing parish so close to us.

5. Diversity

One of my favorite things about living in McKinley Park is the diversity of this community. As people who look Caucasian, Frank and I are definitely the ethnic minority in both our neighborhood and our church … and I kind of love that. When I go to local Mexican restaurants or the nearest grocery store, the waiters and cashiers greet me in Spanish; when I go local Chinese restaurants, they greet me in Chinese; when I go to the park or playground, we are often the only family not speaking Spanish; and when I go to church, most of the pews are filled with Mexican families or older Polish people, and the signs around the Church are in Polish. I find the diversity of our neighborhood to be really refreshing and, in a way, more "real world." It's a great environment for our family and I love that my son is growing up surrounded by people from a wide range of races and ethnicities.

So, there you have it, my five favorite reasons for living where I do. Would you believe that when Frank first suggested moving here, I was totally opposed? I thought we had to live on the North Side where all the cool kids hang out. But now that we have been here two years, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. South Side forever and ever.

What's your favorite thing about where you live? And if you're from near Chicago, be honest: had you ever heard of McKinley Park before this blog post?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Frankie signs // favorite memories with our one-year-old

It's amazing to see Frankie turning into more of a little boy and less of a baby. It seems like every day, he gets a little older: his limbs are longer, he is more alert and focused on adult activities, his gestures and expressions are becoming more deliberate, and he understands a lot more than we realize!

I taught him sign language to ask to "nurse" and for "more" food the week he turned one. I'm working on teaching him the signs for "all done" and "water," but those haven't caught on yet. Still, with just those two signs, he's managed to have some hilarious communications! Here are some of my favorite Frankie signing stories:

It makes me laugh to see the serious, intense face he makes when he signs, like he is focusing all his energy on this communication.

Last week I was feeding him cherry tomatoes cut in half (a favorite snack around these parts). He was holding one in his hand when he started signing for "more." I shook my head and responded, "No, Frankie, you're holding one in your hand. You can't have more until you finish that one." So he promptly shoved the entire tomato half into his mouth and with cheeks bulging looked up at me all innocently and signed for "more! more!" Little stinker.

Another time I kept giving him carrots when he really wanted a Cheerio. When he thought I wasn't looking, he started surreptitiously dropping the carrots down the far side of his high chair.

Recently I traveled with my family to Champaign for my younger sister's university graduation. Frank wasn't able to come because of a work trip, so I ended up sharing a bed with my youngest sister. She was already asleep before I finally got my wild baby settled down and nursing to sleep. Right before he fell asleep, he turned away from me and rolled to face my sister.. whose elbow happened to be right next to his face .. so he tried to latch on to her elbow! But it was just a little bit out of his reach, so he reached up one little arm and sleepily signed to her, "Nurse…" before he drifted off to sleep. I was laughing so hard and couldn't believe I was the only one awake for it!

Like most babies, he absolutely loves dogs. He used to say "Doe!" every time he saw one, but now he says "Gog! Gog!" He will spot a dog two blocks away and start urgently saying, "Gog!" Which is cute at first, but less cute when the gigantic mastiff starts sniffing his feet and he wriggles and squirms trying to find a way to poke it in the head.

He says "Cah!" for "car"—we joke he has a Boston accent.

He says "Bah" for ball and "bah-bee" for baby. He loves babies! Whenever he sees a baby younger than himself, he puckers up his lips and blows kisses, which of course melts my heart. But he blows kisses from about a foot away, and is not interested in getting any closer!

He loves to play catch. We throw him a ball and he tries to throw it back, but usually he gets so excited that he doesn't want to bother throwing it and crawls over to put it in my hand instead, laughing the whole time.

Like most babies, he is obsessed with ceilings, especially lights and fans. (One of his first words was "Fffffaaaa" for the box fan in our bedroom that he loves to watch me turn off after naps.) When something on the ceiling catches his attention, he will let out a loud gasp and dramatically throw back his head to stare, often while pointing upward (and he always points with his thumb and a closed fist).

I put him in a box on the patio and he thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened to him!

He says a bunch of words already. The doctor commented at his one-year check-up that he's very verbal for his age. Hmmm, I wonder where he gets that from? :)

He loves "going for a dangle", as we call letting him dangle his head backwards off my lap. It always makes him laugh.

Similarly, nothing makes him laugh quite like when someone imitates him.

He is getting so good at understanding what we are saying. Yesterday I pointed to my nose and said, "Nose" a few times. Now whenever you ask him, "Where's my nose?" he will point to it and say "Nuh-nuh." But he won't point to his OWN nose, only yours. I think he's in doubt that his exists!

Similarly, yesterday we were in the bedroom and I asked him, "Frankie, would you like to go have breakfast?" He began signing for "more"! I was shocked since I'd given him no context clues, but he knew what I was saying!

His favorite thing in the world is waving "hi" and "bye" to absolutely everybody. One of my sisters commented, "Frankie thinks he's a parade float." He does this hilariously genteel little wave, rotating his wrist, that we call his "royal wave" because that's exactly what it looks like.

And because I want to remember this too, here are some funny stories about the sweet little girl (the same age as Frankie!) who lives next door to us…

She is obsessed with this one bottle of balsamic vinegar that we keep on a shelf in the kitchen. Whenever she comes over, she goes to find it and then carries it around with her everywhere. I've tried hiding it behind other things, and that clever little girl will move whatever is in her way to get to it! I'm impressed with her perseverance and problem solving … but I'm still hiding the bottle somewhere else next time. ;)

She also is obsessed with this one mini crock pot we have. I think she likes that it has a plastic lid and is small enough for her to tote around. She loves to take it off the shelf and play that she's cooking with it. It just cracks me up that with all the toys and books we have in our house, her favorite things are the balsamic vinegar and mini crock pot!

Her favorite word is "Hi!" and she has the most perfect comedic timing with that one word. Every time I catch her doing something she shouldn't (opening the cabinets or whatever), she looks up at me, smiles sweetly, and shouts "Hi!!!" almost like she is trying to distract me. It makes me laugh every time. She also notices whenever there is a lull in the adults' conversation, and will give us all a big grin and "Hi!" into the silence. So, so funny. We love having her around to play with Frankie and entertain us with her cute ways.

Speaking of our neighbors, I figured I would update you all on how that is going since our friends moved next door in March. In brief, it's going awesome. :) The running joke (and it's pretty accurate!) is that it's like being in a college dorm again. We live down the hall from each other, we "study" and "do homework" together (because both wives work part-time from home), and we each have a tiny and very clingy little roommate. :) We take the babies on all kinds of fun "field trips" during the day, like going hiking, or swimming, or to the park … or grocery shopping… whatever that day brings. It's great.

A recent trip to the grocery store:

Well, there are some fun memories of Frankie from his first month of being one. I am still absolutely obsessed with this age (even as Frankie is currently hitting my knee and yelling for attention). So much personality! So much nighttime sleep! So entertaining and sweet and fun! One-year-olds are the absolute best, I will say it again and again. I've heard things will get a lot harder when he hits those terrible twos (or more accurately, 18 months) so I'm just enjoying this sweetness and good behavior while it lasts.

What's your favorite age to parent (if you have one)? Mine so far is definitely a one-year-old. Here's hoping that each new age becomes the favorite when it comes!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Our boy is one

One-year-olds are the best, man. Give me one-year-olds forever.

I can put him on the floor and he will play with his toys for 30 or 40 minutes. I can put him in a high chair at a restaurant and he'll happily snack on finger food while I eat in peace. He sleeps for nice long stretches at night. He does sign language to tell me when he wants to "nurse" and when he wants "more" food. Most of all, he has so much personality! He tells jokes, plays games, waves enthusiastically at strangers, and loves to make new friends.

If you had told me a year ago how much easier parenting would get, I never would have believed you.

Our boy lucked out this year with THREE birthday parties. I know. Who even am I? What happened to minimalism?!

First we celebrated with an "open house" party at our apartment on Saturday afternoon. We invited all of Frankie's little baby friends (I think 9 babies ended up coming) and of course their parents. Frank made BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, Italian sausage, black beans and rice, and his Grandma's famous macaroni salad (which is completely addictive).

I made teddy bear cupcakes because our (very informal) theme was "Little Bear."

Thank you, Pinterest.

My dear friend Giedre took these beautiful pictures of his party for us. My heart completely melted when I saw the collage she made of photos from the past year. Has it really been a year? The longest and the shortest, the best and the hardest year of my life.

For a long time, I could not understand why parents made such a big deal out of first birthdays. In fact, I joked that I was going to send out invitations that said, "Come celebrate Frank and Tess surviving their first year as parents!!" But then a few weeks before his birthday I realized this: parenting may be hard, but when you celebrate your child's birthday, you choose to forget all of the hard things you may have gone through and simply be grateful for the gift of their life. Our boy is the light of our lives. I will never stop being grateful that I get to be his mother. His first birthday was a chance for us to celebrate that.

Frankie loves LOVES when people sing "Happy birthday" to him, so we must have sang it at least 20 times over the course of the weekend. I don't want to forget his face when we dimmed the lights and lit the candle on his cupcake. Everyone in the room looked at him and started singing, and his little face just lit up. You could see that he was thinking, "All of these people are singing to me??" Even now, thinking about it makes me start to tear up. He was so happy.

Then we blew out the candle (I tried to teach him how to do it in advance, but he just laughed and tried to grab the candle) and I put the cupcake on his tray. He looked at it for a moment, then picked it right up and bit in! It was like he knew exactly how to eat a cupcake. That brought down the house. He spent the next 20 minutes happily eating all the frosting, and then crumbling the cake part into tiny crumbs which he generously scattered all over his high chair and the floor. He had such a good time.

Later on, Frank let him eat a chocolate-covered pretzel, and he was SO HAPPY and covered in chocolate and slightly wired from all that sugar. Not to mention what a great time he had crawling around the floor with all his little baby friends. This boy is so friendly and energetic—I wonder where he gets that from? ;) When I put him to bed that night, he lay on his back, closed his eyes, and softly whispered, "Wow. Wow." He had a great day.

The next day, Sunday, was his actual birthday. After church in the morning, we went over to my parents' house for Party #2 (my parents were out of town on Saturday which is why we opted to have a friend party and a family party). We did the cupcake-candle-singing again, and he was just as excited the second time around. My little sister took this video:

Then Monday morning, I got up at 3:50 am to catch a flight to Philly to spend the week with my in-laws and my twin sister. So Frankie got to have Party #3 at my in-laws' house on Monday. I have a bunch of pictures from the trip that I'll be sharing soon! You can see a few of them over on Instagram (which is my favorite social medium these days—I'm kind of addicted).

There are so many things I love about my boy at this age. His soft blonde curls that give him crazy bedhead. His ability to really focus and concentrate when he's introduced to something new. His impressive powers of imitation as he mimics my sounds and actions. His energy. His enthusiasm. His undeniable extroversion. He is just our darling boy, and we love him to pieces.

Happy birthday, little bear. Being your mother is such a privilege.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Two years since Virginia

This past week has been full of emotions as it marks both two years since I moved away from Virginia and one year since Frankie was born (more about that in another post).

It's hard to believe I've now lived in Chicago (as an adult) for longer than I lived in Virginia.

My years in Virginia were a crucial part of my growing-up. I arrived in DC fresh out of college. I was professionally inexperienced, single, and had only one friend in the city (love you, Ruth).

By the time I left, I had built a strong professional track record and I was weeks away from getting married. Most of all I had made so many friends in the city, wonderful friends who I miss every day.

It helps somewhat that a lot of my dear DC friends have moved away as well—to places like Princeton, Boston, Texas, San Diego, and even Scotland. But Virginia will always have my heart, and there will always be a part of me that wishes we still lived in that beautiful place.

Recently a dear friend came to visit me from Philadelphia. As we sat on the couch talking and catching up on a year's worth of conversation (it was her first time meeting my baby!), we both voiced the longing for all our friends to live near each other.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if we could somehow all live in one place?" I sighed. "All our friends from high school, from college... all my mom friends... Imagine all of us living in the same city, raising our kids together and getting through hard things with each others' help and celebrating the good times together too. Wouldn't that be the best thing ever?"

It absolutely would be the best thing ever, but we both laughed knowing that it's never going to happen. As much as I might joke about starting a "Catholic commune", we know that all those people are never going to be in the same place at the same time, much less live in the same city.

I thought about it some more, though, and this realization came to me: wishing for all of my friends to be in one place together gives me a certain longing for Heaven, because that is the one place where we will finally all be gathered, able to enjoy each other's company for eternity. (If that sounds crazy to you, just ignore it... I said that to Frank earlier this week and he looked at me like I had three heads!)

Just for fun, here's a trip down memory lane...

My "Things we'll miss about DC series":

Our two favorite restaurants (We still haven't found restaurants here in Chicago that take the place of these two!)

My favorite bookstore

Gorgeous Virginia

Our amazing parish (luckily we've found an equally awesome one here in Chicago)

My old job working as a book editor

And one more just for fun...

The day that Ruth and I went to see the cherry blossoms