Friday, July 17, 2015

Frankie + "Dah-dee"

I don't think we can call Frankie a baby anymore but a toddler instead! It's so cute to see his little personality develop and the funny ways he tries to imitate what we say and do.

He and Frank are the best of pals these days. Nobody can make him laugh quite like his dad can! I think Frank is really enjoying the new-found affection from Frankie after all the months of Frankie preferring me during the baby phase.

Matching outfits at Easter
Here are a few recent stories of those two best buddies...

Frankie said "Daddy" for the first time the night of July 11! First he slowly sounded out "dahhh-dee" and then switched to "dahhh-doo" for a few days. But now it's back to either "dada" or "dah-dee" almost all the time. The best.

One great thing about co-sleeping is that you can see all the funny, cute things your baby does between sleep cycles. A few weeks ago, Frankie sat up in bed in the middle of the night and said, "Dada?" Frank was fast asleep, so Frankie leaned over to plant his face on him, and at first I thought he was biting him! But then I heard his little lips smacking and I realized he was KISSING him instead. Then he dropped down and went right back to sleep like nothing happened!

Another night, Frankie was clearly having a hilarious dream. He was giggling and chuckling in his sleep, and I lay there wondering what on earth could be so funny, and wishing it were possible to know what he was dreaming about. Well, my wish was granted, because suddenly he let out an especially loud laugh and said, "Daaa-daaaa!" all without waking up. How cute to know that he was dreaming about having fun with his dad.

One evening I served soup for dinner, and it was still really hot so Frank began to blow on his spoon to cool the soup down before lifting it to his lips. As I served Frankie his not-hot-at-all baby food, he began to blow on each bite too, laughing and looking at Frank the whole time.

Frankie loves going to Frank's softball games every Monday night, and the real highlight for him is if he gets his own "baw" (ball) to play with and can throw it to me just like Frank pitches it from the mound. He's getting really good at playing catch from watching Frank do it!

Watching dad pitch
Frank has taught him that the dog says "woof", except when Frankie imitates the dog it sounds more like "woo! woo!" in the softest little voice ever. Now Frankie starts to "woof" every time he sees a dog, and once he even got down on his hands and knees to really get into the imitating. Last week we walked past a cat in front of a house, and right on cue Frankie began to "woof" at the cat too! Frank also taught him to "roar" like the lion, which in Frankie-speak is more like "woe!" again in such a sweet little voice.

Whenever he sees Frank's tie rack or his potted plants outside, he points and yells "Dadadadada!" Possibly because I always tell him they're "Dada's ties" and "Dada's plants."

And my personal favorite... every morning before he leaves for work, Frank gives me a kiss goodbye, and Frankie has started to imitate him and give me a kiss right after his dad does! It makes me so happy to see our boy imitating this sweet habit.

I sure do love those two Franks of mine.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Midsummer's Eve

A few months ago, my dear friend Giedre and I were on one of our many wanderings around the city of Chicago when she mentioned kind of sadly that this might be her first summer not making a flower crown. It's an annual tradition for Lithuanians like herself to celebrate Midsummer's Eve with flower crowns and bonfires. It seemed like a shame for her tradition to stop, so I started brainstorming an occasion for her to make a flower crown ... and thus the idea for our Midsummer Garden Party was born.

June 20 was Midsummer's Eve, so we had a little Midsummer's Eve party at my parents' house the 19th. Flower crowns, a bonfire, food, festive outfits... and our good friend who's in the process of opening his own brewpub brought a special homemade mead for the occasion. It was fabulous.

In classic Tess fashion, I forgot to take any pictures during the party... All I have are these ones from before it started, when we were getting everything set up. Who can remember to take pictures when you're busy having fun?! Luckily Giedre took some fabulous ones so I will direct you over to her post (and include a few of hers here!). 

The flower crown station, with a costume station next to it in case anyone needed to borrow a fancy cape:

The bonfire circle:

And flower-garnished tables for drinks and snacks! Special thanks to my good friend Ellie for helping to plan the party and get everything set up.

My little sister and two of her friends dressed up as fairies and had us all laughing with their British accents and lofty promises to grant us Midsummer wishes (my mom took this picture!):

I especially love this picture with my dear friend and "name twin" Theresa:

She is the best.

Some of the guys went all out in vests and knee breeches, and my youngest sister got really into making flower crowns and made one for each girl and even for some of the babies to wear too.

The one thing I would do differently is have the party on a Saturday instead of a Friday, so it would be easier for people to get to after work. But it ended up going so well that now I want to make it an annual tradition!

The irony is that I used to be kind of opposed to the whole concept of flower crowns on adults. I recently saw an article on how to make flower crowns in a women's magazine, and my inner curmudgeon was all, "You have to be kidding me. What are we, 7? I think we're a little too grown-up to need advice on how to make flower crowns of all things!" But the joke's on me, because when Giedre suggested the idea, I absolutely fell in love with it. Why not do something kind of silly and frivolous like that every once in a while? We had a blast.

Happy Midsummer, friends!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A surprise for the Fourth!

Quick PSA: I'm doing almost all of my blogging over on Instagram these days—it's just way easier to update quickly while I'm on the go than doing a whole big blog post. If you want to know what's going on in my life in a more timely fashion, come follow me over there!

Frank and I took a last-minute, whirlwind, surprise trip to visit his family in New Jersey over the weekend. It was so last minute that we bought our flights on Monday and flew out on Thursday! I've never planned a trip on such short notice before, but it was perfect.

Frank had been wanting to go visit his family this summer, but we couldn't figure out a good time. His brother was home from college over Fourth of July weekend (he's taking summer classes so he just got this short little vacation) and finally Frank just couldn't handle it anymore. His whole family was together except for him! He had to be there!

Luckily he had a voucher for free flights from Southwest (pro tip: when they announce your flight is full and they'll give a voucher to anyone who will switch to a later flight, switch to the later flight if you can!!) so we were able to get there on a dime. Then we rented a car and showed up at the Barbers' house just as they were about to drive to the beach! They were all in total shock to see us and kept gasping and repeating, "What in the world?!?!" But once the shock wore off they were all so, so happy.

So off we went to the Jersey Shore!

My sister-in-law Jenna aka my kindred spirit
Kohr's custard was a must, obviously. Frank was so overjoyed to be at the Shore for the first time since we were married that he lost his head a little bit and bought a customized "Down the Shore" sweatshirt. So endearing. At least THIS time he didn't buy an unbelievably tacky muscle shirt emblazoned with a giant map of New Jersey and the phrase "You call it dirty, I call it home" ... like he did last time he was there. Love you, Frank. ;)

Barber kids reunited. They all have the exact same face!
It was kind of wet and drizzly while we were there, but we still had fun. We had lunch at Surf Taco (which totally lived up to the hype) and my father-in-law won a cute stuffed hamster for Frankie in a darts game. Hammy the Hamster (aka Moon over my Hammy) came home with us.

The rest of the trip is a blur of swimming in the backyard pool, delicious meals made by the World's Greatest Chef (my mother-in-law), and games of Apples to Apples. We had a blast, and Frankie got super attached to my in-laws! By the end he could point out each of them when asked, and called his grandpa "Papa" and his aunt "Nenna."

My "happy place" on the hammock
Jenna and I have the exact same swimsuit in different colors - twinsies! :)

Frankie loved the pool, despite the cold water, and would fuss to be taken back in whenever we tried to warm him up with towels!

Thursday night we went to Rossi's for dinner, as we do every time we're in town. Their burgers are out of this world. I recommend the Chambersburger! We also enjoyed brunch there on Sunday after Mass.

Jenna lent me this cute shirt for dinner
As I do every time I visit, I took a million pictures of their house. It's just so beautiful! It was originally built in the late 1700s and local historical documents strongly indicate that Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight there at one point (at the time it was called the Eldridge Plantation). 

This stuff blows my mind. Here in the Midwest, a house like that would be a museum ... but out on the East Coast, my husband grew up sleeping in the same room where Lincoln once stayed!

That plaque says the house was built before 1876
My father-in-law was all, "Lots of times we've had complete strangers come up and take pictures of our house or ask what paint colors we used or how we built our side porch. Isn't that weird?!"

And I was all "No that's not weird at all, have you seen your house?!?"

He rebuilt it from scratch himself (it was a tear-down when he bought it) and did such an amazing job. He is a carpenter and one thing I love about visiting is when he gives us a tour of his shop. It's so orderly and organized, with all these gigantic carpentry tools put away "just so" and the fresh scent of sawdust always in the air. I think about how St. Joseph was a carpenter and wonder if his shop was similar.

Another day we went walking in beautiful Sayen Gardens down the street from their house. It's one of those magical fairyland places where you wish you could stay all day, or do an elaborate photo shoot in fancy outfits. I loved it.

We couldn't figure out why Frankie wouldn't look at the camera, until later on we realized he was staring at my FIL photobombing us

Jenna with all four of the Barber men ... three of whom are named Frank!
Baby-wearing grandpas are the best kind of grandpas :)
A major highlight of the trip was seeing Frank's lovely Aunt Sharon. She is just so wonderful. She somehow manages to be both one of the funniest people I've ever met and one of the most loving and kind. She was telling us a little bit about her work (residence life associate at a homeless shelter) and even though she was just telling funny stories to make us laugh, I was completely blown away by her selflessness and compassion for the people she serves. Then she pulled out the old family photo albums and told us all these amazing stories about her ancestors, and some of them made me cry. You know it's a good conversation when you find yourself crying at one point and laughing your guts out at another. What's that saying from Steel Magnolias? "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." There was lots of that at Sharon's house, and we are so grateful for her hospitality. We love you, Aunt Sharon!

Quick selfie on our way out the door because we forgot to take pictures earlier
The best part of that visit as far as Frankie was concerned was this tiny, vintage rocking chair just his size. He was so delighted when he saw it. He could hardly believe it at first. He sat and stared at it, and then his little face lit up with the biggest smile and he clapped his hands and pointed it out to me like, "Look, Mom! A chair for me!!" It was darling. So we helped him sit in it, and you could tell he felt like the king of the world. He was so excited and didn't want to get out of it. Frank and I decided we need to buy him his own little chair one of these days!

Another highlight was when Matt and Lillian and my favorite nephew stopped by on Friday morning. They live just an hour south of my in-laws and were on their way north to Rhode Island for their godson's baptism, so they spent the morning with us.  It's always so good to see them. Lillian can make me laugh like no one else can, and our boys were so cute playing together. Although her little guy is already walking while Frankie has yet to take a step... we need to step it up in that department!

I don't think I've shared this yet, but we have some amazing news... Lillian and Matt are moving back to Chicago later this month!  Matt will be working for the same company but in their Midwest office, and they'll be staying with my parents while they house-hunt. This is such an answer to prayer and we're all overjoyed!

On Sunday, we realized Frankie was coincidentally matching outfits with my FIL. Two sweet Frank Barbers!

Frank was aching to go play disc golf (aka frisbee golf) while we were there. He loved playing growing up, but hasn't had a chance to play since we got married! So he, his dad, and Jenna did that on our last day. I tagged along wearing Frankie. Our job was searching out discs that got lost in the underbrush.

Getting home was a bit of an adventure. We were supposed to fly out of Philly at 8 pm to be in Chicago by 10, but our flight got delayed by over two hours ... and we didn't find out about the delay til we were already at the airport, so we couldn't wait it out at my in-laws' house.

As you can imagine, Frankie was NOT. HAPPY. Luckily he stayed calm as long as I was wearing him and walking around, so he and I took a nice walking tour of the entire terminal. I looked on the bright side that it was a chance to get some exercise after the feasting of the past weekend, and for the millionth time thought, "Thank God for babywearing!"

At one point I put him down in an empty gate to crawl around and get his energy out. An airline employee came by to empty the trash cans and Frankie was just fascinated and gave the gentleman an enthusiastic round of applause. It was hilarious and definitely gave a silver lining to the evening.

The other silver lining was that Frankie fell asleep right after we (FINALLY) took off! And really, he behaved extremely well the whole evening, all things considered. He's a trooper. I feel like I need to do a blog post on flying with babies, because it's really a lot better than I ever expected it to be.

It was so good to see our Barber family. I'm grateful for that husband of mine and his knack for pulling off the best thoughtful, spontaneous surprises. Happy Fourth, friends!

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?