Tuesday Things – Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Looking for a last minute Valentine’s Day gift? Here are a few of my current favorite things from Etsy, which would make awesome gifts for the lucky guy, gal, or pooch in your life! (Yeah, you probably can’t get these in time for Valentine’s day now… but in my opinion EVERY day is a great day to show your people (& pets) how much you love them. 🙂

For the Ladies

LadiesVDay

1) “Pining For You” canvas tote from Urban Bird & Co. // 2) Adjustable, silver-plated Arrow Ring from Bellajoo // 3) “Hello my Darling” 11 x 14 Print from Livy Love Designs

For the Gents

GentsVDay

1) Maple Wood Watch from Tmbrwood //  His & Her Ice Cream Spoons from For Such a Time Designs //  Acoustic iPhone Dock Amplifier from Schuttenworks.

For the Pups

PetVDay

1) Sparkle Hearts Bow Tie Collar from Chucklehounds // 2) Sweet Heart Sweet Potato, Natural Dog Treats from The Kind Puppy // Personalized Heart & Bone Dog Bowl from Purple Glaze Pottery UK.

Have a great day! ❤

Love is a Journey

Four years ago, my little brother Michael flew from JFK International Airport to Sweden, where he would spend a semester teaching abroad at Jonkoping University. Little did we know that while he was thousands of miles away in Sweden, Michael would meet Priscila, a student from Lima, Peru, and his future wife!

MikePrisci1

Michael and Priscila racked up quite the airplane mileage over the course of their relationship – which was primarily a long-distance one for several years – visiting each others’ home countries and traveling together.

MikePriciPeru

Priscila and Michael now live together here in the U.S. – working in the Philadelphia area and planning a July wedding that will take place in Lima, Peru! (I just bought my plane tickets and couldn’t be more excited!)

My mother and I teamed up to throw Priscila a SURPRISE bridal shower (which, for possibly the first time in the history of bridal showers, was a successful surprise)! For weeks I plotted & crafted in secret (which partially explains my absence from blog-o-land over the past month, as I couldn’t share anything I was working on for the shower). I’m a theme kinda girl, and so we went with a travel themed party, focused primarily on the couple’s international love story.

Invite1

We used maps & globes, airplane travel & international mail as cornerstones for the overall theme, and paid special homage to four important locations for Mike & Priscila: The U.S. (primarily Philadelphia), Peru, Sweden, and France (the pair took a trip to Paris, France together, and so they attach special meaning to all things Parisian).

MantleDisplay1

But beyond all the decorations and international food offerings, this party was really about celebrating Priscila – a beautiful and kind woman who has become an important member of our family, and an amazing new sister-in-law and friend to me. Living away from home has its challenges – my brothers and I have all traveled and moved to various places and countries – and while Priscila has built a lovely life in Pennsylvania with my brother, I know she misses her home and her family. And so our secret, special surprise was truly the highlight of the party – “sneaking” Mili, Priscila’s mother, into Philadelphia (where she spent the night before the shower at my parent’s house). When Priscila walked into her shower (which she believed to be a family birthday party, hence the flowers in my brother’s hand), amidst the shouts of surprise and the cheers from her new Pennsylvania family, her eyes went immediately to her mother – and this happened:

PriscilaSurprise1

PriscilaSurprise2

And then this:

PrisciMili

And this.

PrisciMiliHug

It was a lovely day, and I have loads of details – things I crafted, things my mother & other relatives made, things Mili brought us from Peru, and things I made my father do – but they can wait until tomorrow. Today I want to focus on the real story of this travel-themed bridal shower: love. Go ahead and roll your eyes at all of my cheesiness. I don’t even care. 🙂

I hope you have a wonderful day!

Turn Towards the Light

Plants need sunlight to survive. To make food, photosynthesize, and all of that science-y stuff. My amaryllis, purchased about a month ago and happily thriving in its bright red pot on my dining room table, bends and turns towards the window, craving the sun’s rays. Somewhere in its molecular make-up is the understanding that a life without the sunlight means certain death.

In our lives, it is all too easy to fall into a pattern of melancholy, apathy, or desperation. To either consciously or sub-consciously shroud ourselves in darkness, believing a challenge to be insurmountable, turning proverbial molehills into mountains in our hearts.

And then an event comes along that shatters any mountain of your own with its inexplicable horror – that threatens to plunge you into the deepest and darkest pit of despair.

An amaryllis will not survive in darkness. It will not bloom, it will not share its precious, life giving blossom and its burst of colorful beauty. And thus a person, or entire community of people, cannot survive – cannot share their own beauty – without the light. We must always remember to turn towards the light. And we must BE the light for those who suffer more than any one parent, sibling, teacher, or friend should ever have to bear.

On this Monday, as a community and a nation attempt to pick up the pieces of a shattered world, I am counting my blessings as never before. I am taking a lesson from the amaryllis that, unaware of the horrific events of Friday the 14th of December, is bending and turning towards the light, preparing to do its small yet meaningful part. When my amaryllis blooms, it will bring joy to my heart, and serve as a reminder of my own responsibility to bloom & bring joy to whomever I can.

amaryllis

On Tuesday, December 18th, I will join others in the blogging community to observe a day of silence in honor of those who lost their lives or the lights of their lives in Newtown, Connecticut. I wish everyone reading nothing but love, peace, and light this week and forever.

Tell Me How You Really Feel.

Last night, FH and I drove to Sandy Hook, NJ to meet up with Amy Migliore & Lauren Gibson of Focal Point Studios for a little engagement photo shoot. This is one wedding detail were are quite behind on, I realize, but it worked out so well because FH & I both love the beach & summer evenings, so although our wedding is in the Autumn, we got to enjoy another favorite season & build some lovely (and hilarious) new memories.

One of the things I love the most about my future hubby, is his unfailing honesty and commitment to be true to himself. In our relationship, I very rarely find myself wondering what he ‘really feels’ about something, because 99% of the time, he will tell me the truth. (Although, like every good man, he does have a good grasp on the little lies that make a lady feel pretty or normal… even when she is lookin’ a mess or acting crazy.)

Anyway, my point is that I love my FH’s strong individuality (as he loves mine- there are no sheep to be herded in this household). With that said, when the idea of taking engagement pictures came about, my future hubby was very clear about his less-than-thrilled attitude. I imagine most husbands-to-be do not jump at the chance to stand in forced positions, awkwardly striking the “I’m looking at you with a natural, loving expression while people stand around me snapping photos and inside I sort of hate you a little bit for making me do this” pose. Or maybe they do. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve only been engaged to one man, and my man was not excited.

So when I said at the beginning of this post that I love how my FH always tells me the truth about what he feels, I meant it. But I love even more that last night he a) told me the truth about how he felt, but then, b) did it anyway. And tried to smile, and eventually relaxed enough to be his normal, joking, sarcastic, and wonderful self. I was so happy to be taking pictures with such a loving & wonderful man last night. Our photographers were so sweet & made us feel as comfortable as possible.

After we thought our photo session was over, my FH assuming he was driving away to safety, and Amy & Lauren flashed for us to stop – insisting we just had to get out of the car to take a few more pictures because the sunset was just TOO beautiful to miss – my man dutifully parked the car & walked through the dunes to capture just a few more pictures. The combination of Amy & Lauren’s commitment to their artistic vision (and to capturing gorgeous photos for us to cherish), with my FH’s ability to compromise for love the bribe of a giant ice cream sundae when we got home, made for a fantastic evening.

Lauren shared her perspective in a lovely (and insightful look at marriage and compromise) post over on the Focal Point Studios blog, where you can see some of the pictures from our shoot. If you live in the Philly/NYC and are looking for incredibly talented and fun photographers, you simply MUST contact Amy & Lauren! Thanks again, ladies!

Lessons from my Mother [ A Mother’s Day Series]

Today I finish my Mother’s Day Series. On Friday, I began by writing about my amazing Grandma. Saturday, I shared lessons and stories from my wonderful Mommom.

Today’s lessons from my mother barely scratch the surface. I was lucky enough to be raised by my mother and father in the most loving and supportive home imaginable, and I will be forever grateful for the lessons learned about the love, commitment, sacrifice and good humor necessary to raise a family.

Me and my Mother

Lesson #1: sometimes it’s OK not to tell. My parents marriage has been a lifelong inspiration to my brothers and me. They raised us through a clear partnership, never undermining the other or shirking responsibility. My father is an incredibly kind man, who managed my teenage-daughter tendencies with more patience than I ever deserved. My father is also fiscally conservative, and much smarter than I. He tried (is still trying, really) to instill the same values in me, and teach me to be smart with my money. My parents, as a team, worked hard to ensure my brothers and I had everything we could ever need, while simultaneously teaching us how to make good financial decisions. When my mother made an exorbitant purchase, it was usually my fault. And my mother taught me that it was OK to keep those purchases a secret. 🙂

Like every prom, for instance, when my mother repeatedly told me to not tell dad the cost of my dress (or dresses, as was the case one year). And every back-to-school shopping trip, when my mother spoiled me. I’m pretty sure every receipt from those trips was hidden from my father, just to spare him the trauma.

Mom- I’m not sure if this was a good or bad lesson, because occasionally I find myself ‘hiding’ the occasional purchase from my future hubby. But I guess we can agree to keep the secrets (well, since I’m blogging about this now, I guess the cat’s out of the bag…). What I’m really trying to say is- thanks, Mom, for buying me pretty things. (And thanks, Dad, for pretending not to be upset and telling me I looked beautiful).

Lesson #2: don’t be afraid to try new things. My mom put her career on hold to devote her time to raising my brothers and me. As an adult, I finally appreciate the sacrifices that my mother made, personally and financially, to care for her family. Once we were all old enough to look out for ourselves a bit, my mom made the decision to go back to school and become a teacher. Of anybody that I know, my mother was truly destined to teach. She is one of those inspiring teachers whose students remember for a lifetime- and one of the reasons I chose to become a teacher myself.

One of my mother’s greatest traits is her willingness, and eagerness, to continue learning and growing herself. My mom embraces new technology, ideas, and opportunities, and is not afraid to jump into the deep end and figure things out as she goes along. (Speaking figuratively, as one thing my mom did not learn- and likely never will- is how to swim).

My mother’s drive and commitment to her own academic, personal and career growth is an inspiration to me.

Lesson # 3: it’s ok to cry… but try not to.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has always firmly asserted her strength and ability to maintain her composure. If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you that she never cries. I am here today to tell you that she is flat-out lying.

Maybe when we were younger, it was true. My mom has a sarcastic edge at times, and does not necessarily wear her emotions on her sleeve. Yet my mother rarely leaves a wedding, graduation, concert, or chick flick with dry eyes. Usually, the louder her assertions that she will not cry, the faster the tears will flow.

I cry all the time. I cry watching the Today Show in the morning. I cry watching Friends re-runs. I cry when people around me cry. I cry when people talk about crying. I’ve always been a crier- I’ve always been a little bit sappy. I’ve learned from my mother that pretending to be tough doesn’t really change anything- things are still going to make you feel sad, or happy, or simply just emotional. The important thing is that your family and friends get you- and love you either way. Whether your a crier who owns it (me) or a crier & denier (mom)… it’s all good.

Lesson #4: be a good friend. My mother is a great friend. She has maintained long and wonderful friendships with many people. Because my mother is still close with her best friend from high school, I look to her as an example of how to be a good friend. My mom makes it a priority to find the time to spend with her friends. She is a thoughtful gift giver, a listening ear on the telephone, and a gracious host to friends for lunch or coffee. Growing up, I observed my mother’s close friendships and learned the importance of being a good friend from her.

I love that my mother’s friends are such an important part of my own life. I know, as people change, move, and have families, that life can get in the way. Friendship is something that requires effort on two sides- though the work you put in is repaid tenfold. I learned through observation the importance of friendship, from watching my mother my whole life. I take inspiration from her strong connections- with both old friends and new- and aspire to be the kind of friend she is.

My mother still has lots more to teach me. Next week, we have a sewing lessons scheduled (since I did not pay attention the first time around). Someday, my mom will have to teach me just how to be the amazing mother she is.

This Mother’s Day, mom, I want to thank you for these lessons and more. You are a daily inspiration to me, and both an amazing mother and friend. You deserve to enjoy a very special day today. I love you!

Lessons from my Mommom [A Mother’s Day Series]

I count myself lucky, among friends and other twenty-somethings, to have two amazing and loving grandmothers in my life. I adore them both, and do not see them as often as I would like. With Mother’s Day approaching, I began a post entitled “Lessons from my Mother”. I’ll share this post on Sunday. While writing, however, I realized I’ve had the privilege of learning from, and spending time with, my two darling grandmothers- and decided to celebrate “Mother’s Weekend”, and share a similar post dedicated to the influence both women have on my life.

Today I will continue my ‘mini series’ honoring the mothers in my life. I wrote about my steadfast Grandma and her love-filled cookies here, and will conclude the series on Sunday (Mother’s Day) with my own mother.

My Mommom (my mother’s mother) is one of the loveliest, most amazing women that I know. My Mommom and Grandfather met in high school.

My Mommom and Grandpop at Prom- 1951

Married now for 59 years,  Mommom and Grandpop raised two daughters, and a whole menagerie of animals.

My Mommom, like my mother, is sharp and witty. I can trace my speed reading abilities up the family tree through my Mother to my Mommom. I wish I had inherited my Mommom’s green thumb, but every plant I touch tends to die. The ultimate DIY crafter, my Mommom’s knit Christmas stockings and hand braided rugs are just a sampling of her abilities.

The stories I will share today paint a picture of my Mommom as the loving wife, mother and grandmother that she is.

Lesson #1- boys will be boys… so let them. This may seem a bit strange, considering my Mommom had two daughters. However, as each day brings me closer to my wedding and future with the love of my life, I cannot help but to reflect on the marriages of my parents and grandparents (all of which are inspiring). My Mommom must absolutely be the most patient and accepting woman that I know. The woman kept a home, perfected a recipe for homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and raised two girls, all while her husband (my amazing, animal-loving, Eagle Scout Grandpop)  ran a mini zoo in the house. By the time I came around, my Mommom and Grandpop had a fairly ‘normal’ collection of pets. Dogs, a couple of parrots, and a hawk in the backyard.

What’s that you say? A hawk is not your typical cuddle-buddy pet? Alright, so maybe that wasn’t so normal. For us, though, a hawk in the backyard at Mommom & Grandpop’s house was simply the norm. My grandfather is a falconer (Yes, that link will take you to the wikipedia page on falconry. Read up.) and so we were used to Grandpop’s hawks. If you find this unusual, however, just wait. When my mother was growing up, my Grandpop’s pets were slightly odder, even, than a hawk.

I’ve heard tales of pet raccoons, baby chicks, an owl and… a skunk. I did a little fact checking, and received this list from my mother:

“When I was growing up we had: baby chicks from Easter that grew into crowing roosters in our back bedroom of our Philadelphia row house, a crow named Pete that could talk and whistle, a raccoon named Snoopy who could (and did) flood the basement by turning on the water, a skunk named Rosebud, 2 flying squirrels (both of which drowned in the toilet), a chinchilla, an iguana named Lizzie, 4 little saw whet owls, and several dogs, but no cats because Mother does not like cats. When Dad got into falconry, they had a great horned owl named Plato and then many hawks, several of which they raised from infancy. A prairie falcon named Sundance learned to fly by flying from lampshade to lampshade in my parents’ living room. Dad trapped a white footed deer mouse in a havahart trap and decided to keep it as a pet. It was pregnant, so soon they had an aquarium full of mice, all of which escaped into the house when Dad took the lid off the cage. We also had hamsters and guinea pigs, but those were normal.”

My mother finished this list with the words: “Yes, your Mommom is a saint.”

I’ve also heard tell of my Grandfather’s tendency to pick up roadkill off the side of the road, and store it in the family freezer. (Hawk food. duh).

I never once heard my Mommom complain about these animals. Is it possible that, behind closed doors, my Grandpop got an earful every now and then? I’d imagine so. Maybe when Snoopy the raccoon flooded the basement, or possibly after the litter of deer mice escaped into the house. Even so- their marriage is now 59 years strong. I believe that my Mommom loved and accepted my Grandpop for the naturalist, adventurer that he is, and did not try to change him. Too many relationships today are marred by one partner demanding drastic changes of the other. I will try, in my marriage, to remember my Mommom’s patience. If my (future) husband spends an entire Saturday playing video games, or disagrees with me on a political issue (that one is not an *if* but a *when), rather than demanding that he change or adjust his personality to better suit mine, I will remind myself: Mommom lived with a skunk.

My Mommom & Me

Lesson #2: even though I can’t knit… I learned a lot. I do not know how to knit. I so wish that I did, so that I could knit scarves as Christmas gifts and baby blankets when my friends become mothers. My Mommom attempted to teach me to knit several times. It never worked. I lack patience. I am easily frustrated when I am not perfect at something right away. My mother tried to teach me to sew several times, with the same results. I grow tired of repetitive actions, cannot control my restless legs, and eventually… throw in the towel.

Despite my complete failure each time my Mommom broke out her knitting needles and beckoned me to join her on the couch, she continued to try. A major factor working against Mommom during these knitting lessons was that she attempted to teach me while we were on vacation. Who wants to learn to knit when the beach is three blocks away? Poor Mommom tried and failed at our knitting lessons for a few summers in a row, before throwing in the towel herself. I could kick myself, now, for not taking advantage of free lessons that would have led to years of happy crafting on my end. Mommom does not knit herself, anymore, and she never managed to teach my Mother (who claims left-handedness as an excuse), so now I need to get it together and teach myself.

Looking back now, I would not change a thing. I would not tell Mommom not to bother, to give up on me. Because on the occasions when we did sit side by side on the couch in our rented beach house, I got to soak up full, un-interrupted Mommom & me time. I got to hear stories of the annual family vacations to LBI back when my mother was a little girl. She shared tales of ridiculous pranks our boy-heavy family would play on one another. She’d sneak me a Werther’s butterscotch candy from her beach bag (they were a daily beach necessity) while patiently modeling the purl stitch. I was lucky, growing up. I was my parent’s only daughter, and my Mommom and Grandpop’s only granddaughter. Despite being the middle child (along with all of the usual neurosis that accompanies children in the middle), I was the logical choice for knitting lessons and shopping trips. And I am so grateful that my Mommom attempted to share her talents with me, because I was lucky enough to get her full attention. Someday, I’ll figure this whole knitting thing out, and I hope I can sit together with my Mommom on the couch and show her.

Mommom and Grandpop with their Great-Grandson (my nephew)

Lessons from my Grandma [A Mother’s Day Series]

I count myself lucky, among friends and other twenty-somethings, to have two amazing and loving grandmothers in my life. I adore them both, and do not see them as often as I would like. With Mother’s Day approaching, I began a post entitled “Lessons from my Mother”. I’ll share this post on Sunday. While writing, however, I realized I’ve had the privilege of learning from, and spending time with, my two darling grandmothers- and decided to celebrate “Mother’s Weekend”, and share a similar post dedicated to the influence both women have on my life.

Today’s post will focus on my father’s mother- my Grandma.

Grandma is a force of nature. My Grandma, along with her loving husband, my Pappap, raised six children- four boys and two girls- on a farm in central PA. She worked as a nurse, and in retirement dedicated her time to volunteering at her church. She can bake cookies and sweets like nobody’s business, and is the proud grandmother to thirteen grandchildren and one great-grandson.

My wonderful Grandma taught me so many things throughout our time together, and today I will share two important lessons I connect with my Grandma.

Lesson #1- size matters not.

While this lesson could easily apply to my mother and her mother- both mighty yet short of stature- I think the sheer size of my Grandma’s family renders her ratio of inner strength to actual physical size particularly awe inspiring. As I said, six kids… thirteen grandchildren. Add husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends to our ever growing family- and you’d find a farmhouse literally packed to the gills every holiday… with Grandma in full command. My father, and his brothers and sisters, grew into fantastically interesting adults, living full lives and raising wonderful children of their own (myself included, of course). My father’s patience, calming presence and strong sense of responsibility to family and friends is surely a reflection of expert parenting on the part of Grandma and Pappap. In fact, my father towers over his mother in height- yet Grandma firmly holds the position of family matriarch. And although I stand a full head taller than my Grandma (thanks for those genes, Dad)- she possesses a steady strength I could only hope to attain.

Over the years, I have witnessed my Grandma’s incredible strength in the face of tragedy. She lost her daughter, my aunt, to cancer. Such a loss flies in the face of the natural order of things. Mothers are not meant to bury their daughters.

When my Pappap passed away, in my heart I found my own pain compounded by the understanding of my Grandma’s loss. It is a painful certainty that eventually, we all must say goodbye to the people we love. When these crushing realities become too difficult to process, I think of my Grandma- of her strength and grace throughout all of life’s obstacles. And I count my lucky stars that I have such a wonderful woman in my life.

Grandma with her great-grandson, my nephew (posing as Padington Bear!)

Lesson #2- a box of cookies means I love you.

My Grandma bakes cookies every Christmas. I’m not talking a dozen or so chocolate chip and a couple of batches of sugar cookies… I’m talking hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies in scores of varieties. I’m pretty sure she starts baking in July, storing the delicious goodies in the freezer, just to meet her yearly quota. Each of her children and grandchildren have their favorites, and nobody lets Grandma off the hook if there are not enough of the peanut butter, coconut or cornflake variety to go around.

Every Christmas, Grandma hands out buckets and tins full of cookies to each family. When my brothers and I all lived at home, we would fight over the cornflake cookies (our favorite). When we went off to college, we would receive a box of Grandma’s cookies in the mail every December. I loved sharing my Grandma’s cookies with my friends and roommates each year. Due to the large amounts of Crisco and sugar used in the baking of said cookies, my health-conscious BFF Eric would occasionally hide the box of goodies from his female roommates… supposedly “saving” us from our own lack of will power. It is surely safe to say, however, that my Grandma’s cookies brought many a smile to the face of homesick college students each year.

Grandma’s Christmas cookies are more than a wrench in a diet plan or late night snack… my Grandma’s cookies are her special way of spreading her love across the miles and state lines between her and her family. A box of cookies from Grandma- whether hand delivered or dropped on the front porch- means, quite simply, I love you.

Grandma- I love your cookies, and I love you, too. Happy Mother’s Day.

My Mommom (left) and Grandma (right) along with baby S.

Photography by Amy Migliore of Focal Point Studios