Easter is hands-down my favorite holiday. It’s in the best season with the best holiday food and especially candy. The church services during the Triduum are some of my favorites all year, and we are reminded that Jesus has conquered death and we have nothing to fear. What’s not to like?
This year Gavin and I attended the Vigil mass at our parish again. It was just as magical as always, with the darkness, bonfire, candles, Alleluias, and baptisms, and I found myself crying during the offertory because the veil seemed unbearably thin and I was imagining our loved ones in heaven preparing to celebrate Easter with Jesus. Oh my goodness, how incredibly beautiful to think about.
On Sunday, we went out for lunch and ate barbecue at Sugarfire and then had my parents over for dinner. The weather didn’t really cooperate with the grilled meal I had planned, but it was delicious nonetheless. We had pork tenderloin with a wet rosemary-honey rub, scalloped potatoes, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and sugar cookies.
This week I’ve been at work in our little yard, bundling more bush honeysuckle, spreading my weight (and then some) in manure, and hoeing up weeds. Watching the flowers bloom in turn and preparing for the summer bounties ahead makes me happy and hopeful. There’s just so much to look forward to in the spring.
Gavin and I spent last week in Colorado! The first half of the week we were skiing with his whole family around Avon. I had never skied before, so we went skiing ahead of time at Hidden Valley here in the St. Louis area so I could master the super-basics. The first day we still started too hard and I fell a lot on our first run. Fortunately Gavin went out and found the easier green runs and I wound up having a lot of fun despite my lack of skill.
saw the blue bear,
And we even saw a prairie dog.
I know from personal experience and from listening to strangers that dressing a tall, skinny guy is one of life’s many challenges. My husband and brother are both quite tall (6’4″+) and very slim (~165-170 pounds) and finding clothes that fit them is something that keeps my mom and me busy. My husband and I aren’t very into style, but we do want him to at least have clothes that fit. Here are some of our favorite items.
Eddie Bauer Slim Fit Tall Polos
I can’t find polos for my husband (his daily uniform) that are both a slim fit and available in tall sizes (especially a medium tall) anywhere else. They sometimes don’t have these (like right now), which regularly terrifies me that they are going to discontinue them, but so far they’ve always come back. If you see a color you like, buy it right away because the good colors seem to go quickly. Gavin isn’t much for t-shirts, but their tall, slim-fit long-sleeve t-shirts do actually fit, if you’re looking for that sort of thing.
Land’s End Straight Fit Jeans & Tailored Fit Chinos
These jeans are great because they come in both even and odd sizes all the way down to a 30″ waist. You can then choose the inseam yourself by the quarter inch, up to a 36″ length. We also buy dress pants from Land’s End for all the same reasons. I like the no-iron, plain-front, tailored-fit chinos. If you need shorts, they also have nice chino shorts in longer lengths.
Land’s End Dress Shirts
Gavin’s been wearing these dress shirts since his college days but I’ve welcomed their tailored fit line. I wish the slim fit ones came in tall, but they don’t, so we make do with the tailored fit. Gavin and my brother both wear the same size, which is 15.5 x 36, usually the smallest you can get in tall sizes, so if you need something slimmer or longer, you’re out of luck here. Their “casual” tailored-fit button-front shirts in a medium tall also look great.
JC Penney Stafford Big & Tall Undershirts
This is the only time big & tall sizes have ever been useful to me, but these undershirts go all the way down to a medium tall. These are amazing. I bought some for Gavin over a year ago on the recommendation of the internet and he was skeptical they’d be better than his generic size large undershirts. After a week he requested that we replace all of the old ones with these. These are also a dream to wash and fold and they haven’t stretched out or gotten misshapen in 16 months of wear.
Nordstrom Rack Clearance Rack
I don’t know if it’s because slim fit seems to be growing in popularity, but every time my mom and I go there to look for dress shirts, we always find tons of shirts in the right size. Sometimes there are benefits to being on the edge!
Are you ready for Advent? It starts on Sunday! The youth group I run at our parish has been selling Advent candles as a fundraiser for the past couple weeks. I’m always surprised when it’s time to prepare for the fundraiser, but it does make it easier for me to not be surprised when Advent shows up at home.
I shared our new Advent door wreath on Sunday, but I like to do other special things during Advent as well. We don’t have kids at home with us so our traditions are probably a little different than the average family’s. Here’s what we have made our own.
1. Every night at dinner we light the appropriate candle(s) on our Advent wreath and then we usually sing the Advent song I learned in preschool. It’s a little silly/childish for two adults, but it just doesn’t feel like Advent to me without it. In case you’re interested, the tune for this quality song is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
See the candles burning bright
One by one, each week we light
Advent is a time to wait, not quite time to celebrate
When this waiting time is through,
There’s Christmas joy for me and you
2. We set up our nativity scenes as soon as Advent starts. We have a few sets, including a standard Fontanini from Gavin’s childhood, an Avon set that was mine as a child, and a unique stained glass set from my grandmother. I really like the idea of making your own peg doll nativity, especially this stylish modern one!
During Advent, I march Mary, Joseph, and the donkey from the Fontanini set across the room, mantel, or credenza, wherever it’s set up, slowly moving them to the stable in time for Christmas. That’s also the set we hide the baby Jesus and wise men from until later, too. The rest we set up in their entirety to enjoy for all of Advent and Christmas.
3. We celebrate St. Nick’s day! This isn’t strictly an Advent activity, but it does take place during Advent. We take turns playing St. Nick and bring some treats and maybe a small gift for both of us to enjoy. Gavin grew up celebrating St. Nick’s day and I’m glad to continue it as part of a celebration of his German heritage.
4. As a family, we have set aside the second Sunday of Advent as the time we make our year-end donations to charities. We set aside money for this purpose every month, giving from the pool to our parish monthly and a few other needs as they arise, but most of it is saved for this Sunday. It’s actually really fun to fill in our spreadsheet and write all those checks!
5. On the third Sunday of Advent, we set up some of our Christmas decorations. We’ll put up the tree and lights, but nothing else. All the ornaments and other Christmas decorations go up on Christmas eve. Setting up some of the decorations reminds us of what is coming and keeps us from being too much like Scrooge.
May you have a holy Advent this year!
I really like door wreaths. They’re cheap, they make me feel accomplished and festive, and they make our house (brick with white trim and a black door, classic but fairly plain) look a little more interesting.
I knew this year I wanted to make a new Advent wreath for the front door because…what do you put up between Thanksgiving and Christmas if you try hard to keep Advent and Christmas separate? In the past I’ve hung a plain green wreath, but that’s a little boring.
So I made a trip to Michael’s, armed with a coupon on my phone, and spent a whopping $13 to get all the supplies for this door wreath. I bought a plain evergreen wreath, a spray of purple poinsettias, and four picks of pink ornaments.
I used my trusty hot glue gun to make quick work of putting it together and will use some leftover purple ribbon to make a tying loop when I’m ready to hang it up. Done and done.
Gavin and I went back to the University of Illinois this weekend for homecoming. We met tailgating our senior year so heading back to the fields and parking lots south of Memorial Stadium always makes me feel warmly nostalgic. Here are five of my (many) favorite things about our great university!
1. Homecoming! The University of Illinois has the first collegiate homecoming experience, starting in 1910. They skipped homecoming in 1918, so it’s not the longest running homecoming, but it is the oldest official college homecoming.
2. The Morrow Plots. How can you not love the first experimental field in the US, located right on the main quad? It’s now a National Historic Landmark and the university built the neighboring undergraduate library underground, so as to not cast a shadow on the corn.
3. The Altgeld Bells. I would think this bell tower above our main math building (slash castle) is awesome even if Gavin hadn’t taken me there on our first date and subsequently proposed to me there. If you’re on campus, take a tour!
4. Libraries. The University of Illinois has the fifth-largest library in the US and the second-largest academic library in the US. There are tons of library buildings, plus the huge stacks. Gavin and I went into the stacks as part of our senior year bucket list and I was in awe of the sheer number of items.
5. Illinois Loyalty. While I like all of the songs, this one is my absolute favorite. It was written in 1906 and was eventually replaced with a more appropriate fight song, but the lyrics are amazing, especially the last few lines.
We’re loyal to you, Illinois,
We’re “Orange and Blue,” Illinois,
We’ll back you to stand ‘gainst the best in the land,
For we know you have sand, Illinois, Rah! Rah!
So crack out that ball, Illinois,
We’re backing you all, Illinois,
Our team is our fame protector,
On! boys, for we expect a victory from you, Illinois!
Che-he! Che-ha! Che-ha-ha-ha! Go Illini, Go!
Che-he! Che-ha! Che-ha-ha-ha! Go Illini, Go!
Illinois! Illinois! Illinois!
Fling out that dear old flag of Orange and Blue,
Lead on our sons and daughters fighting for you;
Like men of old, on giants placing reliance, shouting defiance,
Amid the broad green fields that nourish our land,
For honest Labor and for Learning we stand,
And unto thee we pledge our heart and hand,
Dear Alma Mater, Illinois!
1. We went to a Maurice Sendak exhibit at the Central Library downtown last weekend. I love children’s books, so seeing Maurice Sendak’s original artwork, as well as the supporting exhibit about Ursula Nordstrom, who discovered Maurice Sendak and many other beloved authors and illustrators, was so fun. We only spent about 30 minutes looking at everything, but it was a half hour well spent. The next day we enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather at the Botanical Gardens and had some ice cream at Ted Drewes. Yum!
2. I learned something about myself recently: I like reading books, but I don’t enjoy talking about books very much. I’ll tell you about what I’m reading and what I like, but I don’t want to sit and discuss the intricacies of the plot or the deep meaning. I just want to read, finish, and start another book.
3. My SIL is engaged (yay! she’s getting married in June) and is doing tons of wedding preparation. It’s a little fun and a little weird to look back at the plans Gavin and I made for our own wedding. She went wedding dress shopping again over the weekend weekend and while I know she would look good in literally anything, the dresses she’s looking at are ethereally gorgeous and I hope she has found the right one for her.
5. Painting our living room and hallways made such a difference in how I feel about our house. It’s amazing how something like a sloppy paint job in a drab shade of yellowish beige can bring you so down. I’m now, much to Gavin’s chagrin, eyeing everything in the house we haven’t painted yet. Nothing is safe.
6. Gavin and I have been working on making some emergency bags, both in the cars and house in case we have to leave town in a hurry or stay put in our basement for a while. It’s a little bit horrifying (and also feels silly), but better safe than sorry. While trying to figure out what we needed, I liked this series of small steps from the CDC because it wasn’t as overwhelming as many other sites.
7. Have you heard of Duolingo? I saw a blog post about it recently and checked it out. I figured I like having games to play on my iPhone and learning something is better than not. I’ve been brushing up on my (very dusty) Spanish and checking out a little German, which I have always thought would be fun to learn. I like all the cognates in German, especially this one.
My grandmother passed away a week ago today. Throughout my life, she’s probably been the grandparent that I’ve had the most face time with. She was born in the Texas panhandle in 1928 and moved to Kansas City with her parents after graduating with a degree in Radio from the University of Denver. She married my grandfather in 1956 and they had six kids, and eventually two grandchildren: my brother and me.
She shared her love of the beautiful with us in many ways. Here are seven.
1. We spent a lot of time at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. When I was little she would show me the different types of art and taught me how to be a good art museum-goer (with my hands behind my back, which I still sometimes catch myself doing as an adult!). A couple of years ago, she was visiting St. Louis and we got to push her around the St. Louis Art Museum.
2. Along with teaching me how to enjoy art, she also passed on her favorite styles of art. She always loved the Impressionists, especially Monet, and I feel exactly the same way. Is there anything better than Monet’s water lilies?
3. She didn’t only like the visual arts, but also the theater. She took us to A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory many times when we were little and also to several musicals (including some pretty strange ones, like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Bingo! The Winning Musical) at Crown Center. Gavin and I now have season tickets at the Muny, so clearly some of that rubbed off!
4. She loved roses, especially red ones. While I’m not as big a fan of the color red as she was (she loved it so much that it’s impossible), I still loved going out to her rose garden when I was little to admire the different colors and smell all of them. I feel the same way about the flowers in my own garden now and can’t wait to add more and more as the years go on. Just a few weeks ago I gave her a facetime tour of my backyard. The technology to do that amazed her, but she also loved seeing what I had growing.
5. She taught me to love beauty in the world immediately around us. She and my grandpa lived out in the country with a pond in their backyard. I remember going on “nature walks” with her around the pond. We’d look at the flowers and birds and walk quietly so we’d have a chance at seeing deer. We also spent time just sitting on the back porch listening to the birds sing.
6. I think she really believed that each person was a unique and beautiful creation, although she didn’t say so in words. But she thought each person should live up to the best they could do using their own talents, no matter what they were. She was equally proud of my childhood loves of math and crafts and my adult forays into the worlds of engineering and knitting.
7. And finally, she shared her love of the church. She converted to Catholicism when she was dating my grandfather, who was a cradle Catholic. And it definitely stuck. I’m thankful that they raised their children Catholic, that I was raised Catholic, and that we had our faith to tie us together.
Here’s to you, Gram. I pray you are enjoying all of the beauty that heaven has to offer.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord.
And let the perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
I feel like everyone is moving to the country to have a mini-homestead these days! While we considered buying a house with land in the country when we were house-shopping two years ago, here’s why we ended up in our inner-ring suburban neighborhood instead.
1. We live close to everything. Our church, Catholic school, public schools, and parks are all less than two blocks away. Shops, restaurants, the library, and grocery stores are all less than two miles away. Living within walking distance of our church is my favorite part of all. People recognize us as “the walkers” and it gives us something to talk about. Plus, we can hear the church bells when our windows are open. We’re living the dream!
2. We have easy access to the city, including downtown and Forest Park. Forest Park is one of our favorite places to go and houses what I consider most of St. Louis’ finest. Because we live nearby (and within biking distance), we can visit more frequently without it turning into a huge trip.
3. Walking and biking are part of our lives. It’s much easier for me to set off on foot to a destination than it is to motivate myself to go on a “pointless” walk every day. I like having that exercise built into our weeks.
4. We could actually be a one-car family someday. This is a goal Gavin and I have been toying with since we were dating, and while the time isn’t right for us now, it’s something we could actually achieve living where we do. If we lived in a rural area, it would be a never, instead of a maybe.
5. Our neighborhood is diverse and we like it that way. Should we be blessed with children, we think it is important for them to grow up surrounded by all kinds of people. Plus it just means I can do things like shop at ethnic grocery stores for specialty ingredients and that we have authentic food from around the globe nearby.
6. Our small yard is enough work. Although we only have 1/8 of an acre, Gavin and I both feel like we spend quite enough time working on our yard. While Gavin can mow the grass quickly, we have a lot of beds and want to tear out most of our grass to create even more. I can’t imagine having a larger yard that needed even more work.
7. I like old houses, at least most of the time. While I don’t enjoy our old house when it seems like everything needs fixing, there are also times where I just love everything about it. There’s a lot to live: the tiled bathroom, the wood floors, the endless molding, the tiny but beautiful closets, the plaster walls. Plus, it keeps us humble to live like people did 75 years ago.
St. Louis was named the “Best City for Cheapskates” a couple of years ago. While we no longer top the list, I still believe St. Louis is the best place in the country to do things for free. Here are my top seven things to do, all for free, all in St. Louis, with or without kids.
I also love that in St. Louis, you can bring your own food and drink almost anywhere! This includes the Muny, Cardinals games, the zoo, and more.
1. Forest Park
Forest Park is the main park of St. Louis (bigger than Central Park!) and it is a jewel. It’s kind of cheating to include it because the park is home to the next three free things on my list, but also has even more. It’s home to the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Muny, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Zoo, (all free!) among other things. It was home to the 1904 World’s Fair and still hosts many special events, like Shakespeare in the Park, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race and more. Plus it has all that a park has to offer, with athletic fields, playgrounds, golf courses, restaurants, paddle boats rentals, a skating rink, and picnic areas. You could literally take a vacation to Forest Park.
The St. Louis Zoo was rated the third best in the country last year. The prices to visit the top two? $16.95 in Omaha and $48 in San Diego. Ours? Free. And like I said, feel free to bring your lunch in a cooler. Also, for the first hour of the day, many of the paid attractions, like the carousel, children’s zoo, and ray petting exhibit are free!
We loved coming here as children and I still love visiting as an adult. We often stop in to see a couple of things and then head back out, knowing we can come back any time for free. My personal favorites are the prairie dogs, hippos, and sea lions. We haven’t been to the new polar bear exhibit yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it!
Even if you’re not a huge art lover, stop in for an hour to see your favorite pieces and then head out, knowing you got your money’s worth. They also host special activities and music at SLAM Underground the last Friday evening of the month (still free) and play movies on Art Hill on the weekends in July (again, free). If you want to see a special exhibit, just get your tickets for Fridays. They’re free.
I love the Impressionists, Gavin likes the armor, and we both enjoy the American art. The new building that houses the modern art and special exhibits is beautiful. (And has what are probably the nicest public bathrooms in Forest Park.)
4. The Muny
The Muny is a St. Louis institution, celebrating its 97th season this year. It’s the country’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater and is impossible to explain to someone who’s never been. It seats 11,000 people, almost like a sports stadium. You even sing the National Anthem before the show, no kidding. The majority of the shows are not traveling, but cast, designed, and costumed in house for the week to ten days that they run. And they are good.
While there are obviously paid tickets (we have season tickets and love them), the Muny has free seats as well! They are first come-first serve and all the way in the back, so arrive early and bring your binoculars. Whether you are a teen on a date, going with your young kids who might fall asleep, or just want to save your money, the free seats are a great option.
5. Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (aka the “New Cathedral”)
This cathedral is gorgeous. Like, Europe gorgeous. They are ready for tourists, so don’t feel weird about stopping by. I have yet to see a picture that does it justice because it is impossible to capture the beauty (and sheer volume) of the mosaics that adorn almost every surface of this church.
They started building it in 1907 to replace the outgrown Basilica of St. Louis aka the “Old Cathedral” downtown (where we wed), finished the building in 1914, consecrated it in 1926, and finished the mosaics in 1988. You’ll understand why it took so long when you see how many tiles there are.
My favorites: the rear dome with American Saints, the narthex with images showing the life of St. Louis, and the small side chapel to the right of the altar.
Do you like beer? Or rather, do you like free beer? If so, this tour is for you. You get to see the classic Clydesdale horses, learn how beer is made, admire some beautiful architecture, and my favorite, watch the bottling line. And after your entertaining and educational tour, you get free beer. There are a lot to choose from, too! We joke that we take everyone who comes to visit us on this tour, because what could be better, or more St. Louis? Bonus points if, after the tour, you go to Gus’ Pretzels just across the highway and splurge on some 50 cent snacks.
CityGarden is a fun place to visit and the newest attraction (by a lot!) on my list. You can walk through quickly and see the art, bring your kids to play in the splash pad, or even have lunch. It’s downtown, close to the Arch, Convention Center, and Busch Stadium. If you have a long restaurant wait time or just some general time to kill downtown, I recommend checking it out.