Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Puerto Rico Getaway

In the summer, Ray booked a work flight to Seattle. That's one of my favorite cities and located in one of my most favorite states in the U.S. I was totally jealous, but the thought of a very short visit and dealing with two long flights with Benjamin just didn't appeal to me at the time. I also think I was still feeling icky and exhausted from pregnancy that it was just not happening.

But man did I want to go. If we had local relatives, I'd have been on that plane in a heartbeat. When he arrived home, we declared a trip needed to be planned because it's rare we don't have something travel-related on the books. That night, we booked flights. I had been researching flights to Puerto Rico and round trip they were coming up under $300. You read that correctly. They climbed above $300, but not by much when we booked our tickets. They were to be our last flights with Benjamin during my pregnancy with Claire. It's really discouraged for me to travel much at this point with all my pregnancy issues, so this was it. And in case you're curious, Benjamin was a perfect gem on the 4-hour flight there (thank you iTunes downloads of Daniel Tiger, raisins and M&Ms!) but received an F for the 4.5 hour return flight. Such a bad baby. Though he did learn how to say sorry after hitting so much on that flight. Silver lining? Ugh.

While we love traveling with the wee one, we're excited to travel back someday (we never say that!) to drive through the island and hike through the rainforests-- you know, without a needy toddler and big ol' belly that inhibited us from really getting into things this go around. If you've ever traveled with us (sorry parents!), you'd know we're not the type to just sit around. We are always go-go-go because we want to see everything. Perhaps that wasn't the best method to travel through Europe with our family, but we really wanted to share as much as possible. A little zany, but the husband and I are good together.

We did see the city, a rainforest and even did an island hop with the locals. Here's our trip in days:

Thursday arrival: We grabbed a taxi to our hotel. We checked-in and headed out to the beach and dinner immediately. We didn't really intend to go to the beach, but to walk near it and maybe touch the water. Except, that didn't happen. Once B got sight of that water, there was no turning back.

Clothing had to be removed because it was soaked after our toddler decided he had no inhibitions.

Consulted Yelp for a walking distance local food joint and found Bebo's. We had Mofongo-- meat/veggies topped on mashed yucca and covered in sauce. Good and super heavy.

Friday: Our hotel room was insanely small and if both Ray and Benjamin put out their hands, they could be touching from their beds. Needless to say, sleep wasn't optimal. But... it's travel and we already assume that possibility. But what we don't assume is our son waking up with a fever (101.8) for the first time ever at 3:30 in the morning. And staying up. But, like we always do, we treated the baby who was in good spirits after some liquids and meds and carried on about our day. We decided to head to Old San Juan because we thought that day would be the safest to avoid the big crowds from cruise ships. We were right. Other than the humidity and heat being so intense, it was a nice day of exploring. We explored two parts of the fort (located about a mile from one another), had lunch in the middle of a big quad area where B was able to roam, and took the city bus from our hotel with the locals for $.75-- costing us a grand total of about $3 for transportation as opposed to a $20 cab each way. Not to mention having to schlep the carseat through the city with steep inclines and cobblestone streets. The bus proved to be a fantastic decision because Benjamin was thrilled to be on one and repeated bus over and over again with sheer joy on his face. You'd have thought we gave him a pony. When we arrived back at our hotel after a long stroller nap, we headed out again to the beach (this time with proper clothing) and for a dip in the pool before grabbing dinner.

Castillo de San Cristóbal
Empanadas for lunch in the open square near the fort. Bought from another locals joint. Bus ride back and more water fun.
Saturday: This day started off interesting. We decided to rent a car because we wanted to get to this port area and it would've been so much more expensive to do so by taxi. Ray took a morning jog to the rental car agency and unfortunately, they were sold out for some big event. The morning consisted of some local park time and in the afternoon, we took a taxi to the airport where we finally rented a car. We then did some exploring and traveled to the El Yunque Rainforest. We brought B's carseat and this was the first (and last for awhile) time he had ever been forward-facing. It was just easier because we forgot the floor strap/latch which makes the carseat rear-facing safe. He was in the center seat and saw everything... including the chips in the front seat of which he requested every 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the rainforest just a couple hours before closing (though free for Veteran's Day weekend!), so we didn't get to experience all we could've if the sun remained high longer. But really, this pregnant lady and her toddler were not making any major hikes this go-around... so it was fitting. We walked around the visitor's center and drove to see a waterfall. We drove a bit more to see if we could get a glimpse of the other waterfall, but were told it was a 30-minute hike. It had just rained, so the ground was slippery and there was just no way we could make it with the sun setting. It was a beautiful drive, but definitely didn't meet our full quota of rainforest credit. We'll just have to go back. :)

Park right on the beach.
El Yunque Rainforest walking...
This was our big adventure day. We read on Trip Advisor that there are a few accessible islands just off the coast of Puerto Rico. And of course we wanted to check that out! These islands are heavily visited by the locals and since it was a Sunday, we knew we had to get there early and be diligent. We visited Culebra as it was well documented by past tourists and the beach sounded great!

All of the information we read said we needed to be there at 7 a.m. (our hotel was an hour away by car... which means we got up at 4 a.m. Chicago time!) to be in line for ticket sales. The ferry sells out and if you're not in line, you may have driven an hour to get there for nothing as there are limited ferry boats. What's awesome is that the ferry was something cheap like $2.25/adult for an hour ride over. It was just a matter of getting there. And so we did. We were there, in line by 7 a.m. When I asked a police officer if I was in the correct line (with at least 100 people already in front of me), he told me that once the ticket booth opens, I would have priority because I am pregnant. Thank you, Claire! Belly for the win! We knew we were safe even 100 deep in line, but it was sure nice not to stand in the hot sun with our toddler waiting to buy tickets.

And then, when we got into the waiting area building, we even had a special seating area and didn't have to wait in the line to board the boat-- either direction! Serious score on the belly bump. While we waited, we had some local fried pastries for breakfast and then endured the boat ride that had me feeling a bit woozy in the end. Benjamin was not in happy spirits either, so we're assuming he was feeling a little seasick.

Once off the boat, we grabbed a taxi and were off to Flamingo Beach for the day. It was beautiful and we had a great time. It was definitely the highlight of the trip and also the only place Benjamin ate an actual meal other than raisins, peanut butter spoons and granola bars. He had a sandwich and tangerine sitting on the beach and a beach nap to complete the day. It was full of sand castle making and ocean enjoying. I even had a chance to write down Andrew's name... since we don't live near the beach anymore, it's always something I try to do while we're on vacation. The boat ride back was SO much better, quicker, and the boat was crazy-nice! Trip Advisor also tipped us off that we needed to run back to the parking lot and get in line to pay for our parking ticket, as some people had to wait over an hour to pay their $5! We were the first ones there and had no issue. Great day.
Line we were able to skip out on due to the belly - happy Benjamin on a boat - Dad drinking a local beer - Benjamin drinking some 7-Up... cured that seasickness right away. Of course.

Ferry boat - Andrew - pina colada helado while waiting for the ferry back - sand castles with Dad
Monday - Final Day: We spent this day packing, walking and relaxing. We headed back to the park we spent some time at before, walked the beach, and checked out this great deli/bakery I found on Yelp. Even the President has eaten there! It did not disappoint.
Cute beach boy - playing at the beach park - eating more helado (tried all three: passion fruit, pina colada, coconut-- coconut was the best) - Mallorca sweet bread roll - breakfast at Kasalta was carb heaven - independent toddler on a (Hertz) bus back to the airport for our flight from hell
Video was taken at a splash pad next to our hotel. B managed to find an elevator nearby and required I come assist him in pressing the buttons. He managed these steps up and down because they were so shallow.

We enjoyed this trip thoroughly and totally recommend it for a quick (and cheap) getaway. Even with a toddler who was way less-than-pleasant on that last flight, it was worth it.

Some things that surprised us about Puerto Rico:
  • They're on Atlantic time! That's two hours ahead of Chicago.
  • Lots of police in high tourist areas. It makes you feel both safe and skeptical.
  • While not a foreign country (yay, no customs!), they did have an agricultural check for all of our luggage before we were allowed to go through security.
  • The humidity, even in November is out of sight!
  • Prices are on-par with mainland. It was really no different price-wise than traveling in the U.S. In fact, our hotel was really inexpensive!
  • Rent a car. They're quite cheap compared to taking taxis everywhere and you can find self-park at most hotels or hotels near yours.
  • If you don't rent a car, figure out local transportation because it is cheap!
  • Buy helado from street vendors-- it's the same company for each vendor and it's quite clean.
  • Hit up the local grocery store (we had one across the street from our hotel) for quick deli meals and basics. We even hit one up for some local candy to bring back. We always visit the local stores on trips to save a little cash on water/snacks and also to taste some local fare we may not have mainland.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Madeline Mae

I recently wrote about the name we chose for our newest baby, Claire Mae, and how we chose to name her after my great granny, Madeline Mae.

My family said goodbye to Madeline Mae yesterday after a series of unfortunate events that finally led to her passing. At a very spunky 98-years old, she lived a full and wonderful life. To that, we are so very grateful.

While death will always make me sad because I won't personally get to see her face or hear her beautiful voice or infectious laugh again, I am so grateful we had so many years with her. Her life couldn't have been more full and the years she was granted were far longer than many. And yet, we're still sad for ourselves because we miss the person she was and the spirit she brought.

I'm not kidding about that laugh. It was almost a nervous laugh. She'd laugh at just about everything and gave the tightest hugs you've ever experienced-- even at such an old age. The joy that she displayed in her life was one you wanted to witness. Before my great-grandpa passed away, they would visit nursing homes together and spend time with those friends who needed the love.

Just about a week ago, my mom and uncle went up to Northern California to visit her and say their goodbyes, knowing that her time might be coming soon. They brought her donuts. She was so thrilled, she stuffed an entire donut hole in her mouth-- on a woman who never hit 5-feet tall, you can imagine her petite frame. She went all-in. With life and with donuts.

I am honored to name my daughter after such a lovely woman and undoubtedly one of my favorite relatives. I wrote her a card telling her about our daughter and her namesake. She likely never received this card due to some unfortunate circumstances, but I'm thankful my mom was able to travel there and tell her in person that our daughter will always carry a part of her. For 28 weeks, there were five generations of women alive in our family. While I won't be traveling to her funeral this far along with a large belly and a rambunctious toddler, I do remember all that she is and was to us.
When talking with my husband last night, we both had a moment in talking about Andrew. This tends to happen when we hear of someone else passing away, especially someone dear to our hearts. It makes us think of where they are... and where he is. My husband said he hoped she was hanging out with our boy. I hope she was holding him and loving him like I crave to be doing myself. But knowing the woman she was, there isn't a doubt in my mind that she is doing that. In fact, there's no one else I'd rather he be with right now than her.

A bittersweet passing, but just knowing she might be up there with a second calling of caring for my boy puts me in tears. He needs your hugs, Granny.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Final Trimester

Well, this is it. I've entered the final trimester of pregnancy that I'll endure. It both terrifies me and thrills me that we've come this far with two babies after losing our first little love. That's a lot of weeks to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

A few things have been purchased for this baby, but none of which are uniquely hers. We bought another seat protector for our car and a crib sheet. We've been making arrangements that will hopefully become reality if we do have a daughter to bring home with us, but nothing is finalized to the point of certainty. I can just as easily use that crib sheet for Benjamin or chuck it. I even sucked it up yesterday and purchased the second seat for our stroller because I saw a deal that I didn't want to pass up. I sure hope that doesn't end up as a Craigslist ad instead.

The only other two things we'll definitely be purchasing are an air purifier for the nursery (since Benjamin will be using his in the big boy room) and a letter "C" to go in the nursery.

If she comes home with us in February, I'll be changing out the mobile in the nursery (we created after B came home alive) to pink birds and buying her some of her very own Aden & Anais blankets in a girly pattern. B is far too fond of his set to bother sharing.

As for pregnancy this go around... it's different. In general, the carrying part feels different. I can't even describe it. And then there's the part about my day job being different. I guess this is how it would've felt (minus the stress) if Andrew were alive and toddling around during my pregnancy with Benjamin. It's my first time parenting a toddler while gestating another. Let's just say that I'm not cut out to be a Duggar. This bending over, schlepping a toddler, dealing with tantrums business is hard work when there's a baby-a-cookin'.

Not just the physical demands, but the baby itself. She is not nearly as active as my two boys, which is maybe a good thing if she finally makes it home with us, but not so lovely during a high-risk pregnancy. As I have now reached my third trimester, the kick counts have begun, appointments are increasing, ultrasounds start weekly at 32w and NSTs begin at 34 weeks. It's all starting to become real.

Before now, I've lived in surprisingly calm territory using ignorance and busyness to distract. But now we're dealing with knowing that the baby would be alive when born. Yes, with complications and NICU time and all of that, but alive. These next 10+ weeks are going to c-r-a-w-l.

And quite possibly the greatest difference is dealing with my currently alive and well and high-maintenance toddler. He knows something is up and he's none-to-happy about the changes. He's been ultra clingy and mom-obsessed for the last couple weeks (a huge shift from not saying my name at all and choosing Daddy every time. Sort of love it and sort of hate it). Going upstairs for bath with Dad and without mom is equivalent to me abandoning him. At least that's what his shrieks and cries are telling me. It's heartbreaking. If I ask him where the baby is, he touches my belly. But really, he's never been around an infant so I have no idea if he even knows a baby from a bumble bee. Something tells me the transition to two living (gah) is not going to be a walk in the park. Not that anything ever has been. But just thinking that I might get to keep two of my babies would be worth the sleepless nights and endless tantrums.

We press on. Keep hopeful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Maryland Grandparents Visit Chicago

Benjamin has seen so much grandparent love this past month. Lucky boy! Good thing, because when he opens the family photo album I made him of all the people who love him, he always stops at the pages with both his grandmas and does a little whiney grunt like where are they? It's adorably pathetic and totally sad. Benjamin wishes his grandparents were closer, too.

But, he is quite a lucky boy to see them as frequently as he does! Benjamin's Maryland grandparents were here for a long weekend and we not only got another date night without the bambino (praise JESUS and thank you Thai restaurant for some of the best Thai we've ever had!), but Benjamin got lots of quality time pulling his grandparents wherever he wanted all weekend long. Kid heaven.

We visited Fermilab out in Batavia, IL and an awesome pumpkin patch where we pet lots of animals, ate lots of delicious fried delicacies like cider and pumpkin donuts and funnel cake, went for B's third hayride on a "kuck" which is really a tractor (he loves them) and picked pumpkins that we later carved and made pumpkin seeds from. We also suited Benjamin up in his scarecrow costume for the first (of three) times for our church's trunk'n'treat and pumpkin drop where Benjamin (and his grandpa) scored some treats and checked out some cool decorated trunks.

At Abbey Farms. This child loves petting zoos and anything he can hang from.
At Fermilab and back at home carving pumpkins. His face says it all-- he was not sticking his hand in the gooey pumpkin and happily directed us to put the contents in a bowl. This kiddo is not a fan of getting his hands covered in anything.
More photos from the Farm. They had old Radio Flyers and Benjamin enjoyed being toted around in them.
A mix of park pictures and the trunk'n'treat. More hanging from things-- these ziplines are a serious favorite.
Our adorable scarecrow, his grandparents, and our friend's daughter in that last photo. She's part of a train that her brother chose and designed.
And here are photos of the seeds we made (soy sauce/olive oil & butter/cinnamon/sugar) and the pumpkins Benjamin's grandpa and dad carved out for him! He also discovered the treats Mom pulled out for the trick-or-treaters when he woke from his nap on Halloween and promptly figured a way to get himself one of those "deets" and repeated the word for HOURS. He was sad when the trick-or-treaters knocked on the door and then promptly left. He loves people and doesn't like it when people go "bye-bye".
...and with that... Halloween is complete. Now what to do with those two rotting pumpkins on our doorstep...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dia de los Muertos

I started seeing posts here and there about Dia de los Muertos {Day of the Dead} through blogland and it got me thinking. It takes place November 1 & 2 each year and is a celebration to honor the dead loves ones who have passed on.

Long before Andrew died, I was familiar with this holiday. I was introduced to it back in high school during the fall when Halloween rolled around, but in reality, it has nothing to do with the "holiday" of Halloween that we celebrate which decorates with dark colors, skeletons, and gore. The Spanish holiday is a celebration of people. Not scary people, but people who are loved and remembered.

In college, I shot a news story down near Union Station in Los Angeles at Olvera Street. This street is an outdoor Mexican marketplace with vendors covering narrow brick paths. They also have some interior rooms converted to museums about the Spanish culture and their rich history in Los Angeles. During October and November, they house a big exhibit on Dia de los Muertos. I remember interviewing people and cutting a story all about recognizing and celebrating the lives of very important people that I did not know. Who knew I'd be 28 years old and experience the heartbreak of losing my very own special loved one.

It's a colorful holiday-- one that is decorated well with vibrantly painted skulls, beautiful Papel picado, and hoards of food. It's a birthday party for the dead.

Having a loved one I miss terribly out there, it was only fitting to recognize him today in my own little ceremony of Dia de los Muertos by creating a craft with Benjamin and celebrating with a bit of a Mexican feast in honor of his brother who should be turning 3 years old next month.
Benjamin's contribution was the top blue. I helped adjust the scissors and there were two cuts. Then he was over it.
We'll probably have tostadas tonight to celebrate our boy and maybe get wild and crazy with some virgin margaritas. Thinking of many, many loved ones today and tomorrow and celebrating.