Playground Uniform: Frenchie Hat

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We’re doing our best to get outside for some fresh air every day despite winter and crummy weather. Fortunately, it hasn’t been very wintry lately, and the princesa and I have gotten into the habit of heading to the park after lunch.

Where, by the way, alcohol (including my afternoon martini) is prohibited:

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Probably my favorite of all Mary Tobin’s cute hats came from my sister-in-law Courtney, who is a closet online shopping fiend. I call it the frenchie hat since it looks vaguely French sailor to me. When she wears it I can’t stop taking iPhone pics.

My view at the bottom of the slide (don’t worry, MT fans, it’s a mini-slide and I spot her the whole time!):

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Standing tall:

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Do you love it or what? Or do you think she looks like a pirate? Or like Katherine Hepburn or Jo March wearing an old-timey slouchy hat?

Wish I could pull off hats with such panache. . .


I couldn’t find the Frenchie hat online—the brand is Bubele— but here are some similar styles.

And I’m linking up with thescribblepad‘s Little Days.

Advent, part 2

C.S. Lewis Longing

So in that last post I was not trying to be a downer, but being hopeful. This time of year is not about my personal perfection, it’s about my great need. So when I find myself (or you find yourself) trying to be the Queen of Christmas, that means somewhere along the way, priorities have gone—no, careened wildly!—off track.
That said, I’m more than a little proud of our pinterest-inspired Advent calendar.
advent calendar
Inside some of the bags are the animals and figures from the nativity scene, and random other decorations and goodies are in the rest. We read a children’s Advent book after dinner then let Mary Tobin reach into the bags for the next treasure. By now, she gets the drill and starts going bananas when we take the bag down from the ribbon.

Advent 5
Advent 4  Advent 6

Full disclosure, though. This was not my first Advent calendar attempt. My first attempt was inspired by the following image, which I think is charming and low-maintenance (like myself right?):

Unfortunately, this woman’s socks were a lot more charming than mine. When Israel returned home from a trip, I was excited to show him the results of my creative craft time. He liked the idea of the Advent/Christmas countdown, but when he looked at the strand of socks, he asked “Will people think we’re drying laundry or something?” No, no no! It’s cute! It’s like stockings! For Christmas! “Yeah, I like it. Maybe we can hang it in the bedroom. Or in my closet.”

What a Scrooge, am I right? Fortunately, we had brown lunch bags (inspired by this pinterest image) and some red and white craft paper for numbers. I grumbled as I sat and cut and pasted numbers, but as everything came together I was cooing with delight. It looks, approximately, a million times better than my sock ribbon. Also, cutting out numbers and letters is one of my hidden talents.

P.S. My friend and neighbor Shannon’s advent calendar is one of the coolest I’ve seen.

P.P.S. Don’t go nuts, just choose one thing.

Thanksgiving for Dummies


Coming to you from the back of our overpacked car, heading home after a great holiday weekend in NYC.

As a young family there can be a lot of pressure (or maybe it’s just me?) to figure out and establish what your own family traditions will be. You want something meaningful, fun, and, of course, unique, original, camera-ready, and pinterest-worthy!

So the little container in my picture above may not be all those things, but one virtue it certainly has: this was easy, dear reader.

Throughout the year, as good things happened or one of us thought of something we’re grateful for, we would write it on a slip of paper and put it in the canister. (No peeking at the other papers!)

On Thanksgiving, we opened the little treasure trove and read through what we’d written, and remembered blessings large and small.

At a time when I feel stretched thin, talking through what a year it’s been brought a nice sense of renewal. We’re grateful for a daughter’s health and growth, two new in laws, lots of interesting travel, and so many material blessings (including nice cheese from Whole Foods). A running theme: we’re grateful for family who sacrificed time, money, frequent flyer miles, sleep … to visit us and watch Mary Tobin. Seriously there were grandparents/abuelos and/or tias/uncles here at least once a month. They helped us move, allowed us to go to a wedding, go on vacation, meet work obligations. They celebrated MT’s birth, baptism, and birthday. Unbelievable generosity.

The gratitude jar could work for any personality—write a slip dutifully every week, or forget about it for months, remember, then write a bunch. (Can you guess which style we are??) And though the purpose is to intentionally pause and thank God for what He’s done, I imagine the hilarity could shoot through the roof as kids grow and participate. (Laugh lines this year had to do with being grateful for our own Ortega family language, and Al Jazeera.)

Israel heard this idea from a friend last year, so now we share it with you. 2013 Thanksgiving prep: donesky. Except the turkey, food, travel, etc.

P.S. I finished this post at home. Road blogging did not work out.

Can you tell in the photo that the princesa is eating a pack of stationery? We love paper products!

Tips from Ash: the Danes+Travel+Memories

In case you missed it, read part 1 in which we learned, among other things, that “no one overdoes it” in Denmark, style-wise . . . and therefore we’re doomed. Before even arriving in Europe, simply by posting this, I’m already trying too hard. Ah, well.

Ashley Tuite is helping us out with some advice for our trip to Copenhagen, and for traveling in general. This girl has been around the block—and I mean that in the most positive sense—so listen well! Take it away, homeslice…

just the Tuites hanging out in Santorini

Do you have any tips for dealing with “the natives” wherever you’re headed? Did you learn to say hello, goodbye, thank you in each language? What has been most helpful, or has it varied from place to place?

Honestly, since we have traveled so much this year, I haven’t had a ton of time to prepare for each trip as well as I’d hoped. I usually have the flights, hotel, rental car (if necessary), main attractions and restaurants down. We do always learn how to say “thank you” which goes a long way.

Lucky for you, I do know a little about the Danes and can prep you.

Hello is “hej” (pronounced “hi” with the emphasis on the “i”).

Goodbye is “hej hej” (pronounced “hi hi”). True story.

Thank you is “tak” (pronounced “tock”, but I often hear it casually pronounced as “tack”).

Everyone will be over the top nice, once you speak to them. If you pass someone on the street, they will definitely not look at you or smile or say hello and they might not even move over if you are walking in their way. So, watch out for that. But, you will notice that everyone will be very friendly to you once you engage in conversation.

Also, all Danes speaks perfect English with a cute, peppy, cheerful accent. Don’t ask cashiers or even random people you’re speaking with if they speak English. Of course they do, why would you even ask such a thing?

Thanks, homes! I love all this practical advice. And THANK YOU for telling me not to ask the Danes if they speak English. Faux pas averted.

OK. So, when you arrive in a new city, how do you decide where to go and what to do? We watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and it seems like he usually goes to the local market first.

Goodness. You have better ideas than I do. Love the idea of following Anthony Bourdain through Europe. And, I totally agree with him about the markets. I’m about to do a few market posts on my blog – I’m crazy about the Euro markets.

We usually follow tripadvisor’s advice. We have not had a bad experience following their reviews yet. While they can err on the touristy side, it’s a great resource for a few days in a city and will absolutely put you in better places than if you simply walked around and found a restaurant or followed the city tour bus’s route (which most people do!).

You’ve done an outstanding job of recording your travels through your pictures and blog. Any advice on that, or on how to balance experiencing and enjoying with recording and remembering?

Thanks homes! I am so glad I’ve documented our travels. While at times I would have rather written about other happenings in the world or in our lives, I already love having the recorded memories to flip through on a rainy day.

In terms of balancing experiencing with remembering, I think you can easily do both. I took my camera with me everywhere and tried to document a lot of our travels. It’s a fun and easy way to remember what you’ve seen. At night, I jot down a brief outline of the things we did that day. It helps me remember what we did on action packed trips so I can blog about it later rather than miss out on the experience at the time.

So what’s your favorite blog post that you’ve done this year? Was it on the favorite place you visited, or do those not correlate?

That’s tough. I think my favorites are:

Our favorite memories have not been specifically seeing a beautiful new place or exploring something exotic (though those have been great). It’s been the times where we have really connected with a culture or have shared an experience with friends or family. We have loved living in Europe but it’s definitely caused us to hold tightly to what’s most important.

So, on that note: get here!

Hooray! Turn on the hyggelige for us! For the record, the Eiffel Tower post was also one of my favorites. Cracked me up. Thanks for sharing your rockstar self with the world! See you soon!

(!!!) [I promise to be better at playing it cool during our visit. Glad to see you out, homes.]

Call me Fishmael.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Source: via Josie on Pinterest

Hey, internet friends, what do you think?

It’s fall, and we’re looking forward to all those nice fall-y feeling things. Israel and I brainstormed over lunch this week, and he’s specifically looking forward to:

    • college football
    • tailgating
    • pumpkin beer
    • pumpkin anything
    • delicious air
    • sweaters
    • getting out his Patagonia fleece
    • romantic comedies that feel appropriate to autumn, such as St. Elmo’s Fire and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

It’s also about time to switch out clothes and little house items, like putting away the summer table cloth and getting out that delicious candle. BUT we have a dilemma. “Fishmael” is our gurgling cod from last summer’s New England vacation, possibly my favorite souvenir I’ve ever purchased. (We obviously had to choose Nantucket Red.) Does he stay or does he go?

Here’s Fishmael in his native habitat:

[Let’s take a moment, not for silence, rather for loud appreciation of Mama Rote’s handiwork on those shelves during her last visit! I had the vision; she handled the execution. Here’s the before; the cabinet on the right:

Note well: this metamorphasis took place only during times when Mary Tobin was asleep. And, these cabinets are heavy as the dickens, so we didn’t budge them to paint. When we move, we’ll have to paint the three remaining sides.

We lined the back with wallpaper (from a Washington Design Center sale) and used Annie Sloane chalk paint, which lived up to its rep of being nice and easy. The color is a mix of Duck Egg and French Linen that we dubbed “French Duck Linen” or “French Egg” or “Linen Duck” . . .  shall I go on?]

What do you look forward to for fall? I hope you’re pulling out the blankets, sprucing up the nest to make it nice and cozy, and enjoying the cool breeze through your windows.

More importantly, if you had a gurgling cod pitcher that brought an awesome glug-glug sound to the water glasses at your summer dinners, and—let’s be clear—undeniably reminds you of summer and whaling in Nantucket, would you let him stick around through the cold months? Or are some things made even more special through their absence? Again I ask you. Does he stay or does he go?

Midweek Motivation: Do the little things.

My last post about Peter Bis was quoted here. It’s an honor to be part of all the remembrances of Pete going on. But I’ll be honest, it was also flattering to my pride for my writing to be noticed. Ironic, since we see from the outpouring of love for Pete that a man on society’s bottom rung can have greater influence than the leaders a stone’s throw away in the halls of power. (Put another way, “the foolish things of the world shame the wise.”)

Among all the notes and flowers now adorning Pete’s perch, one says “In memory of Peter, please greet passers-by.” I won’t lie to you and say that I’m going to give a “Top of the mornin’!” to everybody now. (It’s just impractical, for one thing, walking to Union Station during rush hour: “Hi. Hi. Hello. Morning. Hi, hi hi hi.”) But, I can make an effort to be friendlier.

More broadly, I’m encouraged that small things matter. In this stage of my life, where yesterday I literally scooped poo out of a diaper into a vial for testing (the princesa may have picked up a little something on our recent trip to Mexico!), it matters for me to love my family and do my best in the day-to-day [sometimes poopy] tasks. So for now, my patron saint is David of Wales, who said “Do the little things.”

I like Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ thoughts on why that little quote is so powerful:

…it reminds us that the primary things for us are the relationships around us, the need to work at what’s under our hands, what’s within our reach.

We can transform our domestic, our family relationships, our national life to some extent, if we do that with focus and concentration in the presence of God.

So, what’s under your hands? What’s within your reach? Work on that; I will, too.

Pete, or Thoughts on Home

photo by That’s So Michelle

One of my life’s ambitions is to be so rooted where I’m living that the waitress at the neighborhood joint knows I’ll take “the regular” on a given Tuesday at lunch time. In this vision I’m probably an old lady, since the norm these days is for young adults to be so mobile that one changes jobs or moves on a near annual basis.

So far, a few places and people have come close to this vision, foreshadowing that sense of truly being home, and encouraging me to believe it’s possible.

In high school in Memphis, it was the waitresses at West Street Diner in Germantown knowing to go ahead and bring my friend Jenny and me an extra order of their sweet bread (which is to die for), or our favorite barista at the Starbucks on Poplar and Ridgeway.

When I walked from my first row house in DC to my job in Congress, I often stopped in at Jacob’s Coffeehouse. One morning, I stuck my head in the door and quickly decided to go on to the office without my coffee after seeing a long line of kids clearly on their middle school trip to DC.  The owner’s wife (who to me is a Korean version of my friend’s mom, Cindy Morris) ran out after me calling my order, “Large hazelnut? Large hazelnut?”

She let me circumvent the line. Truly one of the highlights of my year. (And apparently my life!)

Here in our current spot, that sense of rooted-ness has come in the form of a man named Peter Bis.

Apparently homeless, though with internet access and a fascinating conspiracy theory blog, Pete always sat under the tree in front of the gas station on the corner of Massachusetts and 2nd NE. We learned that he passed away last night.

(Read more about Pete in this profile in The Hill, and unofficial news of his passing here.)

Though I didn’t usually stop to have extensive conversations, Pete always exchanged greetings with us as we walked by, or waved if we were in the car. Like a nice public service for commuters, Pete’s signature move was counting down the week for you.

“Three more days til the weekend!”

When Israel and I were dating—could he see the infatuation in our eyes?—he’d call out a warning: “No skinny dipping!”

And when we grew to a family of three and were out with the stroller, his go-to line became,”Triplets next time!”

“Yeah, right, Pete!” I’d usually reply.

Not to leave anyone out, he also had advice for our baby girl Mary Tobin: “You take care of your mommy!”

Just yesterday afternoon, Mary Tobin and I went on a coffee run to Ebenezer’s for some friends in the middle of packing up their apartment to move, so I grabbed a coffee for Pete, too. He liked his coffee with a knuckle’s depth of half and half, and six packets of white sugar.

Pete was as much a part of the landscape of our life here on the Hill as the Capitol dome in the distance.

Thank you, Pete, for helping us feel safer in our neighborhood, and more at home in our home. Thank you for teaching us to bloom where we’re planted. We’ll miss you.

In the “A for Effort” Department

My mom, arguably, is putting more effort into learning Spanish than I am. And she’s definitely beating me in the cute-clothes-for-my-daughter arena. She and some friends get together regularly with their sewing guru to work on precious clothes for their grandchildren. As you’ll see below, though, her aging mind can only handle so much:

I went to my sewing/smocking lesson the other day and worked really hard. The stuff we were working on was painstaking, and I was really focusing on measuring and counting stitches and getting it exactly right. When I left and started the car, my Spanish lesson CD came on. The guy on the lesson said,

“Let’s say that you come inside on a hot day and see Luisa. Try to say, ‘Good afternoon, Luisa. I want some very cold water if you have any, please.'”

So I took a deep breath and said (drum roll here), “Good afternoon, Luisa. I want some very cold water if you have any, please.” HAHA! Obviously the sewing was more mentally fatiguing than I realized.

Don’t worry, Mama! We appreciate your mental anguish, and we dig the clothes.