July 21, 2014

23/50 NYC Adventures: Hillsong NYC

Hillsong NYC
I would be completely remiss if I didn't highlight this very special part of my and Stevie's time living in NYC: our community at Hillsong NYC. Hillsong is a church in Australia that has plants all around the world, and we were thrilled when we moved to NYC and realized there was a branch right in Midtown. After the first Sunday morning visit, we knew this place was "home". The atmosphere, the message that was spoken, the incredible worship and the warmth of the people completely drew us in. Not to mention the fact that we "felt" the presence of God so strongly. It just felt right. It felt like an atmosphere of love. And who doesn't want to be immersed in that? But I'll be honest with you. What caused us to stay at Hillsong NYC? It was our incredible small group.

We had the BEST community group that met weekly, right on our block on the Upper West Side, in the coziness of our friends' apartment. Each week this wonderfully vibrant assortment of souls gathered together, sprawled across the bare hardwoods, sharing a meal and talking REAL talk. We delighted in each other's poignant joys and cried in moments of sadness and disappointment. We prayed. It was the most intriguing experience, to knit my heart together with people so unlike myself. Different accents, different heritages, from different countries all around the world, all working in different industries under this city's torrential stretch of skyscrapers. And yet. Here we were. Not so different from each other at all. People with the same rhythm in our heart, chasing truth and love. Fumbling around. But making our way in this gritty, gorgeous city.

// Top: Party People, Middle: We sold Hillsong swag, Bottom: More Party People. //

Love You City Folk.
I feel super proud to have been a part of this powerful group of people. Thank you, Upper West Side Connect Group, you made our life in NYC a technicolor dream. We can't wait to return to the city and visit you! And of course, bring a special visitor along with us :)

If you live in NYC, you should totally check out Hillsong NYC, which meets in the Manhattan Center in Midtown. They're fun to follow on Instagram. Also, check out the newest Hillsong United album, No Other Name, which I'm loving lately :)

July 18, 2014

37-Week Bumpdate

37-Week Bumpdate
It's all happening, people. These last few weeks of pregnancy are really something. It feels like all my emotions and physical feelings are heightened. Even though I feel heavier than ever (um, because I am), and more uncomfortable and tired, I also feel strangely exhilarated, anticipating my impending labor experience. It's about to get really REAL. I just hope I'm ready.

The Progress.

How Far Along: 37 weeks, woohoo!

Gender: MALE.

Name: Everett Lee Hale

Sleeping? Finally, I am taking nap after nap this week without shame. I've had a hard time napping in the past because I just feel like I'm wasting time. But this week, the tiredness has hit a new high (or low?), and I have just given in. It's amazing how a 1-hour afternoon nap can really power me through the rest of the day.

Eats: Let's talk about coconut milk. Man, it's so delicious! My grocery store was out of almond milk, so I thought I would give the coconut a try. Success! It's like an Aloha in every bowl. Been having it with cereal, granola and fruit. It's also been a good midnight snack accessory :)

Wearing: Officially, about half of my maternity shirts are too short. For instance, yesterday I fumbled my way out of a darling tea shop in Atlanta (where my mom and sis & I enjoyed an impromptu tea party!) As I walked to the car, a man smoking a cigarette on the side of the street hollered at me, half-laughing, "Any day now, huh?" And I chuckled and replied, "Oh yeah, any day!" He looked at me sort of strangely and I just kept walking. People are SO INTERESTED in pregnant women, so I've gotten used to comments about my roundness. But as I kept walking, I felt a slight breeze cooling my belly and I looked down. Half my stomach was hanging out of the bottom of my tank top. HALF MY STOMACH WAS SHOWING. Oh dear God, I am that sloppy pregnant woman. Walking down the streets of Atlanta. Baring myself. I hollered at my mom and sister, "Dear Lord, you have GOT to help a sister out! Tell me when I'm flashing the world my linea nigra!!!!!!" They just died laughing and practically peed their pants in the street, claiming they didn't notice because they were walking ahead of me. Which they were, because I don't walk anymore, I waddle. I almost died of pregnant embarrassment.

Most Ignorant Comments of the Week (all from strangers): 
- Woman sashaying by me in Walmart, "Mmm, don't sneeze too hard, honey." And she just kept walking. No conversation needed.
- Woman at the Belk makeup counter, "You having a boy? He's hanging LOW. Boys like it down there, no matter what age they are, huh??" I almost vomited.
- Girl in an SUV, driving past me in a parking lot (about 6 feet away), windows down, points to me and yells to everyone in the car, "Look, that girl's about to pop!" Um, your window is down. I CAN HEAR YOU.
- Lesson learned? Avoid going out in public. Because apparently Everett and I are some kind of circus act.

Exercise: It's been a bit cooler in Atlanta this week (thank goodness!), so the swimming has been a chilly thought. I've started doing my squats again. And kegels. And now that I think about it, not much else. Now I'm inspired to take a walk... anyone wanna go with me? Stevie's given up on my "exercise", I think it bores him to tears.

Emotional Check: I feel really good this week. My midwife complemented my abdomen's "muscle tone" (say whaaat? Where?!), and said the babe is in the perfect position for delivery. I'm feeling a bit more "ready", since I've completed my water birth and hypnobirthing classes (check and check!) And all sorts of packages have started to arrive! Our last minute purchases - the baby's mattress, the stroller, crib sheets, playard sheets, etc. All of these things are making me feel like we are almost prepared for him to arrive. I know we don't NEED to have his bedroom all perfect and ready, but it will definitely help my state-of-mind.

Movement: Oh Everett. I have just started talking to him when he moves like Jagger. "Okay, little one, stay in there today, we aren't finished with your room yet, and mommy wants to buy you a few more clothes... STAY IN THERE." Things of that nature.

Best Advice of the Week: Comes from my dearie sis-in-law Katie. I mentioned to her that I've been having more contractions (like, in the middle of lunchtime at Zoe's Kitchen) and I reeeeeeeallly don't want this baby to come early. It's had me a bit on edge. She suggested that I start drinking 100 ounces of water every day. Supposed to help cut down the false labor because it hydrates that wonderful muscle, the uterus. And it has helped! That girl. She knows about hydration.

Looking Forward to: Saturday! It's our "finish everything for the baby"-day. Putting together the pack'n'play, unpacking our strollers, rearranging the furniture in the baby room, hanging pictures - everything! I will have more to share next week when his room is aaaaaalll ready!

Feeling Accomplished: Because, 1. I completed my waterbirth class, 2. I completed my Hypnobirthing Class, 3. I'm making progress on my pediatrician hunt, 4. I'm preregistered at the hospital, 5. My breast pump arrived in the mail! Um, learning how to use that strange contraption will be another to-do entirely... 6. Meeting with our fabulous doula this week all about the birthing expectations!

Praise Report! OUR CAMERA HAS BEEN HEALED. Resurrected! Back to life! Bless the Lord. Thank you to all of you who prayed last week! I took my Canon to Best Buy and begged the guy to tell me that the real reason behind the deadness was the battery. Please sir, please... tell me it's just the battery! I had checked the battery and it didn't seem to be the problem, but I had my fingers crossed... Alas, Best Buy had no battery tester, but they sent me to another store (did you know there is such a thing as a Batteries Plus? A store just for batteries!) and they tested it... AND IT WAS DEAD. He put in a new battery and my sweet Canon returned to "ON"... I almost cried. I jumped up and down. The guy was like, "Whooooaaa lady, keep that baby in there." The best news. Now I can photograph my baby. And now the blog photos can return to quality. I'M SO HAPPY.

Thanks for following along our pregnancy journey! Feel free to check check out the 6-month, 7-month, 8-month and 36-Week Bumpdates :)

July 16, 2014

A "Ta-Da!" Baby Shower

A Ladies Shower.
My mother. My sisters. These incredible women threw me the most decadent baby shower two weekends ago, full of fou-fou loveliness and baby-indulgent grandeur. It was SO MUCH FUN. These sweethearts know how to put on a seriously special party. The food? To die for. Adorable quiche, fancy fruit tarts, scrumptious eclairs, perfect petit fors (my favorite dessert!), Chickfila Chicken Salad Sandwiches and Nuggets (all thanks to my darling dear girl Natalie!), and chilled white wine topped off with gummy bears. I obviously couldn't indulge in that fun beverage, but I indulged like CRAZY in everything else! The decor was themed to match Everett's baby room, in shades of gray, flax, orange and yellow, with lots of giraffes peeking out here and there (more to come on his room!)

The guests? ALL PARTY GIRLS. I got the opportunity to catch up with so many women who have sowed into different seasons of my life, from old cheerleading buddies and high school friends to my feisty, gorgeous cousins and wise mentors that I admire. Such a treasured group of women assembled to celebrate the upcoming arrival of my little son, and I couldn't have felt more blessed or loved. Not only was the food and the decor to die for, but the words of encouragement and prayers were sweet, poignant, and will always be especially cherished in my heart.

// Me and my mama bear. Isn't she the loveliest? //
// You can't really tell, but the onesie on the right says "Party Naked" - thanks Kelley!! //
// My sweetheart nephew helped me unwrap the gifts. He didn't understand why I cried opening practically every other one. //
// Table of decadence, yummmm //

The Countdown Is On!
Thank you to all of you who have celebrated our growing family and affirmed us during this transition. I am overwhelmed by the loving support Stevie and I have received, all for making a baby!

We are getting really close to time for this little guy to arrive. Keep us in your prayers!

July 14, 2014

22/50 NYC Adventures: West Village Eats & Treats

// Washington Square Park with my bro and sis-in-law //
My West Village Gems.
Manhattan's West Village is too cool for school. Windy little streets, Sesame-Street-esque colored buildings, celebrity-infested and foodie-infused, this little hamlet in downtown Manhattan often sweeps people away with its posh allure. Rent in this area of town is OUTTA CONTROL, but it's because you truly feel like you are living in a little village. There is some really grand food, and I won't pretend to know half of the hot spots, but here are a few that are definites on my list. Especially if you are visiting! Munch away, my friends!

Olio e Piu.
This place. Made me believe for a split-second that we were back in Italy. The open-air seating, the quaint tables and the killer-good wine... there is just something about Olio e Piu that is so reminiscent of a foreign dream. This is where you are seated outdoors, served an authentic Italian meal, and will relish the most subtle of all breezes cooling the hot city pavement, with probably not a cloud in the sky. Ah. The margherita pizza is killer. As is the olive appetizer. Order the Montepulciano d'Abruzza Riserva wine, it's my fave. We sat and talked for hours, watching the sun go down over the village and the fashionistas strut out of hiding. Downtown always houses the hip. Remember that.

Magnolia Bakery.
I wasn't a cupcake girl. I wasn't. But then I had Magnolia Bakery's extremely basic vanilla cupcake and I was a changed woman. What the heck are they putting in these fluffy mounds of puffery and delight? Whatever it is, I'm always left wanting more. You must must MUST have a cupcake here before you bounce out of the village. Don't be shy now. While there are a zillion of these locations around the city, the one in the Village is the original contender. I believe this bakery sparked the "cupcake craze" that our fine country went through a few years ago (with the help of its prominent featuring as a hot spot for the ladies of Sex and the City to indulge in a sugar craving.) At Magnolia, that cupcake trend is still going strong, with GOOD reason.

// When my sis came to visit, we went to TOWN in Magnolia. //
Johns Of Bleeker Street.
Here's the deal with Johns: the pizza isn't all that great. But for whatever reason, this is one of those famed, rite-of-passage kind of spots that is super old and boasts "New York-style Pizza!" so millions of people rush this place every year. It's neat to visit once (if only for the stained old photos of John with every celebrity under the sun), but then make sure you hit up Juliana's in Brooklyn for the reeeeeeeally good stuff. And tell them I sent you. (hahahaha don't do that - they don't know me at all.)

Okay, this is a truly delicious West Village dinner spot. This Italian joint is named after the owner's mother, inspired by the seasonal bounty from her fresh vegetable garden in Lucca, Italy. What makes this place unique? It boasts a rather impressive rooftop farm, so everything served is truly farm fresh, plucked from the urban garden. How urban-chic is that? Get the Caprese Foccacia appetizer, the Braised Pork Shoulder or the Lamb and don't forget about the vino!

Apparently everything I adore in the West Village is Italian in heritage. Grom is a deeeeeeelicious gelato bar featuring the richest, thickest, creamiest gelato I've found in the city yet. It is the closest thing to what we tasted last summer on our Italian escapade. Favorites? The Pistachio & Stratiacella Gelato (IN A CONE), or you could go wild and get the lemon sorbet. It will make you pucker for sure, but nom nom nom, it's the best kind of sour.

// At Ayza, GET THE FONDUE. //
Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar
This is a fun, romantic little spot for a special treat, a date night, or even a ladies night. I've been to Ayza for dinner, appetizers, and dessert and you just CAN'T go wrong. Except if you don't have a reservation. Then you will be all kinds of rejected at the door. But seriously, make the resi and don't forget to order the fondue for dessert.

These are just a handful of my faves down in the Village. There are literally zillions of places you can grab wine, cheese and desserts galore and be a happy little frantic. Let me know if you check these hot spots out! As some of my close-to-heart West Village dream spots, I am already counting down the days until I return... and munch munch munch!

July 9, 2014

36-Week Bumpdate

36-Week Bumpdate
Here we are! A month away from our son's due date - SAY WHAT?!!? We are now on a weekly countdown instead of a monthly - and let me tell you, A LOT has changed since last week. I'm feeling even huge-er (because I am) and more waddle-y (because I am). These are the precious moments of pregnancy.

The Progress.

How Far Along: 36 weeks

Gender: MALE.

Name: Everett Lee Hale

Sleeping? Ha. I was up EVERY HOUR last night. My nocturnal naps are punctuated by pee breaks.

Eats: I had some GOOD pulled barbeque sandwiches this week. Yes, multiple times. Don't judge it. Also - the ice cream craving has returned. And I really want it in a waffle cone. Oooh yeah.

Wearing: Guys, it's getting hard to dress myself. As in, I wore the same outfit three times this week because it was the only one that I felt good in. Stevie found me some of his most gigantic Puma pajama pants and, thankfully, that has made evening lounge time MUCH more comfy (and also, I have been deemed the family thug.) We are past the "this feels snug"-point, and we have entered the "everything is cutting off my stomach's circulation!"-point. It's a really special time.

Exercise: I am still swimming! And walking, although I've had a weird sensation down low in my belly when I walk in the evenings. Stevie and I try to take a walk post-dinner, but I almost feel like my belly "drops" throughout the day, so my evening walks have turned into sloooooww waddles. The other night Stevie put on flip flops instead of tennis shoes, and that made me realize... this really isn't exercise for him anymore. And it really is for me. How far we've come from our days logging miles around the reservoir in Central Park. I'll try to stop weeping and keep writing.

Emotional Check: I'm feeling good! My friend Jordan just had her baby this week, and it was a big "whoa!" moment for me. Like, the baby inside of me HAS A FACE. And little, distinct features. It's just blowing my mind. But as much as I am excited to meet him, I am not ready for him to come. Stay in there, man! Keep doing what you're doing! I just want as much time to prepare for him as possible.

Movement: It's like. A mountain. In my belly. That moves. It is the craziest sensation, I wish I had a better description for it. Also, two days ago a pain arrived in the small of my back. It won't leave. I'm assuming this has to do with my body prepping for labor, as well. Have I said it enough yet? PRECIOUS MOMENTS IN THE MAKING HERE.

Looking Forward to: Finishing our birthing class! This weekend we are in all-day Saturday Hypnobirthing sessions, finishing up our learning of the tools and techniques this method encourages. Also, I'm looking forward to finishing up all our purchases for him. And getting everything set up. We are almost there, but not quite.

Feeling Accomplished: Because, 1. I ordered the Medela breast pump through my insurance company, and it finally arrived this week! 2. The car seat we ordered arrived yesterday, and I'm hoping that the stroller/crib mattress/etc. items are heading our way soon! 3. We've been meeting with different pediatricians, and we are hoping to land on a practice that we feel awesome about. 4. Finishing up my water birthing class today! 5. Working on the birth plan.

Prayer Requests: An on-time (not early!) labor/delivery. And perhaps a few awesome nights of rest before this little guy makes his appearance. Also - this is a big one - our Canon SLR camera decided to stop working THIS WEEK. We are praying it magically turns back on, because I really want good pictures of my newborn! Ah! So prayers that our camera starts working again would be AWESOME. Thank you!

Thanks for following along our pregnancy journey! Feel free to check check out the 6-month Bumpdate, 7-month Bumpdate, & 8-month Bumpdate :)

July 8, 2014

21/50 NYC Adventures: Basking in Bryant Park

Basking in Bryant Park.
Bryant Park is just glorious. Located in Midtown, tucked squarely between the busy-ness of Times Square, the Rockefeller Center & Grand Central Station, this park is a standout NYC spot. Bring a blanket to lounge on, or not. There are tables and chairs aplenty, ready to serve your every park-loving whim. Substantially smaller than Central Park, this is an excellent spot to meet a friend for lunch and bask in the citylicious fun of Midtown. With lots of greenery and foliage to bathe your scurried mind in a peaceful calm. Ahhhh, breathe in that oxygen.

There is just something about Bryant Park that is old-school, inviting some kind of connection to the past generations of corporate New Yorkers. Their leather-bound briefcases and smart, tailored suits. Gazing upward at the impressive structures that represent industry, success, power. But here? Put business time aside and just relax. It's the perfect place to meet a pal for lunch. To ice skate in the winter. To read in the summer. Come visit the free Art Cart! Yes, there are free arts and crafts, where you can just draw and paint for hours, lounging by Le Carrousel. What is that? Oh, just the most charming, fanciful merry-go-round in the city. Or if that's not your thing, you can always head over to the Putting Green or Potanque Court for a friendly game. And did I mention the summer long Film Festival? Oh, how I loathe that I cannot be present for this summer's lineup of classic films. This park seriously has it going on, hosting every kind of community activity from yoga to book club to juggling, modern dance and fencing. Yes, fencing.

I recently met my sweetheart friend Jenna in Bryant Park for a quick (and delicious!) sandwich at 'Wichcraft, a delicious food cart of sorts. We met each other in Boston when we worked for an ad agency (she hired me!) and we somehow both found ourselves in NYC not too shortly after. I have loved getting time to explore the city with her. On this particularly perfect sunny afternoon, we basked in the breezy warmth and discussed the craziness of living in this city, and the craziness of leaving the city. And she gave me a most beautiful, poignant gift: this book, Good Bye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. It is a meaningful collection of essays, an homage highlighting all the glorious and gritty that New York offers its proud citizens. Such a sweet gift. I sat in the park for the afternoon, after she scurried back to her office, and read and read and read. And found a thankful peace in the midst of such a strange, exciting transition.

Basking. And thankful.
Thank you, sweet Jenna, for celebrating our departure from New York as a positive thing. For making me feel that this bittersweet decision is really just a progression from one season to the next, leaving a delicious taste in my mouth for this wonderful place I was proud to call home, even if only for a short time. And thanks to Bryant Park, I will always remember that feeling :)

July 7, 2014

What's Coming Up.

// Hydrangeas from my mom's yard. Ahhh. //
It's July!
Happy Monday, dear friends. I hope you had a blast celebrating the 4th of July with friends and family and my personal lover, watermelon.

I thought I would give you an update on what's coming up on the blog in the next few weeks.

I'm about to have a baby, in case you haven't heard.

Or noticed my gradual growth.

You are so kind to pretend you haven't noticed. I love you for that. You liar.

I have about 4 weeks until my due date, which means that soon (and very soon!) this little guy will be making his way into our lives. We are excited, thrilled, a little freaked (just of the unknown factor), and busily preparing ourselves, our birth plan, our home, our car, and our brains. But I'll save all those juicy details for this week's Bumpdate.

The past 6 weeks have been chock-full of transition in our world. We just moved out of our 1-bedroom apartment in New York City... into the upstairs of my parents' suburban Georgia home. Talk about a transition! We are all still adjusting. They have been gracious. They have bitten their tongues on several occasions. We will gladly accept your prayers.

Even though we're in Georgia now, I still have SO MUCH about NYC that I want to share. We experienced life in 3-D during our time living in Manhattan, and I wish that part of me could go on living there forever. While also living here. Does that make any sense? Anyway, I want to go ahead and share a lot of NYC-themed posts over the course of this next week, and then we will close the chapter to the 50 NYC Adventures for a season. So far, I've only shared 20 with you. I have so much more that I would like to share about NYC, but in preparation for the baby invasion, I'm going to hit pause on that series and come back to it again after the baby arrives (and after another NYC trip, which we are hoping we can make happen in late-fall :)Yes, we like to dream.

So coming up on the blog over the next month? Finishing up some NYC Adventures, more baby prep/pregnancy-related stuff, some new (WONDERFUL) Georgian tales, and a not-so-surprising lack of recipes (I loathe cooking these days). Once our little man arrives, I'll take about a month off (give or take) from blogging and be updating everyone via Instagram.

Just wanted to give you a sense of where everything is headed, rather rapidly - to babyland! Thanks for being part of our journey :)