14 December 2010

A Christmas Story...

On a clear, cool Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, the Costello family decided it was time to participate in the age-old tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree.  Since this was to be Zoe Mae's first Christmas tree, they all took on their roles very seriously.  Zoe's role, of course, was to dress in camo as ferocious bear, while donning her well rehearsed skeptical look.

On the Christmas tree farm, Cara's role was to interpret Zoe Mae's gurggles and kicks so that they could find the conifer that was destined for their living room.  After careful inspection, Zoe settled on this one:

After the tree selection, Tommy's role was to chop down the tree with his bare hands.  And by chop, we mean "saw", and by bare, we of course mean "mittened".

Tommy's secondary role was to entertain wee Zoe to distract her from the cold.

While Tommy had the tree measured and bundled, Zoe Mae shed her fur coat and waited in the warmth of the wee box.  Even though she was warm, Zoe started to become impatient as she waited and waited...

But then, she discovered something wonderful.  The stick shift!  Her enthusiasm for manual transmissions is commendable, especially in this day and age, but she still has a long way to go before mastering the art of shifting without the clutch.

After Zoe's first driving lesson, Tommy engineered a way to pack himself, Zoe, Cara AND the tree inside the wee box for the trip back home.  After all, why strap a tree to your roof when you can enjoy the fresh scent of pine all the way home?

Back at the homestead, Zoe Mae supervised while Tommy and Cara decorated the tree.

And that is the story of Zoe's first Christmas tree.  And Santa, if you're ever looking for someone to be your apprentice, we know a wee little girl who might be interested... She's already got the belly and cheeks for the job, and she's been practicing her "Ho Ho Ho" noises.  

Happy Christmas!!

01 December 2010

The Attack of the Cousins (times 2)

Nothing says "holidays" more than family.  And nothing says "fun" more than crazy cousins to entertain our wee Zoe Mae.  This November was packed full of festive family fun- starting with a visit from the west-coast cousins and Grammy and Grandpa Costello. We celebrated an early Thanksgiving here in Pittsburgh and decided to show James and Mills some of the city's highlights for kiddos.  Of course, there was a trip to the zoo.

In between snoozes in her carrier, Zoe had her first glimpse of some pretty cool creatures...

After the zoo, we ventured to Phipps conservatory.  Zoe Mae took it all in... including a healthy dose of oxygen which prompted wee Zoe to swiftly fall asleep.

Back at the homestead, Zoe was endlessly entertained by cousins James and Mills.  At first, they approached baby Zoe with caution.

But soon, they threw caution to the wind.

A tackle or a hug?  You decide...

Zoe had a grand old time with the Costello family, and after sleeping off the fun for a few days, we packed her up and headed to Neversink for Thanksgiving madness- Part II.  This year, Thanksgiving happened to fall on Grandma Phillips' birthday.  To celebrate, all the grandkids gathered on her lap to "help" her blow out the candles.

While at Grandma and Grandpa's, Zoe had fun practicing her new found sitting skills alongside cousin Gavin.

In fact, she was pretty happy to sit and watch the madness go on around her the whole time we were there.

Of course, she also enjoyed a good round of airplane now and then...

So, what did Zoe think of all of these visits with her cousins?  We can't be sure, but we think she's ready for more.

05 November 2010

The Blog F.A.Q.

Lately people have been asking me about the blog. . .  So I decided to blog about the blog.  I suppose it's like meta-theatre for blogland.  Here goes:

Q: What does command central for your blog look like? 

A:  Command central looks like this...

In this instance, Cara's hard at work on the blog.  She also appears to be using her "phone-a-friend" lifeline.  The messy office is purely Tommy's doing.  If you know anyone else working on a PhD, you'll know that this is the office in its reasonably tidy state.

Q: When do you find time to blog?

A:  Sometimes we don't, but we attempt to update the blog every week or two.  We generally try to update the blog in the evenings after we're home from work but before Tommy settles into writing.  It also helps that we don't watch television... Aside from the occasional Antiques Roadshow.

Q: Why does your blog have ads on the side?  

A: Several reasons...  But mostly because of wee Zoe Mae:

  1. Every click on those ads generates cash that we're stashing away for wee Zoe Mae.  Maybe it'll pay for her college education.  Maybe it'll pay for her first car.  Maybe it'll pay for a book while she's at college.  Maybe it'll buy her a new spoon.  It all depends on how many clicks...  So far this blog has generated about $50 for Zoe, which is great.  So keep on clicking those ads, and watch wee Zoe's bank account grow! 
  2. Google is kind enough to host this blog for free, so we decided to allow their ads.  This is purely optional, but it's fun to see little Zoe's piggy bank grow - especially since she doesn't know what money is yet. (Though she'd love to eat it if given the chance!)  And with Google, sometimes those ads are actually useful.

Q: Why do you have a blog?  

A: Because it is a great way of keeping family and friends abreast of what we're up to.  Plus, everyone loves pictures of cute kids and cute fluffy puppies.  We've now got one of each.  We would love to mail you all physical pictures, but this way you can keep pace with us at your own leisure.  

Q: Who actually reads this blog?

A: We wonder this all the time.  Often it feels as though nobody reads it...  Yet even if that were true, the blog is still an excellent way for us to keep records and photos organized.  Think of it as a purposely public journal.  Which should become increasingly hilarious as the years pass and we can all look back through the archives!

That said, we often have people tell us that they've been keeping up with us via the blog, which is fun.  And Google has this amazing analytics service which shows up where people are reading the blog:

So to more specifically answer the question, people in 29 countries have been known to take a look at the blog.  We've got North America covered, have nearly taken Europe, and have a smattering elsewhere.  We seem to be strangely popular in Hong Kong (perhaps old TESOL friends?) and recently had someone reading the blog from Jordan.  Perhaps more interesting is that the 7th most active country/territory visiting our blog is listed as "unknown" - now that's what I'm talking about!

Google continues the breakdown by country, region, state, city, etc.  So we've made a decent inroads into the US: 37 states isn't too shabby.  Though I'm surprised that we don't have Montana yet.  Unsurprisingly, we have a LOT of hits from New York!

Getting creepy yet?  Underneath all the rubble, the interwebs are a well organized place.  Thankfully, this is as specific as Google's analytics get - and it's not quite 100% accurate.  It is, however, really fun to be able to get an idea where people are reading from.  And it encourages us to keep up the good work!

If you're still creeped out, we'll leave you with a cute picture of wee Zoe - the real reason we started this blog in the first place!

02 November 2010

All Hallow's Eve'n in Pittsburgh


Once a year, kids are allowed to indulge in the fine art of pretending to be someone (or thing) they're not.  (Parents, of course, partake in this all the time...)  For those too little to verbalize their costume wishes, it's up to the parents to either read their mind, interpret their cries, or just dress them up as parrots.

She's like Edward Scissorhands!  Felt be forewarned - CaraJane's in town...

We chose the latter.  In a fit of idealism, Tommy declared that wee Zoe Mae's costume had to be homemade.  A fine plan, but he had neither the means nor the spare time to take said rule seriously.  He did, however, manage to visit JoAnn's to buy felt.  Yards and yards of recycled multicolor felt.  Thankfully, Cara Jane stepped up to the design plate way ahead of the game.  Research was initiated, and before Tommy could say "prospectus" the dining room table was covered with Fiskars, felt, googly eyes, and wine.


SHIZZAM...  Baby Parrot Costume!  That's right folks, Cara knocked together what must be one of the finest parrot costumes in the history of parrot-costumedom.  In fact it was so good, Cara even tried to teach wee Zoe how to fly.  Unsurprisingly, Zoe decided that she'd rather work of crawling first...

And what goes better with a parrot then a pirate?  Using nothing but found materials and a healthy dose of genius, Cara raided Tommy's closet and emerged as a pirate.  The gauntlet was thrown down: What Would Tommy Do?

Wait a minute - who's ship is this anyway?

Mmmm... Bop.  A ship's captain.  With just minutes to spare before the party was to begin, Tommy desperately turned to the interwebs to come up with a costume idea to compliment Cara's pirate and Zoe's parrot.  A plan was hatched, felt was cut, an old baseball cap was destroyed, and a stapler was employed in various and sundry ways.  Greetings Captain Tommy: It seems that your ship was recently taken by a pirate with a parrot.  And then there was party:

This was, in fact, the first time that Cara and Tommy had ever thrown a party for children on purpose.  Lots of friends came together, but the kids owned the place.  There was a marvelous monkey; a ballerina dancing the night away; and a tiger (Tigger) with Kanga-roo and Poo Bear support.

There was also a firefighter lest the party get out of hand; a shark to keep Rocco on his toes; a pumpkin to keep the shark on its fins; and a Material Girl / ladybug transformer who rocked TWO costumes.  It was a fine, fine day -- we'll look forward to another next year.  Until then, we have piles of halloween candy to tide us over, because we only had one trick-or-treater this year.  (Down two from last year.)  Hmpf.  Perhaps the unruly pirate and her wee parrot scared off all the lesser landlubbers.

15 October 2010

Not Columbus Day in the Woods

This past weekend we had the distinct pleasure of celebrating that fateful day when the indigenous peoples of North America found Christopher Columbus and friends lost at sea.  Due to the obvious political trouble of celebrating such an event, our schools have taken different paths.  CMU ignores the day - it's just another monday, classes and all.  Pitt, on the other hand, celebrates it as "Fall Break"- the artist previously known as Mountain Day.  Either way, we called it a fine excuse to head back to Neversink!

When I say "poke" you say "ha".  Poke, Ha. POKE, HAHAHA!!!!

Zoe was a champ during the long drive, and even slept in the next morning so that Momma and Papa could do the same.  (These days we call 8:30am "sleeping in.")  Grandpa did his part to entertain wee Zoe as Grandma prepared a turkey for our evening feast.  Once that was in the oven, we headed up to visit the beasts that live across the street.

Captured in live HD video are three fine generations of ladies feeding the horses.  That's right folks, horses LOVE apples.  Who knew?  And it just so happens that there are about a kazillion spare apples on the Phillips Estate, so we had no problem finding treats for them. That said, DO NOT get the horses drunk.  We were told this is a firm rule. Horses are, after all, the only known species with more chromosomes than humans, so it seems like a fine rule...   These horses are named Cupcake and Brownie.  And by "named" we mean that those are the ad hoc monikers that children and ex-kindergarden teachers have provided them.  We've no doubt that the horses have actual, non confectionary, names provided by their owners.  We also don't care.

Organic Cotton V-neck- $85, Mocha Twill Trousers- $160, Pootain Goadle- priceless.
On the way back to the house, Cara seemed to get stuck in a Lands End photo shoot.  Hot momma - can't fake that smile!

Don't make me put you in soft focus...

Much as we love the urban life -- which we do -- part of what makes city living so spectacular are the frequent trips to the countryside.  Rocco especially loves it, he perks right up and is on full alert trying to chase any and all wildlife.  Although if the wildlife is larger than a squirrel, his defense mechanisms take over and he pretends not to notice.  Those horses?  Rocco was intently sniffing the grass behind me the whole time.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Hudson River, pre-Manhattan

Our next big outing was to the "Walkway Over the Hudson" - a huge old railroad bridge that's been converted to pedestrian use.  It makes for a nice walk, and even better views.

Attn: Dr. Van de Graaff,  wee Zoe's got your generator market cornered.

Zoe Mae absolutely loved it!!!  The wind, the autumnal crispness, the view...  What's not to like?  Keeping the adventurous outing theme going, Grandma graciously offered to watch little Zoe while we ventured out for a hike.  The toughest part of the whole thing was deciding where to go, but Giant Ledge prevailed once again.

Can you find: A) sporty Cara, B) the pootain goadle?

The hike up to Giant Ledge is steep and technical, but it's pretty short -- just a few miles total -- so it's an ideal candidate for a quick outing.  And of course, there are always little places to stop and take hokey, wildernessy pictures:

Man and beast in the wilderness. 

Yes, yes, Rocco joined us for the adventure.  Though he isn't the most graceful of beasts, that dog can climb! Even up the steepest bits where the rocks were bigger than us, the little 20-pound mutt managed to keep well ahead of us and set a grueling pace.  Okay, perhaps grueling is a bit hyperbolic, but he's a damn fine climber.  Perhaps he's an elusive Pootain Goadle.  (1/2 Poodle, 1/2 Mountain Goat)

It's a stream!  We're on a bridge! OMG!

Picturesque streams? Check.  Long exposure to add some silkiness to the flowing water? Check.  Tripod to amplify this effect even further?  No check.

ROCCO: Fire at will. CARABINER: Aye-aye captian.

And the number one reason that Giant Ledge wins the "what hike should we do?" time and time again?  The giant ledge of course!  It's giant!  And there's a view that beautiful budding photographers (and their scoundrel husbands) can't get enough of.   Pictures, of course, can't do it justice, but it's quite the amazing vista.  Add to that the bounty of autumn foliage, and shucks, yinz are lucky we didn't fall right off the giant ledge in amazement.

Without the fluff, this would just be another postcard.

Okay, okay, Rocco.  It wasn't actually Giant Ledge.  You see, this being Columbus Day, or Mountain Day, or Fall Break, or Monday -- whatever you call it -- the trail had a few people on it.  So when we emerged atop the mountain (3720 ft) we discovered that there were other people on Giant Ledge.  The nerve!  Alas, we trudged on by and settled down on Giant Ledge's lesser known cousin, Medium Ledge.  Like a bicycle built for two, Medium Ledge was a perfect fit for us, and the views were no less breathtaking.  You might even say "Epic". (Patrick, we're looking at you.)

06 October 2010

Costello's first Zoe-tember

Zoe's a busy girl these days... and she's a growing girl. She had nearly grown out of all of her clothes, so we made a trip up to visit the cousins and get the next size of hand-me-downs from Emma and Grace. Grace made fast friends with Zoe...

Zoe had a great time just watching her crazy cousins go about their normal day...

Believe it or not... these photos are candids.  No posing here.

Back in the 'burgh, Zoe took in the game in Papa's office.  She was clearly excited by Polamalu's moves.

Needless to say, this onesie wasn't a hand-me-down from the cousins... but it sure is handy how it matches Papa's shirt.

Post game, Zoe was excited to experience more of Pittsburgh's culture, so we took her to see Shakespeare in the Parks. While there, she worked on perfecting her contemplative look.  Clearly, the performance was drool inspiring.  High praise indeed from a 5 month old!