Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween Party on the Plaza at the Domain!

Looking for a fun way to start the Halloween celebrations early? Look no further than the Domain's Halloween Party on the Plaza! Throw on your costumes for trick-or-treating, a cake walk to live music by Superband, face painting, balloon twisting, a pumpkin patch, crafts, prize giveaways, and more! 

Costumes are encouraged, though masks are permitted only on children under 12, and no toy weapons will be allowed. 

The Domain II has recently undergone a multi-million dollar enhancement project, which includes the addition of three new one-of-a-kind play areas, totally over 800 square feet. Each area is constructed of kid-friendly materials, and feature replicas of a longhorn, an armadillo, frogs, turtles and butterflies, complete with slides, climbers and storyboards. They are appropriate for kids of all ages, and offer an appealing break during a family shopping trip, or a great setting for an event such as Halloween Party on the Plaza! 

Halloween Party on the Plaza will take place on Saturday, October 25, from 3-5 p.m., and is located at the new Domain II plaza at 11410 Century Oaks Terrace (78758). Best of all, it's free, and a great way to get some additional use out of those adorable costumes! 

For more information on fun family events taking place at The Domain, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


This past Monday, we had to put our cat to sleep. If you've never had to do it, consider yourself incredibly lucky. It was one of the hardest, most painfully sad things I've done in my life, and still, two days later, I'm positively distraught over it. I feel destroyed by losing him, especially in such a quick amount of time. I thought we had so much more time left.

My cat, Spencer, was fine, and then, very suddenly, he was very, very sick. He was only 10, but he started throwing up last Tuesday night. Initially I wasn't too concerned - cats throw up sometimes - but then he stopped eating and continued to throw up bile, so on Thursday morning, I took him to the vet. They took blood and urine samples, and mentioned there was some blood in his urine and that was likely causing the issues, and gave him a shot of antibiotics, expecting him to improve. 

The next morning, the vet called with very sad news. Spencer had FIV, which is essentially Feline AIDS, and given the absence of an obvious incidence of transmission, think he may have gotten from his mother, since he's been a strictly indoor cat for eight years. Despite the antibiotics, he had yet to resume eating, and when he would drink, he would later vomit quite violently, almost screaming at times. Though they gave us the option to do an ultrasound and look for a mass - lymphoma is common in cats with FIV - and then do surgery and hope to prolong his life, Spencer was a sensitive cat with a major fear of the vet, and it will only give us more time, not cure him. The vet also expressly said he did not feel confident that the ultrasound would reveal anything.

It is a miracle that he survived the weekend. He was increasingly weak and was starting to appear in pain when he walked, and he's climbed into the bathtub multiple times. I can't tell you how many times I said goodbye to him before leaving the house or going to bed. 

Still, I had such a hard time deciding on whether I should have him put to sleep. I didn't want him to suffer. I love him SO much. He had been my constant for over a decade - through it all with me. In NYC, when I was essentially alone, he was there. When I had my babies, he loved them, despite it going against his personality. I am devastated at having lost him, especially after he'd hung on all weekend, giving me hope. 

In case saying goodbye to such an integral part of our family wasn't awful enough, Ava was hit with the full weight of it as I prepared her to say goodbye. While her initial response when I told her over the weekend I was concerned he wouldn't get better was, "Well, we can get a new kitty!", when the truth of what was really about to happen sunk in, she was inconsolable. She nearly vomited numerous times from being unable to calm down, and David had to hold her as I pulled out of the driveway. It was the saddest thing I've ever been through, and certainly the most intense grief she's felt in her life thus far. 

I, too, am experiencing some intense grief. He was so ingrained into our lives here that every little thing makes me think of him. I keep stepping onto the laundry room floor on my tiptoes, only to find that no new litter has spilled from the box onto the floor. Every time I set my coffee onto the stair bannister, I go to move it so you won't bump it jumping up, and then remember that you aren't here. Last night, when I got home from work, I crumbled and sobbed at the realization that you won't greet me at the door after those long days anymore. God, I miss you so much already. Today, when Ava was picking flowers, she picked one for each of our family members, including you, before remembering. I am going to let her put it on your grave tomorrow. We buried you outside of your favorite window where you would always sit and look out - I know how much you loved being outside.

I know Spencer is at peace now, but having to say goodbye was so hard. So, so hard. Holding his kitty body as the medicine pulled him from consciousness and as he took his last breath was both horrific, and yet comforting - knowing he wasn't alone in the end.

Spencer, you were my best friend, and I'm so incredibly honored that you managed to find me, of all the people in the world, to love. Rest in peace, sweet friend. I love you.

Spencer James 
April 1, 2004 - October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Call No Parent Wants to Get.

There's been something going on around here for the past two months, and after reading this post by a fellow Austin blogger, I felt similarly inspired to unburden myself and share our story. Here goes.

Back in mid-August, Ava had a bad fall. She was messing around on one of the barstools downstairs, and despite my husband telling her numerous times to stop, she was going around and around and, having distributed her weight funny, flipped the barstool over, both landing on her back/head, and the barstool landing on her and hitting her in the eye. It was by far the first time she'd ever been in that type of serious pain, and though we were extremely concerned and knew she'd have quite the shiner from, we didn't realize the ordeal that event set into motion.

The next day, Ava woke up with her eye practically swollen shut, and so off to the doctor we went. After x-ray's of her skull proved "inconclusive", they ordered a CT scan to check for facial fractures - specifically the eye socket and cheekbone. We got a call the next day - we had the scan at 5:30 on a Friday - from our doctor, and though she had good news (they didn't find a break), she then said words that took my breath away: "They did happen to notice something else..."

In the grand scheme of things, what they noticed wasn't that big of a deal. It wasn't a mass or lesion of any sort, which of course was the first place that my mind went when she said those words. What they had found was a Chiari Type 1 Malformation - a congenital malformation where a part of the cerebellum is not contained in the skull, but rather descends down slightly into the base of the skull, and in some instances, involves the brain stem or spine. Though of the four types of Chiari malformations, Type 1 is the only potentially benign, which was great news, but the things that Dr. Google immediately brought up was...intense. Like, lost days worth of sleep over the past few weeks from waking up in the middle of the night in fear of what the future could hold. Words like "brain surgery" and "paralysis" had me literally sweating, despite knowing that Google was not the best place to get information!

Our journey having only begun, we were then referred out to a pediatric neurosurgeon, making this mama all the more anxious. NeuroSURGEON? Not just a plain neurologist? I was increasingly scared, despite reassurances that since our appointment was scheduled for five weeks out, we needn't be too concerned, especially when the receptionist told me to "go to the nearest ER if you notice anything out of the usual."

Reading about Chiari wasn't exactly comforting either. It cited the potential to worsen throughout the course of one's life, with the only recourse for symptoms - which could include a lack of balance, headaches, neck pain, etc - a very invasive surgery that requires the removal of both part of the skull and part of the spine to decompress spinal tissue. In fact, in talking about this now, it is becoming increasingly clear why I was unable to mention it before we had her results. It all sounds truly terrifying!

When the day of her appointment finally arrived, we saw a fantastic doctor at Dell Children's - a resource in town I am both uncomfortably familiar with and beyond grateful for. After a screening that included a multitude of cognitive questions, physical skills and behavioral questions, the doctor seemed quite impressed with her capabilities. She reviewed Ava's CT, which showed a mild Chiari 1 malformation, and eased my concerns about where this came from, and how it wasn't due to anything I did during my pregnancy with Ava (she was a surprise, so naturally my head went to that couple of glasses of wine I had at a wedding before we found out I was pregnant!). In fact, the only concerning thing that went on at the appointment was that she immediately pointed out a break in Ava's cheekbone - something the doctor who read the CT claimed wasn't there. That might have been nice to know.....

Though the doctor seemed confident that she wouldn't require surgery for it in her lifetime, she ordered an MRI to take some further measurements,  to check for the presence of a mass that could potentially be causing the cerebellum to descend, and to check the flow of CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) in her brain. This was nerve-wracking for two reason: first for the potential for them finding something nefarious, and also because they typically require sedation for pediatric patients getting MRIs. While I'm not against sedation as a whole - I think it's fantastic for many, many things - I was against the idea of admitting her to the hospital and sedating her through an IV for a procedure that I felt she could do fine with without sedation. Knowing that if anyone was going to advocate for her it was going to need to be me, I stepped up to the plate and spent quite some time negotiating with her neurosurgeon's nurses, the radiologists and the CT tech to try to convince them to let us attempt the MRI without sedating her. I finally found some information regarding a program at a Boston-area children's hospital for the "try without" program, where they give parents the option to let their 4- to 6-year-old children try MRIs without sedation as it is proven to be less emotionally traumatic, and used that to leverage the same opportunity for Ava.

I kept the procedure under wraps until the day of - just a couple of days after our consult with the doctor - just because I knew she was the type of child that would be anxious about it, and given what ended up happening, I'm so glad I did. We showed up for our appointment at 4:45pm, with the procedure set for 5:30. She was very calm in the waiting room - probably because we had spent the day running around at gymnastics, kids club at the gym, the lake to feed the ducks, and the Children's Museum in an effort to exhaust and distract her - but around 5:40, mama started to feel less calm. Suddenly, we were called over and the receptionist explained to us that "the machine was broken" and we'd have to reschedule for another day. Uh, EXCUSE ME?! Was it not broken the past hour? I was so annoyed, and that was made far worse by the fact that Ava started crying because she "just wanted the pictures over with". Oy.

The receptionist then proceeded to shrug her shoulders at me until I thought I was going to be taken from the Children's Imaging Center in handcuffs, saying, "I don't know what else to tell you." She finally made a few calls and was able to reschedule our appointment for another center that night at 8 p.m. - sounds like fun for a four-year-old who was already overtired, and who was facing the difficult task of keeping completely still for half an hour. Super duper.

As annoyed as I was, though, the schedule change proved to work in our favor, since we got the world's best MRI tech at the other location, and by an act of God, many prayers from all of you, and the most incredible four-year-old I know, we sailed through the MRI and got the images needed without sedation!

Best of all, after a tense week of waiting for results to figure out the next step, we got the news a week later that her MRI looked great, and her CSF flow was wonderful! Such a blessing! Further, we don't have to return to the neurosurgeon for a year, and that will just be a visit to touch base - no imaging! She will need annual monitoring like that, and follow-up imaging to ensure her measurements stay the same from time to time, but for the first time in a long time, I slept well that night.

Thank you so much to everyone that sent prayers and love and hugs our way, and for the calls and texts that eased my mind and heart during those difficult two months. I appreciate it more than you know!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Stuck.

This is what happens when a storm rolls in and grandpa can't get Jack out of the swing on the back playscape...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Uncommon Goods: Unique Gifts for Men, Women and Children!

If you're looking for a unique gift idea for, well, anyone, look no further than Uncommon Goods. Founded in 1999, the Brooklyn-based company places special focus on selling quality goods that are sure to please - and are, in many cases, handmade in the USA and support small businesses! Whether you've got a housewarming party to attend, are looking for a birthday gift for the myriad of children's birthday parties you're sure to be attending now that school is back in session, or need something special for that hard-to-shop-for man or woman on your holiday list (your boss, perhaps?!), you'll be sure to find the perfect item to have shipped from Brooklyn with love!

It's never too early to start shopping for the holidays, and that is exactly what I had on my mind when I visited the Uncommon Goods website last week. Between Jack and Ava both having birthdays between now and the end of the year, I've been attempting to stock up on gifts a little at a time when I see something I love for them, and that was definitely the case! Ava has really taken an interest in art since school started back up, and so I was happy to find these fingerprint art kits for both Jack and Ava. Art projects that require little else except your finger and that I can do with both my four-year-old and 11-month-old? Sign me up!

Not wanting my husband to be left out, I ordered, "What I Love About You by Me" - a book with a fill-in-the-blank prompt on each page that asks questions like, "I love going to (blank) with you." and "I love how you always (blank)." I thought it would be a nice stocking stuffer this year, and seeing as how I'm attempting to be more mindful in my marriage, it seemed like the perfect choice! 

Last, but not least, I had to get a little something for myself, too. I'd seen these towels carried in a local boutique, and had fallen in love with them, so when I saw that Uncommon Goods carried the line, I just knew I had to have the Austin City dish towel! I think next time around, I'm going to need the larger Austin pillow for our room - I've been coveting it for quite some time now! I just love these personalized lines and they fit so perfectly with our home decor!

I also snagged a copy of 642 Things to Write About - a book that, as a writer, I was really excited to unwrap when it arrived. Expect many new and unexpected writing prompts to come!

One of my favorite things about Uncommon Goods is their commitment to social and environmental best practices. They are a founding B Corporation - a title that speaks to their commitment to fair wages, environmental issues and giving back to their community. They also participate in a program known as Better to Give, and give $1 from every purchase to a non-profit of your choice - including RAINN, American Forests, Women for Women International, and Reach Out and Read. Since the beginnings of the company, they've given over $300,000 to non-profit corporations worldwide! Looks like you'll have twice the reason to feel good about your holiday purchases this year!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Barton Hill Farms Fall Festival: Fall Has Arrived!

Fall is, hands down, my very favorite season! Though it isn't what most people would consider breezy outside just yet, any reprieve from the heat is so welcome after an entire summer of stifling heat that 85 degrees heralds celebration in central Texas, and celebrate we did, taking a trip out to Bastrop County to Barton Hill Farms' Fall Festival!

Aside from the cooler temps, another favorite thing about fall are the fall holidays, and what better way to kick off the fall holiday season than at a pumpkin patch! We make it an annual tradition for our family to head out to the pumpkin patch, and after our first visit to Barton Hill Farms, I'm certain that we'll be making this a yearly trip!

Barton Hill Farms is a relative newcomer on the pumpkin patch scene, having only been operating for fall festivals for the past several years. Nestled on the Colorado River, the farm offers up pumpkins and pumpkin painting, a giant corn maze (this year's is shaped like a Longhorn - Hook 'em!) and a smaller corn maze for the littler kids, face painting, pony rides, farm animals to pet, a barrel ride, tricycle races, and much, much more! One of the highlights for Ava during our trip was the jumping pillow situated in the midst of the farm - David and I took turns jumping with her because it was just that much fun! I'll be excited next year when Jack is sturdy enough to take a turn for himself!

Another big hit for Ava was the pony rides, especially when her pony, Sunset, took off in a (controlled) gallop! She talked about it the rest of the day, excited that she'd "ridden a horse" rather than just your regular walkabout on a pony. That'll definitely be a memory that she'll treasure!

For mama, one of the best parts was sitting outside of the big corn maze on a large swing underneath a shade tree, swinging with Jackson and watching David and Ava jump on the pillow! Nothing makes it feel like the weekend quite like swinging with a beverage and taking in a view of the Colorado River.

Speaking of beverages, there are a variety for sale there, including beer and wine! We were there early in the day before it started to heat up too much, so I didn't get a change to imbibe, but there was an assortment of vendors there with goods for sale, including brisket sliders, burgers, veggie burgers, snow cones, and more! Definitely don't hesitate to come hungry and make a day of it - there are lots of shaded picnic tables where you can eat!

We were so impressed with the staff, as well. I was asked multiple times by helpers roaming around the farm if they could help us with anything, and at the corn maze, we were given a great guide to help little kiddos navigate it. The woman who was at the admission area was a wealth of information and so friendly, and when my carrier flew out of the barrel somehow during the barrel ride, the driver quickly pulled over to get it for us and we all had a good laugh!

Aside from it being Jack's first trip to a pumpkin patch and fall festival, it was also his first time petting a goat. His reaction was fantastic, and very typical of Jack's general thoughts on life:

The Barton Hill Farms Fall Festival runs Saturdays 10a-10p and Sundays 10a-5p, now through November 9th. You can purchase discounted tickets online here, and vendors in the park take both cash and credit/debit cards!
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