Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things to Do in Austin: Dell Children's Museum.

Hello to anyone new visiting from the Texas Tuesday link up! I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back soon! Might I also let you in on a little secret? I'm currently hosting several giveaways, including an eBook all about monetizing your blog and having success as a blogger. You can enter here! Now onto my Texas Tuesday post!

Last week was a rough one, mainly because S would NOT stay at camp, staying home three of the five days, so we ended up improvising our plans all week!

Due to the midsummer heat (and it's been a scorcher, folks, with the triple digits reigning supreme), we were looking for anything we could do while inside, and so we set our sights on Austin's Dell Children's Museum. We hadn't been in quite some time (mainly because for a while there, Ava got sick every. single. time.), and so the exhibits had changed out and that made it all the more amazing!

Their current exhibit, 123 Geometry Lane - At Home with Math, was right up my alley, since math has not been my strong suit and is something that I want to immerse Ava in from a young age. I think that math skills can take you far in life - in fact, had my advanced math skills been more proficient, I'd have taken the MCAT and gone to medical school - and so when I found out the exhibit promoted early math skills, I encouraged the girls to explore as long as they wanted!

Here are some pictures of the current exhibit:

They had a set of four differently-sized chairs, two of which Ava particularly enjoyed comparing her body size to:

They also had an impressively designed home kitchen replica, allowing for opportunities to experiment with measurement, shapes, sizes, and other early math skills. Even I wanted to play!

Then, we got to do a bit of fishing, and used the ruler on hand to measure our catches! Ava LOVED this!

The other great thing about the Children's Museum is that there are a lot of year-round exhibits, so we have a few favorites we look forward to every time we go. One such favorite for the girls is the upstairs tool bench and pulley exhibit, where you have a chance to build any number of things (or, like Ava, just screw in plastic screws to the workbench repeatedly!) and attempt to use a pulley to help a parachuting pig (say that three times fast!). We spent a lot of time in that portion of the museum!

There is also a kitchen with pretend food, a "working" dairy station, a pet clinic where you can pretend to be a veterinarian, an upstairs platform where you can watch and interact with the resident train that navigates a track above the play areas, and a construction multi-story construction workplace. If none of that is your cup of tea, there is a "design zone" upstairs near the tool and pulley portion where you can use different materials to create any number of items. This time around, we made binoculars out of string, toilet paper rolls, tape, and wrapping paper. I got some brownie points for those, and I must say I think I deserved them, seeing as how I didn't have Pinterest on hand to inspire me :P

The Austin Children's Museum is located at 201 Colorado St., Austin 78701. Entrance is $6.50 for children 2 and above, as well as adults, $4.50 for Children 12-23 months, and free for those under the age of 1. For those who cannot pay the cost of admission, the museum offers free admission via their Open Door Policy. The museum is also free each Sunday from 4-5 p.m.

Texas Tuesday

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Farewell to Waffle Fries.

There are a lot of things I love about Chick-fil-A. Their lemonade, for starters, hits the spot in a way that is indescribable, and their chicken nuggets are the perfect amount of crisp and tender, not to mention a healthier (relative, of course) alternative to other fast food nuggets. And don't even get me started on the waffle fries. In fact, until recently, Chick-fil-A was a fast food decision I could feel good about (again, relative, folks) when compared with some of the other options, but no longer. For all the things that I love about Chick-fil-A, there is one overwhelmingly negative thing that I despise about them, and that is their political stance on gay marriage. And for that, I can no longer be a customer.

Sure, we all knew that the chain's owner, Dan Cathy, was a religious man - none of the franchises are allowed to operate on Sunday in order to observe the day of rest and allow for employees to be at home with their families. I love families, so despite the fact that I am almost always jonesing for some Chick-fil-A on Sundays, this was alright by me. It made it that much sweeter on Monday.

But now, Mr. Cathy has come out and straightforwardly denounced gay marriage and therefore stands against equal rights for all, and that is something that I cannot overlook.

There are few things I am more concerned with than that Ava grows up to be a conscientious, tolerant, and kind individual - one who knows that her actions and the beliefs that fuel them are significantly more far-reaching than just herself. If there is nothing else I want for her (other than for her to value her education above all else), it is for her to be someone who considers the rights of others and the betterment of our society. I hope that she never is able to remember a time when gay marriage was not legal, but if she does, that she understands that preventing gay marriage is morally wrong, and denying human beings the right to love whomever they choose is not an option, but a fundamental right.

Sure, it seems silly, that an action as small as boycotting Chick-fil-A is supposed to somehow get here from here to there, but my friend Leigh Ann made an immensely valuable point when voicing her own thoughts about Chick-fil-A's anti-gay stance. Even if my business is just a drop in the proverbial bucket, how else can I teach my daughter that our actions, and thoughts, and - eventually - our votes, can make a difference?

So, from here on out, we're not eating Chick-fil-A. And I'll admit, when I announced this to my husband, his response made me proud. He said, "I knew when I heard about this that you were going to say that."

Good. Then I've made my personal stance on this issue - and the lengths (as short as giving up a monthly waffle fry binge or two) that I'll go to in order to have my voice heard - known.

In other news, I've also never been a bigger fan of the Henson's than I am today:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School (Giveaway!)

As I've mentioned before, one of my absolute highest priorities for Ava is that she receive the very best education. In fact, our sole purpose for not having another child (at this point) is that we want to ensure we can pay for her to go to the best school possible, and in our district, that will likely require a private education. That's why, when I was presented with the opportunity to read Mission Possible: How The Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work In Any School and give away a copy to one of my readers, I jumped at the chance!

What is fascinating about this book - and the Success Academy charter school system it explores - is the ease at which these programs could be implemented. I'm not saying that a teacher's job is easy - quite the opposite. But rather than suggesting we draw upon limited resources, such as "throwing money at the problem", what Moskowitz suggests is a different approach entirely, based upon the active involvement of adults and the expectations they hold for their child(ren). As someone who doesn't quite comprehend what people mean when they mention options after high school (options? What options? College was the ONLY option I ever had, as far back as I could remember), this resonated with me, and is aligned with my own way of parenting Ava. On Ava's second birthday, we took her on a detailed tour of our alma mater, The University of Texas, and when we put her potty pennies in the piggy bank and discuss what she's saving for, she can already tell you with pride, "College!" It's sad to me to think that there are children whose parents not only don't expect them to attend college, but don't believe that they actually could. 

Another phenomenon that Mission Possible explores is about the demoralization of our nation's teachers through stagnation.

In fact, stagnation, being unable to accomplish one’s job at a high level, is one of the greatest sources of low teacher morale.  Why do you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions?  

The answer, it seems, lies within accountability. So frequently in our nation's schools mediocrity is accepted as the expectation for both teachers and students, leaving teachers less motivated continue their education and training, and without the support and feedback needed to constantly better themselves in the profession. As with students underperforming to lowered expectations, the same happens with teachers - and as this cycle has continued, the expectations have become lower and lower.

Another contributing factor begins in the education of teachers, who are increasingly taught to make lessons easily taught to every child so as not to leave them out or discourage them from wanting to learn. What is overlooked, in this method, is that instead, teachers and teaching down and discouraging everyone else, who become bored and lose interest in learning. They're taught to look at remedial instruction as the bar, rather than the exception.

If you're interested in the goings-on of the public school system and the ways in which it could stand to be improved (and how the Success Academies are doing just that, with proven results!), you'd be wise to take a look at Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School. You can also interact with Eva herself, either on Twitter or via her Facebook page.

So how can you win your very own copy in time to evaluate your current school choices and make changes before this coming school year? Enter the giveaway below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post, and received both a copy of the book for myself and for a giveaway.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things to Do in Austin: Laguna Gloria

We continued our Austin adventures last week, stopping by Laguna Gloria after a massive swim fail at Westwood Country Club across the street (I'm pretty sure people cheered when I gave up and carried my tantrum-throwing toddler out!). Not wanting the entire afternoon to be a bust, we crossed the street to explore the ground of Austin Museum of Art's Laguna Gloria - a gorgeous historical landmark, makeshift art museum and event venue on Lake Austin!

I've been on the grounds a handful of times to pick up kiddos from the art camps there, but never inside the home or down through the grounds to see the sculptures, so I figured it was high time. Also? David and I were married just next door at Mayfield Park, so that entire area holds a special place in my heart <3

Check out some of the wonderful photo opps:

Two of my favorite pieces inside of the museum:

Once we'd had our fill inside, we followed the stairs down towards the lake to check out the many sculptures on the path. Pardon our outfits - we'd just been swimming and didn't have a change of clothes :)

Interested in more fun family-friendly adventures in the Lone Star state? Link up to Texas Tuesdays!

Texas Tuesday

Also? Enter to win tickets to the Austin leg of the LEGO KidsFest tour, coming August 31st-September 2nd here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Work at Home Woman's Guide to Blogging Success: Review and Giveaway!

I've mentioned in the past that I'm a part of a wonderful networking group here in Austin that consists of fellow bloggers of various niches, working to support one another through community and meet ups. One of my fellow members, the lovely Holly Hanna of The Work at Home Woman, has recently released an ebook entitled, Blogging Success: Tips for Creating Content, Getting Traffic and Monetizing Your Blog, and she was kind enough to allow me a sneak preview - as well as the chance to give away a copy to one of my awesome readers.

(Note: Before you count yourself out as someone who isn't interested in making money from their blog, know this: Even if you're not interested in monetizing, I can assure you that there is at least one (but most likely far more!) tip in her ebook you'll find helpful for managing your blog!)

I had overwhelmingly positive thoughts on Blogging Success, and despite the fact that I've been blogging for over three years now, I learned a lot from the book. The first thing that I really appreciated was the formatting of the book. It is laid out in a simple, concise manner, breaking into three categories (creating content, getting traffic, and monetizing - obviously), with subcategories that make it a quick and easy read and allowing you to immediately put to use the tips that she gives. She also - through the magic of ebooks and the interwebs - gives direct links to social media sites she recommends, as well as other companies and blog support sites, allowing you at-your-fingertips access to some of the key tools of the trade.

I have considered monetizing in the past, especially given the economy and my desire to be a stay-at-home mom, but have never known where to start and what considerations I would need to make. This guide puts an end to the unknown, giving you nearly step-by-step advice with all angles covered. Holly has done all the work - now it's just up to you to implement the strategies she suggests.

If you have no interest in monetizing and keep your blog simply as a way of documenting your child's early years (I do this, too!) and keep your family up to date (yup!), that's fine too! If you've ever done a review or a giveaway - whether from a national company or even to help promote a friend's local business - there are things to know about the best way to go about this (as well as FTC regulations to consider), and Blogging Success will let you in on those secrets as well!

As for Holly Hanna herself, she's definitely the woman you want to advise you on these matters, having been a self-built blogger who has made her way into the world of monetized blogging and done so very successfully. Also? She's a fellow Longhorn - hook 'em! You can't go wrong taking advice from a Longhorn :)

Now comes the good part! I'm giving away a copy of Holly Hanna's ebook, Blogging Success: Tips for Creating Content, Getting Traffic and Monetizing Your Blog to one of my readers. a Rafflecopter giveaway Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of Blogging Success: Tips for Creating Content, Getting Traffic and Monetizing Your Blog in exchange for my honest review, as well as a giveaway copy. All opinions are my own.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Giveaway: 2 Tickets to LEGO KidsFest at the Austin Convention Center!

Are you as hot as I am in this Central Texas heat? Are your kids starting in with the, "Mommmmm, I'm booooorrrrrred!" exclamations with more than a month to go before school starts? If so, have I got the giveaway for you! If you're looking for an exciting end-of-summer activity that you can enjoy with your kids while still beating the heat, let me tell you how excited I would be for you to join me for LEGO KidsFest at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on opening night! 

LEGO KidsFest will be visiting the Austin Convention Center on Friday, August 31st, through Sunday, September 2nd, and I have two tickets to giveaway to one of my amazing readers! 

The LEGO® KidsFest national tour stops in Texas at the Austin Convention Center August 31 – September 2, 2012, bringing all of the creative hands-on, minds-on fun of LEGO building and experiences together in this three acre activity- and entertainment-packed family event for children of all ages and builders of all skills and interests.  

  Among the many LEGO attractions, families will find:

•         LEGO Model Gallery: 40 life-sized models made entirely from LEGO bricks
•         LEGO Master Builders: live demonstrations and activities from the crew who get paid to play
•         Creation Nation: build your own creation to add to a custom map of the U.S.
•         Race Ramps: build your own custom car, then race it down the ramp against friends and family 
•         LEGO Games Arena: roll the dice to play LEGO board games
•         Construction Zones: creative free build, play and display areas
•         LEGO DUPLO®: younger visitors can explore imagination through building
•         LEGO Retail and KidsFest Marketplace: purchase LEGO merchandise and KidsFest goods
•         Brick Pile: a gigantic pile full of LEGO bricks for creative play and enjoyment
•         Monochromatic Builds: bricks of a single color to foster group creativity
•         Brickscapes: fantastic displays that combine lots of LEGO and DUPLO sets
•         LEGO Universe:  become a custom LEGO Minifigure in this multiplayer online game
•         And much more, covering over 150,000 square feet of space!

To enter the ticket giveaway, please like the LEGO KidsFest Facebook Page and/or follow their Twitter account. Then, visit here to enter! Simple as that!

*Note: you can access the giveaway via "here", despite the link not being a different color :)*

Thursday, July 19, 2012


....Babs! (or Babette, technically :P)

About Babs:

Babs is a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit, and even though she is only 10 weeks old, she's full grown at 2.5 pounds! She's also very soft and quite fluffy, hence her big appearance for her weight :)

Her favorite treat is bananas:

She loves to give kisses:

She shares Ava's fascination with Aladdin:

Only one family member doesn't adore her:

...but that's ok. The rest of us do!

As for Sundress, it turns out that wild rabbits cannot be domesticated - it's impossible - so after consulting with the petting zoo where we re-homed the other wild rabbits and a vet, we were advised to let her free in the wild. Ava was a great sport about it, though a bit sad, and so we adopted one of the petting zoo bunnies instead! Sundress now lives on the Brushy Creek Greenbelt with her "family", and is much happier :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Road Trip to San Marcos, Part 2: Wonder World Caverns and Park.

After we had some fun at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos last week, we were inspired to check out what else San Marcos had to offer for families with young children. Having worked up an appetite on the glass-bottom boat tours, we went first to Jason's Deli for some lunch (they have many dairy-free options, for which I am forever grateful!), then decided to head down a few exits to Wonder World Caverns and Park.

 Central Texas has an extensive network of underground caverns - both North and South of Austin - but I had yet to visit any of them before this trip, and so we were quite excited for our visit. The caverns remain a lovely 72 degrees year round with a 0 % humidity (um, heaven!), and what better way to cure our cabin fever yet remain nice and cool in the dead of summer?

We chose Wonder World for our first cave exploration not only because it was located in San Marcos and convenient to us that day, but also because it is particularly geared towards children. The park boasts an all-inclusive tour that begins with a guided tour through the Wonder World Caverns, as well as the observation deck, the anti-gravity house, and a train ride through an exotic animal petting park. That way, even if your child is underwhelmed by the history of the underground network in Central Texas, they'll still come away having had a great day!

First up, the caves. One disclaimer I wish I would have had was that the guided tour includes descending multiple sets of steep, large steps. Not only is it difficult for a two-year-old in the best of conditions (Ava's pretty physically competent), but it's no walk in the park for a mom wearing flip-flops either. There's a lot to be said for spontaneous trips, but preparedness is not one of them :/

Other than the inappropriate footwear, though, the caves were really neat. Once again we had an extremely knowledgeable tour guide that helped us to take the most away from the experience, and she was very patient considering the two of us moms were traveling with five children between us 100 ft below ground. Wowsa!

Check out some of the sights:

After we explored the caverns, we were then taken back up in an elevator (thankfully we didn't have to climb up all the stairs we climbed down!) and to the observation deck, where we had sweeping views of the Texas Hill Country:

Once we were back safely on land, we went through the anti-gravity house. I may have mentioned that I have killer motion sickness, and so it would have been far wiser had I decided to skip this part. Thankfully, it was over quick!

Last up was the train ride, which was definitely highly anticipated by the girls! We bought our deer food for the petting park, and set off on the train:

I will say, the petting park was underwhelming, with it mainly consisting of deer, peacocks, goats, turkeys and llamas, but the kids were impressed just the same, especially when the deers ate out of Ava's hand. We're suckers for feeding animals :)

You can find Wonder World Caverns and Park at 1000 Prospect St. San Marcos, TX 78666. All-inclusive tickets are $19.95 for adults, $15.95 for kids 5-12, $8.50 for 3-5, and free for little ones! It can be a bit steep, but plan to be here for 2.5-3 hours at least, so that balances it out, and it's a great experience with a lot of learning moments!

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