Thursday, August 30, 2012

Plug & Play Austin: My Morning Off!

Plug & Play Austin, a new space catering to parents looking to get some work done while their children are actively engaged in play and learning activmties in Reggio Emilia-based "classrooms", recently opened up in Northwest Austin, and as soon as I heard about the concept, I just knew that it would be a great fit for my needs.

As a freelance writer, local blogger and full-time mother, I have many hats to wear. My life is a giant juggling act, and given that for the above three labels, I work from home (I also work outside of the home, but that's another story entirely!), I have a hard time finding balance at home. Though working at home is doable, it's certainly not ideal, as any woman who has ever sat down to work and then remembered the laundry sitting in the dryer for the third day in a row can attest to.

Enter Plug & Play. This gorgeous, open space had been created with the working parent in mind, with conference rooms, comfy nooks with lap desks to create a more home-y feel (that's where I worked and it was lovely!), private, curtained desks, a work bar (bar as in long bar table, not the booze kind, much to my productivity's relief!), and many other varieties of work spaces where you can conduct a conference call, hold a meeting for your start-up, blog, work on freelance writing assignments, and much, much more (Confession: While I did work a significant portion of my time there, I may or may not have also completed my college pick 'em entry. Priorities, y'all!)!

Here are a few of the comfy spaces you can choose from to work:

There is also a fully equipped media center, complete with printer/fax/scanner for any needs that may arise during your visit. And, if you happen to be working through a meal, why not heat up your lunch at the microwave on hand? 

As for the childcare portion, I'm hesitant to even refer to it as childcare. The structured schedule, which includes time for art, music, learning centers, quiet time, snacks and lunch and more, is far more reminiscent of a preschool classroom, and is separated into age groups for developmentally appropriate activities. Ava was in the 2-5 class, which I loved, since she is so interested in older kids and I am a big advocate for classrooms set up in large age groupings! What better way for a younger child to learn a new skill or become interested in a slightly advanced concept than by being motivated by their older peers? I truly cannot say enough good things about this style of classroom.

The class itself was founded on the beliefs of the Reggio Emilia school of thought, of which some major tenants include a focus on children engaging all of their senses in the learning process, giving children some control over the direction of their learning, and encouraging the endless ways in which children can express themselves.

I think we all can admit that I'm a bit of a granola parent in my take on things, and - given that she's safe and healthy - allow Ava to express herself in an abundance of ways and engage her learning through active exploration of our community, so this was a great fit for us. It was also A's first "classroom" experience and time in the care of someone other than me, David or his parents, so it was a big morning for us!

As for my productivity, I will admit to having a hard time hunkering down and working. For a mom who so frequently has time to herself, it was tempting to spend a couple of glorious hours on Facebook, but instead I chose to get my work done and was able to get a ton of posts and little projects that needed my full attention (rather than the half attention I can give when working at home) completed! It's easy to forget how much we can accomplish when our entire attention is focused on just that, instead of that, your child(ren), your DVR, the laundry, that pesky stain on the carpet, etc!

Another thing that really stood out to me about my time at Plug & Play was how respected as a working individual I felt. It's so common for those who work-at-home to be pigeonholed as not having "real" jobs and not having their time and contribution respected by others, so to have an entire community of members that recognize that was such a refreshing feeling. Everyone there that morning - and there were about five other women) was respectful of each other's need for space and quiet, and yet  you didn't feel isolated or alone the way you can at home. In short, I was impressed.

If you're interested in experiencing Plug & Play for yourself, you'd be wise to contact the extremely congenial and lovely Amy Braden, who owns and operates the space. If you're not sold yet on membership, I should mention they have a refreshment station that has candy and coffee! I should mention that you're able to come in and try it out for yourself for free!

As for Ava's take on the whole experience, well, I'll let you see for yourself!

That's one satisfied little customer!

Thank you so much to Plug & Play for allowing us to come and visit for a couple of hours! Ava has talked about nothing else since and feels like such a big girl for going to "school", and I got some much needed work done! We can't wait to visit again!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In An Instant.

Last Thursday was the scariest day of my life.

I'm what I consider to be an attentive mother. Especially when it comes to the pool. I've read the infamous post about what drowning does and does not look like, and I know better than to be on the phone/texting/reading/doing ANYTHING else at the pool because I know how easily your life can be forever changed in an instant of inattention. And yet, despite all of this, I was not exempt from a close call at the pool....

Knowing that school would begin this week and that our days of lounging poolside in the afternoon were numbered, I packed up all three gals and headed to the pool to get in one last day of swimming and lunching. I had gotten plenty of sleep, was perfectly caffeinated and was on top of my game - something that a.) isn't often the case, and b.) I mention not to brag but only to note that accidents can happen to anyone and to stress all the more the importance of constant vigilance.

We arrived at the pool and immediately began our pre-water routine, including sunscreen, hydrating and grabbing towels. Then, I let the big girls jump in, while focusing on grabbing Ava's floatie for the final step in her pool prep. In the instant that I turned around to get her puddle jumper - the amazing device that turns my not-quite-swimmer into a would-be olympian - she ran off with the older girls and - to my horror - lept off the edge and into the water.

To most of us, when we imagine an accident in the water, we imagine all the adults in the area dropping everything instantly, peeling off their coverups and jumping in. We imagine the lifeguards blowing whistles and diving in, and - more to the point - immediate action by everyone and recognition that our child's life is in jeopardy, right?

Instead, the scene played out more along these lines:

-Ava jumps in (and, though I spent my fair share of time beating myself up about it, I will say with 100% certainty that I was watching her with vigilance and that is the only reason I even saw this happen and was able to take immediate action).
-I take off running (in my bikini, in case this wasn't nightmare-ish enough) full-speed, screaming at the top of my lungs, "She can't swim! She can't swim!" at the lifeguard sitting in his raised chair a mere FOOT away from where she entered the pool, and NOT. PAYING. ATTENTION.
-I dive in, watching with horror as her head repeatedly (and by this I likely mean twice, but I was so scared my mind has a hard time revisiting this memory) buoys back and forth between underwater and the surface, her first attempts at treading water.
-I pull her out of the water, assessing her breathing and if she has/had any water in her mouth and whether any lasting damage may have occurred.

I'd love to tell you that I carried her out to applause or was met on the steps by other adults willing to help or the lifeguard actually got his ass out of the chair, but much to my absolute shock, people were going about their lives. They were eating lunch. One mother was looking at me like I was out of my mind (I attribute this to the running and frantic yelling), and not in a sympathetic way. And the lifeguard? As for him, he had the audacity to ask me, "What just happened?" in a way that suggested he recognized how epicly he had just screwed up, to which I responded by kicking him in the balls (in my head only, sadly).

In short, nobody noticed.

Family upon family had gathered at the upscale country club pool, staffed with three lifeguards, and not a single person saw her fall into the water or took action to rescue her.

The point of this obviously emotional diatribe is not to point fingers at those who were there that day, but to drive home an important point: You alone can be counted on to protect your child around the water. It's easy to feel safe with lifeguards and with other parents nearby, but drowning? It's quiet. It's fast. And it's easy to overlook. Pay attention. Be present. Had I not been, and had I not seen Ava jump in, things may have ended differently. That last hoorah at the pool before school could have changed my life forever and been a day that I would revisit and regret the rest of my entire life.

I'm so infinitely grateful that I was paying attention. I still have my baby. Her life went on that day, as did mine (though I certainly did not emerge unchanged). There will never be enough prayer and enough thank yous and enough good deeds repaid to express how thankful I feel for that.

Ava is fine. In fact, five minutes later, I forced her (and moreso, myself) to get back into the pool because I did not want her to become afraid of the water. She was fine, and despite a panicked call to the pediatrician where I checked to see if the incident necessitated a trip to the emergency room (it did not, as only ten seconds at the most could have passed between when she lept, and when she was back on solid ground in my arms, despite it feeling as though hours had passed), it was like it had never happened at all.

But it had happened. And, despite the positive outcome, I am forever changed. I was shaken to the core in a way that is infrequent for my laid-back, easygoing self. And so I ask of you this: As you finish out these last days of the summer heat and pool season, I beg of you to pay the closest of attention. Your lives could change in an instant. Mine did.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ringling Brothers Circus Comes to Austin!

This Saturday, we headed down to the UT campus to the Frank Erwin Center to catch the greatest show on Earth: Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus! Not only was it Ava's first time at the circus, but it was both of ours as well!!!

We were a bit worried that Ava would either be scared (she wasn't) or it would be too noisy (she wasn't fazed at all!) or it would be too long (it went from 11:30-2), but it went wonderfully!!

Here's the three of us before our first circus experience:

We were able to arrive early and catch the pre-show, which featured a bunch of the animals and entertainers showcasing their talents, including Asia the elephant's painting skills!

And, of course, Ava clowning around ;)

Then, it was time to stock up on our $6 Diet Coke and $4 Skittles, and head to our seats for the show to begin! This is when the fun really started!

I took tons of pictures, but here are just a few of my favorite acts:

The Star-Spangled Banner

My favorite parts were definitely the trapeze artists and tightrope walkers - so amazing. Ava definitely loved the animals! Definitely a great time was had by everyone!!

LEGO KidsFest at the Austin Convention Center Friday - Sunday

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 official KidsFest tour 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

“Any family who likes to be inspired, get hands-on and have fun together won’t want to miss LEGO KidsFest,” said Vince Rubino, LEGO events manager. “We’re bringing so many activities for Texan families to test and showcase their creativity and building skills in what is sure to be a family event to remember.” 

Based on sell-out attendance in previous markets, advance ticket purchase is strongly encouraged.
Five sessions – all identical – are available for the August 31 – September 2 tour stop.  LEGO KidsFest tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for children and can be purchased online

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Things to Do Near Austin: McKenna Children's Museum and Landa Park

As always, I wanted to feature a great place that we've visited recently in Central Texas, in the hopes that I can help someone else get through this last week of summer before the local school districts head back to school! Let's get started, shall we?

Now I've been to the McKenna Children's Museum once before, but it was after a trip to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Safari and we were almost completely spent by the time we got there. This time, though, we planned to spend the entire day down in New Braunfels with the museum as our main attraction, and it ended up being an even better time!

What's wonderful about the McKenna Children's Museum is that they have some truly amazing, hands-on exhibits, including an art room that is truly missing from our local children's museum, as well as some outside (though shaded, thankfully!) exhibits. They also have a room devoted to fitness and health science, including dental hygiene, food content, and a healthy vs. a smoker's lung. I believe that seeing these things and being educated about them at a young age are so critical to the formation of healthy habits, so I really like this about it! I actually much prefer the one in New Braunfels, to be honest!

Check out a few reasons why:

My favorite little ladies!

They have an entire section about space, as well as an amazing rocket with astronaut costumes for the kids. We LOVED this part!

The art room was fully stocked, including colors, paints, face painting, and these great sand discovery boxes!

Ava painting:

A doggy, courtesy one untalented mama artist!

They also have a full-size ambulance, complete with stretcher and everything. We really enjoyed that!

The supermarket is definitely one of the coolest areas, especially since everything is actual packages that have been recycled and kid-size carts and baskets!

The girls in the teepee!

The "cave" was awesome, especially since the caves we visited not too long ago were nearby :)

Something is different about this chicken coop...

 They had this really amazing outdoor climbable sculpture that they had put it since our last visit. Needless to say, the girls LOVED it! Ava was so brave to go to the top!

Normally these types of things would be way too hot to sit on in the Texas heat, but the shade protected them and it worked out perfectly!

One cool thing I had never seen before anywhere were these outdoor type of kinex/tinkertoy type blocks! They were awesome, and kept them busy for a while!

 Landa Park Picnic and Train! We would've played on the playground, but *somebody* fell asleep on the train! 

 Thanks for visiting, and I hope you get a chance to enjoy New Braunfels as much as we did on our recent visit. We'll definitely be going back to Landa Park when it cools down a bit - the park has huge playscapes, a pool and splash pad, a mini golf course and paddleboats! We can't wait!

Texas Tuesday

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