Thursday, September 27, 2012

September Birthday Bonanza!

Apparently Christmas is primetime for getting busy these days, because we've been to upwards of six birthday parties this month so far already! Those cold Texas winters, or something...;)

Anyhow, we've been to all sorts of parties, from intimate shindigs for a one-year-old at home to bouncy house bonanzas with thirty plus guests, and what better way to remember how much fun we had than to share some photos?

First up, we spent Labor Day weekend celebrating the third birthday of our little friend T at the wonderful cooperative playgroup, Gorgeous Millie. Such a wonderful space for a party!!

Ava enjoyed hanging out with this giant primate :)

...and then rocking out with Mr. Will to some awesome beats!

We also spent many hours one afternoon at Kids N Play for a four-year-old's birthday party, though I failed to get much in the way of pictures thanks to my excessive gabbing with my fellow moms group members. Love those ladies!

Here's our most recent party, where Ava enjoyed what was basically a backyard carnival, complete with face painting, snow cones, a bounce house, cookie decorating and dress-up. It was basically amazing!

By the time we left, A was all inked up. Hoping I'm not getting a glimpse into my future with a tat-obsessed daughter :/

Tiaras, tutus and snow cones - what more could you want?! 

Post-cookie decorating. 

 One of the girls! 

She may have been the only one under five, but she held her own just fine! 

Thanks to New Year's, we'll be continuing our slew of birthday parties next month, too. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bloggy Boot Camp Dallas Recap!

Yes, this is belated. I mean, seriously belated, seeing as how I left for Dallas 12 days ago to head up to the beautiful Doubletree by Hilton at Campbell Centre to spend the weekend with 100 other bloggers, most of whom were a.) women (seriously, all but one!), and b.) fellow Texans. In my defense, I've been busy. But another part of why I've been putting off writing this post is simply the massive amount of information I've been attempting to process.

First and foremost, let me tell you this: I am so happy that I went. The conference itself was wonderful, with some of the most knowledgeable people in blogging presenting on topics such as the business of blogging, the how and why of ebooks, top ten tips to blogging success and keeping your content authentic. There were plenty of other things discussed (isn't that the nature of a room full of 100+ women?!?!), but even having been blogging for over three years, I learned so much about the aspects of monetization, working with businesses and brands and basic SEO, and met so many lovely ladies!

At the Kroger Reception with Stephanie from Food and Fitness 4 Real, Melissa from Domestic Engineering, Leigh Ann from Genie in a Blog, and the Barefoot Wines guy! Yes, I'm drinking a wine sno cone. Whatevs.

The lovely Laurie Turk from Tip Junkie - such an inspirational speaker!

  Again, and with wine again, with Leigh Ann and Melissa. These ladies were my awesome carpool buddies and roommates, and I had such a blast getting to know them better! 

The Doubletree by Hilton Campbell Centre. Melissa had a fancy rewards card, so we got to stay on the top floor. Awesome view! 

Second, being away from Ava? It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. Most importantly, she survived, as did my husband. In fact, it'd be safe to say that they thrived! He not only took her down to his parents, but also they went to the Houston Zoo to spend the day, which she absolutely loved. She remembered the lion (Jonathan) by name and fed the giraffes again - so fun! I'd be lying if I said that I pined for her every second. Sure, there was plenty of times when I missed her, but there is little as rejuvenating as sleeping in a bed without a toddler, not having to locate a pacifier regularly, and being in charge of only myself. I mean, wow. If you've yet to get away overnight, I highly suggest it! Now to just get away overnight with D so we can how it goes, and then maybe we'll get a honeymoon yet!!!

Third, and potentially most eye-opening, is that I have zero desire to be a "big" blogger. I don't mean to put down those bloggers who write more sponsored material than original thoughts and content - to each their own. But for me, I will always be about the writing and the connection and community that blogging provides. As the first mother in my friend group, it was absolutely essential to me to connect with a community of ladies who had similarly-aged children and who were going through similar things. Ashlie, Emily, Anika, Rene, Jenn, Jen, Kristin, Stephanie and many more - you guys have been lifesavers on countless occasions, giving me comfort and support through your words as well as your responses to my own. And so when they talked about your tribe and who you write with in mind when you blog, I thought immediately of you guys, not of businesses I'm trying to attract. When that happens organically, it's so great. I've partnered with some local businesses that I'm proud to promote, and because I take pride in their organization, I feel great doing that. Again, it's about the community - local Austin mothers and mother-run businesses have so much in common and so much to contribute to one another, and I adore those opportunities. But like I said before, this is about me, and us, and having a supportive outlet, not about plugging ads for BBQ sauce and the like, and whereas I think a lot of people may have walked away from BBC Dallas with a renewed interest in advertising, I feel stronger now than ever that I am on the right path for me limiting my partnerships to companies and people I really believe in, and that are doing what they can to help mothers and families (ahem, Plug & Play).

So, in a nutshell, those are the three main things I took from this experience. I learned so much, and met some wonderful women, but more than anything, I came home with a renewed interest in writing (I know there have been months on end when I post mainly picture-centric posts!) and creating authentic content that suits my original purpose (to keep family and friends up to date on A and our family happenings!), and furthers my goals (to collaborate with local businesses and fellow mothers to make life a little easier and better for all of us!).

Happy blogging, everyone! 

 (What would have been my new headshot, had the flash not made my eyebrows look nonexistent. Eh, oh well.) 

(Note: my picture uploading is a bit screwy, so pardon the choppy photo inserts...)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Things to Do in Austin: Red Bud Isle.

Now that I've plowed through the majority of my Austin bucket list and the temperatures are starting to drop (well, at least out of the triple digits!), I've started tackling my list of the more obscure things to do in Austin.

We started last week at a dog park/island right off of Red Bud Trail between Lake Austin Blvd. and Westlake Dr. called Red Bud Isle. Though it's less of a park than I had thought in my head, it's a perfect space for a.) getting close to Lake Austin for free (!!), and b.) for dog lovers and dog owners alike to exercise and spend some time with their favorite four-legged friend.

Seeing as how we didn't have a dog with us, I thought I would instead let Ava explore the banks of the lake. We weren't alone - there was a family there playing fetch with their dogs, wading in the water (which gets about waist high, FYI), and picnicking - a pretty adorable family outing if you ask me!

As for Ava, well, you saw what she occupied herself doing: taking it all in.

Here are a few more shots of the gorgeous scenery of Lake Austin at Red Bud Isle:

Have you been to Red Bud Isle? Are there any "obscure" spots in Austin that you'd recommend I pay a visit?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ava's Going to Preschool!

I've mentioned briefly in a previous post that Ava is soon to start preschool, but wanted to talk more about the how and why, and also why I'm so, so excited about this new development.

First off, she'll be starting next week at the co-working site Plug & Play Austin, which has found great success in the feedback they've gotten from parents who've left their kids in the child care room. For more about the Reggio Emilia-based philosophy they follow and more about Plug & Play itself, click here.

Due to the success they've had so far, they've decided to expand the childcare center to also have a flex preschool option, where you can pick any two days a week to send your child to their program, which includes art, music & movement, Spanish, circle time and free play! There are also two different timing options: a morning option (8:30-12), and an afternoon option (2-5:30) Ava will be in the biggest room, where children 2-5 will be, and like I've mentioned before, I love the Montessori-type of age staggering so that Ava will be with older, more advanced children that she can learn from. Ava is definitely motivated by watching other children - in fact, being with older children daily since birth has been a major contributor to her being so advanced in her language and motor skills - so this will be a huge bonus to her attending preschool with slightly older children!

Because of my work schedule and generally chaotic life, we've opted to only put Ava into school one day a week at this time. Mondays we're out the door for ballet shortly after 9, and Tuesday and Thursday we're out the door by 6:45 (!!!), so I don't want to overschedule her by adding a second day of preschool and leaving her no mornings to just veg out in her pajamas and have nowhere to be until the afternoon. Not to mention, we haven't been able to see a lot of our friends from my moms group since starting the new job, so it'll be great to have that unscheduled morning to attend meetups!

I'm so incredibly excited for her to go to school. She had such a fun time the morning that she was there visiting while I worked, and she brought home the most adorable art project that day also - something I'm always jealous of when I see them on mothers of preschooler's walls.
 Now I'll have cute school art, too! More than that, though, I think it'll be so good for her. When my husband and I were talking about our budget and the decision to send her to school when she clearly has years to go before Kindergarten and could potentially do preschool for years to come, one thing that he said that really stuck out to me was, "She deserves to go to school." I thought that was so perfectly put, and it immediately made up my mind that we should send her now. Ava is so curious and so interested in learning and being taught right now, and since the school year just started, was just bombarded with back-to-school excitement from the older girls. Even as a one-year-old, I have pictures of Ava holding S's backpack and lunchbox, exploring the classroom and wanting to go to "shool!" Now she gets to!

As for me, I don't even know what to do with myself. Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't for about five minutes, but then I decided that - at least initially - I'll stay on site and work on the "plug" side, getting some blogging and freelance writing assignments done without guilt or interruption! Woohoo! I may or may not also have scheduled a massage during her first few weeks - mamas need down time, too!

I can't wait to update with pictures of her first day of school (we've already bought her new outfit and everything!) and share how much she loves it!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Five Things I Learned at Bloggy Boot Camp This Weekend!

As you may have known, I spent the past weekend in Dallas with two of my fellow Austin Bloggers members (Melissa at Domestic Engineering, and Leigh Ann of Genie in a Blog). While a more in-depth post is to come later - once I've caught up with all that I missed in my first overnight trip away from Ava and found time to sort through my thoughts on all that I learned at BBC Dallas - here are five things I learned at Bloggy Boot Camp this weekend:

1. I apparently like to take pictures of my food:

2. Brunettes outnumber blondes in the blogging community...

3. I'm socially awkward. This comes as little surprise, but it is hard for me to come up with things to talk about with fellow bloggers, despite that we obviously have something in common right off the bat.

4. Traveling with people you don't know very well can make for a surprisingly fun time. I had some great convos with the girls I was staying with, and was happy to have roommates - a pleasant surprise!

5. I'm not the low-maintenance under-packer that I think I am...oops!

(Yes, that shit is all mine, all for a 48 hour period.)

And, for a bonus, Dallas is actually kind of a cool place. Who knew?

A less BS post to come with a handful of things I actually learned at Bloggy Boot Camp Dallas and pictures of more than just my dirty clothes on the floor....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dallas, Here I Come!

This weekend, I'll be attending the infamous day-long blogging conference, Bloggy Boot Camp, in Dallas. While I'm excited to have it take place in a nearby city, Dallas is still a good 3-3.5 hours away, meaning that I'll be staying overnight both nights.

I'd be lying to say I wasn't looking forward to going. The thought of adult company, meeting and connecting with people I only know online, making new friends and having the chance to learn things that will not only better my blog, but my writing and freelance work as well, all sounds like a blast. But...

It'll be my first ever time away from Ava. Ever. 

I mean, sure, I've spent a few hours here and there away from her, but the longest stretch ever was during my bachelorette party - and I was gone from about 11am until after dinner, when my lame self trekked it back home because I apparently can't do both day and night drinking these days. Anyhow, I've never been away from her overnight. And I'm a little bit freaking out about it.

It's not that I don't trust my husband. In fact, he's definitely the more cautious of the two of us, since I've adopted a laidback attitude about parenting that's come from years of working with children on a daily basis. I just feel so scared and worried and anxious that something bad could happen, especially with him driving three hours each way to his parents with her (!!!), and that I'll never see her again.

Ridiculous, I know. So was the fact that I used to stay awake night after night monitoring her breathing, when it comes down to it. But I'm afraid of little as a parent except losing my child, and that fear is taking over right now.

I really kicked around canceling my trip to stay at home. But then I thought more and more about it, and that's ridiculous. I didn't go to the first conveniently located bloggy boot camp two years ago because I didn't want to leave Ava - and it was in Austin! I just would've been gone for one day. And now, of course, I'm wishing I would have gone then, so I'd have some modicum of comfort with the situation now. So I'm pushing out of my comfort zone, trusting in my husband and having faith that all will be ok (knock on wood!!!), and biting the bullet: I'm packing up my car, picking up some other local bloggers (shout out to Leigh Ann and Melissa - woot!), and heading to Bloggy Boot Camp for the weekend! Dallas, here I come!

Any advice for a mama leaving her baby 2.5 year old for the first time? Are these feelings normal? Am I insane (a question likely better left unanswered)?!?

(Also, I feel like I should clarify since this makes me sound like an insane, hovering, anxiety-ridden mama, which I am generally not. In fact, I'm usually quite the opposite, sitting back and letting Ava do her own thing and following her lead. Just so you first-timers reading this don't think I'm, well, crazier than I really am. Which is still pretty crazy.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lessons Learned.

One of my favorite Carrie Underwood songs is "Lessons Learned", if for no other reason than it speaks to me. I've done my fair share of things right in this life, but, unfortunately, I've done more than my fair share wrong. This, unfortunately, is a post about the latter.

I consider myself a professional nanny. I never go into a job considering that it could be just for a short while: My truest hope when I start with a new family is that it'll last for years. I want to be a part of their family, as I want them to be a part of mine. I don't think of it as a job, but my career. I don't do this because I have to: I hold two degrees specific to my love for children, and chose this path because it fits with my ideals. I try to make the best decisions I can in the moment, not just for the short-term, but for the long-term as well. I immerse myself in a family, filling scrapbooks and photo albums with pictures of us alongside these children - memories that both Ava and myself will cherish long after the kids have grown out of having a nanny. In short, I truly love my job.

That being said, it is easy to forget that in the day-to-day chaos that is life. None of us would trade our children or being a parent for anything, but that doesn't always mean that we paint a gorgeous picture of the daily intimacies of our lives as such. When you're coming to the end of a long week where you've worked fifty plus hours and had a couple of days where someone had a meltdown or has been sick or whatever it might be that can add to your stress level, it's easy to think of this little corner of my Universe as a sort-of journal to let it all out, without regard to who might read it and be hurt. It's easy to write only for you, not remembering that while sure, this started out as a private way to share your journey through parenting, you're sharing someone else's journey now also.

As is easy to do, I had forgotten this. And a relationship that I truly valued is now hurt, severed even, because of it. And for that? I am unspeakably sorry. There are no words to give life to the loss I feel, not just for myself, but for Ava also.

Going forward, I will no longer be speaking about my job. It is so easy to lose sight of the boundary between what you would say about your own child ("Good Lord, this kid is driving me insane!"), and what is okay to say about another child, and I just do not, in any way, want to risk the feelings of another person ever again.

There's some things that I regret,
Some words I wish had gone unsaid,
Some starts,
That had some bitter endings,
Been some bad times I've been through,
Damage I cannot undo,
Some things,
I wish I could do all all over again,
But it don't really matter,
Life gets that much harder,
It makes you that much stronger,
Oh, some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were,
Lessons learned.

And every tear that had to fall from my eyes,
Everyday I wondered how I'd get through the night,
Every change, life has thrown me,
I'm thankful, for every break in my heart,
I'm grateful, for every scar,
Some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were lessons learned.

There's mistakes that I have made,
Some chances I just threw away,
Some roads,
I never should've taken,
Been some signs I didn't see,
Hearts that I hurt needlessly,
Some wounds,
That I wish I could have one more chance to mend,
But it don't make no difference,
The past can't be rewritten,
You get the life you're given,
Oh, some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were,
Lessons learned.

And every tear that had to fall from my eyes,
Everyday I wondered how I'd get through the night,
Every change, life has thrown me,
I'm thankful, for every break in my heart,
I'm grateful, for every scar,
Some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were lessons learned.

And all the things that break you,
Are all the things that make you strong,
You can't change the past,
Cause it's gone,
And you just gotta move on,
Because it's all,
Lessons learned.

And every tear that had to fall from my eyes,
Everyday I wondered how I'd get through the night,
Every change, life has thrown me,
I'm thankful, for every break in my heart,
I'm grateful, for every scar,
Some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were lessons learned,
Oh, some pages turned,
Some bridges burned,
But there were lessons learned,
Lessons learned.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I'm Doing My Best.

Lately, I find myself uttering the phrase, "I'm doing my best!" on a regular basis. In fact, it's become a part of my weekly repertoire when it comes to things I say to people as the answer to many a question, including how I'm adjusting to my new fall schedule, to my husband being in grad school, to Ava's sometimes never-ending tantrums and the demands of several children all day.

The other day, I was talking to another mother about Ava's sleeping schedule. Recently, she's gone from a night owl to flat out exhausted come 6PM. I attribute much of this to my newly minted fall schedule, which includes a couple of very early mornings and some long days mixed in. In fact, she's been so tired lately, I have been taking a pull-up and pajamas with me each day, feeding her dinner at ridiculous times (try 4:45!), and bathing her during the day, so that way when she inevitably falls asleep on the drive home a few days a week, we're not unprepared (I'd be lying if I said I didn't love this some nights, especially when D has class and I'm completely alone without anyone else's demands for hours. HOURS!) Anyhow, back to the topic at hand, Ava had previous been an unpredictable sleeper. She prefers to stay up later than most toddlers (she would easily go for a nightly 9pm bedtime or later if I'd allow it), needs help to fall asleep, etc. In short, while she's a low maintenance, well-behaved child, she's kind of a diva when it comes to bedtime.

The other mother I was talking to was relaying that her household was having a similar issue, with her child sometimes taking over an hour and a half to fall asleep, and ending up in their bed at night. I talked to her about how I could completely relate: Ava had slept in the pack-n-play in our room for the first five months, and then we chose to co-sleep from that point on. While that was a choice I still do not regret, it's been anything but the easy choice. Because of my opposition to allowing A to cry it out, we chose a gentler method for our bedtime routine, most frequently where one of us would lay with her (me, usually, nursing her) until she fell asleep peacefully and without crying and other stressful emotions. To this day, despite the presence of a full-sized bed in her own big girl room, we continue to co-sleep.

Now here's the point where I interject that I still do not regret that decision. The time that we've spent cuddled up to our daughter, sleeping peacefully together as a family, is time that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I adore her sweet little snores, the way that she twirls my hair in her sleep, and her natural tendency to gravitate towards me in her sleep. I feel certain that our co-sleeping practice is one of the reasons that Ava and I are so close, and why our breastfeeding relationship lasted as long as it did. But...

For all the times that I've patted myself on the back, I've wondered just as many if I'm screwing Ava up by catering to her sleeping whims like this. If she wouldn't be better off having been allowed to cry it out and work through it herself. If I'm doing the wrong thing.

Isn't that term scary? The "wrong thing", that is. As parents, we face choices for the sake and futures of our children on a daily basis. Whether it's regarding what they're eating, how they're sleeping, who they're friends with, how you've handled their temper tantrums (and they ALL have them, take it from me!), we're so concerned with doing things right and avoiding doing the dreaded "wrong thing" that will send our kids to therapy and cause them to hate us well beyond their teenage years.

The point to this long-winded drivel? Whether or not you co-sleep or allow your child to cry it out, breastfeed or formula feed, allow our children processed food or not, and so on and so forth, we are all doing our very best. Coming from someone who once worked for Child Protective Services, believe me when I say that the vast majority of parents are feeling this out through trial-and-error and doing the very best with what they have to work with. Despite our own personal feelings towards what is "right" when it comes to parenting, there's no one answer. In short, we're all doing our very best (with the obvious exception of a few standout situations, such as child abuse and neglect, etc - obviously.).

Before I was a parent, and especially with being a nanny and having an inside view of the parenting ideologies of other parents, it was easy to judge. I'd see a mom handling a tantrum in the grocery store a certain way and, in typical childless fashion, make a mental note of how I would "never" do that. You know, like when I carried Ava, kicking and screaming, from Target? Yeah, I thought that certainly my child would never behave in a way that necessitated that. Or the time that I bribed her with candy to get her into her car seat after another said fit in a public place because I was so completely worn out from handling the situation that I would have bought her a baby Hummer if that was her request to make it end. Or how I nursed my fully-grown toddler not only past her first year, but past her second, and allow her to sleep in our bed? Yeah, I'd "never" do that ;)

My point, though I'm currently taking a while to arrive there (sorry!), is to be kind to your fellow mothers. Or, if you're childless, consider karma before you give the evil eye to a mom who is struggling to handle their overtired two-year-old - ha! We're all in the same boat. We've all (barring those with round-the-clocks nannies, chefs, and a plethora of home employees) had a child fall completely apart in public. We've all been up five times in one night with a deadline looming and a cold coming on. We've all had a baby on our hip, dinner burning on the stove and the phone ringing. So the next time you see a  parent unraveling in front of you, cut them some slack. Or, better yet, lend them a helping, non-judgmental hand. Chances are, they're doing their best.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our Amazing Labor Day Weekend!

We had the greatest holiday weekend. Though I've yet to have time to wrap up last week, David started graduate school and is gone a couple nights a week in class, and between that and my new work schedule, the three of us hardly saw each other all week. As a result, the three day weekend was even more opportune, and we spent the three days hanging out and catching up a bit and spending time as a family.

Saturday, we hoofed it down to Westlake for A's friend's third birthday party, which turned out to be a ton of fun. It was thrown at Gorgeous Millie - a great cooperative playspace that we've enjoyed on many occasions! 

Then, as you know, Sunday was spent at Lego KidsFest Austin, which was an amazing time for all three of us, and a great opportunity for us to spend time all together and for David to get a chance to get in on all of the fun we have around town!

The best part, though, was when we took an impromptu trip down to San Antonio Monday for Labor Day, as my in-laws were visiting and had a hotel there for the weekend. We weren't sure until the last minute that we were going to make the drive, and so we didn't tell Ava anything except that we were "having an adventure" and the look on her face when her grandparents walked up to the car was priceless!

The fun only got better from there! We got into town around 10am, and so we headed straight to the Riverwalk (their hotel was directly on it, so that was an added bonus!) to take one of the famed riverboat tours.

Ava may not have been interested in the history, but the boat itself and the view of the water and people-watching? Right up her alley! Plus, since we arrived so early, we were able to get on the boats before it was too hot and crowded, which worked out perfectly! We also then had the chance to grab lunch ahead of the crowds, so we went in to Rainforest Cafe at my in-laws suggestion - a super cute (though pricey!) experience for everyone!

After lunch, we were desperate to keep Ava awake and engaged so that she would last all day (thus falling asleep when we got back into the car after dinner to make the drive back home and having an early bedtime!), so we walked the block and a half from their hotel to the San Antonio Children's Museum! This turned out to be a GREAT idea, as this place was truly awesome!

This is our third children's museum we've been too, and I was still extremely impressed! It's a toss-up between the airplane and the grocery store for the coolest part, but I see another trip in our future for the tiebreak :)

After that, it was definitely the mid-afternoon lull (about 3pm - you know what I mean?), and she was intensely tired, but we powered through and got her to rally by - you guessed it - taking a dip in the hotel rooftop pool! It may have been teeny tiny, but there was plenty of water for Ava to play and be tossed around by grandpa and dad!

And, with four pairs of adult eyes on Ava, I was able to relax slightly due and take in the view from the roof of the Hyatt :)

How was your Labor Day weekend? What fun things did you do?
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