Monday, September 30, 2019

Dancin' in September

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I am absolutely floored that the month of September is over (like, honestly, kind of sickened!). I do not get to update my blog nearly enough these days, so I wanted to check in with a recap of the month and let you guys know the highlights.

Our months started with our babymoon to Big Bend National Park, which I actually did manage to document on the blog. This was only our second trip away from Willa since she was born, so it was really special.

We managed to be a little social this month. We met up with friends at SeptemberFest (the museum of the Southwest's yearly event) the second weekend in September, and Willa got to experience her first petting zoo. She was a little apprehensive about the goats, and she was too young for the bounce houses this year, but we still had fun catching up with our friends Casey and Chris while wrangling three kids between the four of us. I also got this amazing picture of Willa with Brendan, which I adore. 

Brendan's sister, Annie, is engaged to Josh! Josh proposed while they were on a trip to Maine celebrating her birthday, and we are so happy for the two of them. 

One of my classes threw me a random teacher appreciation day without coordinating it at all. On the same day, three different students brought me a frappuccino and cookies and then donuts for the entire class. Thankfully, I had already passed my gestational diabetes test just a few days before. I really enjoyed all my treats, and my students brought much joy to my Friday. I took these pictures to show Brendan the sweet gestures, but looking back at the photos makes me happy. 

We got new patio furniture. I forgot to take pictures of it, but I promise I will photograph it and do an update on our backyard soon. For those curious, we went to Target. I'll do a review of what we think of our affordable furniture soon. 

We busted out the crockpot and have started using our Sunday shopping and food prepping method as a survival strategy. So far, it seems to be working well. For those curious, these recipes are Santa Fe Sweet Potato and Corn Soup and Poached Egg on Spicy Lentils. These are just two of the tried and true recipes we love from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes. This past week, I made my lasagna. We've started using oven ready noddles (and topping the top layer with plenty of sauce so the noddles will cook) to save more time, and we love eating off the leftovers all week. 

We can't say the month was a perfectly healthy one. Willa managed to get sick two weekends in a row. First, she had a stomach virus that kept her out of school one day. Then, a week later, daycare sent us to the doctor suspecting hand, foot, and mouth. Luckily, Willa did not have that, but she may have picked up a second virus at the doctors, so we ended up pulling her from school the following Tuesday/Wednesday (last week). We're behind now on grading, but we're thankful it wasn't anything worse. Also, we got to snuggle with her and introduce her to movies, so there's that. Her attention span is not long, and so we don't watch TV unless she's feeling really yucky because it's about the only time she will watch twenty minutes at a time.

I got the best ever Stitch Fix. I still have one more outfit to get Brendan to photograph me in, and then I will share the details in a post with you guys.  

Willa and I met up for a playdate at Wow Moms! which is new in Midland. I'm head over heels for this place, which lets you pay $10 for your kid to play however long he or she wants. They have a cafe, so you can sit and eat and visit with a friend while your kids enjoy playing. There are even helpers watching the kids in the play area. This is about the only social event I've had recently where I could actually have a conversation with the other person when out with my child, so I give this place two thumbs up! Also, the food was healthy and delicious. Plus, they offer swimming classes and other kids fitness classes too. If Willa wasn't in full time childcare (we met up for the playdate on a day when daycare was closing for a half day due to building repairs), I would totally pay for the monthly membership. 

Overall though, the biggest highlight of my month was completing a draft of the project I've been working on. This happened just a few days ago, so I enjoyed finally taking a weekend that was purely a weekend "off" (well, I did spend a couple hours catching up on grading, but other than that).

 I went to the library with Willa this weekend and checked out Margaret Atwood's The Testaments and read the 415 page novel in a day and a half! It was that good, and it will not disappoint fans of the original Handmaid's Tale. While I really enjoyed the book, there were a few things I didn't think were perfect, so I'd love it if someone else would read it so we could discuss. I cannot even tell you guys how amazing it felt to have time to read for fun again. While we're on recommendations, we watched While We're Young on Netflix and it was really quite funny. We also watched Can You Ever Forgive Me, which is more drama than comedy in my opinion but we still enjoyed it. We are on the latest season of The Good Place and Mindhunter when we have time. 

Okay, so those were the highlights of the month, and here's what I'm looking forward to in October: 
  • Finally planning my friend Allison's bridal shower! OH MY GOD, I needed to do this yesterday, but one thing I know for sure is that Paperless Post will make the invitations part easy. I've been eying all the gorgeous options for bridal shower invitations on their website, and I love that no matter what location or theme we decide to go with, Paperless Post will have something that fits the event and makes inviting people easy (you do pay for the invites, but you don't need to deal with stamps or addressing envelopes). 
  • Brendan and I celebrate 9 years of dating on October 12th! Maybe we should get a babysitter. 
  • We have lots of events with our English Honor Society coming up, and I hope one of them involves a trip to see Frankenstein at Midland Community Theater. Lately, whenever their young performers do a show, I am blown away. Also, we're looking forward to supporting the Harvest Picnic Basket Event for Permian Basin Adult Literacy Center. 
  • A visit from Gigi and Buddy will be another highlight. They are going to come babysit Willa while we travel to Little Rock, AR for a work conference, but they are also coming for some visiting time with us too, of course. I am so looking forward to them having time with Willa and us and also to us having some help with her, so we can get projects done in preparation for baby boy. I'm making a list of things I want to accomplish while we have awesome grandparents here. We can't wait to see them, and Willa is going to love all the extra attention. 
  • Finally, we'll be celebrating my cousin Elena and Byron's wedding the first day of November and Halloween in New Orleans, LA. I can't wait to see my family and officially welcome Byron into the family. 
Please excuse this brain dump style post and comment to tell me about books you've loved recently, recipes that are making your life easier, or any west Texas events you're looking forward to. 

I can't wait for it to feel like fall (it seems we're finally getting out of the 95 degree days) around here! 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Baby Boy Pregnancy: Weeks 21-24

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I feel like my second pregnancy is flying by, especially in this second trimester. Even though pregnancy isn't always physically easy, I'm making an effort to embrace it, enjoy it, and be in awe of it since this is very likely the last time I'll do it. When we last left off in the pregnancy recaps, I was feeling so much relief after my 20 week ultrasound went well, and I was newly back at work, which made for some very tired days.

Week 21
Baby Size: A carrot 

After our first week back with students, we took our babymoon to Big Bend National Park this weekend, and it was so much fun. I'm so glad we squeezed in a trip where we could relax by the pool, eat at restaurants, and hike and sightsee in our favorite west Texas destination. Even though I didn't have tons of stamina for hiking (I think the heat definitely was a contributing factor), I still laced up my hiking boots and went for it. We also get a really sweet handmade blanket from my mom's friend, Virginia (she made one for Willa too). It's actually kind of a wrap with buttons, and I can't wait to bundle him in it. I love that my children will have handmade blankets to cherish. We have such talented and thoughtful friends and family.

Week 22
Baby Size: A small coconut 

Despite this week being a short one, it's incredibly busy (and tiring!) at work. We fill our weekend with a lot of social activities (SeptemberFest, church, and swimming), so life pretty much feels like go, go, go. It's still quite hot here, so floating in the pool is highly preferred in my book. Baby should weigh about a pound now, and I feel stronger daily movements. Brendan can feel him kicking too, and we both think it's amazing and special. Brendan talks to him sometimes, but we have yet to play any music that's just for him. Big sister is completely oblivious to the existence of the pregnancy.

Week 23
Baby Size: A large mango 

This is the week I finally have to pull out the snoggle (pregnancy pillow) for comfortable sleeping. I definitely get up to pee every night now. I finally finish thank you notes from our sprinkle, and it's another very busy week at work (Tuesday, I'm there basically all day long and leave a performance early, at 9:30PM, because I'm simply too exhausted and uncomfortable). On Friday, Willa is sick with a stomach virus, and I cover for Brendan at work. I teach for five hours straight and feel like collapsing afterwards. We also have to cancel our date night that evening due to said sickness, but we don't mind because we're both too tired to stay up past 9PM anyway (#reality). Willa is pretty clingy all weekend, but we embrace the snuggles and watch a movie with her for the first time. The movie is Mary Poppins Returns, which we pause about 20 times, so it takes us an entire day to get through it. Still, snuggle time is the perfect speed for this pregnant mom, and luckily, neither of us catch her stomach virus. We get to meet up with friends for dinner Sunday (a family of four), and all three of our kids do really well, so we get to visit with them before they move to San Antonio, which is a nice end to the week.

Week 24
Baby Size: An ear of corn

It's an eventful week in pregnancy land. I have a doctor's appointment where I get both my TDAP and flu shots and pass the lovely gestational diabetes (glucose tolerance) test. I bring my super sugary drink to work and drink it in my office half an hour before my appointment. The flavor I pick is fruit punch (the red one), and for the record, I think it could be worse (I wasn't going to go switching flavors..."the devil you know," right?) I'm on the same weight gain trajectory that I was with Willa...up 17 pounds for the pregnancy (but 10 pounds above my pre-pregnancy #1 weight). I feel really big this time, but Brendan says I look the same as last time, and when I look back to my old recaps and compare, I agree. I think I just "popped" faster this time so I've been bigger for longer. My belly button is still in, but I don't know for how long. I wish I had more time to exercise during this pregnancy, but we walk most everyday. I have so much going on with work and my personal life right now that I can't stress about what I'm not doing. I have heartburn this week. I take medication for it if it feels particularly bad. I still enjoy my nightly bowl of ice cream. Current flavor: Chocolate. I also randomly bake a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies over the weekend and tell Brendan "that's what pregnant people do," so I guess it's fair to say my cravings are chocolate, sweets, and fat. But is there anyone out there not craving that stuff? Willa's stomach seems a little iffy over the weekend, but it turns out to be nothing. Still crossing my fingers and toes Willa, Brendan, and I won't catch anything nasty as all the germs are going around daycare (like hand, foot, and mouth).

I will be back in a month with another pregnancy recap, but I'll be back before then with updates of other kinds (I definitely owe you guys a backyard update). Thanks for following along with our pregnancy journey and for keeping us in your good thoughts.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Big Ol' Back to School Post

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I was so busy finishing my summer projects (which dragged beyond summer) that I never did a back to school update, but there have been lots of changes for our family, so I wanted to check in with a comprehensive post.

Willa's Transition to the Toddler Room 

The biggest change has been Willa's transition to the toddler room, which happened 3.5 weeks ago. I found it tough to say goodbye to her infant room teachers because she had been with them for a full year. At the same time, I knew our girl was ready for the toddler room. She walked in like she owned the place on her trial visits, and there is so much extra space for her to roam (which is important now that she's not just a walker but a runner). That said, the toddler room is pure chaos compared to the infant room (as one beloved teacher/friend described lunchtime in there as a "barbarian feast" and made Brendan and I laugh so hard). In the infant room, there were only 8 babies, and in the toddler room, there are 12 toddlers. The first weeks were rough: we had to sign two incident reports about Willa biting, and I literally felt like crying (she had never bitten either of us, so it really surprised me). Then last week, Willa was bitten twice (apparently, extremely common at this age), and this week, I saw another toddler throw a toy at her head. I went from feeling like "why is my kid being violent?" to realizing that what the teachers were telling me was true: all toddlers are violent! With no way to communicate, they often resort to aggression. Now, I'm way more relaxed. Just a few weeks in, and I feel like a veteran toddler mom.

What else is life with a toddler like? I'd describe it as "crazy, cuddly, chaos." Willa is so fun at this age! She's interactive, knows the meaning of more words than she can say, loves singing and dancing with us, and has strong opinions about what she wants (namely more Cherrios and to play outside). She is so funny too! One day, she put one of my shoes on over hers (a Toms) and ran around the house laughing. Her favorite toy is my purse (she loves emptying it out). She CAN say mama, dada, more, agua (water), yum, uh-oh, ba (ball), this, and that, but she really prefers signing or just responding to our questions by showing us (for instance, she'll touch her head and toes when we ask her where they are). I keep hoping we'll see a language explosion soon. We are speaking and reading to her constantly, but I know she'll get there in her own time.

Tantrums are not uncommon, but she usually gets over them quickly, and she can be very cuddly when it's on her own terms, so I remind myself to soak up every bit of the sweetness. Yesterday, she picked me a flower (from our flowerbed), and I captured her giving it to me. The expression on her face was priceless, and I felt my heart explode with love (and then also had to protect the flowerbed from further adorable gestures).

Associate Professor 

I don't have a photo to accompany this one, so enjoy this picture of me in my work clothes with my kid! It may strike some as odd that I don't consider the jump from assistant to associate professor to be as big of a change as Willa's move from infant to toddler room, but as anyone in academia will tell you, it's because title changes are, well, just that: title changes. Everything about my job and pay stays the same (though our institution is great about giving us yearly raises to compensate for cost of living increases, which we greatly appreciate). Anyway, after eight years of full time teaching (and three years teaching part time as a graduate student), I've now earned my associate professor stripes. So woo to the hoo! 

Associate Professor, Also

Brendan has been an Associate Professor since last year, but in 2015, he became a department chair. After four years in that role, he had a major epiphany: trading teaching a class to take on administrative responsibilities wasn't making him happier. He missed the time spent in the classroom and would rather be with his students than in afternoon meetings. Many in academia may not be aware that title jumps often don't involve raises but instead involve an "exchange" (one less class, but you take on more responsibilities). After some soul searching, Brendan decided to give up the chair role and go back to more time in the classroom. So far, the trade off has led to greater job satisfaction, and I wanted to include this update because I love that Brendan was able to identify what his true passions are and pursue more of what makes him happiest. I think so often in life, we take a step because we feel like we "should" without considering if it's what we really want or what will make us happiest. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I'd encourage you to be inspired by Brendan and "follow your heart." 

The three of us hope for a tremendous 2019-20 school year. It's hard to believe we'll be a family of four halfway through this academic year. Safe to say, our lives are all about to change forever. We can't wait to learn and grow with our students and with our kids. Years into this career path, I constantly think of how grateful I am that I picked it. August has always meant "back to school" for me (fun fact: I went from high school to college, college to graduate school, and graduate school to teaching with no interruptions, so I've literally never not had a "back to school,") and I sincerely hope I get to do that until I retire. 

Wishing you and yours a fantastic school year, and keep the pictures of first days coming on social media because I LOVE them! 
Happy Learning! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Our Big Bend "Babymoon"

Greetings faithful blog readers,

Before Brendan and I even thought seriously about having a baby, I'm pretty sure we made fun of the term "babymoon." So cheesy, we'd say. And yet, on the other side, I love the idea behind the "babymoon." Honeymoon is to marriage what babymoon is to parenthood: celebrating the milestone before experiencing the hard part. (I wouldn't say marriage is "hard," but it's also not waking up on vacation in Hawaii everyday like our honeymoon was). Obviously, we're already responsible for one little person, but I wanted to celebrate with a trip just the two of us before life gets really crazy in two under two land.  Anyway, Brendan is responsible for 0% of this blog, so you can't blame him for my "babymoon" conversion. You can, however, sit back, relax, and enjoy my retelling of babymoon dos!

Selecting our Marathon/Big Bend National Park, TX destination was pretty easy: we needed a fast weekend getaway we'd both love. Our summer was filled with writing work and seeing family and friends, and we didn't want to feel like we were squeezing in one more thing, so Labor Day Weekend fit the bill (crazy to think that by our next break, I'll be too pregnant to travel!). Willa's Lelie (grandmother) & Elda (godmother) we're down for babysitting and a girl's weekend at our house. We're so thankful that they took great care of Willa for us so we could have this little getaway.

We left on Saturday morning and drove the 2.5 hours to Marathon, TX and checked into the Historic Gage Hotel. Knowing we weren't going to spend much time in the room, I just booked us a standard queen room, but you can really splurge and even rent an entire house separate from the hotel (we fully hope to do this with family one day by the way!) If you book the standard room, be aware that it's very pretty but amenities are, well, standard! They don't have TVs (who needs them, go look at the stars!) and there is a coffee maker in the room, which is really all we needed. That said, if I were to go back, I'd book a king because Brendan and I both felt like our "queen" bed was actually a full or a double (we sleep on a queen every night, so I think we definitely know!) It normally wouldn't matter, but when I'm pregnant, I tend to stretch out and take up space.

Anyway, we quickly changed into our swimsuits, put on sunblock (actually, we had to go buy some at the French Grocer's...within walking distance, and we highly recommend them), and spent hours swimming, talking, and relaxing by the pool. Gosh, there's something about far west Texas that just makes all my tension melt away. It's the air out there or something.

Sadly, after we'd been by the pool a few hours, my phone started filling with messages from concerned family and friends hearing the news of the mass shooting in Midland and Odessa. We didn't know what was going on and quickly texted my mom and Elda to tell them not to leave the house. Then we called Brendan's parents to let them know we were safe. We went into the hotel to see the story unfold on the national news. It was really surreal and upsetting. I just stood there frozen as people around us asked us if we were from Midland. I tried contacting all our friends and co-workers and felt like there was so much information we didn't have. As I find out more, I truly feel the event was a preventable tragedy, and it makes me extremely sad.

We had a 6PM dinner reservation at the gage restaurant and vowed to not talk about the shooting, even though people around us were watching the news on their phones. We knew that the rest of the evening could easily delve into doing nothing but watching the news, and we did not want to focus on something so tragic that we had absolutely no ability to improve. It was hard, but we tried to make the name game, nursery ideas, etc. the focus of our dinner conversation. The food was really good and worth a splurge. I had the hatch chile stuffed with vegetables (warning: SO spicy) and Brendan had the stuffed quail. We shared the shrimp and grits appetizer and the gluten free chocolate dessert (thought of you, Annie!) They also won a first place award in my book for their mocktails!

This one screams "awkward family photos," doesn't it?

After dinner. we explored the gage gardens, and let me just say, it would be the perfect wedding venue. It was gorgeous.

After our post dinner romantic garden tour, we went to the porch, sat in the rockers, looked at the stars, and wished healing thoughts into the universe for everyone at home, especially the victims' families, the first responders, and all those dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. We collapsed into bed early and slept hard.

I woke up decently early (7:30AM felt like sleeping in to me!), made coffee, got dressed, picked up muffins and fruit downstairs, and went to the French Grocer's to pick up lunches to take to Big Bend. We were on the road by 8:30 and at the park by 9:30.

We were lucky to have "cooler" weather (I think the high was 89) and we checked out a new (to us) fossil display before heading into the hot part of the park (Rio Grande Village) for the morning. We used the app "just ahead" for their guided tour and highly recommend it. It told us so much we didn't know!

We picked the Boquillos Canyon Trail hike because it was short (1.4 miles roundtrip), but it was also a lot of climbing, and when I say it was the hot part of the park, I mean that it was HOT (and we were done by 12:20PM). You can see the Mexican town of Boquillos just across the river. We also saw wild horses and donkeys. Love those canyon views!

Afterwards, we drove to the hot springs and changed into our bathing suits. There and back is only 1/2 a mile total, so I changed out of my hiking shoes and into my Toms. The hot springs were too hot, so we swam in the Rio Grande river instead. Then, we ate our delicious picnic lunches from the French Grocer right by the beautiful river. 

Then I told Brendan it was time for the scenic drive portion of the day because I was tired! We drove to Terlingua and ended up at the Starlight Theatre (eating there is a tradition for us), which has the best mocktail (virgin prickly pear margarita) in the world. 

After a fantastic dinner (and we can never get over how affordable it is too!), we drove back to Marathon through the Big Bend park. We saw a Havalina on the way home! We also saw roadrunners, porcupines, hawks, tarantulas, deer...the sun was setting and a west Texas storm was brewing up ahead. It was a beautiful day and so good for our souls.

The next morning, we got up and picked up a delicious breakfast of egg sandwiches to go at V6 Coffee (highly recommend the sunrise smoothie too), and we took our meal to Post Park for birdwatching. We were taunted by an elusive gorgeous red vermilion flycatcher (bird) that would not get close enough to us for a good photo.

We left town at 11 and made it home by 1:30 so that Lelie and Elda could make it back to Austin. We were thrilled to see our Willa and give her a stuffed donkey we picked up for her and hear all about the adventures she'd had. All in all, we had a fantastic time celebrating our baby boy and getting back to Big Bend.

We know the weekend was a difficult one for many people here, and our community has already begun the important work of coming together to support those directly impacted by Saturday's tragic events (that number now stands at 7 families dealing with the ultimate loss and 25 additional people injured). Our community has so many questions and is still processing everything. I read about those that lost their lives and feel so much sadness. I just hope our country can put an end to events like this.

Love and light,

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