Travel Review of Alexandria, Virginia

Back in April I had the chance to make a brief business trip to Alexandria, Virginia, and specifically spent some time in Old Town Alexandria.  I had been there maybe once before and driven through the area countless times, but I never realized how much I would love it.  I'm not much of a history buff but living in Texas where nothing is especially old, I realized I missed the beautiful look and feel of colonial architecture.  In Old Town they have done a fantastic job of keeping the old and making the new match the style.  Cobblestone streets are interspersed with concrete streets, historic placards hang everywhere, and even the Starbucks is housed in a very traditional looking building. 

Old Town Alexandria sits right on the Potomac River, neighboring downtown Washington D.C.  I flew into Reagan National airport which is literally a stones throw from Alexandria.  I could see all the great monuments surrounded by gorgeous water as I landed.  What I didn't realize till I got there was my timing...it was in the middle of the Japanese Cherry Blossom festival in D.C.  EVERYTHING was in bloom due to a warm spring and in Old Town that meant walking around in a cloud of pollen, terrible on my allergies but absolutely beautiful. 

I stayed at the Crown Plaza in Old Town due to it's proximity to my meeting at the Water Environment Federation's headquarters.  Unfortunately for me, a massive group of school kids were also staying there during a spring break visit to D.C.  They had some chaperons that made sure they were in their rooms by about 10pm, but at 1am I awakened to the sound of a loud bass beat in the room next door.  I waited about two minutes, thinking of calling the front desk, till it stopped and I got back to sleep.  The next night they were gone and replaced by a group of extremely handsome young men in town for some kind of coast guard training.  And the third night they were replaced by the New York Fire Department's Drum and Pipe Corps...there to march in the cherry blossom parade

The hotel was expensive but in a very lovely neighborhood, just a block from the water and surrounded by gorgeous trees and houses.  I was annoyed to find out they charged an exorbitant fee for WiFi, which I had been told was complimentary.  But the biggest perk was a free shuttle to and from the airport and to and from King Street, the central tourist and shopping spot just a few blocks away.  I walked down to King Street and back once but the shuttle was much faster. 

I enjoyed some great food during my stay.  The first night my sister came to visit me and we were starving so we stopped at the first place we found, a cute little Italian bistro called Villa de Esta.  It was moderately priced but the food was absolutely divine.  Totally fresh and unique.  I had some kind of ravioli in a Parmesan cream sauce and some bruscetta.  My sister loved her meal as well.  I ended up dining there again a second night with my WEF compatriots and everyone enjoyed their meals...especially all the fresh seafood.  The wine was exceptional as well.

Then for breakfast some of my friends who visited WEF headquarters frequently insisted we skip the bagels and juice our meeting hosts were offering and head to The Royal a block away for their famously delicious breakfast.  It was packed and I could see why.  I had the blueberry pancakes, but I lusted after the omelets and bacon my friends ordered.  Service could have been better, it was very slow, but worth the wait. 

My friend Alexis from Philly drove down from her companys' headquarters in MD to hang out with me for a night and we opted for Mai Thai, a fusion cuisine restaurant right on the water at the bottom of King St.  I had some kind of red chili chicken that had the perfect level of heat for me, along with just the right dash of sweetness.  I inhaled it, and it was a very memorable dinner with one of my very closest friends.  Then we walked up the street, popping in a few shops, and settled on drinks at O'Connell's Irish pub.  It was the second time I'd enjoyed the pub that week, the first was when my friend Kevin and I wandered the area on a photowalk and settled at a sidewalk table in front of O'Connell's for a couple of beers. That's us in front of the pub in the photo. 

It was packed Friday night and the bartenders were incredibly charming to us with their genuine Irish brogues.  Best of all? They served Yuengling  lager on tap! It may not be the best tasting beer in the whole world, but since I can't get it in Texas it hits the spot with me.   After awhile there we headed over to the other Irish pub on King St., Murphy's.  It was packed too and they had a fantastic Irish singer up on a tiny little platform doing songs that of course encouraged participation from the inebriated crowd.  We didn't stay long but it was a fun time. 

Overall this was one of the most enjoyable business trips I've had in ages, and I think Alexandria would make a perfect vacation destination for either families or just couples.


Frugal Fashionista Friday: Target Is Smart

Why is Target so smart? Check out the video and you'll see.  Just a small fashion haul from Target.  Goes to show that you can even use coupons in your pursuit of being glamorous.  As usual you can head over to Momfluential to find some other fashion haul videos for this week. Also check out Jo-Lynne's Fashion Friday linkup! 

Sex and the City 2 Soundtrack: Fashionably Feminine

One of my guiltiest pleasures is the TV series Sex and The City 2.  The love story of Carrie and Mr. Big has fascinated me since Season 1 (which I have on DVD...all of the seasons, in fact). He was always my favorite of her boyfriends, so you can imagine my joy when the first movie came out and they ended up getting married at the end.  It was a delightful movie, with the exception of the gratuitous sex and nudity.  Of course I'm a huge fan of fashion too so when I heard that SATC2 had a fashion budget of 10 million dollars, it only piqued my interest even more. 

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to review the movie soundtrack for Sex and the City 2.  I knew it featured Alicia Keys, a favorite of mine.  Described as the perfect CD to listen to while getting ready for a night out with the girls, it reminded me of another soundtrack I absolutely loved, My Best Friend's Wedding.  SATC2 had the same combination of catchy pop, reworked standards, and some arabian themed instrumental thrown in for good measure. Here's the track listing:

1. Alicia Keys “Rapture”

2. Dido “Everything to Lose”

3. Cee Lo “Language of Love”

4. Erykah Badu “Window Seat”

5. Natacha Atlas “Kidda”

6. Michael McGregor “Euphrates Dream”

7. Liza Minnelli “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”

8. Ricki-Lee "Can't Touch It"

9. Alicia Keys "Emire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down"

10. Jennifer Hudson and Leona Lewis "Love Is Your Color"

11. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon “I Am Woman”

12. Sex and the City Men’s Choir “If Ever I Would Leave You”

13. Sex and the City Men’s Choir “Sunrise, Sunset”

14. Sex and the City Men’s Choir “Till There Was You”

15. Shayna Steele, Jordan Ballard, Kamilah Marshall “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”

16. Liza Minnelli with Billy Stritch “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”

17. Cyndi Lauper “True Colors”

18. Aaron Zigman “Divas and Dunes”

Alicia Keys is spectacular as always. Combining that SATC music with a great Blondie cover works well on the first track, and her song Empire State of Mind is superb.  I love the arabian feel so many of these songs have incorporated, fitting for the awesome setting of the movie, Abu Dhabi.  Rikki-Lee's song totally made me get up a dance, which is fitting for a girls night out.  True Colors is one of my favorite songs.  And I have always loved the standard "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and this remake is very well done. 

The only problem I have with this CD is Liza Minnelli.  I cannot stand her singing.  It is especially dreadful to hear her butcher such a fantastic Beyonce song.  So I will be skipping her tracks, as well as the cast singing I Am Woman...blech.  But the rest is great.  I can even see practicing some uptempo yoga to the instrumental Divas and Dunes. 

Overall I think this CD is a good buy, a really fun compilation from what will hopefully be a really fun movie.  Also you can enter to win a phone call from Sarah Jessica Parker!

Full disclosure: I received a copy of the CD to review, but no compensation.


Photography Thursday: Naturey Crap

So on the plus side, making this type of blog post a regular occurrence has actually prompted me to take more of those super cool flora photos that everyone likes so much.  Because as cute as my kids are to me, endless photos of them do not seem to have wide appeal.  Ah, a mother's love.  So how about I post a few of my naturey photos and just throw in a couple of the kids at the end for good measure? Yeah, it is MY blog so I guess I can do that.

Yay for awesome bokeh and vivid purple.  Oh and note that yellow pollen from lillies as shown here does NOT come out of clothes in the wash. 

This toadstool totally looks like a water tower to me.  Probably because I'm a water engineer. Hence the name of this blog.

This photo just seems to represent tragedy and loss to me.

More bugs.  I dig photographing bugs on flowers.

I am surprised by how difficult it is for me to choose a shot of my boys for this post.  Some are technically better, sharper, more striking...but this one evokes an emotion in me the others don't.  And that's the point.


Mommy Blogger Flashback

If you've been reading my blog for a long time (thanks!) you've probably noticed a lot more posting in the past few months.  I place the blame squarely on my experience at the Mom 2.0 Summit.  Since I got to photograph so many gorgeous women at the opening Mad Men party and meet all these incredible bloggers, I have started following more and more of them on Twitter and consequently reading their blogs.  Which in turn has led me to leaving more comments all over the blogosphere, which has also prompted me to write more and work on building my community here.  I admit that I'm envious of the awesome community my husband has on his blog, Black Shoe Diaries.  It's offseason in college football and there is very little material for him to post about, yet he gets hundreds of thousands of visitors a day, and constant commenting...a conversation among his community that is self-sustaining.  I mean, wow! 

So I have decided that I really do want to be part of the mom-blogging communtiy, despite my previous negative attitude about it.  Not for money or products or perks or any of that, but because I enjoy writing, I enjoy communicating, and I enjoy getting to know these women.  I can't WAIT to attend Mom 2.0 Summit again next year in New Orleans, and I already have a couple of roomates lined up. So while ruminating on how great this community is, I decided to put together a little flashback video of all the fantastic women I met.  Just because I can.  Enjoy!


Connecting with Your Child's Heart

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Let's face it, every family has behaviour issues with their kids.  Some more than others.  Sometimes it's just whining and complaining, sometimes it's willful rebellion.  TV shows like SuperNanny* demonstrate the skillful techniques of behavior modification that are also grilled into the brains of teachers nationwide.  To an extent, things like "the naughty step" or "finding your child's currency" absolutely do work.  But the fact is that teaching a child to behave in expectation of consequences, good or bad, often skips over the heart of the matter...your child's own conscience.  Being able to mold our childrens' very hearts so that they can choose right and wrong absent of the possibility of consequences is a higher goal than just getting them to behave. 

So here's where I highly recommend a book that addresses this very issue.  It's what works for me...at least as far as I put its advice to use.  The book is called "Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids" by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  It has great advice for teaching kids about the concept of honor. 

Turansky and Miller also have an email you can subscribe to with great, practical parenting advice.  This week they had one I particularly loved on connecting with your child's heart.  The post concedes that it's not always easy, and gives eleven very basic ideas, such as telling kids stories about your own childhood without feeling there needs to be a lesson tied in. 

"In short, enjoy your kids and have fun with them. Take an interest in their lives. If you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. Your kids need your playfulness, love, affection, and joy. When you give to your kids, you contribute to their well-being and your family’s strength. Yes, it’s sacrifice, but the time you put in now will go a long way toward reducing friction when it’s time to confront or discipline."
This totally hit me deeply as my husband has been out of town the past two weeks and I find it difficult to get the basic routine accomplished, let alone finding time for fun and connecting with my kids.  When our energy and patience are sapped, our kids know it and they are the ones that really lose. 

So making an effort to reach my kid's heart is what works for me, and the book is a great help. 

Also I recommend you check out my dear friend Jo-Lynne's blog series, Raising Responsible Kids.

*I just realized that my very first blog post ever, more than five years ago, was on my love of the TV show, Supernanny.  I still like the show, though I have learned a whole lot since that first post :)


Top Ten Bible Verses that Impact Daily Life

Now that I'm 30-something, my memory ain't what it used to be.  In school I had a mind like a steel trap.  A nearly photographic memory.  Beginning in second grade I had to memorize scripture verses, usually a different one every single week.  All the way through 12th grade.  That's a huge chunk of God's word.  But now I'm hard pressed to remember the references and exact words of the vast majority of those.  I know what the Bible does and does not say, and I can find the verses I need, but most of it is not on the tip of my tongue any more.  With a few exceptions.  There are a few verses that I have called on so frequently that they stick in my head.  They have such impact on my daily living, my sense of peace, my decision-making, my priorities.  Here are ten of them. (More Top Ten posts here.)

1. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not die, but will have everlasting life."  (I'm teaching my 5 yr old to memorize this one.)

2. Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

3. John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (Jesus said this to his disciples)

4.  2 Timothy 3: 16-17   "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

5. Psalm 51: 10-12  "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

6. Ephesians 1:4  "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

7. Romans 12:2  "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

8.  Joshua 24:15  "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

9. Psalm 139:13-14  "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

10. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-6  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

What scriptures are your favorites? Please, do share in the comments, I'm sure it will bless and encourage me and those reading! :)

Monday Mingle with Mainline Mom!

It's Monday Mingle time again! If you want to see what this is all about, head over to Eighty MPH Mom. This week's questions:

1. What product (under $100) do you wish you could review on your blog because you honestly just love it to death.

2. If you were to be reincarnated as an animal, what animal would it be and why?

3. What is your favorite feature about yourself? Worst?


Frugal Fashionista Friday! How to Create a Style Inspiration Board

You've heard it before...if you want to be stylish but you have a limited budget, "Shop your closet!"  Easier said than done sometimes,especially if you're like me.  I love to shop and I love a bargain, so I frequently find myself picking up something here or something there for 75% off and popping it in my closet.  Then a week later I see it hanging with the tags still on and think about taking it back, but for less than $10 it feels like not even worth my time! And I end up with cute pieces I don't know how to pair together. 

Enter the Style Inspiration Board!  The idea behind this for me comes from style queen Susan Wagner, and last week I finally put one together.  I started by periodically clipping pages out of magazines with looks, colors, and pieces I was struck by.  When I had collected a small pile of pages I grabbed a ribbon board I'd made in my MOPS group back in PA and yanked out all the photos.  I carefully cut the photos down to sizes that would fit between the ribbons and tried to arrange them so I could at least see most of the image. 

Enjoy this short video showing where I hung my board, along with a small fashion haul of tops I got off the clearance rank at Ann Taylor LOFT.  At least one of these tops was an exchange from a too-small Mother's Day gift!


Photography Thursday {Colorful Flowers Edition}

Some mornings I'm not feeling like a long, wordy blog post about money.  William from Poop and Boogies (if you're not reading his blog, you are SO missing out) once told me he liked my blog more for my photography than the writing anyway.  So I will try to regularly feature some of my favorites for a little inspiration to get us through the end of the week.

Finally went back and edited a bunch I'd forgotten about.

And here's one I love of the twin sisters I photographed.

Probably my favorite from my session with these little dudes.

I guess I was in the mood for some serious flowery color this morning.  Hope you enjoy these!


Garage Sale Tales

So today I'm gonna share with you why shopping at garage sales works for me.  I used to hit up multiple neighborhood yard sales every weekend after we bought our first house and when my kids were much younger.  Now that we have much more disposable income and much less need for new stuff, I don't do it as often, but recently I ventured out and had great success.

Our first house was furnished with many cheap yard sale finds, especially table and floor lamps.  The house had no overhead lighting so we needed a lot of lamps, and in case you haven't noticed they aren't exactly cheap.  So we had a ton of semi-ugly lamps that I found here and there for about $5 each. 

When I was pregnant with my first I started shopping yard sales for infant toys and equipment.  I bought a Baby Einstein exersaucer (probably retailed over $75) for $5.  High chair toys were $0.25 each.  And baby clothes are prolific at garage sales...stacks of adorable outfits for pennies on the dollar.  I kept hitting up yard sales as my boys grew, large toddler toys are usually easy to find for dirt cheap.  But now my kids are getting into the age where kids seem to destroy their toys or lose the pieces and it's much harder to find decent older kid toys second-hand.

But a couple weeks ago my friend Stephanie mentioned on twitter that her nearby subdivision was having a yard sale day, and the weather was gorgeous, so I figured I would at least stop by her house and say hello.  I am the queen of the "yard sale drive-by".  I can usually tell within 15 seconds of pulling up if it's worth even parking and getting out.  I generally look for decent furniture or kids of a certain age.  Also real estate "for sale" signs in the front yard are a good indicator that the people may have a LOT of better quality things they need to get rid of before moving. 

I found one such house that had a for sale sign, a young mom and a boy about my son's age, and a table covered in clothing.  I hopped out and walked over to the table to check out her boys clothes.  What I found was a gold mine to me.  Barely used jeans from the Gap, barely worn dress khakis from The Children's Place, and nice cargo shorts from Carters.  They were all the size my oldest had just grown out of, but my youngest would someday grow into.  Not just one or two pair, either, piles of them.  I chatted with her about how we both loved to shop and buy our boys way too much clothing.  She admitted the clothes would go straight to Goodwill if they didn't sell, so I took 5 pair of jeans/pants and 3 pair of shorts off her hands for $5 TOTAL.  They looked nearly new.  Unfortunately as with most boys, her son only wore graphic T-shirts (which I hate) so I didn't buy any shirts.  I wished her well on her move to Dallas and off I went, thrilled to pieces. 

I didn't see much else for awhile, but I came upon the house of a young couple with a nice looking shelf in their driveway.  I parked and looked at the shelf, but it was not my style, but a good quality tripod caught my eye behind it.  Now keep in mind, I'm a professional photographer.  I paid about $75 for my second tripod, after my first got destroyed from using it on the beach too much.  But that's something I use a lot, so for $5 I was happy to pick up a backup one.  Now I can keep one in my car at all times and one in my studio office.  After picking up the tripod and walking around the driveway I noticed a nice new box of barware.  My husband is a homebrewer and likes to collect beer glasses, but my first thought was "we have plenty of those."  Then I noticed the logo and caught my breath...I tried to ask as calmly as possible, "Do those actually have the Yuengling label on them?" 

You see, we live in Texas now, but we are from Pennsylvania.  Yuengling is brewed in Pottsville, PA and also in Tampa, FL but is not yet available in Texas.  It is by far and away our favorite beer...so much so that we have a throw blanket and wall hangings in our game room with the Yuengling logo. 

The girl hosting the sale said "I guess so, I have no idea what that is.  We received them as a gift and never opened them."  I knew my husband would LOVE them, so for $5 I got a box of six brand new Yuengling beer glasses.  And then of course I bought the new tripod for $5 too. 

When I got home I surprised Mike with the beer glasses and he loved them and has used them every day since.


Top Ten Ways to Teach Your Kids Great Money Habits

Today for Top Ten Tuesday, I'm talking about money and parenting, together! My parents raised me with great fiscal values and I want to pass those on to my kiddos. 
UPDATED: Coincidentally a friend who read this post forwarded me the link for this very similar post with additional awesome ideas from John Lanza at WiseBread.

1. Talk about money as a family. My kids are 2 and 5 and we have already started educating them about money.  My husband and I openly discuss our budget and show them the process of making financial decisions together.  It isn't always deliberate, but we purposely don't hide it from them.  Now, if you are in a real financial bind and tend to fight about it a lot, it's obviously not a good idea to do that in front of you kids. 

2. Don't buy your kids everything they ask for.  It's so tempting to want to keep our kids happy by saying "Yes" all the time.  Especially when it's something small and you have the money to spend.  But they need to be told "No, you don't need that, that is a waste of money." or sometimes "No, you will need to save some money and buy that yourself." Even hearing "No, but you can ask for it for your birthday in a couple months and maybe you'll get it." is good now and then.  Self-discipline and sacrifice is important, and they should see you model it as well.

3. Help them save their own money. My kids each have their own piggy banks, and they are encouraged to put their money there for now.  In just a couple years, probably third or fourth grade, I will help them set up a bank account and show them how to save money that way.  The concept of putting off instant gratification now in order to afford something even better in the future is a hugely important value to instill in kids at a VERY young age. 

4. Give them ways to earn some money. There are a lot of mixed opinions about the value of giving kids an allowance, but this isn't about that.  Allowance shouldn't be based on chores, most chores should be done with no tangible reward. But once in awhile it's a great idea to give kids an extra opportunity to earn some of their own cash.  Special projects like cleaning out the garage, weeding the garden, or walking the neighbors dog for a few bucks are great ways to get started at a young age.  I'm a BIG believer in freelance stuff like babysitting and lawnmowing as soon as they are ready, about 13 years old. 

5. Let them spend their own money sometimes.  Seek out periodic opportunities for them to spend a little of their own cash.  Maybe when the ice cream truck comes around, you tell them it's up to them to see if they have enough money for a popcicle.  If they have been saving for a special toy, make a big deal out of a special trip to the store just for them when they've earned enough.  It has a lasting impression on a kid to work towards a reward and be able to buy it themselves.

6. Teach them about credit.  Don't just let them see you whip out the plastic and sign for everything you buy, without explaining to them that there is money in the bank to back it up.  Play a game with paper money and IOU cards.  Tell them that if you don't pay the cardholder with actual cash, someone will come and take your purchase back from you.  For goodness sakes, DON'T wait till they are in college to explain the ins and outs of credit to them.  The number one lesson should be, if you don't have the money in the bank to pay off the card in full when the bill comes, you can't buy it. 

7. Save for their future and show them the journey. Even if you don't have much to save, open a 539 education account and put some money in it for your child's future education.  Then show them, when the statements arrive, how the money is growing (hopefully).  It will help them learn how important college education is to you, and show them how investments work at the same time.

8. Let them help you clip and use coupons. Frugality is a learned value.  Even if you have plenty of money for groceries or dining out, there is no reason not to use coupons.  They can go through circulars and spot the foods and products that you regularly use at home.  They can help you search for the right products at the grocery store.  They can share in your satisfaction when you show them how much money you saved on your receipt.

9. Be generous and ask them to be generous. Give your money away.  Pick a worthy organization and let them save their pennies to give away.  This month we are participating in a Baby Bottle Blessing for our local crisis pregnancy center...we set an empty baby bottle on the counter and the kids fill it with change they find or what's leftover in our wallets at the end of the day.  We will let the kids bring it in and explain that it goes to help mommies and babies with not enough money.

10. Expose them to poverty.  Don't keep them sheltered from the less fortunate their whole lives.  It's hard for kids to process, but some direct exposure to kids who are in need is healthy and teaches them gratitude an compassion.  This might mean bringing them in to help at a soup kitchen, or sponsoring a child from a third world nation, like we did recently through Compassion International.  Reassure them that they are blessed and do not have to live like that but teach them empathy for those that do.


Monday Mingle with Mainline Mom!

Thanks to One Cluttered Brain leaving a comment on my last video, today I stumbled across Monday Mingle!  It's a vlog meme where Jen from Eighty MPH Mom posts three questions and every week lots of bloggers video and post their answers to the questions.  Fun! I really enjoy hopping around watching these videos and I hope you will too.  Today's questions were:

1. What is the hardest *physical* thing you have ever done? (Giving birth, running a marathon, etc.)

2. What is one of the hardest things you have ever done emotionally? (Saying goodbye to a loved one, watching your babies grow up, etc.)

3. Name one thing from your bucket list - something you hope to achieve before you die.

And here are my answers! Enjoy...


A Word of Encouragement for Mothers

This weekend we had pretty much nothing to do, with the exception of having my grandparents to dinner Friday, and it was utterly exhausting for me.  Not physically exhausting, although it became that too, but spiritually exhausting.  Yesterday I stumbled across Angie Smith's blog, Bring the Rain.  I know I was told about it at least once by my friend Stephanie, and probably more than once...but for whatever reason God was saving it for me to read this weekend. 

It begins with the story of Angie finding out at her 20 week ultrasound that her baby girl had multiple terminal defects. Angie happens to be the wife of one of the members of popular Christian music group, Selah, who I like.  But she is a gifted writer and more than that...her life is an overflowing, fragrant offering for Jesus.  I found myself reading and reading yesterday, every single post, and crying my eyes out.  Not just for her pain, but for the beauty of her love for Christ and others, even in the midst of horrifying circumstances. I want that.  So it stirred something deep within me that I spent hours dealing with, talking to Mike about, and talking to God about. 

I continued reading today after worship, continued seeking and desiring God. And as will happen, I got the Sunday night blues.  My boys created much chaos, I didn't have the energy to pick up after them or myself, and their attitudes (mostly the older one) wore me down.  Then I found the most amazing word of encouragement from one of my favorite sisters in Christ, Beth Moore.  It's long, but worth it.  If you don't have a lot of time, just cut it off when she gets to the (long) poem at the end.

Happy Mother's Day from LPV on Vimeo.


Heavy Rotation

Last night we had one of those lovely, wicked Texas thunderstorms. It hadn't rained in weeks and weeks so I didn't mind it, especially knowing our Saturday soccer game would likely be canceled.  It was, and we spent the morning getting both boys haircuts and wandering the mall. I should say, the guys wandered the mall while I power shopped, scooping up great kids' clothes (that we don't need) for bargain basement prices. I hadn't been to the mall in quite a long time. 

Now since the soccer game was rained out, and I have no obligations for the rest of the weekend, I have free time.  So I'm surfing iTunes for some great new music.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share the top ten tunes I'm into on my iPod currently.  Starting with the fabulous Houston band I saw last week, Runaway Sun.

1. Runaway Sun - Lovebite (My only complaint is that this song is so short!)

Runaway Sun, Live at Warehouse Live from Runaway Sun on Vimeo.

2. Green River Ordinance - Rise Up

3. Spinnerette - Baptized By Fire
4. Michael Franti and Spearhead - Say Hey (I Love You)
5. Passion Pit - Little Secrets
6. Little and Ashley - Stole My Heart
7. White Rabbits - Percussion Gun
8. Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill
9. The Limousines - Very Busy People
10. Matisyahu - One Day (Really cool video, check it out.)


Fashion Haul, Mom Style!

Curse you, Gymboree.  Curse you for your brilliant marketing tactics with your 30% off coupons, Rewards club, and Gymbucks.  It sucks me into buying something every few weeks, a minimum. It's an addiction, justified by the fact that the clothes are cute and well-made, and their resale value is very high.  As long as my boys will continue letting me pick out their clothes, you've got me.  Check out these bargains. And while you're at it, here's a link to another cute fashion haul video from Audrey McClellan at MomGenerations.


Photography Thursday

What I've been up to:

I should have mentioned bluebonnets as one of the things I love about Texas.

I have wanted to photograph twin newborns for so long. Dream come true!

Got to meet one of my birth club mamas! Getting ready for a weekend with the others in June.

As always, all these photos are Copyright Sarah B. Hubbell, ALL rights reserved.  That means please don't take and use them...anywhere. 


Top 10 Things I Love About Texas

I've read Stacey's Top Ten Tuesday posts for a little while and today I had writer's block, so I let this inspire me a bit.  So since I am a pretty recent transplant from Philly to Houston, I thought I would share with you the top ten things I love about living in Texas. 

1. The cost of living! It is amazing to me how much farther a dollar goes here in Katy than it ever did in Philly.  Our house, which is gorgeous, cost 36% less per square foot here.  Seriously, I am not even kidding.  Gas is cheaper, groceries are cheaper, daycare is cheaper...the list goes on.

2. The diversity.  I thought our Chester County/Montco neighborhood in Philly was diverse! On my perfectly manicured street I have Chinese neighbors, African American neighbors, Indian neighbors, Colombian neighbors, liberal neighbors, conservative neighbors, and good old native Texan neighbors.  And we all get along really really well, and our kids all play and go to school together. 

3. The sunshine.  There are pros and cons to this, but overall it is so much nicer having sunshine year round.  My mood is incredibly dependent on the weather, and I didn't know that till I moved here.  I just need to buy stock in sunblock. 

4. The values.  Even though Houston is not as reflective of the "Bible belt" culture as many other places in the  South, waaaaaaay more people I know go to church every Sunday.  It is totally surprising to me, coming from a place where a lot of folks just enjoyed sleeping in on Sundays.  And not just protestants either, I have a bunch of Catholic friends and a few Jewish friends here and they ALL attend services and are actually involved in their church bodies.  I've never asked my Hindu or Muslim neighbors whether they attend religious services, now I'm kinda curious about that. 

5. Texas pride.  It's everywhere.  It is pervasive and seriously contagious.  I come from a place where we take huge pride in the Revolutionary War and teach it every year in elementary school.  Here they take pride that Texas fought for its own independence from Mexico, and I get it. 

6. Culture.  Houston has unbelievable culture.  There are a TON of great museums here!  And we have our own world-class ballet, opera, and symphony.  I could go on forever about this. 

7. Social Media community.  I've written about some of the events I've attended recently, but the thing is, Houston's SM community is amazing. Bigtime bloggers.  Events are planned almost every day of the week.  Tweetups of all sizes and shapes.  There is a tech boom going on here nobody outside of TX seems to know about.

8. Cowboys.  Enough said.

9. Schools. This is specific to where I live in Katy, but we have some of the top public schools in the nation.  The schools in my area are exceptionally competitive academically. 

10. Food.  We have fabulous Tex-Mex and BBQ.  Wonderfully fresh seafood.  And of course fantastic steakhouses.


Celebrating Mother's Day

This year Mother's Day has been pretty special.  On Friday at 4:30 I was wrapping up work and caught a bit of an interesting Oprah episode, thinking to myself "oh, I suppose I should go pick up my kids from daycare eventually..." and half-heartedly closed the laptop and turned off the TV.  But when I got to school I was presented with a handmade gift from Alex, and a hand decorated plant and card from Nathan, with a note he had obviously written. "Dear Mom, Happy Mother's Day. I love you very much. Love, Nathan"  My heart melted.  Then Saturday when my husband had to run to Target for something he came home and gave Nate a bunch of flowers to present to me.  Knowing we would be spending today with my grandparents at a restaurant I don't care for, he offered to take me to my favorite, the Olive Garden, for dinner.  And Saturday was completed with a stop at La Centerra for a mother's day concert and ice cream by the fountains. 

Today he actually drove to the local donut shop for my breakfast, gave me a card, some gorgeous earrings and a top from the Loft, and took me to Panera for lunch.  I'm feeling almost pampered (this is exceptionally rare). 

But on my heart for several weeks, maybe even months now, have been other children needing mothers, needing love, needing physical support, and especially needing Jesus.  God has been poking my heart over and over and over, rather relentlessly through the blogosphere, my church, the TV, even the concerts I've been too.  As I've been getting rid of outgrown clothing and planning to sell Alex's crib...I've been thinking maybe we should keep some things.  Because I've had a steadily growing desire to open our hearts and home to more children that desperately need it.  I've written before a bit about what I've been feeling, but I've started to say it out loud.  My other half isn't quite in the same place as I am at the moment, but I'm praying and I believe it will come.  My desire to possibly become a foster family is a tough one to swallow...why disrupt our perfect little life? 

So today I did something I've been wanting to do for a long long time, and I have no idea why I haven't.  I pulled the trigger and sponsored a child through Compassion International.  It's something Mike can easily support, and I plan to involve our entire family.  Kristen's story of her trip to Kenya with Compassion, and all the comments she has been receiving about people sponsoring multiple children, have left an imprint on my heart that I could not shake.  And I realized that today, mother's day, that is what I MOST wanted to do.  Our little girl's name is Mbeyu, and she's 7 years old, from Kenya.  I can't wait to get to know her...I've always wanted to have a little girl in my life.


Baby and Toddler Milestones, It Goes By So Quickly

One thing that all mothers seem to do naturally, some in small degrees and some constantly, is compare our child to those around us.  We constantly track their progress, the doctor checks off his list for development milestones, and we make mental notes when our friends talk about their babies hitting milestones like sitting up, talking, or eating solid foods.  Mostly I don't worry about these things, but sometimes it can be a gentle nudge that I should be helping my little one along towards some new goal.  This is especially true because I belong to a very close-knit birth club, formed on Babycenter.com.  Our birthclub began when each of us learned that we were all pregnant with due dates in the same month.  Now more than three years later, we still talk about our lives and how our toddlers keep us on our toes! So since our little ones have birthdays so close together, it is easy to compare them to each other. 

So when I heard that some of my friends had their two-year-olds completely potty trained, I started to feel the pressure.  Nevermind that my first child wore diapers well beyond his third birthday, and his daycare did the bulk of the potty training.  And it seemed silly that my Alex was still sleeping in a crib, even though his height exceeds most four year olds.  He had never tried to climb out, but I was getting a bit tired of having to climb to the second floor every morning to free him from his crib, when there sat a perfectly good twin bed right beside it. Then my neighbor told me how her boys, one six and one four, give themselves showers.  That sounded like heaven compared to bathing my two oversized boys together in a shrinking bathtub every night. 

But Alex had little to no success using the potty, and he had zero interest in leaving his beloved crib in favor of the "big boy bed."  And Nathan was fearful of the shower.  Then one night this week, something clicked.  First Alex decided he was interested in the shower, especially when  he heard it was kind of like playing in the sprinkler.  My two year old has always been a bit braver than his big brother.  As soon as Alex hopped in and enjoyed it, Nathan followed close behind.  Now suddenly they ask to take showers every night. 

And at the same time, Alex began to realize when he needed to pee, and had success with the potty!  It's amazing to see the wheels turning in his little head as he learns to communicate in full sentences, use his imagination, and figures out that peeing in the potty earns him M&Ms. 

For a couple of weeks now I had planned on simply dismantling the crib and dealing with the traumatic meltdown that would ensue...but Mike never seemed to get around to taking the crib apart.  We had both encouraged sleeping in the big bed for a long time, to no avail.  Then suddenly this week, a casual mention that he would be able to get himself up in the morning to go play did the trick. We assured him that all his stuffed animals and blankets would move with him.  And magically it seemed like he wanted to do everything he could to prove what a big boy he was.  So there was no screaming or anxiety, and he slept in his new bed right through the night. 

And suddenly I feel like my baby is gone.  The progress I was looking forward to having is here and I am weepy, remembering instead the long nights nursing the tiny bundle in the rocker in his nursery.  Now I have a full fledged little boy on my hands, and he is precious, but I still miss the baby in him.


MiniVan Mom

So this is...just because.  I miss driving the Chevy Malibu.  I am finding that most of the time I really don't need the hugeness of the minivan.  I'm sure that will change as my kids get older.  Got my recall letter from Honda today, so I'll be taking it in to get the brakes fixed.  Anyway, I thought this was cute. 


My J. Crew Fashion Haul!

Warning: I am kind of a shopaholic, but I am pretty frugal.  It may not seem that way from this video, but please keep in mind that I have zero consumer debt and even though I shop, we do save a ton for retirement, our kids' college funds, a big emergency fund, and then some.  So this is not intended to encourage spending! I just don't want to be an enabler, so I have to say all that. 

You can see the back story to this video, and the whole concept of fashion hauling, here

The Ultimate in Cheesiness

Ok, I'm as big a Glee fan as they come, but seriously?  As Fugi points out on Black Shoe Diaries, at least on Glee it's just the Glee club dancing, not the whole entire school.  In the student union.  Of our biggest football rival school, THE Ohio State University.  The time and effort that must've gone into this is pretty ridiculous.  It reeks of bad Limburger cheese.  I'm sure my nutty Buckeye neighbor will probably love it.  It's fun for me to laugh at anyway, so here you go:


Ford Fiesta Movement's Team Houston Battle of the Bands

Otherwise known as my best Saturday night this year.  Anytime you combine social media people being social in person with great live music and throw in some photography, I'm gonna be a happy girl.  So a big thanks to Mark and Amber for planning one heck of an event.  I swear they are marketing geniuses.  They found a way to get all of Houston to support them on their quest to win the Ford Fiesta Movement.  As part of this campaign they are competeing against 20 other teams from other cities to win two Ford Fiestas.  They have pledged one of the cars to a brand new local charity called Noah's Kitchen that delivers meals to the homeless.  And they are promoting Houston culture.  Genius. 

They won their first mission, creating a really incredible wall mural featuring 10 awesome Houston locations.  So for their second mission they planned this Battle of the Bands at Warehouse Live Saturday night.  They chose a panel of music experts to pick who got to play and then judge the battle as well, and there was a fan favorite band too.  The event was FREE, with $10 VIP tickets available to get some extra perks like Saint Arnolds beer and some food.  Best part was the VIP ticket money went entirely to Noah's Kitchen.  So of course I bought those for Mike and I.  Good thing too, because we got to witness Noah in the VIP lounge strutting his stuff, challenging guys to dance offs and breaking like nobody's business. 

Lots of my Houston social media peeps were there, including J.R. Cohen who played MC for the entire event.  Everybody loves him, and once I pulled out the camera, every girl wanted me to snap a photo with him.  We hung out backstage for a bit and somebody shot this one for me.  Mike was cool and enjoyed the music and beer and let me run off to shoot photos or chat with friends every now and then.  The music was GOOD.  I can't emphasize that enough.  The seven bands selected for the battle were very different genres of music, which made it super interesting.  Since I'm a fan of almost all music regardless of genre, I liked it all. 

Each group got to play four songs, and while not every group hit a homerun with every song, they all had at least one or two I enjoyed.  Robert Ellis is very much a country western band, and their first couple songs hurt my ears, but their last two were excellent.  I don't dig the long haired scrubby cowboy look though.  I like my cowboys cleancut.  Wayside Drive started out strong, with some loud electronica reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but the chick bass player sounded awful and I gave up on them once she started singing.  Then came Versecity and I totally loved their whole set.  Their style of music, what I would classify as "punk pop", is my guilty pleasure.  Yes, they sound a bit generic, kind of like SR-71 or Good Charlotte, but it was GOOD anyway.  Supposedly their cover of Ke$ha's hit, Tik Tok, is getting serious radio airplay.  It was fun, but I don't quite get how a cover of a song that is STILL a big hit can also be such a big hit. 

After that Tyagaraja took the stage.  And I was totally blown away.  I knew Mark was a big fan of his, and I had heard some of his acoustic solo stuff that sounded pretty trippy, but I had no idea how incredible he sounds with a full band.  It was a great mix of rock, blues, and some Indian yogi vibe, but with a distinct edge unlike the music I actually practice yoga to.  He had lots of musicians and instruments which lends to great texture, and they also included a beautiful, traditional dancer on stage.  So I ended up voting for them, even though coming into the concert I had assumed I'd go for my previous favorite Houston band, The Tontons

The Tontons played after Tyagaraja, with lead singer Asli Omar needing to be summoned from the bar to the stage by her bandmates.  Awkward.  And while I enjoy their sound a lot, I got the distinct impression that they didn't care that much about the performance...like they'd been there a thousand times before.  That's never a good thing.  Then fan favorite Black Queen Speaks took the stage.  They were voted into the competition by their fans and it was obvious nobody I knew had really heard of them before.  J.R. introduced them as a cross between Jane's Addiction and Soundgarden...which immediately had Mike and I rolling our eyes at each other.  That's some balls comparing yourselves to bands like that.  So to say I had low expectations would be an understatement.  But to say that they far surpassed those expectations would be absolutely true.  They were really good. Maybe not Jane's Addiction good, but definitely good. 

About this time my flash unit batteries started to die, right when I offered up the camera my friend Kerri to take a shot of Mike and I, and then to Brian to take a snap of a bunch of us together.  Still, there were some cute shots.  Here's my favorite. 

And here's Noah with his new buddy, Jimmy.

Tyagaraja ended up winning the Battle of the Bands, and if Team Houston wins this mission, Tyagaraja will get the opportunity to play at the huge Bonnaroo festival in TN this year.  That could be a big break for them.  Awesome.  Big thanks to Kinetic Energy, my electricity provider, for being the community sponsor of this event and helping out with Foursquare check-ins.  And the Battle of the Bands event raised $2000 for Noah's Kitchen to feed the homeless for four months.  Even more awesome. 



Bullet list time! It's too hot for complete paragraphs. 
  • I had a dream about adventures and drama with lots of mommy bloggers last night. 
  • I think it was b/c I paid too much attention to a bigtime grouchy blogger creating drama via Twitter yesterday.  Yes, some bloggers are making themselves look like shills.  Others are making themselves look like b...ahem...bulllies for the way they treat each other.  Which is worse?
  • I actually got a well-written, relevant PR pitch to review a product I would use every day (if its good).  I don't really go for a lot of those around here, but this one I'll try. 
  • Watched Angels and Demons on DVD last night.  The movie was not bad, mostly because it reminded me of how much I loved the book. 
  • Got my hair chopped and the blonde toned down yesterday...cut was inspired by Carrie Underwood at the People's Choice awards.  I'm kinda missing the blonde, actually. 
  • As much as I do care about the environment and our water, it's pathetic that the world cares more about some Gulf birds than the 11 men on that oil rig who died and their families. 
  • I found a type of bread that looks exactly like what my kids are used to, but is HFCS free.  Of course my kids hate it.  (I can't win.)
  • My sister just bought a house almost twice the size of mine.  And mine is huge, I won't lie.  I think she's kinda crazy, but whatever.  They are pretty smart with money. 
  • Is it awful to say I'm not thrilled about Nathan's soccer games this year?  This is his third season, I'm kind of over it.  If I had friends with kids on the team I'm sure I'd feel differently.
  • Looking forward to Stephanie Click's Mickey Mouse Moms party this afternoon.  She is Disney-obsessed. 
  • REALLY looking forward to the Ford Fiesta Movement's Team Houston Battle of the Bands tonight!  Some of my fave social media Houstonites + great live music + a good cause = mega fun!
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