Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cousins in Venice

I'd like to backtrack roughly two months to catch up on a couple of fun things that we did in the week or so leading up to E.J.'s birthday before I dive into road trip recaps. We spent a stretch of time leading up to the 4th of July in St. Pete, visiting with family. While there, I was also able to drive an hour south to Venice for a couple of days to spend some quality time with my cousin Molly and her two kids, who were visiting from Illinois. It was so nice!

The kids and I ditched Eric and headed south on Monday, June 27th. We arrived at my Aunt Debbie's house mid-morning-ish, and the kids dove right into playing while the women got to chatting. My mom also joined us shortly thereafter, thus completing the mother-daughter group. My nephew Santiago took Ellie right upstairs and read her his favorite book, which was so dear, and I loved seeing little Baby Milena again for the first time in nearly a year. What a doll!

Santiago reading to Ellie

Ellie and her baby cousin

Usually when Molly and her family visit my Aunt Debbie, I just drive down from my dad's house in the morning and drive back at night, but this time I decided to experiment with staying overnight in a hotel, thus giving us two full days of visiting time without having to drive two over-tired, under-napped, over-cousined kids back to St. Pete after a long day. So, after the little kids napped at Debbie's, we went to check into the hotel and let the kids do the usual Hotel Spazz Out before it was actually time for bed.

What is it about hotel rooms that makes kids act like lunatics? More so than usual, I mean.

The kids ran around the hotel room like crazies for a while, jumping on the beds and spinning in the desk chair, and then we went back to Debbie's house for dinner and an evening walk to a nearby splash pad.

Water play!

Look at this sweetheart!

Ellie and E.J. playing in the water

The two little cousins

The two big cousins

Crazy E.J.!

Then, back to the hotel for the night! I experimented with having both kids in one room for the first time on this trip, and it went surprisingly wonderfully well. In fact, I even slept in the same room with them and we all did just fine. What a freeing discovery for future travel! We can actually share rooms! We made use of that knowledge on our road trip, as you will soon hear.

But, the biggest motivator for getting the hotel room came to fruition after the kids were tucked snug in their beds. Sure, I thought a hotel for the night would be great for my kids' well-being and blah blah blah, but mostly, it was because once all kids were put to bed, Molly left her kids in the care of our mothers and she came to join me at the hotel for wine and adult conversation. This, my friends, was long overdue. We have been pregnant and/or nursing for over five years and all the gestating and lactating and infant care really put a damper on our cousin bonding time, so we made up for lost time that June night in Venice. And it was gooooood. It was so nice to talk to one of my very best friends, drinking wine and laughing and catching up into the wee hours of the morning. My mom finally called around 1:00 a.m. (I think) to see if we were winding down anytime soon, which....no. So she just came and joined us and helped us finish up bottle o' wine number two (oops) before Molly departed at around 2:45 a.m. and we all crashed. I was exhausted the next day, sure, but man, was that good for the soul!

Quality cousin time over wine in paper hotel cups. Just what the doctor ordered!

The next morning we grabbed breakfast in the hotel and then Aunt Debbie, Molly and kids came to join us for a morning swim in the hotel pool. We had a great time, and Santiago and Ellie tapped into limitless energy for non-stop swimming. How do kids do that?

My little mermaid!

Swimming fun!

Ellie had a blast!

E.J. swimming with Grammy

Molly and her kiddos!

The moms and E.J.

Aunt Debbie and Milena

Ellie pulling Milena around the pool, and Milena clearly loving it

Santiago and Ellie swimming together! She still talks about what a fast swimmer he is!

After swimming we went back over to Aunt Debbie's house for lunch, and the big kids played quietly while the little ones napped.

They just sat and chatted with each other at lunch! The cutest.

Ellie reading with Aunt Debbie

Those are two tired kids!

When the babies woke up we had a few more minutes to play (and take pictures of their adorableness) before we packed up and headed back to St. Pete.

Kids at the piano!

The boys

The girls (and matching dresses!!!! Molly and I used to match often when we were kids, so when I saw Target was having a BOGO 50% off dress sale, I mean...what else were we supposed to do?)

Four really awesome kids!

What a wonderful visit! I so wish those Illinois folk lived closer and these visits wouldn't have to be so rare, but I'll take them happily when I can get them. And anyway, Molly and I have always been close despite a distance between us, so I don't see why our kids won't be able to do the same. Plus, this visit was especially awesome because it was for two full days, PLUS E.J.'s birthday party and the Fourth of July a few days later! Thank you for spending so much time with us, Illinoisans, and thank you for hosting us, Aunt Debbie!

Love you guys!

Monday, August 22, 2016

We're In!

Phew! We're finally emerging on the other side of the moving chaos and I'm finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We might actually get settled in to our new house soon!

The move itself went fairly well, hugely thanks to help from my dad and Eric's friend from work (for manual labor) and my mentor mom (for babysitting). We've been working on unpacking and setting things up to our liking, and minus some maintenance hassles, so far that process is going pretty well.

Also, today is Eric's first day of work, so things are really in motion now! This is the last week of summer vacation for Ellie, so next Monday will really bring about our new fall routine in earnest.

I'm going to try to take some time in between the last of the unpacked boxes to start sorting through pictures from our trip and catching up on summer blog posts, so that will be headed your way soon. In the meantime, though, I'm going to resume my efforts to turn this new house fully into our home!

The new house!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Blue House

Well, we are back from our road trip, which was so much fun. We traveled roughly 2,300 miles...and took just about as many pictures (without exaggeration—we nearly averaged one photo per mile driven). Needless to say, those poor pictures are going to be sitting neglected on my computer for a while because it is MOVING WEEKEND.

Luckily, we were able to get a lot of packing done prior to our trip, and we somehow managed to leave exactly the right amount to do when we got home. We've spent the last couple of days boxing the rest of our things and taking care of all the logistics that coincide with moving, and tomorrow the fun starts. We'll have a walk-through at the new place in the morning and get our keys, and pick up a U-Haul around lunchtime. My dad is coming for the weekend to help, and we'll get started moving some stuff over tomorrow afternoon and finish up on Saturday. By Saturday night, we'll be sleeping in our new home!

I'm really excited about the house. The extra space is going to be wonderful for us, and I think we'll really fit nicely there. I'm looking forward to being able to walk Ellie to school and to watching the kids play in our big backyard. I'm already fantasizing about lovely patio furniture out back and s'mores roasting over a fire pit. Can't you just see it?

As excited as I am about the new house, I'm feeling a bit sad to be leaving our current house. I keep reminding myself that we have been saying for months that we need to get out of here. I mean, this house is in pretty rough shape. It's small and old, and we've outgrown it quickly. The floors are beat up and uneven. The electricity is finicky in certain outlets at random times. Neither bath tub or bathroom sink drains well. We have cats that live underneath the house that have kittens every so often and gift us with a flea-infested yard. The windows are old and offer no insulation so we freeze in the winter and sweat in the summer. We've had the sewage pipes back up into our back yard several times. They've started construction across the street so things are loud and dirty. Basically, we've had every reason to leave for a long time now. Who would want to live in this place?!

But even with all those issues, I've loved this house. In the nearly four-and-a-half years that we have been parents, this is the home we have lived in the longest with our children. This is where the majority of our family memories have been made. Ellie named this house "the blue house" as soon as we moved in and that has been its pet name ever since. This blue house is the house where we got to know our newborn boy. These are the rooms in which I nursed my baby back to sleep every night, sitting alone in the dark and listening to the trains go by. This is where E.J. tasted his first food and he took his first steps on these sloping floors. This is where Ellie first slept in a "big girl bed" and learned to use the potty. She left from this house for her first day of school and her artwork she brought home decorated its walls. We've celebrated birthdays and holidays here. We carved our Halloween pumpkins in the backyard and hung our Christmas stockings over the fireplace. We've returned from many vacations to this house, always happy to be home. We've laughed here and we've cried here. We've celebrated and we've mourned. We've developed routines and enjoyed our surroundings and treasured our two years in this little blue house.

And so, it is with mixed emotions that I prepare to leave and move forward. What's ahead of us may be bigger and better, but this house and the memories it has been a part of will always be special to me.

Us in front of the blue house shortly after first moving in, August 2014

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our Next Steps

I'm here with big news, folks! We finally know what our next steps in this big career transition are going to be. It has been a long time in the making.

New Job

As of last week, Eric has accepted a job as a Policy Analyst, working specifically in education policy. He will be working for a national non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, though the majority of the organization's workforce is located remotely. Thus, Eric will be able to work from a home office, and we don't have to leave Jacksonville!

This job feels like a perfect next step for Eric, and he's really excited about it. He'll be working with a small policy-specific team, as part of a larger organization dedicated to helping schools and districts attract, train and retain great teachers for all students. The team supports this mission at all levels of the process, from classrooms, schools and school districts to state departments of education. More than a traditional think-tank, the work of the policy group is strongly focused on the actual implementation of good policy, to make sure great ideas actually benefit real students. It's a great starting position in a field that has piqued Eric's interest since early in this career-change process, and even if it isn't ultimately the right fit for him, it should open up many more doors for him going forward. In the meantime, though, he's excited to get started!

We're just so thrilled about this new job. Eric really cast a wide net in looking for his next steps. He considered school-based administration, graduate school, non-profit development work, teaching at a private school, fellowships, etc. He applied for a ton of things and this has been a primary topic of conversation in our house for about two years now. As of early April, it seemed the field of options was narrowing. Eric seemed to be zeroing in on grad school as his first choice option (he was accepted to the Masters of Public Policy program at Duke with good scholarship support), and I was trying to wrap my head around one of us going back to school again. He was also looking at various fellowship options for the summer, which would have kept him away from us for about 10 weeks and may or may not have transitioned into full-time work afterwards. And, it most definitely would have been out-of-state.

Then, this job popped up online. Eric applied and began the months-long interview process. He has honestly been interviewing for this job since April. When we first saw the job posting, we thought it sounded really promising but tried not to think too much about it, in an attempt to keep from getting our hopes up and then dashed. I was mentally preparing myself for a summer without Eric and a possible out-of-state move in August, finding new schools for Ellie, etc., etc., so we just kept this new job possibility at the back of our minds and didn't entertain it much.

Eric went through five rounds of interviews: a screening interview, a work sample exercise, a phone interview with the position's direct supervisor, a phone interview with a couple of senior team members, and an in-person interview in Denver two weeks ago. As I said, the entire process took the better part of three months, and at each stage we could feel our hopes growing more and more. By the time he was flying out to Denver, the pressure was on. Eric had put a lot of eggs in a lot of different baskets, but by that point, this was the only basket left.

He felt like his interview went well, though he learned that over 600 people had initially applied for that job. As I waited for him to return from Denver, my anxiety piqued. I mean, I felt like I knew he was right for that job and he would be great at it. But, it sounded like there were probably three other interviewees in Denver at the same time, so three other families thought the same thing. What if he didn't get it? What would we do next?

I picked Eric up from the airport at 2:00 the next morning, and we chatted the whole drive back to our house. As soon as we stepped out of the car, Eric held out his arms and said, "Hey, I got it!" and that was that. Our next step was decided and we were so happy! I'm so proud of Eric. He's so capable and he is going to rock this job. It's such a great next step for our family. It's what we hoped would happen after teaching, when we first made the switch out of law. It's so gratifying to see Eric's hard work paying off and his plans coming to fruition!

New House

However, I mentioned above that Eric will be working from a home office. If you have ever been to our house, you know that we do not have even a square foot of extra space in our tiny little three-bedroom house. There is no room for an extra desk, let alone a full-blown home office. So, we figured we should start looking for a new place. In addition to space concerns, our house is also pretty old, and there is talk of the nearby hospital buying up our block in the next few years for expansion. We have lived in constant fear that something significant will go wrong with the old house and the landlord will decide not to fix it, opting instead to just wait for the hospital to buy him out, and then we'll be out of luck. Also, the hospital is definitely expanding into the two blocks across the street from us, and they started construction this week, which has made things dirty and noisy (hello, construction noise at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning), plus we're dealing with street closures and construction equipment in front of our house regularly. So, not ideal.

Knowing that Eric might need a home office and we would have to look for a place sooner or later, I've been casually checking Zillow for rental homes for the past month or so, mostly just to get an idea of what we might be looking at spending in our desired areas. Our current house is a steal (but, also not in great shape and tiny), and I was getting discouraged with 1) the lack of rental options in our immediate neighborhood in general, and 2) the significantly higher prices to stay in San Marco at all. I worried we might have to move further away to find something big enough for a reasonable price.

Then, late last week, I stumbled upon a house listed for rent just about across the street from Ellie's school/our church. It's much bigger (nearly 800 square feet bigger), two stories, with not only a decent-sized living room but also a family room, dining room, playroom and small office upstairs. It has a nice, big fenced-in backyard and is on a quiet street. It's too far for us to walk out to the river like we do now (though a bike ride is perfectly reasonable), but it is still walkable to the town square and of course, to Ellie's school (both her current preschool and her future elementary school). Given all those great things that I didn't think we'd be able to find in a house in San Marco, PLUS the incredibly reasonable rental price, I went to look at it right away. Then, I rushed home to tell Eric about this great find. By the end of the week, we had signed a lease!

So, we're moving! And Eric is getting a new job! Big things are happening, folks.

Of course, all this is interrupted by a 10-day road trip coming up next week, with the ultimate destination being my family reunion in Cleveland. So, right now we're packing like crazy (and I have jury work, because of course I do), then we'll pause the moving craziness for 10 days while we go on our road trip (a 10-day road trip with two small kids is its own special brand of craziness), and then when we get back we'll have a week or so to move in, settle down and get Eric started at his new job!

Needless to say, it's a madhouse over here right now. So, I will likely be MIA for a bit yet again. But, when I return, we'll be kicking off the next phase for us! Wish us luck!

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Nursling No More (Part 2)

As of this weekend, E.J. and I have ended our breastfeeding relationship. I no longer have a little nursling.

As I did with Ellie, I struggled a bit with my decision to stop. It's hard to let go of something so dear, such nice quiet times with an otherwise crazy toddler. Ultimately, I decided this was the right time for me to move forward.

My nursing experience with E.J. was very relaxed. We really didn't have any troubles whatsoever, with the exception of one clogged duct while I was staying with him in the hospital during his meningitis treatment. Other than that, it was smooth sailing. With Ellie, I set one year as my big goal for how long I wanted to nurse, and figured I'd keep going after that if it was still working for both of us. As soon as we hit the one-year mark I was filled with pride and a feeling of accomplishment. With E.J., the milestone didn't even occur to me—it all went so smoothly, I never really bothered to set a goal. When I realized how long it had been, of course I felt proud, but the thought of when to stop was never on my mind.

I suppose the only other struggle I really had with nursing E.J. was worrying about his weight. When he was a baby, he just wasn't gaining weight and there was early talk of "failure to thrive." I was instructed to nurse very regularly and also supplement with formula. Frankly, that was a blow to my confidence—was I not giving him what he needed? Why was I insufficient this time? But, E.J. refused the formula so he and I just kept on keeping on, and now we're out of those woods. He's still an itty bitty thing, but if you spend a half an hour with his crazy, active self, there is no question that he is thriving.

I nursed Ellie for 21 months. When she and I stopped, I was pregnant with E.J. and it had become very uncomfortable for me. I also wanted to have a few months "off" before nursing my new baby. So, the time felt right.

In a way, I am lucky that I had a similar experience with E.J., minus the pregnancy part. My stance on when to stop breastfeeding was always "we'll keep going as long as it is working for both of us." However, for the past few months I seemed to have developed a sort of nursing aversion. It didn't hurt, but it wasn't the relaxing experience it always was for me. It was just sort of irritating (physically). Frankly, it just wasn't working for me anymore. I'm not sure what caused that shift, and part of me wishes it wouldn't have happened so I could have enjoyed my last few months of nursing E.J., while the other part of me is grateful that my discomfort made it easier for me to decide to stop. It started when I was already very near the two-year mark, so I pushed through to E.J.'s second birthday, and then we started working on dropping one of the two nursing sessions earlier this month.

Then, on my birthday, I nursed him for the last time before bed. I told him it would be our last time for milk, because he is a big boy now. I told him how much I loved him and how much I loved being able to give him milk for so long. We rocked and nursed and I stared down at him, this big boy now with limbs hanging over the arms of the chair, where once all pieces of him used to fit into a snug little ball against my belly. When we finished nursing, I sang to him and he threw his arm around my neck, pulling my cheek down against his, and squeezed me tight as I sang. What a precious ending to a beautiful thing. My dear boy.

Unfortunately, our transition out of the nursing routine so far has not been as peaceful and sweet as it was with Ellie. Of course, E.J. is also charging headfirst into the "terrible twos," and he basically doesn't want anything right now. So, he doesn't really want to rock, cuddle and sing with me in place of the nursing, but he also doesn't not want to do those things, so we've been off to a bit of a rocky non-nursing start. We'll figure out our new normal soon, though, I'm sure.

So that's it for me. My decision to stop nursing E.J. was especially hard because I know there is a very good chance that he is my last baby. It seems so surreal that this "baby" stage of my life could be over already. It just went so fast. Didn't it? It felt so slow in the moment but now it feels like it was just so fast. I got pregnant with Ellie in early July of 2011, and she was born in March 2012. I nursed her until January 2014, when she was 21 months old and I was four months pregnant with E.J. He was born in July 2014, and I nursed him until late July 2016. So, I have been pregnant/and or nursing for over five straight years without a break. For five straight years, my body has nourished at least one other person at all times. For five straight years, my body has belonged to my babies. That sounds like such a long time but somehow I blinked, and it passed me by. While it does feel freeing to have my body back to myself again, can I really be done with it that nursing baby phase so soon?

As soon as E.J. was born, we picked up breastfeeding like we'd been doing it together forever. It gave me a sense of purpose as I sat helpless by his hospital bedside day and night for two weeks as he was treated for meningitis. It gave me some extra peaceful moments with him in the middle of the night, when our usually crazy house was quiet and still. It gave me a few minutes of one-on-one time with him before we got Ellie up in the mornings. I nursed him on airplanes, in parks, at national monuments, and as I walked around Disney World. I loved being able to share that bond with my son and I will always think back on my nursing years with love and fondness.

I am so lucky to have been able to nurse both my babies for as long as I did. I know it doesn't come easy to a lot of women and I am so grateful that we had such an easy go of it. I will forever cherish my memories of nursing both my babies. They are so precious to me.

Nursing E.J., February 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Our Fourth of July 2016/E.J.'s 2nd Birthday

Before I start my recap of E.J.'s actual birthday, I should mention that today is my birthday! I am 34 years old today, and let me tell you what: this new year is shaping up to be a great one, full of promise and new adventures. I'll share more with you very soon, but for now, suffice it to say that I am feeling like one lucky girl!

Now that I've told you all about E.J.'s birthday party, I want to tell you about our Fourth of July/his actual birthday! We really debated what to do for the Fourth this year. We were down in St. Petersburg for E.J.'s party on the 2nd, and we planned to drive back up to Jacksonville on the 3rd so we could be at home for his birthday and watch the fireworks down by the river again this year. But, after the party was over, we felt 1) lazy to drive right back to Jacksonville and 2) that since my cousin Molly and her kiddos were still in town (and had just been joined by her husband, too!) that it might be really fun to stick around, head down to Venice overnight and spend the Fourth with cousins at the beach. So, that's what we decided to do!

We kicked off the Fourth in traditional birthday fashion: we ambushed E.J. with a balloon drop in his crib as soon as he woke up! He thought it was the coolest thing.

A fun way to wake up on your birthday!

We let him play with his balloons for a while, then got up and got ready to head to Venice, where my Aunt Debbie lives. We arrived there mid-morning, and were welcomed by a homemade Happy Birthday banner for E.J.!

A banner in honor of the birthday boy!

It didn't take long before we all got our swimsuits on and set off for the beach. We had such a nice time playing with our cousins! Ellie absolutely loved the water. She won't swim at our beach because our waves are so big (we're on the Atlantic Ocean, Venice is on the Gulf of Mexico), but at this beach, once she got past the waves breaking on the shore, the water was calm (and warm like bathwater) and she basically swam the whole time. E.J. went in and out of the water, also enjoying some playtime in the sand. It was such a nice morning!

Fourth of July at the beach!

With my birthday boy

Ellie swimming with Aunt Molly, Santiago, Uncle Arturo and baby Milena

Fun in the waves for the boys

Our little fish!

Father/son swim time

Big and little cousins!

Beach day selfie!

After the beach we went back to Aunt Debbie's house for some lunch, and E.J. took a nap.

The big kids entertained themselves while the little ones slept!

When E.J. woke up, we went to check into our hotel. The kids and I had spent a couple of days in Venice earlier in the week (more on that to come), and had a good experience with staying in a hotel to maximize our cousin time, so we did the same for this visit. We were able to rent a suite with a little kitchen for a reasonable rate, so we decided to stay in the hotel for dinner and have E.J.'s birthday dinner there as a family. We planned to cook two of his favorite things to eat: peas and macaroni, and corn on the cob. Unfortunately, there were only two burners (we needed three) and only one of them worked, so we had to scrap the corn and get creative for the peas and macaroni. But, we made it work, and had a nice little dinner!

E.J.'s birthday dinner at our hotel

After dinner we sang "Happy Birthday" to E.J. and had cupcakes (leftover from the party).

He totally hated it.

What an unhappy child.

Then, we went back over to Aunt Debbie's house, where E.J. got another little celebration! Debbie and Molly made (delicious) brownies, and we supplied a sparkler "2" candle to add to the festivity.

E.J.'s birthday brownies!

Those kids are wowed.

The birthday boy and his fancy candle!


VIDEO: Singing to E.J. on his birthday!

After we enjoyed some brownies and ice cream, we walked out to the beach to watch the fireworks. We had just enough time for a couple of quick sparklers before the show began, and it was really nice! We had a great view, but it wasn't too loud. Of course, E.J. spent the entire time jamming his glow stick flag into the sand and then "using the force" to get it out, and running around waving it like a lightsaber. Ellie spent the whole time burying her glow stick in the sand. So they were totally impressed with the fireworks display.

A blurry photo of the 10 seconds E.J. actually sat with me to watch the fireworks

Fireworks for his birthday! What a lucky kid.

Happy Fourth!

When the show was over, we walked back to Debbie's house and then went back to our hotel for the night. What a great day!

The following day, we enjoyed some more beach fun with our cousins and Aunt Debbie!

Ellie and Aunt Debbie playing in the sand

Swimming with E.J.

Kids at the beach, man. How do they get sand EVERYWHERE???

We had such a nice time!

Then, after lunch, we bid farewell to our family and made the drive back to St. Petersburg, where we would pack up our things and head back to Jacksonville the following day. It was a great holiday, a great birthday for E.J., and a great visit!