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!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Red, White and TWO: E.J.'s Patriotic 2nd Birthday Party

In my last post, I talked about what a great time we had at E.J.'s second birthday party. This time, I want to talk about the details!

I stumbled upon this theme idea before E.J. was even born, and thought it was adorable. My due date for him was July 1, so I knew that he was likely going to be born around the 4th of July, if not on it exactly. Well, he was born on the 4th exactly. So, naturally, we've had a "Red, White and TWO" party in the works since 2014!

We had a lot of fun planning this one, and frankly, it was one of the easiest ones to plan for me. Obviously, the stores were stocked with patriotic goodies starting in May for Memorial Day, so I had no trouble tracking down decor. In fact, the hardest part was choosing exactly what I wanted to have/do and which things I could skip!

Let's talk party details!

The Invitation

I searched and searched on Etsy for the perfect invitation and found a few that I really liked, but ultimately I decided to put one together myself using some of my Etsy favorites as inspiration. This was my final product:

E.J.'s birthday party invitation!

All of it was for found free online, including the chalkboard background, fonts and fireworks graphics. I designed it in PowerPoint and had it printed through I was nervous about the colors showing up on the black chalkboard background, but they printed really well!


I always have fun with this part! And I loved, loved, LOVED how this party looked when all was said and done:

So festive!

Birthday banner:

I love to have a banner at the entrance to the party! For this one, I printed the letters on solid colored cardstock, and printed some flag-patterned paper from this free download to mount the letters on.

Red, white and two!

Dining tables and centerpieces:

Each dining table was covered in a red, white or blue tablecloth. I made star table runners out of felt using this tutorial, and we finished it off with festive flowers and small American flags in little milk jars (found on sale at Michael's). I thought it turned out really cute!

Table decor

Our grocery store was stocked with fresh patriotic flowers for the Fourth!

Other hanging decor:

I bought a bunch of banners and stuff to hang up for the party (thanks, Target Dollar Spot!) but ultimately we skipped most of that in favor of keeping it fairly simple.

I made a red, white and blue paper chain that we were able to hang in thirds across the pavilion:

The decorated pavilion

Paper chains on the ceiling

At the far end of the pavilion (by the dessert table) we also hung a few red, white and blue paper lanterns that I grabbed on clearance at Target last year after the 4th of July. At the opposite end, we hung a flag.

Red, white and blue as far as the eye can see!

I thought the result was striking!

The "2" Sign:

I also made a sign with pictures of E.J. from the last year in the shape of a number two, and included fun facts about E.J. at two years old.

These signs have become tradition!


I had a lot of fun with the food this time, too!

The main food table

For lunch:

For the regular meal, we served hot dogs and hamburgers (it just feels right for an American-themed party, doesn't it?), and chips and dip...

All served on festive dinnerware, of course! Dollar Tree had great paper plates and napkins, plus fairly sturdy star-shaped platters., "Yankee Noodle Pasta Salad" (I followed this recipe/tutorial)...

My red noodles were a little on the pink side, but the salad was tasty and you get the idea!

...and a flag-inspired fruit platter (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and yogurt-covered pretzels).

Star-spangled strawberries, and other fruit.

We had bottled water, sweet tea and lemonade to drink.

For dessert:

I went a little overboard with the sweets, but that's where I had my fun. I also cut one that I had planned: s'mores! I wanted to have little bags of s'mores fixin's for everyone, but that one didn't come to fruition. We made do with four other dessert options, however!

The dessert table

I'll start with my favorite: the Majestic Bird Bites, a/k/a eagle cookies! I was so excited when I found this recipe on Pinterest because these things look amazing. Unfortunately, I personally don't really like any of the ingredients in them, but my guests who ate them said they were delicious! In short, they are white-chocolate-covered marshmallows rolled in shredded coconut, placed atop chocolate cookies, with cashew noses and decorator gel eyes. (You can read the full tutorial here.) I was so excited that they turned out as well as they did! Even E.J. recognized them as eagles as soon as he saw them, so I knew they were a winner.

Majestic Bird Bites

Look at this guy! He looks good enough to eat.

I also had "Firecracker Cookies," which were just sugar cookies with Pop Rocks mixed in, and sprinkled on top of the icing! I followed this tutorial, though I just used box cookie mix instead of making them from scratch. They were tasty and fun!

Cookies topped with Pop Rocks!

My easiest dessert was the apple pies. It just felt like we needed to have apple pie at an American-themed party, so we picked up little individual pies from Walmart for 50 cents each. I dressed them up by putting them on a patriotic cupcake stand (from Oriental Trading) and sticking little pinwheel pics in them. They were cute and tasty!

Apple Pie stand

I found the pinwheel picks at Party City. I thought they were so cute!

And, last but not least, we had birthday cupcakes. I made them myself: red velvet, blue funfetti, and vanilla. I frosted them accordingly and set them out like a flag. Our dimensions were a little off, but I loved how it looked!

Patriotic cupcakes



We had one primary "activity" table that included our guest book, photo props, and favors for the kids (I'll talk more about the favors shortly).

Lots to do at this table!


We always have our guests sign an on-theme book for the kids. This time, we selected Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America's Presidents. It's a really cute book—too old for E.J. right now, but we look forward to reading it with him in the future! Alongside the guestbook we posted an instructional sign asking for our guests' "John Hancock," and a picture of E.J. riding the bald eagle on the carousel at our local zoo while waving two American flags. Because obviously.

The guestbook

Guestbook sign (the font is Washington Text, free on

The most All-American little two-year-old you've ever seen.

Photo props:

Photo props have become a party staple for us. We love to use them to make sure we get fun pictures of all our guests at the party! This time, we had five options: the Statue of Liberty (printable crown found here paired with a torch made using this tutorial); George Washington (a wig from; Abraham Lincoln (hat and beard from; Uncle Sam (hat found at Michael's, and a DIY beard-on-a-stick); and Rosie the Riveter (headband found on Amazon here and a DIY "We Can Do It!" sign on a stick).

Photo props, ready to go

Additionally, Eric created informational signs about each of the featured costumes (for the record, all signs were made using the previously-linked free digital papers, plus free graphics found online):

We also included an instructional sign, and a photo of our family modeling the prop options:

Photo props sign

A family in photo props

The Game:

We planned a mini-Olympics-type game that included various events such as egg-on-a-spoon, water balloon toss, and a homerun derby using a child's t-ball set. But, we had bad weather during planned game time, so we scrapped all that and just did a little USA trivia. Eric found a selection of questions online, and we played as we finished eating, so teams were naturally divided up based on where everyone was sitting. At the end of the game, the teams were awarded candy medals (Twix for gold, York Peppermint Patties for silver, and Hershey's bars for bronze) in an Olympic-style medal ceremony, complete with the playing of the national anthem.

The medal ceremony

Gold and silver medals

Favors, Comfort Items & Thank-Yous

Comfort basket:

I always sincerely hope our guests know how much we appreciate them coming, and given the stifling July heat at this shindig, I wanted to do my best to make everyone feel comfortable. Because let me tell you, it is no joke to hang out outside on a muggy Florida summer day. So, at the back of the pavilion, I had a red, white and blue picnic basket (another clearance find from last 4th of July) filled with patriotic paper fans (from Oriental Trading), battery-operated misting fans, bug spray and sunblock.

Trying to anticipate all the elements!

Basket signage

I bought the stuff for our guests, but it was HOT! I had to dig into that basket myself!


We put together some festive favors for the kids. Each child got a little patriot bucket (Target Dollar Spot) filled with: star-shaped sunglasses (Party City), a small flag, bubbles (Target), a glow stick (Target) and a red, white and blue lollipop (Dollar General). My hope was that, since the party was July 2nd, our guests might be able to make use of the favors on the 4th of July! I also made little star-shaped labels to put on the buckets, thanking our friends for coming.

Favors for the little firecrackers

Favor sign

The favor buckets

Favor tags - I do always love a good pun!

Thank-You Notes:

Last but not least, when all is said and done, we send thank-you notes to thank our guests for coming. I designed these myself, again using freebies from the internet, and we sent them out along with photo prints of each guest from the party.

Patriotic thank-you notes

And that was our Red, White and TWO 2nd birthday bash! We had so much fun!

If you have any questions about any of the above details, please feel free to contact me.

Happy birthday, sweet E.J.!