What to Do with Toddlers in Texas

Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I’m not exactly a “stay-at-home” stay at home mom. I don’t work in the traditonal since and yes, I’m “at home” with my boys, but…we are NEVER at home! Life is too short! We’re adventure seekers and we treat everyday like a new opportunity to see and do. I’ve visited every major city (and many small towns) in Texas with my boys so I can tell you the best things to do and places to go with little ones. 

I’ve done nearly all of these with my twin boys, who are almost eighteen months. We started really enjoying these things around nine to ten months, and even more so after they turned a year old. Many of these tings are perfect for toddlers all the way up to early school aged. My best advice is to look up the place you want to go to, make note of prices & hours, and then decide if you’ll need a stroller or carrier. Then, will you need a lunch, water, or just cash. Pack a few diapers and hit the road. Pura Vida! Enjoy.

My favorites in Austin include:

  • Barton Springs
  • Zilker Zelphyr & Zilker playground
  • Austin Natyre & Science Center
  • Lions, Tigers & Toys train table
  • The Dino Park (Bastrop)
  • Liz Carpenter Fountain at Butler Park
  • Botanical Gardens at zilker
  • Westbank Public Library
  • Graffiti Wall on Baylor
  • Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad
  • Twin Falls or Sculpture Falls
  • Thinkery
  • Toybrary
  • Mount Bonnell (hike)
  • Belterra (splash pad, trails, parks, and ducks to feed)
  • HCG splash pad
  • Catch Air (only ok, a little overwhelming)
  • Locomotion (ghetto, but worth a stop)
  • Founders Park (Dripping Springs)
  • Enchanted Rock (hike)
  • Pease Park
  • Circle C playground, trails and creek
  • Treaty Oak Brewery
  • Little Land Play Therapy
  • Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Austin Zoo

New Braunfels/San Marcos

  • McKenna Childrens Museum
  • Schlitterbahn
  • Wonder World
  • Float the Guadalupe
  • Wildlife Ranch

San Antonio

  • Doseum
  • Sea World & Aquatica
  • Rainforest Cafe

Marble Falls

  • Horseshoe Bay
  • Sweet Berry Farms
  • Park & ducks by Mamas Kitchen


  • Great Wolf Lodge
  • Grapevine Vintage Railroad
  • Nash Farm
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Sea Life Aquarium
  • LegoLand Discovery Center
  • Vetro Glass Blowing on Main St.

Dallas/Ft. Worth

  • Dallas World Aquarium
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Ft. Worth Zoo
  • Childrens gardens at Arboretum
  • Watermark Church indoor playground
  • Ft Worth Childrens Museum
  • Berger’s Lake Ft. Worth
  • Perot Museum
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Ft Worth Water Gardens
  • Botanical Gardens Ft Worth

Chappell Hill/Brenham

  • Blue Bell Ice Cream factory
  • Fireman’s Park
  • Public Library (toys and play space)
  • Oil Ranch
  • Antique carousel at Firemans park


  • Cameron Park zoo & splaspads
  • Magnolia Market
  • Mayborn Childrens Museum


  • Discovery Green
  • Houston Zoo
  • Houston Childrens Museum
  • Kemah Boardwalk at Galveston,
  • Dewberry Farm
  • Houston Aquarium
  • Houston Nature & Science Center
  • Splashway Family Waterpark

Lets be real, here! What are you really doing everyday?

Laundry: Laundry takes about 5-15 minutes total. Less than a minute to drop it into washer or dryer and about 5-10 minutes to fold. Add a few more minutes to put away.

Dishes: I don’t have a good dishwasher so I hand wash ALL of my dishes. THREE times a day. I can get a sink full of dishes, including pots and pans done in about 8 minutes. So, let’s say I spend about 20 minutes a day doing dishes.

Cleaning: I can clean my entire house in about 20-30 minutes including sweeping and vaccuuming which I don’t do everyday. Your house is probably bigger and if so…put cleaning off and go have fun! It can wait.

All of the above adds up to about an hour. Add in 15-20 minutes for meltdowns and blow outs. Add about 15-20 minutes for getting you and your crew dressed, bags packed, and loaded in the carseats.

If you’re awake 12-15 hours a day, where does the rest of your time go? Get up, get out there, and do something! There are so many beautiful, wondrous places to explore to provide rich learning experiences for your children. Take time to meander, play, and enjoy every moment with your sweet kiddos.

Stay gold, 

That Girl


I Already Miss This

When you’re a mom, everyone tells you to “enjoy every moment” and how “it goes by so fast”. I’ve only ever wanted to be a mom so I have breathed in every moment and treasured each day, but this doesn’t stop time from racing by at warp speed. When I was pregnant I told myself I’d document everything, fill photo books, and date each milestone, but then they arrive and you find yourself spinning in circles trying to catch your breath and suddenly they’re almost through their first year of life and you know there are already things you’ve forgotten they did that were so wonderful and hundreds of moments you already miss. 

I already miss…and never want to forget…

chelsea vail with vail twins

  • The way Cannon would wake up the entire neighborhood with his pterodactyl sounds after he first found his voice
  • How Cash would hold his eyes open as if falling asleep meant life or death
  • Taking a bath with him because they were tiny enough we all three fit in the tub together
  • Sneaking into bed next to their tiny Snugglenests and smelling their sweet breath, hearing their grunts and groans as they slept
  • I miss the tearless cries and toothless mouths
  • Nursing them in the tub
  • Cash used to get the hiccups ’round the clock & I loved the way he’d cling to me like a baby monkey with each jolt
  • The way they’d grunt like zombies and Cannon would smack his tummy or beat his chest demanding more food
  • The look on Cash’s face when he rolled over for the first time which scared the hell out of him
  • The way bashful Cannon used to put his cheek to his shoulder and look up at strangers as if he knew what a Gerber baby he was
  • Wearing them in my ACK wrap knowing they’d fall asleep in a matter of minutes with their head on my chest


  • Nursing them and watching them search desperately for each other’s hands and seeing the relief when they found each other
  • Taking hour long naps with one (or sometimes both) snuggled in to my side or asleep on the breast
  • The way Cash would pet my face or stroke my hair as he fought sleep
  • Bundling them up in their Woombie swaddles and seeing them inch towards each other to spoon all night
  • Cannon talking to himself in his carseat mirror like he’d found his best friend
  • Cash kicking his legs wildly in the tub


  • Their sweet chubby faces peeking out from under their Walrus or Hippo hooded towels
  • The excitement when they heard Rafi’s “Day-O” song the first time
  • Cash’s huge smile and sly giggle when I’m cleaning countertops
  • The way Cannon’s jowls rest on his carseat straps
  • Cash losing his voice from making zombie noises all night
  • The snuggles in the morning…heads on my shoulder
  • Sleeping next to Cannon from 4am-6am and kissing his juicy lips when he wakes up
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  • Cash log rolling from end to end on the bed attempting to dive off before we catch him
  • Wrestling them both after bath wondering when it was they stopped laying there letting me massage them
  • Biting their “biscuits” during diaper changes and hearing them laugh hysterically
  • Chasing them room to room and scaring them so bad they levitate and crack up laughing
  • Cash’s face on the swings

This list will only continue to grow and grow and grow as their personalities develop and as we experience more of this beautiful life together. I could choose to be sad as I think of days gone by, or I could focus on how wonderful it is that there’s even more of this to come. Their hands will not always be so small and chubby, but I’ll always have them to hold. Their feet will one day stomp instead of pitter patter, but the sound of them in my home will always be music to my ears. Their mouths will one day kiss a woman they’ve fallen in love with instead of me, but…their hearts will have always been mine first. Twice blessed, forget the rest.

Stay gold, That Girl


Keep Up the Mommy Wars

Please put down your pitch forks and hold those tomatoes for dinner rather than throwing them at me. Hear me out. I used to be on the bandwagon of “stop the mommy wars” too, simply because that was the only side ever argued publicly and I hadn’t really though it through. But, when I think about it I start to think the so called “mommy wars” might be exactly what our society needs. 

So, dare I say it, keep up the mommy wars!


Women naturally compete with one another; it’s written in our DNA and there’s no way around it. When we dress up to go out for an evening, we rarely are dressing up for the men, we’re dressing for the women. We exercise and eat right for health, yes, but many of us also desire looking great in our swimsuits and cocktail dresses around our girlfriends. If I want shinier hair I’ll ask my friend with the shiniest hair what she uses. I save the recipes my health nut friend posts on facebook because I’d love to be as healthy and toned as she is. I watch the way my best friend meets new people and admire how she instantly puts them at ease. I try to be more like that.

The point I’m getting at is that a little competition is good so long as we’re not putting one another down.

So, why try to stop competition among mothers? Sure, there are women who make certain choices solely based on how great they will come off to other mothers, but there are also women who are just kick ass moms! A trained eye can tell the difference. If we keep chanting, “stop the mommy wars”, it might make those really amazing moms insecure about doing their best for fear they’ll be ridiculed as a sancti-mommy or some other ridiculous term.


There are moms who get up every morning and make breakfast for their children before school. They pack their lunches, write notes to put in their backpacks, and make whimsical snacks they either made up, or pulled off Pinterest, each afternoon. They have a homemade dinner on the table every night. Is this mom competing in some hypothetical mommy war or is she doing what she feels is best for her family? Some women gossip behind her back and accuse her of showing off, but maybe they just need to step it up! Maybe you’re a working mom and don’t have time to make meals, but can you leave notes? Can you decorate the lunchable with stickers? Be the best you for your child.

There’s the mom who throws the birthday parties with a spread fit for a king, handmade decorations, custom dress or outfit for the birthday boy/girl, and invitations that rival those for a royal wedding. Maybe she is a mommy war competitor, but maybe she just goes all out for birthdays because growing up she never had a party. Maybe she knows how special a birthday celebration can make a child feel and she’s willing to put in the man hours to make it great. Instead of mocking her, join her. Throwing a wonderful party for a child is not something that should be shamed.


Some moms decide to birth naturally because they know it’s what’s best for babies, not because they look down on those who had a c-section. Don’t assume they’re trying to prove anything by making that choice. Some moms cloth diaper because they’ve done the research and know the benefits for their child’s health, the environment, and their finances, not because they’re trying to “win” the mommy war. These moms may also cook organic baby food and breastfeed exclusively for a year. If this makes another mom feel inadequate, step it up! Again, do what you can do to make the best decisions for your child.

Shaming each other for our choices as mothers? Bad. Acknowledging each other’s choices and being aware of our own inadequacies? Good.

We could use a lil’ healthy competition in the world of motherhood so keep it up. Share your recipes, pin those DIY projects, tell us about your triumphant parenting skills. Some moms are just better than others, either get over it, or do something about it. We should acknowledge these moms, watch them, try to learn from them, and keep raising the bar higher for motherhood. We should keep trying to be more patient, more creative, more balanced, more kind, a better cook, a better teacher, more prepared…keep up the mommy wars (with kindness)!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Baby Stuff I Despise

I’m a pretty chill person for the most part- mellow, go with the flow, pick my battles. I eat clean as often as I can, but I have never said “no” to pizza or Taco Bell. I prefer organic products on my skin, but if I’m traveling I’ll use whatever lotion or body soap is available. And, I try to keep environmental toxins to a minimum, but I’ve been known to use diffusers in my home that are everything BUT organic.

This being said, there are things made for babies that I REFUSE to budge on and will NEVER, under any circumstances, use with my own children.

Non-organic ‘Sposies

Disposable diapers are bad for our wallets and Mother Earth, but they are downright POISONOUS to babies. Sodium polyacrylate, dioxins (found in agent orange), chlorine, dyes, phthalates, bisphenyl A (BPA), toluene, dipentene, styrene, etc etc etc. These toxins have been scientifically proven to cause endocrine disruptions, hormonal imbalances, exacerabate asthma and allergies, cause respiratory infections, and suggested as culprits for the rise in childhood cancers and infertility. I cannot, in good faith, pull a plastic, chemical laden diaper, out of a plastic bag, and place it against my baby’s skin (his largest organ). Knowing these things are leaking into his bloddstream for the first few years of life gives me the heeby jeebies. I’m packing newborn cloth diapers for the hospital and organic ‘sposies just in case my boys have to spend some time in the NICU. This is a non-negotiable.

Plastic Bottles

I cringe when I’m doing a family consult, or caring for a newborn, and have to insert a plastic bottle into their mouth. I don’t judge the family, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty the ENTIRE time I was feeding the baby. The bottle will have been heated in either a warmer, or a mug of hot water, which releases the bisphenyl A into the formula or milk. Blech! BPAs can have negative effects on the bran and human behavior, increase the risk of cancer in later life, cause heart problems, and many experts are looking into the correlation between BPAs and obesity, ADHD, diabetes, and early onset puberty. Even BPA free plastics are being made with BPAs cousin, a chemical that has not yet been proven safe using longitudinal studies. Eek! For me, it’s glass all the way!


“Mainstream” Toys

This is one of my no-nos that my mother has a hard time with. Whenever we’re in a store like Target or Buy Buy Baby and she’s ooing and ahhing over some of the toys, I just shake my head and tell her, “You know my babies won’t be playing with those, right?” I can hear my readers (especially my friends) now going, “Chelsea, c’mon! Toys are too toxic?!” Yes and no. I imagine I’ll budge when it comes to toys from time to time and let a few non-organics into the home. Toys that have been used, washed, played with before tend to be aired out and the toxins from the plastics, dyes, paints, and fabrics are less; however, I’m really not into toys with batteries or requiring electricity. You won’t see an activity gym that lights up, spins, or sings songs in my nursery. You won’t see that “left foot, right foot” bear in my toy box, and I guarantee my playroom won’t smell like a Sears or toy store because that “new toy smell” is toxic. Not only do I want nontoxic toys, but I want classic toys that are open ended and encourage creativity, imagination, and free play. I don’t want my child’s play to be limited and their imagination to only be able to go as far as the manufacturer of the toy allows.

Whatever happened to lincoln logs, cardboard bricks, wooden toys, dolls, dress up boxes full of vintage clothes, pretend food (that isn’t scented), puzzles, art, clay, and musical instruments?!

Here’s a sneak peak at the registry I’ve put together for my boys. Hopefully, by viewing this you’ll see that there’s alot of really cool, modern, and CLEAN options out there for babies!

Vail Twins Registry

I could also add to this list how much I hate boy’s clothing with duckies, trains, polar bears in party hats, or dinosaurs. Oooh, or how ’bout cliche phrases like “mommy loves me” or “daddy’s MVP”?! Finger in my throat gag! Am I being a bitch or can I play the pregnancy hormone card?

Let me know your thoughts. I LOVE to hear from you!

That Girl

My Rustic Glam Nursery

I used to work for this lady who wanted me to help her design her nursery. I was SO excited! Her baby girl was so precious and their budget was way above average. But, once we got started, I realized she already knew what “theme” she was going with and it was NOT an easy theme to be inspired by. Her colors were brown, sage green, and butter yellow and the theme was Winnie the Pooh circa 1926.

Now, I’m a HUGE A.A. Milne fan and I could design a kickass “Pooh” nursery with modern elements, but the color scheme she’d chosen had me turning up my nose and going, “blech!”

So, I started thinking about my own nursery. Even back then I knew I wouldn’t be going with:

  • pastels
  • cartoon characters
  • Disney
  • multiple primary colors

Those things just aren’t my style. Now that I’m expecting twin boys, I know exactlly what I’m going to do! My nursery for the boys will be serene, modern, rustic, and a bit glam. The decor will reflect my hopes for them…curiosity, sense of adventure, love, and imagination.

Twins-Nursery-InspirationFirst: The walls will be painted a VOC free (nontoxic) version of Grey Owl by Benjamin Moore. Not only is this color gender neutral, but it’s calming without being cold. This is the kind of neutral everything goes with!

I’m a huge fan of pecan plank flooring. It’s definitely not the most high end ($.79 sq ft), but it’s rustic, tough looking, but soft to the touch. My husband owns a construction company and will have his guys use the extra spongy underlament, which makes the floor feel almost as soft as a floor at a day care of children’s gym! Carpet is HIGHLY toxic and holds allergens, mold, and other nasty stuff in it so that’s a no-go for my nursery.

Originally I had wanted the Stokke Sleepi circular cribs in white, but this Scoot crib by Babyletto will save us about $1000 so…I decided the harsh rectangles could be dealt with since it has modern lines and footing. Plus, I kinda love the two tone.


I’m using the white Hemnes dresser from Ikea, but adding modern, gold drawer pulls! I’d love to paint it or distress it, but I’m not that talented unfortunately. I’ll put my slate grey, or vanilla white, Keekaroo Peanut changer atop this with my moroccan mirror on the wall above and I’ll store all diapering supplies in the top two drawers (I hate clutter!)

I’m tossing back and forth between a silvery grey shag rug that I have (it’s HUGE) or two white lambskin rugs at the foot of their cribs. With twins it’s always wise to have alot of places to lay them down or set them, lol. I opted for a chair and a half (seen below) so I can rock both easier and also be able to fit the monstrous twin nursing pillow.

I’m hoping my sweet husband will help me make pallet bookshelves for the wall and hang drapes that block out light so I can raise healthy sleepers. Toyshelves will come later, but I’ll stick to grey, white, or natural fiber baskets for storing toys.

Last, but not least, the light! I heart this chandelier from Ikea and it’s only $99! Its glamorous, but not feminine, and modern, but not uber trendy.

Twin pregnancy is pretty tough physically and mentally, but as I enter the third tri I’m doing some serious nesting and I’m definitely ready to get the ball rolling on this nursery. I want it to be fresh, clean, stocked, and totally prepped when these babies make their debut! Follow along as I’ll be posting blogs and photos of the progress!

Stay gold!

“Cason’s Nursery” Photo credit: Jennifer McNeal projectnursery.com

Why I Do What I Do

People are often curious about why I do “so many things”. They wonder, “What’s the connection?” or “Why do you own a baby biz if you’re a counselor?” and my favorite, “What exactly do you do?”

The truth is, all the roles I fill are related. 


When I was a sophomore in college I remember meeting with my guidance counselor and telling her I wanted to work with kids in the hospital as a counselor, but also take care of babies and maybe own my own center one day where I can support parents. Her response? “Whoa, slow down, you can’t do it all.”

“Ummm….yes I can. My mom said so!”

So, I do it all. When I started as a “counselor in hospitals”, I was actually considered a Child Life Specialist. I provided distraction during medical procedures, medical & trauma play, emotional support, diagnosis education, and developmental support for children in the hospital. I have worked in the ER, PICU, day surgery, and NICU, but spent most of my time on the oncology unit (pediatric cancer). While on this unit I learned alot about the correlation between the products we use at home, the clothing and toys kids use, and the things in our environment with childhood cancer. They’re inextricably linked! In fact, childhood cancer has risen more than 25% in the last decade. What do you think is responsible? Watching those kids suffer made me interested in learning more about environmental toxins, but also I started being more cautious about what I used myself, and what I would allow my children to be exposed to in the future.


My time working in hospitals include ALOT of time educating and supporting parents, including discipline support. From there I started offering parenting classes and workshops around the city. I noticed many of the families I worked wih were coming to me with children who already had a history of behavioral issues and poor habits and I wanted to help parents avoid these issues by getting to them earlier. In fact, my interest in infant development, postnatal care, and prenatal care grew stronger because I felt if I could help parents develop their skills that early, then perhaps there wouldn’t be as many concerns later on. I wanted parents to learn how to provide the best care for their children from the very, very beginning.


Then, as parents began asking me for recommendations for products that were healthy for their children (i.e. didn’t have the chemicals that would later lead to nuerological and behavioral issues) I realized I was sending parents to 10-12 different websites for nontoxic, innovative products so I thought, “Why not have all these products in one place?” ShopWholeHeart.com was born!


Even though I was working with expectant moms, newborns, and parents of older children, I couldn’t ignore the fact that there were still children out there whose needs went beyond that of love & logic, setting limits, or positive discipline. There were still children who needed a therapeutic relationship and loving guidance for processing challenging life experiences. That’s why I continue to see clients as a Counselor and Play Therapist.

So, you see? All of my various roles are connected. There actually is a method to my madness!

The Connection:

Healthy prenatal care and support leads to a healthy baby. A loving fourth trimester (0-3m) combined with healthy sleep habits leads to rested, loving, happy, attentive parents. This leads to happy toddlerhoood where limits are set with love as a result of a strong parent-child relationship. This leads to a well adjusted child throughout childhood, which means, less children in need of long-term counseling. Uh oh, am I working myself out of a job? LOL

ThatGirl, ShopWholeHeart