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

Grapevine

  • 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

Waco

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

Houston

  • 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 Dream of an Empty School

Let’s face it, the rest of the world is kicking America’s ass! We may still be known as the most powerful country in the world, but we don’t rank number one for anything…nothing. Our healthcare, economy, crime rates, prison systems, standard of living, are all tanking at alarming rates and the education system is lacking significantly. New studies indicate top ranking countries ahead of US at two to three times the learning rates. Ick!

We keep throwing money at the problem, but we’re not fixing anything. I dream of empty schools.

curtesy of WHCSNews

I dream of walking into an American school and hearing crickets chirping. It’s completely empty and practically collecting dust.

A few of the math classes are stuffed into the kitchen measuring, sifting, pouring, sorting. They’re outside collecting data on the seeds they planted in the school garden and graphing.

The science classes are at the Nature Scenter collecting rocks, soil, bugs, water samples, and observing birds. Or perhaps they’re visiting with wind engineers off-campus or creating solar panels for the school’s energy source.

Habibis Hutch Preschool, Austin Texas

There’s a mass of kids outside painting murals on the fences and exploring with different building materials, trying to engineer new playground equipment. A few kids are scuplting with clay and water and the others are checking on their ceramic projects in the kiln.

Some of the students are spread out across the soccer fields, baseball fields, and football fields. There’s a group of girls attempting to build a human pyramid and a few kids from a younger grade are jumping rope and trying to walk while hula hooping.

I spot a group of kids in the auditorium listening to a children’s book author about his writing process and they’re taking notes before breaking into groups and publishing e-books on Amazon. There’s a class off-campus at a publishing house shadowing everyone from the receptionist, to printers, to editors.

The classrooms are empty. In fact the entire campus will be empty around noon because the kids will run home or to a friend’s house for lunch. The older kids will return to the campus for a few more hours of learning, but the younger kids are done for the day. They don’t have any homework so they’ll spend their afternoon climbing trees, skipping rocks, or building forts in the backyard.

Sound to good to be true? This is the very similar to the Finish education system and several home school co-ops around the world. Project based learning, communit involvement, mixed grades, no homework, and no standardized testing!

A Finnish classroom

The teachers have master’s level educations in many parts of the world and they’re paid well and highly respected for their profession of choice. The graduation rates are higher, college admittance is higher, and the students are quite literally taking over the globe with innovation and entrepreneurism.

My children will NOT go to an American public school…no way, no how! Until things change, I plan on a cultural learning experience traveling the globe, learning new languages, and utilizing online learning tools once my children outsmart me or need more individualized instruction. Need money to do this? Not really. Living abroad is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than you think. In fact, we can live like millionaires traveling the globe, while struggling to make ends meet here in the US. A global education is not a pipe dream if you want it to be your reality.

Mind expansion does not occur sitting in a cold, sterile classroom quietly doing exactly what everyone around you is doing. No learning is taking place when you’re being taught how to take a test. How can children develop creativity in a paint-by-number education system? And what’s more…think about how much time is wasted during an American school day.

How do we fix this?

Speak up! Inform your child’s teacher that they won’t do homework. Take your child out of school for field trips when you want and share the learning opportunities with your child’s teacher, peers and other parents. Refuse standardized testing and expensive, often unnecessary projects outside school hours. To teach our children not to conform, we ourselves must refuse to conform.

Maybe we’ll make a change for the better, but maybe it’ll go unnoticed. Either way, I’ll sleep better at night knowing I attempted something better for them.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Raising Citizens of the World

It started when my boys were born, wanting something different for them, but this past weekend confirmed my decision. No more. Enough is enough. I’m done. 

I’m raising citizens of the world.

We started our Saturday morning wondering what we could do with two one year olds when our “small town” city of Austin was currently flooded with millions of show goers visiting us for the SXSW music festival. The thought of manuevering our toddlers through crowds, sitting in traffic, and being bombarded with music virtually everywhere (some soulful, but most is just hectic noise from unexperienced hopefuls). We decided to venture an hour away to San Antonio.

After circling the city blocks a few times looking at parking signs ranging $10-30 (to place your car on top of concrete safely), we found a spot. We stood in line with the crowds to pay for our spot, inhaling car fumes, cigarette smoke, other people’s ill chosen parfumes and deodorants and then began our excursion.

First stop- food. Dining out with twin toddlers is more fun when the ambiance is kid friendly so we chose Rainforest Cafe. Now, I’ll preface this post by saying I loved our day! Every moment watching my children’s faces light up with wonder is worth every harsh moment, but…my worldview shifted drastically on this day.

We walked our babies around the restaurant pointing out the rubber, plastic, and mechanical animals. We faked amusement when the lights flickered and the “thunder” roared from the speakers hidden behind the fake leaves surrounding our table. Then we paid $50+ for a meal of fried, over-processed, preservative laden food, leaving our meals half-eaten because American portion control is lacking. We showed our waiter our rewards card for this restaurant chain. This reward program allows us to get more artificial food when we eat enough of it over time at various locations. I was disgusted by this thought. Then we tipped the waiter because, in America, no matter how bad the service, the waitstaff is entitled to getting tipped. Blech!

Nextstop- downtown. Then, we paid $120 for a wristband that allowed us to get into several of the attractions for one “low” price.  Handing over the credit card made me feel so powerfless. They know they’ve got us because we’re there, we’re consumers, we want to be entertained. Sure, take our money and run.

Again, we had a good time, but is this it? We rode on a manufactured safari car wearing plastic 3D glasses and shot lasers at holographic zombies. I’m humiliated as I write this. We stood in line for 40 minutes for a 4D ride; another simulated experience (monkeys ziplining through the jungle). We walked down a red carpet through an old building looking at celebrities and athletes made of wax. Then, we took our children to a playscape IN a mall and watched them play on trees and ponds made of rubber. We paid $1 for them to ride in circles on painted, fiberglass animals.

After weaving through more crowds, stopping at umpteen million restauramts trying to find a place that could provide a table without making us wait close to an hour for service, we settled on another restaurant with overpriced, artificial food, and terrible service.

I drove home feeling disgusted. Disgusted with myself for participating in these shenanigans; for playing a part in this artificial world. I was disgusted for my children that we had simulated artificial adventures for them. I want more. I want something different.

Lucky for me, my husband felt the same way. As we drove home we began discussing. We’ve made the decision, not lightly mind you, to raise citizens of the world. Sure, we’ll shop at malls from time to time, we’ll even take our boys to amusement parks and local attractions occassionally, but our worldview has changed and we’re going to make a change for something better. It may be now, or it may be when the boys are slightly older, but we will not be raising them in a society driven by consumerism, gluttony, greed, technology, and materialism anymore.

We plan on raising them in the natural world, to appreciate relationships, experiences, and love. We want them to learn by doing, not sitting in a classroom or staring at a screen. We want them to love because they’ve felt nothing but love amd aren’t surrounded by morally compromised people we have to shield them from. We want them to be grateful by living simply and plan on simplifying our lives.

Stay tuned, friends. The Vails are making changes!

That Girl

Road Trippin with Newborn Twins

A trip from Austin to Dallas could hardly qualify as a “road trip” pre-babies. Anything under 5 hours could just be “quite the drive” in my book; however, with newborn twins anything past an hour qualifies as a road trip. Since making this drive with my babies I’ve been facebook messaged, called, texted, and even instagrammed from new moms and twin moms wondering how the eff I pulled it off. Let me tell you, nothing I do with my babies is by the seat of my pants. Everything is methodically planned out. 

So here’s what’s up. 

Step 1: Think of all possible scenarios and squash all obstacles in advance.

I don’t think it’s right to let babies cry for very long at this age. They’re in a socio-emotional developmental stage called “trust vs mistrust” (according to Erik Erikson), which means they’re learning whether or not they can trust their caregivers and the world around them. Whether they become secure and confident or fearful and dependent depend on their caregiver’s ability to meet their needs adequately during this crucial stage.

When should we leave?

If we left midday, they could sleep too long and not sleep at night. 

But, if we drive at bedtime then I’m missing my best stretch of sleep.

If we left here at 7 when they wake up we’d sit in traffic leaving town so they’d scream mercilessly unless we’re driving a constant speed. 

So, we left at 5 am. I nursed them at 4am when they woke up. Packed a few things I couldn’t get to the night before. Then nursed them again right before we put them in the car. We pulled out at exactly 5:04am which allowed us to beat Austin traffic getting out and miss Dallas traffic getting in.

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Step 2: Keep them well fed, but plan to empty your breasts too.

Pumping while my babies are awake is damn near impossible so I knew I wouldn’t be able to pump on the road. Four plus hours is far too long to go without nursing, but nursing two babies at the same time from the car is too challenging due to space constraints. If I feed one at a time there’s a chance the other will be screaming so…

I packed:

  • My Twin Z pillow (twin boppy)
  • 6oz of pumped milk
  • Wore a nursing tank under a black long baggy tank

At 7am upon arriving in Waco I pulled through the drive through at Chick-fil-A knowing I had mere moments before the boys woke up. I ate my breakfast sandwich super fat and ordered a 1/4 cup full of hot water. I heated the breastmilk for less than a minute in the hot water while pulling suitcases out of the trunk so I could place the Twin Z in there. Then, I placed the babies on the pillow and fed 1 baby 3oz of milk with my left hand while I leaned over the other baby with my right breast. The nursing tank covered my belly while the long tank over it covered the baby’s head and my breast. Passersby had no clue what I was doing. Then, I switched. This way each baby got a full 3-5 oz between breast and bottle and I didn’t have to pump. Then, I loaded the boys in their stroller after burping, changed their diapers in the handicap stall of the restroom and then nursed each a few minutes more (so they’d be full) while I played spa music for the other in the stroller. Yes, I sat on the toilet to nurse LOL.

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Step 3: Plan for your own comforts the night before

I prepared my coffee before I went to bed and set the timer so it would be brewed when I woke up. I cooked my steel cut oats and had them stored in the fridge so all I needed to do was reheat for 30 seconds before leaving. I put headphones in the car so I could listen to music on my phone without disturbing the babies and I filled a tumbler with cold water and had it in my front seat. I also had as much as I could packed and in the car the night before so I didn’t have to stress in the morning, including their blankets so I could just put them in the corsets, tuck the blankets around them and drive off.

It worked beautifully! We arrived at my sister’s house in Dallas at exactly 9:15 just in time for me to quickly unpack the car before they woke up and feed them from her bedroom at 9:30.

Twin mom advice: don’t be scared to do what you would normally do. Live your life as you did before just follow my motto, “plan ahead and keep them fed”!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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Baby On-the-Go

I’m currently assisting a family with their nine month old baby boy and will be traveling (worldwide) with them from now until next Spring. This has had me thinking, “What gear do you need (and not need) when traveling with a baby?”

STROLLER

I’ve always known not all strollers were created equal, but some are just flat out a pain in the ass! Any stroller that requires you to set up, or break down, is NOT travel friendly. I prefer a 4Moms, BabyJogger, Stokke Xplory, or Orbit baby that allow for easy, one-hand folds. Plus, these all have PLENTY of space for your stuff so you don’t have to carry a purse, diaper bag, coats, blankets, and shopping bags. Boo to being a packhorse.

CARSEAT

The law states that a baby or toddler does NOT have to be in a carseat or carrier in pulic trasportation so…forgo the 30lb carrier and just leave it in your car. Get yourself a bomb-diggity baby carrier like the Baby K’tan or Happy Baby Wrap and just call it a day. When you’re wearing the baby on-the-go, there’s a 0% chance you’ll accidentally leave it on the subway or bus, lol. Keep it strapped to you.

BACKPACK

The mama I work for carries an Hermes Birkin and/or her Prada diaper bag on the daily; however, I’m sure she would opt for a backpack  or crossbody when we’re traveling because there’s no shame in her game and we both agree “comfort trumps style” when it comes to traveling with a baby. Diaper Dude has great backpack, Lily Jade has diaper bags/backpacks that double as purses, and SkipHop offers some crossbody options. The goal is to downsize, consolidate, and have all that you need.

Lily Jade ROCKS! (you heard it here first)

PATEMM PAD

You may think you have a portable diaper changing pad, but if you don’t have the PateMM, you ain’t got a clue how awesome life could be. The PateMM is circular, wipeable vinyl, packs up flat and quare, and is just sticky enough to hold your wee little gymnast in place during changing. You can whip this out of your pack for a quick diaper change on the airplane, the bus, the amusement park changing table…whatev.

COVERED GOODS

I think this is a must have! This lil feat of engineering is a nursing cover that doubles as a carseat cover, shopping cart cover, OR scarf! It provides 360 degree coverage, which is great to protect baby from sun, rain, stares, glare, germs, etc. while on the move!

EZPZ PRODUCTS

When you’re away from home with your baby, you can’t bring your toddler meal set or placemat with you. The restaurant will likely bring you a glass dish, sharp silverware, and baby may not be able to reach their food. That is unless you pack an EZPZ Happy Mat or bowl! This is easy to drop into the diaper bag or backpack and super easy to clean up since it’s nonstick. Pull it out at the restaurant, chop up baby’s food and let them just go at it. It won’t slip off the table, they can’t move the placemat/dish, and when you’re done, you just have to rinse it off or wipe it out. DONE and DONE!
EzPz Fun Mat, Shop Whole Heart

What would you add to this list?

My Beloved City, Seattle

Whole Heart is based out of Austin; however, we have “girls” all over this great nation! I invited a few of them to tell you why they love their city with their whole heart. Angie’s telling us all about Seattle!

My Beloved City, Seattle
There are so many beautiful things about Seattle. If I didn’t live here, I’d definitely move here. There are way too many things I love about living in Seattle (well I actually live in a suburb of Seattle), but this is still “MY” city that I refer to when talking with others. Let me tell you why I love this great city:

1. COFFEE SHOPS

Yes, it’s true that your big time coffee giant, Starbucks, originated here in the heart of the city, but if you are a Seattleite, you’d prefer a cup of joe from your favorite local coffee shop. Local coffee shops are all the trend these days when you are living in a cold, overcast, sometimes dreary day in Seattle. Going through your favorite drive through coffee stand, or stopping by your favorite cafe is almost a daily habit. My go-to hang out hot spot is The Spotted Cow Cream and Bean. They make their own coffee right in the shop, and the baristas have all crafted their coffee foam art.

The Spotted Cow Cream and Bean

2. BREATHTAKING VIEWS

Wherever you are driving, you are sure to see a beautiful range of mountains in the far off distance, especially on a sunny day. The mountains come alive, almost too picturesque, like a painting before your eyes. Seattle is on the inside of a peninsula, so it is surrounded by water and has lakes galore. The outdoors are nothing short of perfection up here in the PNW (The Pacific Northwest.) This was one of my favorite hikes, called Snow Lake….8 mile round trip and baby Sydney’s first hike when I was at 21 weeks.

Hiking Snow Lake

3. FASHION AT ITS FINEST

Fashion forward Nordstrom started, and evolved, here in Seattle. The flagship store is right in the middle of downtown. The extremes of fashion are quite comical. You have your big time corporate crowd who dress to the nines and are up to date with the latest trends, but then you have your hipster, black rimmed glasses, North Face and Flannel wearing group who are all about the rugged outdoors. Birkenstocks and socks are their style, which just so happen to be the latest fashion sandal trend as well. We’re definitely a laid back city, where you don’t need to dress to impress, but you can still show off your own unique style, and be accepted and embraced as you are.

4.THE 12TH MAN

Yes, all you Aggie fans first coined this term, but Seattle has been proud to become “The 12th Man” for our Superbowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks. I know, I know….what was the call on the 1st yard line? We will NEVER hear the end of how we blew back to back Superbowl Champion titles, but nonetheless we are the BIGGEST football fans in the NFC. It is incredible to be a part of such a supportive city. Anywhere you go during football season, total strangers become your best friends because of our intense passion and love for our Seahawks. The Seattle Sounders and Seattle Mariners also get some love too.

Superbowl Champs
5. THE BEST SUMMERS

It’s true! Seattle has less rainy days in July than Phoenix, and the days last long into the eveningS, well after 10pm on the longest days of the year since we further north above the equator. We have the perfect mix of warm summer days and cool nights, the humidity is so low it’s barely noticeable. To top of it off, we have music festivals, farmers markets, hydroplane races and lots of water to play in. Though this perfect weather only lasts about 4 months out of the year, we truly know how to appreciate it and soak it all up.

What are the best features of your city?