Stingrays, Penguins and Otters!

We manage to do a lot in and out of Tennessee, but we have somehow never managed to hangout in the gorgeous town of Chattanooga. Last weekend, we decided to finally make the short two hour trip there and visit some touristy spots. There’s a lot to do in Chattanooga, but there number one tourist attraction seems to be the Tennessee Aquarium. Obviously, we hit ti up first.

The Aquarium is HUGE. It actually consists of two giant buildings: the Oceans Journey and the River Journey. We started in the Ocean and went to the stingray exhibit first. Why??? Because, hello, you get to pet them! I’m just like a child when it comes to animals and I can spend hours and hours in any sort of petting zoo. I was loving the stingrays, but poor Luna couldn’t reach them. We had to wait forever for one to swim up high enough for her to reach and as she innocently splashed in the water I pulled her hand towards the closest stingray and made her pet it. She did not enjoy it. Not at all.

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The butterfly exhibit was kind of like a petting zoo too. You couldn’t technically pet the butterflies, but they flew where they pleased, and often landed on one of us excited viewers. Luna, however, didn’t seem to notice any of them. She was more interested in  stomping in the flower beds.

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Penguins are in my top 3 list of animals. They are the coolest! (Hah! Get it? Coolest?) The penguins as the aquarium are all named and labeled with little colored bracelets. They swim, jump and waddle all around and are so stinkin’ cute. Even Luna’s attention was kept for a few minutes.

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The most beaitful exhibit in the Ocean Journey is the Secret Reef and Undersea Cavern. These large reef areas are full of giant sharks, colorful fish, sunbeams, turltels and more.

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I was excited to show Luna all of the cool undersea creatures, but to be honest, she was happiest just running around and climbing on any steps she could find. I think most of the aquariums seem like a giant TV to her. She didn’t quite grasp that there were real live animals swimming by her.

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As we were walking through the Undersea Cavern, Husband stared through a small round window for a while and then called me over to point out what appeared to be a dead turtle. There it was…upside down, pale, not moving, missing a leg. It looked so sad and lifeless. After waiting a while, Bella and I decided to tell someone before young children saw it and started crying.

We walked into the gift shop and discreetly told the cashier that there seemed to be a dead turtle at the bottom of the aquarium. She almost laughed and very nonchalantly said, “Oh no, that’s just Oscar.” I explained to her that the turtle seemed very dead, but another employee then pointed to a large display with a sign that described Oscar. He is an injured turtle from the Gulf of Mexico who must sleep that way in order to breathe and keep comfortable. He is not dead. The sign was surrounded by dozens of 3-legged stuffed turtles. Feeling a little stupid and humiliated we walked back to tell Husband the good news, just in time for Oscar to wake-up and swim away.

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The River Journey building has otters!!! Otters are the best, but the aquarium only has three. We need more otters!

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The riverside has lots more fishes, seahorses, gators, lizards, frogs, birds and more.

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Right outside of the aquarium are little water passages for water play. I stripped Luna down and put on her swimsuit, but most of the kids just played in their clothes. It was a little chilly, but how nice would this be on a hot summer day?

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We had a fun day with the fish, the water, an amazing Latin restaurant and some ice cream, but we will need to make another trip because Chattanooga has so much to offer.

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Cheers!

Unconditional

Have you ever needed to express yourself so badly that it hurt, physically hurt? Is there ever something you needed to say, write, sing, dance, paint, play so desperately that it’s consuming your every thought? You can’t focus, can’t sleep, can’t hold a conversation because there is work, art and poetry that needs to be made and if you don’t do it now it may never get done! So you start, you grab your paintbrush, tie your sneakers, tighten the strings on your guitar or open up your laptop and then…then, what? What you have to say is so deep within you that you don’t even know where to start or how to express yourself in a way that is meaningful and beautiful enough to transcend to anyone outside of yourself. How do you begin?

That’s where I am.

I love people. I love them deeply. I especially love the people in my life. These people, my friends, my family, my coworkers, my bosses, my students, my neighbors, my doctors, my baby… I love them. I love them for who they are and how they love me for who I am. I love them because they are wise, funny, kind, compassionate, caring, creative, hard-working, beautiful, strong and so much more. They are also all a little broken, bruised and even odd. They can be forgetful, selfish, stubborn, absent-minded, late, annoying and disorganized. They have faults, many, because they are real. They are real people who need love, just like me.

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All my life, I’ve been told to love. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love as God loves you. Treat others with love and kindness. Above all else, love. Love wins. Love is the one most powerful message I have learned from my parents, my church, my favorite teachers and my mentors. That message has stuck with me through the years. Sometimes it’s at the forefront of my thoughts, and other times it’s tucked back behind my anger and ignorance, but at some point it always rears it’s head to remind me of what matters. Truth is, sometimes anger and ignorance wins. On those days, I go to bed feeling exhausted, sad and disappointed in myself. What did I accomplish with my anger or fear? Nada. When I let go of my anger and allow love in instead, I see change. I see change within my own heart, and within others. Love truly does win.

The other day a friend of mine, a friend I love dearly, let me know that she is transgender.

Was I surprised? A little, but it wasn’t at all shocking. Honestly, I felt honored because I am one of the few people she trusted to know and still love her no matter what. And I do, and I let her know that I do and that I will always be in her corner.

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As I drove home, grief and confusion hit me, but not for the reasons you may think. (I have just as much anxiety for others as I do for myself, it’s exhausting!) Reality began setting in and I couldn’t help but think about the struggles my friend would face, the bullies she would endure and the pain that more than likely lies ahead. However, more than those sad thoughts were the people whom my friend couldn’t trust with her news. The ones who will choose to stop caring for her, the ones who will turn on her and the ones who will no longer have her back.

I let my non-stop mind go silent for just a moment (because I so often find the answers in the silence), just long enough to hear Katy Perry (the CD that was blaring in my car to keep Luna from crying) sing the word “unconditional”, and that’s when it hit me. Unconditional love. All those lessons on love through my childhood, were based on an unconditional love. When you “love others as you love yourself”, “love as God loves” and remember that “above all else is love” than you must love unconditionally.

Come just as you are to me
Don’t need apologies
Know that you are worthy ~ Katy Perry

When you love unconditionally, you love without conditions. That should be self-explanatory, but it seems that it needs to be said. You love someone for exactly who they are despite their race, religion, political agenda, sexual preference, gender, job, education or background. It’s true that each of these factors affect us and who we become, but they do not make us good or bad.

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I have to tell you I know some awesome white, straight, Christian, educated, hard-working Americans. I also know some really shitty ones. In my experience it works like that for every single labeled group of people. There’s good and bad everywhere, but mostly good. And, if you’ve got good, kind, honest and courageous people in your life, you’re lucky.

My loved ones are all of those traits and so much more, and that is what matters. Nothing more.

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I do not judge I try very hard to not judge, for I do not wished to be judged either. I think we could all use a lot less judgement and a lot more love. At the end of the day, when you find yourself feeling all judgey it’s best to take a look at yourself, because most judgement stems from our own fears and insecurities. It’s got more to do with you than the person you judge.

Just love. Love yourself. Love others.

Cheers

The MOOsic City Run

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She loved running all over the park with her purse!

 

Another run and another sunny and warm weekend is in the books! This spring weather in Tennessee is wonderful. I don’t mind the rain a bit, and I’m soaking up as much outdoor time as possible before the unbearable summer heat hits. Plus, this was probably one of the most pleasant races we are going to be able to run until fall. Saturday morning we (our growing team!) ran the Purity’s Moosic City Dairy Dash benefiting Our Kids.

Always the entertainer... Luna stood on the winners' podium and dance for the crowd.
Always the entertainer… Luna stood on the winners’ podium and dance for the crowd.

Can you guess what we dressed as for this race?

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Cows, of course! Our official team name was “Bellarie’s Bovines”. Unfortunately, there was no costume contest, but we did run at a 7.48/mile pace! I’m especially proud of that time because we have only been running once a week lately. I guess Insanity Max 30 is doing a good job of keeping my cardio up.

me and my little farmer
me and my little farmer

Aunt Amy (the newest team member) ran her second race with us and beat her previous finishing time by 5 minutes. That is incredible! I am so proud of her, and super excited about running more races together.

5k's are exhausting for babies
5k’s are exhausting for babies

When we finished the race we were treated with milk, chocolate milk, juice, popsicles, ice cream, mac & cheese and meatballs! I think Luna, our farmer, enjoyed the treats most. Her first sip of chocolate milk was definitely a hit.

And, THEN it was time to get naked!
And, THEN it was time to get naked!

We completed our race day tradition with breakfast and Starbucks. Then, we took a sunny 6 mile walk, played at the park, did our Saturday Insanity Max workout, worked in my flower bed, made dinner and got in bed by 8pm! That was not only a very busy very fun day, but the earliest I have gotten in bed in probably 15 years. It. was. wonderful.

It was the perfect day to run around the yard naked and play in the water.
It was the perfect day to run around the yard naked and play in the water.

Bring it, Monday.

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Cheers!

P.S. WARNING- if you let your baby run around naked there is a good chance they will poop on your porch.

#WCW

It’s Wednesday, also known as #wcw, and for those of you not in the know (or who don’t spend too much time figuring out hashtags on social media), that’s “Woman crush Wednesday”. It’s the day when fellow Facebookers, Tweeters and Instagrammers share photos of women they think are hot or whom they admire. Today,  a friend of mine posted a photo of herself, and I thought it was the most inspiring #wcw ever.

She mentioned everything she loved about herself (faults and all). Honestly, as I read her description of her #wcw I had trouble believing it was her because she was saying such nice things… and since when do us women say such nice things about ourselves? Then, she said this…

Here’s the thing ladies: none of us love every part of ourselves, but it’s the imperfections in our reflections that show the life we’ve lived so far….

The brave thing to do is to own who you are; to stand up and not only know your worth, but to demand other people to know it, too. Own it. Walk in confidence. Love yourself. – Krystin Behannon

(Hope you don’t mind me sharing your beautiful words with the world Krystin!)

I thought about her post all day… as I drove, as I rocked Luna through her fever, while I did burpees, when I ate chips and salsa for dinner and when I looked in the mirror at my wild eyebrows. Throughout the day I wondered, what do I like about myself? I made mental lists, and I’ve got to say, it felt good. In fact, it felt great to focus on what I love about myself as opposed to constantly dwelling on all of my many imperfections.

So, today, my #wcw is the badass chick who writes this kickass blog.

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She is fierce. At 30 years old, she is the strongest she has ever been and loves her body (deformed belly button and all). I love her toned legs, ability to finish a race and to backpack through many countries…because this girl lives for adventure.  She loves deeply and has the biggest heart for children. I love her ability to connect with kids, make learning fun and to quiet a classroom with one serious look. I love her crazy braids, chipped nails (always) quirky earrings and tiny ears. I love that she is either in heels or barefoot, drinks too much coffee, loves all things Disney, dances from room-to-room and sings Taylor Swift everyday to her daughter (off-key). I love her caring heart, her appreciation for everyday, her sensitivity to others and the fact that she still believes in writing letters.  She is not perfect, but she loves herself.

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Woop, woop! Still working out! It's not easy, but it's worth it!

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A rooftop bar is totally legal.

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Do me (and yourself) a favor and make a list of why you are your own crush today.

Does a mind wonders.

Cheers!

My Favorite 5k Yet

Our Valentine’s Day began bright and early, well dark and early. I was up at 4:30 am, and for once, it wasn’t Luna’s fault. We had to get up, get ready, drop-off baby at the Grandparents and head downtown for the Hot Chocolate Run!!! Who wouldn’t want to do a run with that title?

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It was the most organized and well put together race. It all began at the Expo where we easily picked up our race packets and hoodies. Everyone was so nice and helpful. They allowed us to try on the hoodies and even exchange them for a different size if it was needed. Everything was neatly stacked, color coded and well-stocked. It is one of the few races where I actually got the size I requested. They also handed out hot chocolate and chocolate dipped marshmallows, not a bad way to kick off the even.

The Hot Chocolate Run is by far the biggest race we’ve ever done. Over 9,000 people signed up, and when we parked downtown at 6am, the only people we saw walking the streets were other runners. It was below freezing, but everyone seemed happy and excited at the prospect of running towards a mug of hot chocolate. We were running a little late (surprise, surprise), and had to park about a mile from the Start line, so by the time we arrived and joined our corral the race started.

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Dressed in matching Valentine accessories, we ran around Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park and through the streets downtown. Since so many people were there, it made running a lot more fun and the race went by much faster. There were tons of excited volunteers cheering us on as we ran, photographers, signs, and video cameras. As we approached the finished line the race announcer actually said our names over the speakers…Here comes Hilarie! Bella is approaching the finish line.. It was all very motivating. At least it must have been because we finished the race with an 8.10 pace and we haven’t run in weeks. I was very happy with that time.

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After we caught our breath we picked up our mug full of hot chocolate, fondue and treats to dip in our fondue… all of which were delicious and so needed. We were freezing when we finished! The little amount we sweated chilled us to the bone once we stopped moving. We stuck around to check out the after party, but soon enough we were too cold and left for our traditional breakfast, cupcake and Starbucks. It was the perfect way to start our day of love.

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Thanks, Husband for running with me, even though I know you are faster, hate running and don’t actually enjoy us forcing everyone to wear matching outfits. I love you the most. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cheers!

Tuesdays for Tots!

Yesterday was a looonnngggg day. It was mostly good, but it could have been great had it not been for a touch of mastitis (yup, again), a sick Luna and a night of zero sleep. Yesterday, I babysat for a friend of mine. You may remember mentioning an adorable 4-year-old boy who goes by Parker. Parker spent all day with me and Luna and he taught us many things: differences between boys and girls, the best Superheroes, how to quickly make new friends and of course, how exhausting life would be with two kids. Also, how fun life would be to watch two kids grow and play together. Thankfully, Nashville has many activities around town to keep little ones busy…Cheekwood was our activity of choice.

Every Tuesday, Cheekwood offers adventures in art for toddlers (Tuesdays for Tots). After my experience I’d say it’s appropriate for about 1-5 year olds. They have a studio in the Learning Center where a new craft is setup each week. We were lucky enough to show up for Van Gogh week. They displayed pictures of Starry Night, laid out materials, handed out canvas and encouraged kids to create their own version of The Starry Night. I think Parker was more inspired by Spider Man than Van Gogh, but once I started mimicking the painting, he quickly did too.

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After a while in the Learning Center, we brought our paintings out to dry and before I could finish setting them on top of the car to dry, Parker had already made friends at the train table. Outside of the Learning Center are lots of different toys and activities set up for kids. We played with trains, dug in the dirt, practiced sharing and used a dumpster. He was pretty entranced until he heard that there was an even bigger cooler train that actually moved just down the hill. It’s a miracle I got him to wait for me and Luna before he sprinted across the roadway to the trains.

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Every kid loves trains. The train set at Cheekwood is so nice! There are two trains that move through tunnels, under bridges, over hills and past towns. Plus, one train is led by none other than Thomas the Train. Parker was entranced for a good 15 minutes. He just could not believe that Thomas was there. The next activity on his list was “something to climb”.

watching the trains together
watching the trains together

We walked the trails until we came to the playhouse that luckily has stairs that lead up to a tree house. We were so busy at this house that I didn’t even have a moment to snap any photos. There are tons of kids on Tuesdays for Tots and Parker very quickly made friends with everyone who climbed into the tree house. They pretended to be superheroes and protected me and Luna from bad guys, we “locked” all the doors and windows to keep us safe from tornadoes and we almost played Ninja Turtles, but then decided that super heroes are like way better.

He just HAD to push the stroller
He just HAD to push the stroller

After myself and another Mother pried the boys away from each other, we said goodbye to our new friends and went our separate ways to have lunch. I packed a picnic and I let Parker pick the perfect spot in the grass for us to sit and enjoy our food. After hiking down the hill with two large bags, a baby and a stroller, and unloading, he then announced he had to pee. After explaining to him why could not pee outside at Cheekwood (while other families picnicked around us), we re-packed, hiked back up the hill and found a toilet. After, repeating everything once more, we finally sat down for lunch. We have had extremely abnormal weather the last week and so it was actually warm and sunny enough to sit outside and eat. It didn’t take Parker long to finish his food and take off again. Thankfully, there was plenty for him to do right around us. He ran around a pond, climbed a mini rock wall, played under a larger tree and ran down the hills as fast as he could. Luna and I enjoyed eating ALL the food he left behind and watching him run wild.

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We spent a good 3 hours enjoying Cheekwood. It was the perfect place to spend a sunny day with a 4-year-old and a baby. Luna may have been sickly, but she did enjoy watching Parker play and even walking around a little after our picnic. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing at a playground, eating ice cream, watching a terribly boring Spider Man cartoon movie and playing with Lego’s. And, when the day was over, this Mommy with a sore boob was ready for a nap! (Oh and BTW, I totally drove off with the two Van Gogh paintings on the roof of my car. Woops.)

Thanks Cheekwood, for letting us come play. We had blast and we will be back!

Cheers!

The Third Edition of Annual Friend Photos

Welp, another year has come and gone, meaning another year of “annual friend photos” has taken place. Remember those stunning photos my BFF’s and I took last year? And the year before? We take a group photo each year to 1) make sure we always get together at least once a year, 2) commemorate our time together, and 3) watch our families grow, and grow and grow. We actually took this year’s photos over Thanksgiving break, but because I am SO behind in life, I’m just getting around to sharing them.

That's one BIG group
That’s one BIG group

The amazing, talented, sweet, loving and life-saving Simone from ST Photography took our photos again this year. To be honest, we originally scheduled with another photographer (simply because we planned to get a new photographer each year, just as part of the tradition). However, at the last minute lots of things went wrong (no one’s fault) and our session with our new photographer got canceled. I had very limited time left in Texas, and we were all certain the annual photos were not going to happen. Enter Simone. She literally rearranged her schedule to fit us in, never rushed us, was incredibly patient and somehow managed to get 5 sessions squeezed into one hour before the sunset. ALL with 6 very active kids! It was nothing short of miraculous. Maybe we should call her Saint Simone?

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BFF's
BFF’s

God, my friends are beautiful, inside and out.

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Annddd then, there are the family photos.

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It’s magical. Photographers are magicians. Thank you, Simone for giving us these bits of magic to cherish forever and ever.

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Cheers!