When Texas Friends Come to Town

Meet my friend, Danica!
Meet my friend, Danica!

I have this friends, she’s awesome. She lives in Texas with her Husband, baby boy and funny corgi. She’s Mexican, speaks no Spanish but cooks a mean enchilada. She is always honest, always herself, dangerous to shop with, so much fun, snorts when she laughs, very thoughtful and ready to listen to me vent without a moments notice. Her name is Danica and she and her family just spent the last week with us.

Me and Danica with our babies at Percy Warner Parker (where we did NOT see Taylor Swift BTW)
Me and Danica with our babies at Percy Warner Parker (where we did NOT see Taylor Swift BTW)

Danica and her Husband love to travel, like Husband and myself, so they have visited us when we used to live in Tennessee, both years we lived in NY and they even went with us on our recent trip to NYC! A month later they are here in Tennessee to see our new house and spend the week with us. We had them, their baby plus their puppy. It was a party every night in this house. And, by party I mean a strict routine of baths, story-time, lullabies, crying and Netflix for adults once the babies finally fall asleep.

passed OUT
passed OUT

Last time they came to Tennessee, we went hiking, repelling, caving, watched fireworks and went downtown. This time was our plans were much more relaxed and completely kid-friendly. We went to parks and playgrounds, the zoo, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, the Opry Hotel, the Escape Game and even managed to fit in some hiking. It’s really nice that we both have babies and need to stick to a somewhat regular schedule. We had a blast and it was awesome to see our two little ones bond and spend so much time together.

watching the trains together at Cheekwood
watching the trains together at Cheekwood
They were clearly thrilled to meet Mrs. Claus at Santa's PJ party...
They were clearly thrilled to meet Mrs. Claus at Santa’s PJ party…
just chillin' with the kangaroos
just chillin’ with the kangaroos

Almost every outing turned into a photo session for the babies. We had some beautiful fall weather and could not help but set the babies in the bright colorful leaves and start snapping away. At one point one of us was lying on the ground with the camera, one was tossing leaves in the air and the other was jumping around making noises like a monkey to get smiles. They were the best little models. We got very little attitude and we could pay them in Cheerios. They even formed their signature poses. Luna loves to throw her hands in the air in excitement and Orion prefers the calm and cool look.
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We went out to eat way too much, as we do anytime guests come to visit, but we did cook at home a few times too. The great thing about having friends stay with you is that you can be totally comfortable and have a great time no matter what the setting. It really didn’t matter if we were in East Nashville at a trendy hotspot or sitting on the living room floor snacking on chips and guacamole, either way we were doubled over with laughter and making some unforgettable memories.

did a mention we had some amazing fall weather?
did a mention we had some amazing fall weather?

I have got to tell you that if you have been putting off visiting an out of town friend or having a friend come to stay with you, stop and just do it. I know it is hard to plan, pack, arrange schedules, travel and deal with kids, but it is so worth it. Staying with a friend is truly the best way to travel. You get to see a new place through the eyes of a local, eat the best foods, meet new friends and stay somewhere for free. (Assuming your friends don’t run a brothel or something.)  It’s also a really special way to bond with your friends you rarely see and create even more ridiculous inside jokes.

looks like someone is trying to sneak a kiss!
looks like someone is trying to sneak a kiss!

Personally, I love when we have guests. I love getting to spend more time with them, get to know their families better and it gives us a really really good reason to clean and get some much needed stuff done around the house. Soooo who’s our next guests???

come back soon best buddy!
come back soon best buddy!

Cheers!

 

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10 Free Things For You and Your Baby to Do (Outside of the House)

Just because I am a stay-at-home Mom now does not mean I have to “stay at home”. In fact, we rarely spend a full day at home. There’s tons to do with kids around town, but what about babies? It’s taken me 8 months, but I’ve compiled a list of free stuff to do outside of the house with a baby. Why? Because I like to save money, I love finding little daily adventures and I need to get out of the house often for my sanity. Luckily, Luna happens to love getting out as well.

1. The public library. I wrote an entire post about this magical land of free books, movies, magazines, internet, computers and kids’ areas. We are lucky to have lots of libraries where we live and they all offer programs for kids, even babies. At least once a week there is a “mommy and me” type reading going on somewhere.

2. Public parks. We go to the park almost every day. We run or walk and push Luna in the stroller. We play on the playground. She is a big fan of the swings and has just started crawling through tunnels. Sometimes we bring a picnic blanket and just let her do as she pleases. I talk to her about the trees, sky, birds, bugs, grass, big kids and whatever else we see. We’ve even met other families this way.

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3. The grocery store, especially Whole Foods. Our local Whole Foods is awesome and offers a weekly Kids’ Hour. There is a local performer every week who will sing, bring puppets, dance and entertain your children for FREE for an hour. It’s AWESOME. I like to pick up a cup of coffee and chat with the other awesome Moms while our babies clap and bounce a long to the music. I have to admit, just being at Whole Foods makes me feel like Super Mom…even if I can rarely afford to actually grocery shop there. I also like taking Luna grocery shopping with me because I like to talk to her about the food I’m getting and she likes looking at EVERYTHING. She has become such a little ham and smiles, giggles and flirts with every single man in the grocery store.

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4. Starbucks.  The “free” part of this suggestion is debatable. It is technically free to go to a Starbucks. It’s up to you if you want to purchase something to eat or drink. You must know that I couldn’t have this list without mentioning a coffee shop. This is another daily visit for me and Luna. I KNOW it’s like a huge waste of money to a big bad company, but I happen to like Starbucks and we have a nice little group of “regulars” that we visit every morning. There’s something very special about getting coffee at place where everybody knows your name and your baby. Plus, Luna is addicted to chewing on Starbuck’s cups now.

5. Local parades and festivals.  All small towns have these right? We’ve taken Luna to the Live on the Green Music Festival, the State Fair and the Crafts Fair. She can’t do much, but she does enjoy watching everything happen around her. There’s music, food, new smells and often puppet shows.

party animal
party animal

6. Anything that involves animals. Kids love animals, but the zoo can get expensive. We have a local wilderness center that has free weekly lessons and shows for kids. There’s also free petting zoos at several fairs and if you live in the woods like me then you will likely find animals by just going on a walk. Luna loves watching animals, especially her own dog and cat.

7. Take a trial class. I want to sign Luna up for a gym/music class this winter since we won’t be able to be at the park everyday, so I recently started researching local classes for babies. Turns out that most of these “gyms” offer a free trial! Perfect! We get to try them all out to see which one we like the best and get some fun free play time too! We actually met a new friend this way and now see them at least once a week.

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8. Visit people. Your kids need to build relationships with your loved ones and the only way to do that is to allow them to have time together. Visit your friends and your family. Let them play with, feed, snuggle and entertain your little one. We have always let Luna be around lots of people. So far, she seems to be quite the social butterfly. I just hope she continues to enjoy spending time with other people.

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9. Go window shopping. On rainy days we like to walk around the mall or Target…or both. We make mental notes of the latest products in Sephora, try some Teavanna samples, hit up William Sonoma to see what smells so good, check out the deals at Baby Gap and stop at Starbucks, of course.

10. Take a hike. We live in Tennessee so we are fortunate enough to have many walking trails. Some are stroller friendly and some require me to wear the baby. I enjoy the exercise and Luna adores looking at the sun rays shining through the tree branches. Good times.

What do you like to do with your baby when you need to get out of the house?

Cheers!

Be Our Guest

I’ve been a little behind on the blogging this weekend and am likely to fall behind this week…We have guests, guests and more guests. Big surprise, right? We have more people stay with us than anyone I know. I’m pretty sure my neighbors think we are running a brothel. It’s also been suggested to us that we open a hostel. Not a bad idea, actually. We also had friends staying with us all of last weekend. It’s just been so busy, that I haven’t had more time to blog about it.

My friend Sara came into town. She’s been mentioned on the blog a number of times. We met her while working in Albania, she came to stay with us in NYC and has now been to Nashville a handful of times (although her boyfriend may have a lot to do with that). We love our Sara and could not wait for her to meet Luna.

meeting tia

Our weekend was a little less adventurous than it normally is when Sara comes to town, but we had a really nice time going on walks in this finally beautiful spring weather.

saraandsteve shrooms

look at those adorable baby feet!
look at those adorable baby feet!
big tree
woah, big tree

bridge blossom

We ate tons of great food, bought lemonade from the cutest little lemonade stand ever (buy 4 get one free!), got ice cream from Jeni’s (heck yeah!) and some more walking through parks. lemonade jeni's dandelion yellowleaves

 

We love having our friends come to stay. Good thing too because we will have people with us until next week. Hope we get to catch up soon…I’ve got more reviews, giveaways, anxiety attacks and adventures coming your way!

meandluna

 

Cheers!

Music City, AKA The Athens of the South

Now, you know that while my friend Sara was visiting we did some pretty adventurous stuff (of course), but we did some regular touristy sight-seeing stuff too. We like to give our guest a well-rounded experience.

Nashville is in the south after all, so eating some delicious fattening food is a must if you’re visiting. We took Sara to lunch at the Loveless Cafe. This very famous restaurant has been around for over sixty years and is known for its fried chicken and biscuits. It all began as a party house, owned by husband and wife, where travelers would stop on Highway 100 to dance on the living room hardwood floors, visit and eat the homemade preserves and biscuits that the wife made for all her visitors. It became so popular that they turned their home into a cafe and motel. Now, it’s famous for serving tourists from all over the world.

The Loveless Cafe's famous biscuits
The Loveless Cafe’s famous biscuits

steve and sara

We really wanted to treat Sara to Jack’s BBQ on Broadway in downtown Nashville, but sadly it was closed by the time we arrived and we settled for dinner across the street at Rippy’s Bar and Grill . Rippy’s has live music and good barbecue, but holy cow the service was HORRIBLE. We made up for it by ordering Jim-N-Nick’s take-out the next night.

Rippy's BBQ
Rippy’s BBQ

And, because I am pregnant and from Texas I insisted we stop for shaved ice at the only decent snocone stand in Nashville, Blue Monkey. Where I grew up there are snocone stands on every corner, and not the cheap ballpark snocones with big chunks of crushed ice and thin paper cones that drip. No sir, these snocones are little pieces of shaved ice heaven, with cream on top. I may have to take a break from writing to go pick one up…

Mmmm, nothing better than a snocone during the summer.
Mmmm, nothing better than a snocone during the summer.

Did I mention it rained every single day Sara was here? And, that it has also rained every single day since I have moved to Tennessee???

Anyways, between storms we spent a dreary wet afternoon walking through downtown Franklin. (I live in Franklin!) Downtown Franklin is one of those adorable little towns full of kitschy shops, unique boutiques, cafes, restaurants, a teeny theatre and a town square of course. Although the square is actually a circle, but whatever.

 

 

downtown

Enjoying a day in the rain in downtown Franklin.
Enjoying a day in the rain in downtown Franklin.

Have you heard that Nashville is the “Athens of the South”. No? Well, I’m not surprised. Supposedly the exact replica of the Parthenon in our Centennial Park earned us that nickname. It’s a pretty big attraction, it also doubles as an art museum. Hey, if you can’t make it to Athens, you can at least make a trip to Nashville, right? eh?

 

parthenon

The entrance to the Parthenon
The entrance to the Parthenon

Finally, we took Sara to the most impressive piece of Nashville, the very famous Bluebird Cafe. Okay, okay, now I have to brag a bit on Husband’s Aunt. She, the cool woman she is, is actually the original owner and founder of the Bluebird. I’d try to describe this magical place to you, but the description on the website is so much better than my own…

The Bluebird Café is one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms and the venue has gained worldwide recognition as a songwriter’s performance space where the “heroes behind the hits” perform their own songs; songs that have been recorded by chart-topping artists in all genres of music.  Located in a small strip mall outside of downtown Nashville, the 90 seat venue is unassuming in appearance but some of the most significant songwriters and artists have performed on this stage. Our reputation as a listening room is based on the acoustic music that is our signature style.  Our patrons repeatedly tell us that they are captivated by hearing songs performed by the creators themselves.

Most of you have probably seen the Bluebird on the TV show, Nashville, but it’s even cooler than the show makes it seem. We had a blast at the “In the Round” where we got to watch three famous song writers share their hits and their favorite songs. My favorite part is listening to the writers tell stories of why they wrote each song, what inspired them and funny stories from their musical backgrounds.

bluebirdcafe

We definitely had the best table in the house.
We definitely had the best table in the house.
Two of the famous song writers in the round
Two of the famous song writers in the round

Okay, now seriously, who doesn’t want to visit Nashville? Good times are sure to be had.

Cheers!

 

Skipping Rocks on the River

cummins falls

A couple Saturday’s ago, while in Chicago actually, my friend Sara messaged me and asked if she could come visit. “Of course!” I said, “When do you want to come?” Her response was basically, “I’m leaving tomorrow and I’ll see you on Monday!” Classic Sara.

We love Sara and have had so many random adventures with her since we met in Albania. When we heard she was coming to stay with us we immediately began making plans for some wild Tennessee adventures. We decided that our first “adventure” should be slightly easy…we didn’t want to scare Sara immediately. We took her to Cummins State Park .

This park is a new state park. It has hiking trails, an overlook to the waterfall and one of the top ten swimming holes in the United States. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly park ranger. She told us we could take an easy hike to the overlook, or a difficult hike through water and slippery slopes that leads to the bottom of the waterfall. We obviously chose the latter. The ranger took one look at my sandals and suggested we try it when we all have on tennis. We thanked her for her suggestion and made our way to trails.

We walked down a muddy trail that led to the river bank. Most of the hike involved walking down the side of the river, and a little bit of wading as well. Sometimes the bank was too steep and sometimes we had to cross to the other side. We started our trip trying to keep our feet dry…soon we wouldn’t even have dry clothes.

belle in water
Belle had the BEST time chasing sticks! She is usually terrified of water, but seemed not to notice it this trip.
crossing
It was a little slippery on the moss covered rocks, but it was never dangerous.

belle stick

Finally, we spotted the falls. All of us were a little stunned at how big and beautiful they were. We had no idea what we were actually hiking to until we found it.

the falls

people

stacked rocksme and pete

Like I said, we had no idea what we were going to find, so we didn’t plan on swimming. None of us had swimsuits and we were envious of the people climbing the falls and jumping in the water.

“Take your clothes off.”

That’s what I told Husband, “If you will, I will.”. We all swam in our sports bras, leggings and boxers. We climbed behind the waterfall, jumped into the freezing swimming hole and had a great time.

jumped in

It was perfect! After we were chilled to the bone, we put our clothes back on, hiked back and managed to be mostly dry by the time we got to the car.

We stopped to skip rocks on the way back...so nice to have time to skip rocks.
We stopped to skip rocks on the way back…so nice to have time to skip rocks.

And this was just the beginning of Sara’s Tennessee adventures.

Cheers!

Good Times in Chicago

chicago

We only had a few days to spend in the windy city during our recent visit, and like any trip, we spent every second soaking up the city and making the best of the time we had. My cousin’s wedding is what brought us to Chicago, which means I got to enjoy the city with my parents and a few other family members too.

Even though the daytime was spent running from Grant Park to the Magnificent Mile we still managed to have a great time and see A LOT of the city.

fountain chicago
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

architectural tour

One morning we took one of Chicago’s famous boat tours down the Chicago River and into Lake Michigan. The Wendella Boat Tour took us around and told us the history of Chicago, the history of many of its skyscrapers and several entertaining stories…like where Ferris Bueler was filmed and the fact that a guy dressed like Spider Man once shimmied his way up the side of Willis Tower. There’s also a bar on the first floor of the boat that provides just about every drink…hot chocolate for me.

wendella big buildings

on a boat

We even made time to go to the top of Willis Tower. Willis Tower  (formerly know as Sears Tower) has what they call “Skydecks”. The Skydecks are glass boxes off the side of the 104th floor. It’s pretty funny to watch people slowly creep out on the clear floors, scared to look below them. It’s even funnier (and a little embarrassing) to watch their faces when Husband walks out and begins jumping up and down, as carefree as can be.

willis tower skybox

hair

One of my favorite stops was at the Art Institute. One of the current exhibits at this museum is “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity“. This show is AMAZING. It shows how the Impressionist artists of the 19th century embraced fashion trends in their art. The exhibit not only shows some of my favorite pieces, but also displays period costumes that go with each painting! It’s perfect! This show was actually at the MET while we were living in NYC and I was so disappointed when I missed it. You can imagine how excited I was when I found out it was at the Art Institute.

Sadly, I was told "photography is not allowed" right after I took this photo at the entrance of the exhibit.
Sadly, I was told “photography is not allowed” right after I took this photo at the entrance of the exhibit.

The museum had lots of other famous art, like “American Gothic”, too.

american gothic

The rest of our time was spent enjoying the taste of Chicago. You can’t visit this city without trying the deep dish pizza and the Chicago style hotdogs at Navy Pier. We even had time for a large breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s… a world-famous breakfast joint that offers free donut holes and milk duds everyday.

deep dish
Deep dish Chicago-style pizza from Gino’s East

brunch hotdog navy pier

Now, I have to say it…New York’s pizza and hot dogs is WAY better!

Even if the food wasn’t the greatest, Chicago is still a nice getaway if you’re looking for a weekend vacation. Not only did we get to spend some time in the city with family, but we also got to visit our cousins AND a former 2005 Disney alumni!

chris

 

Thanks for the good times Chicago!

nightlife

Cheers!

City of Parks

My Mom’s two requests when coming to see me in New York were, “get a bagel at H&H” and “take a walk through Central Park“. Mom has been here a few times, and these two simple activities were something she just had to do again. And, who can blame her? You can’t get a better bagel than the bagels at H&H, and Central Park is one of my favorite places in possibly the whole world. The sunniest day she was here we had a carb-filled butter breakfast at H&H, and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring parts of Central Park neither of us had been to. That’s what I love about this park, you never know where you’ll end up.

central park meandmom momarch

 

After eating lunch at Bergorf’s, shopping and exploring Chelsea Market, we headed back to Central Park, but this time to the North end. We got off the train in Harlem and walked south toward the Central Park Conservatory Garden and the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. So many fragrant plants were in bloom and the water was just beautiful.

conserv resrvoir

 

Central Park wasn’t the only park we visited during her stay. One night, while heading towards Eataly, we accidentally found ourselves in Madison Square Park. Perfect timing too because the park had an interesting art exhibit up from now through September 8th.

redyellowblueIt’s called Red, Yellow and Blue and it was created by Orly Genger. He used 1.4 million feet of repurposed nautical rope and 3,500 gallons of paint!

madisonsquarepark

 

It’s supposed to look like waves…combining the coastline with the city atmosphere.

redrope waterwall

 

We spent a long time examining the artwork before remembering we were starving for some authentic Italian food, and made our way out of the park.

I had a great time with my Mom, the best time. I’m grateful I get to show her around such a fun and beautiful city.

Cheers!