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Tracy's Train Travel

When you live 700+ miles away from a good chunk of your family, long distance traveling becomes an art. My parents know the route practically by heart down here, they know which rest stops they like, where their favorite  restaurants en route are, and have on several occasion tried to beat their all-time driving record down here. (Mom is in the lead by almost an hour.)

I don't drive (yeah, I'm a wuss.) and airplanes are expensive, difficult to do with youngster and with check-on luggage fees, means you're stuck trying to pack for a week in a tiny bag. I've done it with Charlie a few times, but it was never a "fun" experience. I was stressed, she was stressed. Not worth the extra $500 per person to save a few hours travel time. I thought that meant all I would have left would be the bus. I did the bus for my Freshman year at college. It was AWFUL with just me, I don't see it being possible with a toddler. Then when we moved to Big City, we realized we were very close to an Amtrak Train station. So for just under $300, both Chucky Sue and I will travel in style up to Boston.

The trip itself will take about 12 hours, which to some seems impossibly long. I like to think of it as a car trip, without having to drive or worry about gas, bathroom stops or traffic. It takes a bit, but the rails go through some gorgeous areas up the east coast. The trains themselves are very comfortable. each seat has two outlets. The seats have tray tables just like an airplane. Every car has two bathrooms, trash cans, and a water fountain. There is an (overpriced) snack car as well as a quiet car for those not traveling with loud three year olds. Some rails, including ours, have limited wifi. It won't stream Netflix or download files but you can browse facebook, email, and whatnot. I also LOVE the train's baggage policies. Every person is allowed 2 bags up to 50lb EACH*- at no additional charge. They also let you bring a baby item for under two travelers, on top of your normal bags. Add the fact that Customer Service is amazing, fast and incredibly helpful when your bank is being a big pain in the butt? I like Amtrak- check them out!

Since we've made this trip several times, I like to think I am a Toddler Train Travel expert. But really I just lucked out with my kid. She doesn't mind sitting still for long periods of time. A single activity can keep her entertained for a long time and she can sleep anywhere. If her legs do ever need a stretch, there is a short layover in DC (same train, they just switch the engines from diesel to electric) and she can run like a wild woman up and down the cars. When she is older, we can even venture inside the station for the layover, but I don't like having to chase her all over with hundreds of strangers milling around. (Seriously, The DC train station is always PACKED. No matter what time of day we go through.)

This year is the first year I will be making Chucky Sue carry any of her own things. Last year I wore a sling and carried her onto the train, as well as carrying all the bags- she hasn't gained much in a year but enough to make the thought of strapping her to my back unpleasant. She has been practicing wearing her tiny backpack that I filled with her toys and loveys. This year there will be NO toys in my "carry on" bag. That is a huge development! The only "Chucky Sue" things in my bag are a change of clothes, her pull-ups and a coloring book that was too tall to fit in her bag. (though on second though I will probably end up carrying the all important Butterfly Blanket; for if we lose that, there is no hope for this trip to be a success.)

Chucky Sue wakes up each morning asking if the Train has "opened" so she can visit her Nonie. I am excited to be able have some summer fun with my kid and parents. The memories my parents made with me during my childhood summers are some of my favorite and most clear- I hope to be able to give Chucky Sue the same thing!

*problem is, Charlie can barely carry more than a 1lb before complaining that it's too "hebby" for her. lightweight!


Begging for Blocks.

I was asked to help design our magazine's entry in a local christmas tree decoration contest. I mulled over a couple of dozen ideas. Did I want to do something old-school holiday style or completely out there and wacky? Do I make the magazine the theme, or stick with general childhood themes? AH! So many ideas! And these trees are SERIOUS every year. It's one of my favorite traditions! Then the idea hit me, an idea that while crazy, is so dang cool. If we can pull it off, it would rock the socks off everyone who sees it!

100% (well 95%, gotta count the lights) Lego Decorations. My boss loved it. It's child friendly, so it fits with our magazine, but it's so interesting and different that it should stand out. So I got down to business. I found a lego designer software that let me build with any kind of lego possible. I found free christmas designs from a very nice artist. Everything was going smoothly!

Only problem is, the ornament designs we've found would cost well over $10 PER ornament. And that is the simple ball ornament, not the fancy santa or reindeer ornaments that need speciality pieces. With 250+ ornaments (not to mention the several yards of 2x2 block garland we want) to fill up the large tree, we'd be looking at a pretty pricey contest.

So that's why I'm begging. I'm begging for lego blocks. If you're local, and you have some blocks that are just taking up space or don't match any of your children's sets (I know we all have a few floating pieces!) Please send them my way. We'll have a list of donators next to our tree, so you'll get a HUGE city-wide thank you from us!

Instagram Addiction Anonymous.

Admitting a problem is the first step to solving it.

Hello, my name is Tracy and I am an Instagram Addict.

It started so simply. It seemed so innocent. I'd post a photo about once a week- checking my feed about the same. But slowly I started checking my feed each night as I followed more users. The sepia tones, oh the sepia tones! It was like wanna-be-hipster crack.

then I found the supporting apps. Apps to make my already adorable toddler even more so. Sigh.

Apps like Frametastic, LabelBox, Afterlight and A Beautiful Mess. I add doodles, borders, stamps and filters unabashedly. #shame

All of a sudden I'm posting 5-6 photos a day. Checking my feed during any down time. Commenting. Favoriting. Abusing hash tags like no one's business. And the photos are no longer just of my child. Somehow any meal that actually makes it on to a plate (instead of the packaging it originated) is instagram-worthy. Every craft, every project has several photos dedicated to it. Heck- even screen captures of mobile games and apps aren't safe.

and now? NOW? The pushers at Instagram have rolled out a new feature. Videos. SEPIA TONED VIDEOS. Suddenly my feed is flooded with 15 second long morsels of beauty and humor. How am I supposed to resist THAT!?

So, yeah, follow me on Instagram?


Interview with a Three Year Old

Normally these interviews are connected with birthdays, or the first day of school. I just felt like recording this interview with Chucky Sue on a regular day, a slice of real life for posterity if you like.

Age: 3 Years 4 Months 10 Days
Favorite Color: Pink
Favorite Number: 1
Favorite Book: Another Monster at the End of this Book
Favorite TV Show: Jake and the Neverland Pirates
Favorite Movie: "Bell and the lost island" (Chucky Sue speak for Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure)
Favorite Food: Popcorn (close second is White Ice Cream)
Favorite Drink: Strawberry juice or the Juice in her Tinkerbell Bottle

Favorite Toy: Car and paper roads
Favorite Song: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
What she wants to be when she grows up: "A big girl."


Heavenly Preparations

Normally, I  try not to get to religious or preachy on the internet. I believe that social media, especially public media like Facebook and Twitter, aren't the best forums for religious discussion. However, there are times when a blessing from Heavenly Father smacks me so hard in the face, I can't help but share it.

I was talking to Jake about the changes we're starting with the magazine, the careers goals I have, new responsbilities I've been taking on at work- all that jazz when he just said very simply- "So it's the same as  your Relief Society calling?"

That really stopped me in my tracks. The only calling I ever considered declining was for Relief Society Activity Committee- (in layman's terms, the party planning committee for the women's organization.) I was newly married- only 20 and really REALLY didn't want to go to Relief Society. I had even signed up as a Primary (Children's Sunday school) substitute so I wouldn't have to go to the "Old Lady Class". Though I was good, accepted the calling and truly it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I had that calling up until we moved to Big City, nearly 4 years.

That calling is fairly simple- a committee plans, prepares and executes monthly meetings and activities for the women in the church. This taught me how to plan large meals, how to decorate on a tight budget, how to spark interest in activities, promote events, design invitations and flyers, speak in public, and how to work as a committee to pull it all together.

Add in a little creative writing, more online networking and change the focus to families and you have my job. I help out at local events to promote the magazine, I plan meetings, issues, and contests. I have to talk to strangers all the time and convince them to pick up an issue. I was not born with any of those talents- they were all taught to me through my service to  the church.

So while thinking about this and wanting to share the "DUH" moment about how Heavenly Father prepared me for this job, I re-read my patriarchal blessing. My blessing, at the time, felt generic. I was a little let down in the moment. Reading it a year+ later, it's not generic- it is full of promises, blessings and direction for my future. (at the time I wanted more about Angelina and how that experience was supposed to influecne me etc, that's worth it's own post.) My blessing has entire paragraphs about my work in the community- about my being an example to others in my neighborhood- That I would be active and involved with a lot of people. Of course at the time I had lived in the area maybe three months and my social anxiety and fears were hard at work keeping me from making friends, I thought that part was just words, just filler.

There are so many more things that have proved to me that this job is what I'm meant to do- from BossMan putting off and putting off the idea to create the magazine, to the fact that I didn't want to apply in the first place because his Craigslist ad was so sketchy and scammy sounding. I was so so lucky to just fall into my "I didn't know this was my dream!" job.

So there's my preachy-lovey dovey happy mormon post for today. Stick with whatever you're doing now because it's very possible that it's training for you for something down the road!
also go grab a copy of the latest issue if you can, we're running low but a few krogers may have some!

A House of Learning

This spring's theme in our house has most definitely been Learning.

Jake has started his second semester of Grad School. It is a lot of work and eats up what little family time we do have but he loves it. You can really tell he loves what he's doing by seeing how excited he is to talk about new research, studies or whatever psychology news comes up in class. If we stay on track he should be graduating and job-searching by the time Chucky Sue enters Kindergarten.

Speaking of, little miss has been doing a lot of learning herself! Like I posted in the recap she's beginning to understand simple school workbooks and she loves showing everyone who comes over her school books. She recently had her 3 year check up and the doctor was impressed with her smarts. She's right on track with letters and numbers and advanced in fine motor skills, shapes and colors. (not too much of a shocker when you think she's being taught by an artist.) She's still a tiny pipsqueak- 29lbs and 3'1" but she's well out of the "danger" zone of 3% on the growth charts. But that's not all she has been learning. Lately Jake and I have noticed that her social skills have improved by leaps and bounds in a short span- maybe a month or so. She no longer fights us tooth and nail about going to church, and actually begs to go on Wednesdays on the off-chance one of her nursery friends will be there to play with her! She is still shy and apprehensive in public but warms up faster than ever before and has even shocked me by being the first to introduce herself at the playground. Hopefully all this continues so preschool come this fall (WHAT?) won't be such a hard transition.

One of my first illustrator works. Eh.
As for me I'm not taking any "official" courses but I am doing a lot of self-teaching with the help of Youtube tutorials and Google searches. I also signed up for a few classes on this summer. Mostly design and marketing related, but a few business ones as well. My library card has also been hard at work, I've checked out dozens of how-to books in the past few months to help with work and even more biographies/history books just for the heck of it. My current goal is to learn the entire Adobe Creative suite at least to a basic proficiency so I can use all the programs for work. I've started with Illustrator and InDesign. I can scraping by with online guides and program manuals but I think I'm going to look into local college courses to get some hands-on training.

So even though for most people the school year is winding down, looks like we're in for a summer of  essays, textbooks and tests!

Worst Blogger of 2013

and that award goes to ME!

I really did start out 2013 with intentions of keeping up with blogging. But between grad school, the magazine taking off like a rocket and raising a THREE year old the blog got pushed to the wayside. Here's a giant recap post and hopefully I can cross off the "But I'm already so behind" excuse for not blogging!

1.Learned how to Crochet for Christmas- been making toy food for Chucky Sue
2. Decorated Eggs for Easter (during the Family Flu Fun)
3. Sharpie decorated my walls. All of my walls.

4. Started Potty training shortly after Chucky's 3rd birthday- she caught on quick!
5. Got some updated Cousin Photos for Grandma F.
6. Had a birthday party at Bloop Frozen Yogurt!

7. More crocheting- I do sell these if you're interested. *WINK*
8. We spent most of March without a fridge- I was so happy to get our new one I Instagrammed it!
9. Late Spring Snowman- taken down with our sword collection

10. Lots of silly time with me and the little girl.
11. My job is awesome- Chucky got to spend the day at a festival with me!
12. Chucky has really started to enjoy doing school work.

13. Mother's Day was low-key but awesome. I got to relax with a Carol Burnett Show DVD!
14. Silly time with Daddy!
15. My. Job. Is. Awesome. Some photos from our last event!

Okay there we go, mostly caught up! Now cross your fingers and wish on a star that I can stay on top of blogging for the rest of 2013- it's shaping up to be a BIG year for us!


After begging and begging- FINALLY we've gotten a decent snowstorm in SWVA! Because we didn't know how long it was going to last so we did everything we could think of this morning!!

We painted the snow with food coloring

we built a snowman (really late at night!)

she requested a snow castle with a bridge. We carved it out from a pile of snow on a bench in our yard.

A spoon and bowl provided hours of fun, I had to bribe her back in with cookies and a snowball in her bubble bath!

sorry about the lack of blogging, I'm trying to keep it up again!


In My Head--- Excuses

I wish you could see into my head- I have so many half-baked blog posts. Let's just catch up.

1. We went camping over Labor Day weekend with Dorita and family. It was amazingly fun, though cut short due to the hurricane that passed through.

2. Chucky Sue broke her finger Thursday. A Gymboree clothes display fell on it. She was very brave at the ER and has been great with her splint and recovery.

3.We started watching Doctor Who. Jake and I watch an episode or two for our "date" nights. I absolutely LOVE it.

4. The magazine is going swimmingly! I'm learning a lot and loving every single second. I write three articles and work with my boss on advertising and marketing

5. Jake is in the midst of applying to grad schools. Cross your fingers that he gets in and in a few years, gets a job in a school as a counselor.

6. Jake got called as Young Men's 2nd Counselor in church- he now spends Sundays and Wednesdays with the 12-18 year old boys. He brings in fun object lessons so they really like him.

7. I had a pizza party for my primary class (4 and 5 year olds) They earned it by behaving during class all summer long. It was really cute to spend some time with the kids outside of church!

8. Visiting NH! Hopefully we can save up the money and with some help from Nonie make it up to NH for Thanksgiving!  It'd be a train ride, but I think with enough snacks, toys and Dora episodes, we can make it through.

See, I really do think about blogging, but I hardly ever get it done! If you need a weekly dose of Tracy check out!

The Top Five Cutest Things Chucky Sue is Doing Right Now

Lately Chucky Sue has really grown into her personality- she is so adorable!

1. Her words. her vocabulary has grown leaps and bounds. I used to write posts listing all the words she knows, but it's well into the hundreds now. She knows her colors, numbers and letters- though the letters are mostly C, H, A,  and R. She loves pointing to objects and naming them with a huge proud smile on her face.
Bonus cute thing: Getting better at doing projects with mommy!
2. Singing. She's always squeaked, hummed and babbled out musical sounds, but she has started to sing nursery rhymes and primary songs by herself! I recently sent my mom a video of her rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. If it hadn't occurred during bath time I'd share it here (but I think 14 year old Chucky Sue doesn't want that floating around the internet!)

Random photo of ME! Proving to the internet that I don't live in sweat pants and pigtails.
3. Demon Voice. I've tried again and again to get this on video, but it hasn't worked out. You'll have to rely on my words. When Chucky Sue is mad or angry, she gets this VERY low, grumbly voice. for example, while at the park a few days ago, Chucky Sue didn't want to leave. So in a very LOUD demon voice she stated "MOMMY. I stay at park FOREVER." and then went right back into her very high little girl voice while prancing about the playground. We're working on using a "nice" voice and asking mommy or daddy instead of demanding- but it's still cute!

Mommy and Chucky making faces at Daddy!
4. Her girly tendencies. I don't fancy myself a girly girl, but I do like make up  and making sure I look presentable. Chucky Sue has taken this to a whole new level. She has a few favorite ULTRA poofy pink dresses that she wants to wear everyday. And the shoes. OH THE SHOES. Not only does she want to wear shoes all the time, she likes the colors or designs to match. (bow dress should have bow shoes, flower shoes with flower dress etc. etc. etc.) She even has her own box of "makeup" which consists of clear chapstick and empty eyeshadow pots filled with dried nail polish.

Chucky Sue and Dorita playing in the pool. They are getting better at playing WITH each other.
5. Reading. Chucky Sue has loved books since birth, but lately she's been REALLY into them. She'll pile up a few dozen of her favorite books and sit on her bed and just "read" for an hour or so. It's how she goes to sleep each night- surrounded by her books and stuffed animals. I love that she can entertain herself so well!