My Best Moments of 2014

Yeah, you may have already moved on into 2015, but I’m still looking back and reflecting on the previous year and all that happened. Despite some illnesses and injuries, 2014 had a lot of good moments for me, too. We went on some fantastic trips, had breakthroughs in overcoming challenges, and enjoyed spending time together as a family.

Here are some of the highlights of the last year, in chronological order (because I simply would have a hard time ranking them):

Snow day fun – We started the year with a polar vortex, which Cordy and Mira loved because it meant plenty of days off of school. Despite needing to still work while they were home for snow days, we managed to work in a little bit of fun, too, like performing the boiling water sublimation trick in below zero weather. It was the viral challenge of the winter, before the ice bucket challenge became the viral challenge of the summer.

We tried the boiling water trick, too. How often do we get this chance? #polarvortex #cold

A video posted by Christina McMenemy (@mommystory) on

Castaway Bay – In early February, we were getting a little tired of the snow and cold, which was remedied by an overnight trip to Cedar Point’s Castaway Bay. It was close to zero outside, but 82 degrees inside. I like that Castaway Bay has no pool areas deeper than four feet, so I felt safe letting my kids play without needing to hover over them. It was also a fun experience to go into the outdoor portion of the hot tub – we were still toasty warm in the water, while our hair was frozen in the near-zero temperature with snow all around. Even though it was a short trip, it was just what we needed to recharge.

Castaway BayAnd Cordy grew more confident in the water.

Walt Disney World – Probably one of the highlights of the year for Cordy and Mira was traveling to Walt Disney World in March. I went for the Type-A Bootcamp, and brought the family along to have some fun as well. The one thing they wanted more than anything was to meet Anna and Elsa. I’ve still never written up the full experience, but let me tell you it was a four hour wait in line to see the famous sisters in the Norway pavilion of Epcot. (Thankfully they’ve since moved them to Magic Kingdom and have FastPasses available now.) Aaron earned all the dad points by waiting in line for us, while I kept the kids entertained with the Agent P game around the World Showcase. Despite the long wait and terrible sunburn that Aaron endured, even he agreed it was worth it when our two dopplegangers met their royal inspirations.

Anna, Anna, Elsa, and ElsaAnna, Anna, Elsa, and Elsa

It was also funny that during our wait, other tourists were coming up to us and asking if they could take pictures of Cordy and Mira. One super smart mom didn’t want to wait in the line for her toddler daughter, so she told her daughter that Cordy and Mira were the “official” young Anna and Elsa and had her daughter pose with them for a photo. I wanted to buy that mom a drink for her clever thinking. But really, she saved herself the need for a drink by avoiding that line.

Disneyland and Disney Social Media Moms Conference – As soon as we arrived home from our Walt Disney World trip, I had to quickly unpack and then repack to leave one week later for California to attend the Disney Social Media Moms conference at Disneyland. I received my invite for that conference after we had already booked our trip to Walt Disney World, so I wasn’t able to bring the entire family with me. But my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came along with me instead, and gave me a chance to spend more time with family members that I don’t see often enough.

Disneyland #DisneySMMoms

The entire conference was fantastic! I still have posts in draft that I want to finish, telling more of what I learned there. As a true Disney geek, I loved learning more about the parks, the company, and how hard they work to go above and beyond for their guests. Yes, Disney is a media giant that wants your money, like any other business, but the difference is that they really want to make sure that you walk away from the experience feeling that parting with your money was completely worth it. And some of their new social initiatives are gaining steam as they use their influence to make a difference and give back to communities. (More on that soon – I’m planning to take what I’ve learned from them to launch a virtual book drive for our school district in the next week or so.)

It was also at this conference where I found my love of running again, and completed a 2 mile fun run presented by runDisney. I also discovered I love wearing costumes to run races.

Fun Run Final Turn #DisneySMMoms

Mira’s birthday at Cedar Point – Mira’s birthday usually falls on Memorial Day weekend, and she often resents that her birthday is so close to a holiday. It makes it hard to throw a party that weekend, since many families already have plans for the three-day weekend. This year, we were invited to Cedar Point that weekend for a blogger event. I mentioned that we were making the trip a birthday event for Mira, and our super generous and thoughtful contact at Cedar Point arranged for a Dairy Queen birthday cake for her.

Cedar Point birthdayThat’s a good kind of shocked look.

Ice cream cake combined with riding her favorite rides and coasters for two days equaled a very happy Mira. She still talks about how that was her best birthday yet. I have no idea how we’ll be able to top that this year!

BlogHer ’14 in San Jose – This was a solo trip for me to attend my ninth BlogHer conference. While it is a work trip, it’s also my annual chance to see some of my colleagues and blog friends in person. My very first BlogHer conference was in San Jose, so it was fun to return to where it all started this year.

BlogHer '14With some of the people I met at my very first BlogHer!

Halloween – I enjoyed going out with the kids for trick-or-treat, but I also was thrilled to get a night off to go out to a citywide Halloween party without the kids. Aaron and I had a great time dressing up for Highball.

Highball HalloweenMerida and Captain America keeping High Street safe.

BlogHerPRO – In December, I went back to California (three times in one year – a new record!) to attend the BlogHerPRO conference. Only this time, I was asked to be a speaker. This was my first time being a speaker for a session, and while I was nervous being up in front of a small crowd, it wasn’t bad at all. I might even want to do it again in the future.

So what does 2015 hold for us? I’m not sure yet, but if it’s at least as good as 20014, I can’t wait to find out!



2014: The Year of (mostly minor) Illness & Injury

I’ve started looking back on the year that just ended, and while I have so many good memories of the year, and so many moments to be thankful for, I also quickly realized this wasn’t the best year for our health.

For starters, this was the year of the stomach virus for us. It started at the most magical place on Earth in March, when Mira fell ill with a gastrointestinal virus, three days into our Walt Disney World trip. Aaron caught it two days later, and Cordy caught it a day and a half later, on our drive back home. While it did keep the family from seeing Animal Kingdom, we still managed to visit the other parks, although Aaron’s visit to Hollywood Studios was only a half day.

WDW 2014No, Aaron wasn’t the one taking this picture – he was sick in bed that morning.

A couple of months later, Cordy again fell ill with some kind of stomach bug at the end of our Cedar Point trip. On the upside, at least she didn’t get sick until the end of the trip.

In September, we were excited to attend an annual picnic of a group of friends, many of whom we only get to see once or twice a year. After driving two hours to the picnic, Cordy immediately became sick, and we had to turn right back around and go home, missing the event entirely. She also missed nearly a week of school after that because she was so sick.

In December, it was Mira’s stomach that required us to leave our friends’ annual Christmas party – long before we were ready to leave – after she unexpectedly lost her dinner.

So…what have we learned? Much better and more frequent hand washing, that’s for certain. I’m not sure how the kids fell victim to so many stomach viruses in a single year, all during the worst possible times. As they’ve grown older, they’ve become much better about keeping their hands clean and keeping hands away from their face as much as possible. Mira still has a desire to touch everything around her, though, so I’m sure that was the cause of at least the Disney outbreak.

I’m hoping 2015 will bring us stronger immune systems and no illnesses poorly timed to traveling or important events.

Personally, 2014 was a year of too many injuries for me. I spent the first part of the year with a shoulder that wouldn’t move without intense pain due to a poorly placed flu shot that caused subacromial bursitis. I’ve never had a shoulder injury before this, so learning to get dressed and perform daily activities with a limited range of motion on the left side was frustrating. The injury improved with a cortisone shot and 6 weeks of physical therapy, but then flared up again over the summer.

So far my shoulder has been pain-free since my second cortisone shot in August, but I can’t say for certain that it won’t flare up again. I’m wishing for no shoulder pain in 2015.

If that wasn’t enough: I started running more in 2014, and just as I was getting into the groove and starting to LOVE running, something started to hurt on the outside edge of my foot. Since mid-October, I’ve been dealing with tendonitis that is stubborn to heal. (Or maybe I’m the one being stubborn, because I want to get back to running.) Two and a half more weeks in the boot, and then hopefully I’ll be allowed to start running again.

The bootI cannot wait to get this thing off.

I want 2015 to be my best running year ever. I can’t wait to get back to training for the runDisney Enchanted 10k, and maybe even try for a longer distance later in 2015.

I’m not saying 2014 was terrible. These are mostly minor issues – very minor compared to some illnesses and injuries – and I’m thankful that we’re all still relatively healthy. I’d just like to be even more healthy in 2015.



Nine Lessons from Nine Years of Blogging

A week ago, I was looking at the date and thinking November 22 should mean something to me. It felt like a date I needed to remember. After some thought (and looking through my archives), I realized it was the date that I had started this blog.

Woo! Happy blogiversary (or blog anniversary, or blog birthday, or whatever you want to call it) to me!

Yes, I started my blog in the pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram days. Actually, I had a LiveJournal blog for a few years before this one. Not quite a blog pioneer, but I was quick to jump on that next round of wagons heading down the dusty Internet trails before they were paved over to become super highways with outlet malls and flashing neon billboards.

I feel like I should have some kind of wisdom to pass on for having blogged this long. Wisdom I’m not so sure about, but I can share some of my observations over the years.

Nine things I’ve learned in nine years of blogging

1. Being a big blog is nice, but not necessary. Some might argue that if I’ve been writing here for nine years and still haven’t made it big, I must be a failure. (No really, I’ve had people tell me something similar to that.) I’m not regularly featured on top sites, I have no book deal – just nine years of a little blog. But being “big” wasn’t why I started my blog, so I can’t be upset with the results.

I started my blog when Cordy was just over a year old, and I found myself seeking out other parents for camaraderie and to learn from. Most of our friends were childless, and those with kids lived out of town. But the internet was full of other parents sharing their stories – rather than only being a regular commenter on all of their sites, I decided to carve out a little corner of the ‘net to share my stories as well. No one made serious money from their mom blog back then.

Nine years later, I make enough from my ad revenue and the occasional sponsored post to cover my hosting, my site monitoring, and if I’m really lucky, a conference fee each year. I’m still small, and that’s okay.

2. Friendship knows no geographical boundaries on the Internet. I have friends that I see maybe once a year at best, and yet when we do see each other in person, it feels like we hang out together every week. I’ll be the first to tell my kids to be cautious about people they meet online, because people can give a false idea of who they are, but these are time-tested (and IRL-tested) friends. They’re people I’ve known online for years and years, shared highs and lows with, and people who, in-person, are just as friendly and supportive as they are online.

I’m truly thankful for all of the people I have the privilege to meet and be friends with that I might never had met if I hadn’t put myself out there online with my blog.

Friendship

3. Do as I say, not as I do. In nine years, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a successful blogger. Just don’t expect to see me put it all into practice. I’ve read so many posts on successful blogging, attended countless conferences and taken pages and pages of notes. You’d think I’d have everything down to a science by this point. But…I’m a lousy example of good blogging. I’ve coached others on how to start a blog and grow its audience, and have seen those blogs grow bigger than my blog quickly, yet can’t seem to follow my own advice.

DisorganizedYou could say I’m a little disorganized.

The difference is that my blog isn’t my job, and in the mix of work, family, homework, therapy appointments, etc., blogging is often the item that gets pushed aside to make room for everything else. I have a long to-do list for this blog, and an equally long list of post ideas I want to eventually get to, but I’m always limited by time and energy.

It frustrates me at times, but I try to look at the positive: at least it’ll always be here for me when I have the time and energy to put into it. I’ll never be bored with blogging when I’m always wanting to do more with it. In the meantime, I’m always willing to share what I know with others who want to start.

4. I’ve learned a lot, but I still don’t know what I’m doing. This may seem counter to what I just wrote in #3, but it really isn’t. With how quickly technology and best practices change, it’s impossible to keep up on everything unless it’s your full-time job. Yes, parts of it are my full-time job (I can talk ad viewability and mobile options for hours) but I can’t possibly have the time to keep up on all of the ideal times to post and what topics are trending and what the proper spacing is between sponsored posts. I still have a lot to learn, and that’s okay.

5. Success is random. I know this isn’t true for everyone, and some bloggers work hard for their success. I can write long, heartfelt posts that barely get noticed. But then sometimes you write a post about a creepy Furby, never intending it to get much attention, and find you have 1,000+ pageviews on the day after Christmas. (I feel your pain, other parents. I really do.) If required, I couldn’t reproduce that kind of successful post on demand – I’m really not very good at humor when I try.

Time to work

6. It feels good to make a difference for someone else. Probably my favorite part of blogging is when I share a story of something that happened to me, or a solution I found for something, and have a reader comment or email me to say, “That happened to me, too. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.” Which is really the whole reason I started blogging – to know I wasn’t alone in the parenting struggles I was experiencing. Or school transportation struggles, as I saw last year.

Most recently, the post about developing bursitis from a poorly administered flu shot has opened my eyes as to how big of a problem this is. So many other people have had a similar experience, and my story has helped them know it isn’t all in their heads, and given them ideas on what steps to take next. That’s powerful.

7. You have to accept that you never know who will find your blog. It can be fun to look at your site stats and see where everyone is coming from. Like when I saw several visits from the City of Columbus to my blog last October. (Tell me again that “random” tax audit was unrelated to my position against last year’s levy, Columbus? *waves hi*)

Hi there

Over the years, I’ve become more aware that anyone can find my blog, and so it’s wise to carefully consider what I put here. I’ve made some revisions to older material to avoid some embarrassment to my kids (like removing a photo of a bare baby butt), and I’m more cautious with what I choose to share. I can still cringe in embarrassment over some of my earlier posts, but overall I’m content with what others may find here. Even my kids’ teachers.

8. Blogging can be the start of great things. While my blog may not be big, I can’t deny that it has led to some big opportunities. I’ve been to the Johnson & Johnson headquarters and heard from top execs, saw how Cheryl’s cookies are made, gone on tours of the Ohio dairy and beef industries, experienced the sights of Lake Erie and many happy visits to Cedar Point, and even went to Disneyland for the first time.

If I hadn’t started this blog, I wouldn’t have met the people who helped me navigate the world of autism when Cordy was diagnosed and helped me be the best possible advocate for her. And without my blog I wouldn’t have found the awesome job I have now, with the best coworkers ever.

9. Just as people grow and change, blogs grow and change. And that’s okay. Nine years ago, I was an exhausted mom of a toddler. I’m still exhausted, but I’ve changed a lot since that time, and as a result much of what I write about has changed, too. I think it’s only natural for a blog to grow and change with the author. I write more about running, education and family travel now, and less about the embarrassing antics of my kids.

As Cordy and Mira have grown older, I’m finding it more of a challenge to share their stories in a way that hopefully won’t be used against them by their peers as they grow into teens. They are both aware of this blog and they generally get a say in the posts I write. If they don’t want something shared, I won’t share it. Luckily, both are usually okay with anything I write about them. Maybe they’ll start their own blogs someday.

I’ve noticed an ebb and flow with my writing, too. Sometimes I have a lot to say, and sometimes I have long stretches between posts. I still usually have a lot to say in those moments, but I’m too busy to find time to write. My drafts folder is a little overgrown at the moment, and it’s been hard to give myself permission to let it go – I feel guilty if I’m not writing regular posts, which is silly. I’ll get to those posts eventually.

Cone of shameI’m working on letting go of the shame when I don’t write for awhile.

Lately, I’ve also been struggling with the name of my blog, considering (for the umpteenth time) re-branding to a new name that better reflects how I’ve grown and changed. I’m nearly beyond the “mommy” days now – even now, Mira only calls me “mommy” when she wants something, and otherwise it’s “mom.” It may happen, it may not – I’m sure I’ll debate the idea in my head for months to come.

Either way, I still enjoy blogging and will keep on keeping on for the foreseeable future. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read, left a comment, or shared a post. I will never take for granted the honor of having someone choose to read my words. I’d still be here writing if no one stopped by, but having readers along for the ride makes it so much more rewarding.

Love to all



On Ten Years of BlogHer and Blogging

I just got home from BlogHer ’14 in San Jose, California, which was the 10th anniversary of the BlogHer conference. Ten years – that’s like at least 30 in internet years. Maybe 50. Either way, it makes me an old blogger.

Of those ten conferences, I’ve attended nine. My first BlogHer conference was the second ever. It was also in San Jose in 2006, when I was a new blogger, just becoming comfortable with sharing my thoughts for the general public online, and terrified of putting myself out there in person at the event.

I wasn’t going to attend, but then I won a free ticket to the conference in Erin’s giveaway. So I found the courage and did it, and I met some wonderful women, many of whom I’m still friends with today. And it was at that conference that I knew that I wasn’t giving up blogging any time soon. I’ve been to every BlogHer since then.

BlogHer 2006BlogHer 2006

It’s fun to look back at how much has changed since then. I started blogging in November 2005, before Twitter or Instagram, and before people started blogs with the intent of making money from them. Cordy was a year old, still two years away from the autism diagnosis, but I felt lost in my role as a mother. I didn’t have a lot of local mom friends, I had trouble finding playgroups that accommodated working moms, and I was depressed. Blogs filled the role of a virtual community for me to learn, share and commiserate. I began by reading several blogs, then slowly adding my thoughts as comments on posts, and then I took the plunge and started my own blog.

And now? I have not one but two kids, I’m way outside of the baby years, and I feel like I’m not doing too bad at this whole mom thing, even with autism added to the mix. Actually, it’s because of my blogging community that I feel more confident in my parenting, and without this community I don’t know how I would have navigated the early years after the autism diagnosis, or even something as mundane as how to handle sibling rivalry.

I’ve been through school for an additional degree since I started blogging, worked as an RN, and now I work for BlogHer. I’ve lost 80 pounds by using my online support network to help me reach my goals. And overall? I’ve never been happier. My life is so much richer for all of the people I’ve been able to connect with over the years because of blogging.

This year at BlogHer we were all encouraged to participate in the #selfiebration, so I took the opportunity to make sure I was in photos with friends, colleagues, and women I admire.

BlogHer 2014BlogHer 2014

There are so many inspiring experiences I’ve had in the last ten years, many of which I wouldn’t have ever guessed would happen ten years ago. And it all started with this little blog, and with BlogHer. Happy 10th anniversary, BlogHer – I can’t wait to see what’s to come!



Yet Another 2013 Recap Post

I’ve already seen several blog posts from others wishing 2013 a grateful goodbye. This year hasn’t been very good for many folks, and I hope the coming year will be kinder for everyone.

For us, it’s been a not-too-shabby year. It’s not the best year ever, but it’s had plenty of good moments. If the next year is at least as good as this one, I wouldn’t be upset.

There were a lot of happy moments this year. Aaron and I celebrated our 10th anniversary, and with that came our first big family vacation. We took the kids to Walt Disney World for their first trip to meet The Mouse (and the princesses). I wasn’t sure how well it would go, but the magic of Disney happened and we had a week with no major meltdowns and lots of fantastic memories. In a stroke of luck, we’ll be going back to Disney in 2014, something I didn’t think would happen for two or more years. I’m hoping for a repeat of the magic in the new year.

Our first day at DisneyLetting our Disney Side show. Pure happiness.

I also FINALLY got this blog moved to WordPress. About time, right? I wish I would have done it sooner, since WordPress has a lot more versatility to it than Blogger. Like much of my life, it’s always a work-in-progress and I’m not happy with the current design. But I’ve been so busy helping with other blogs that I haven’t had a lot of time to tinker with this blog. So 2014 will likely see the design altered when I can make time for it.

Job-wise, I’m happy. In May I was promoted to a permanent position. I like what I get to do, and I love all of the people I work with each day. This job has made me into a pseudo-workaholic by choice, and I am continually grateful for the way fate directed me to this place. Aaron switched to a new position mid-year, finally ending the daily drive to Dayton each day. He’s much closer now, and while his job is contract based at the moment, we hope it’ll become more secure in 2014.

Our biggest challenge this year was probably in the areas of education and politics. Or the combined area of education politics, really. I’ve become more and more disappointed with our school district, from constant and epic failures with their transportation department, to a district administration that ignores parent input and seems to be tone deaf to the real needs of the students in favor of pet project agendas and fostering an atmosphere of crisis.

I still like our school and the teachers and principal there, but I’m growing increasingly concerned with Cordy’s experiences. In 2013, Cordy changed from being a child who loved math and was gifted in it at the start of the year, to now hating math and struggling in class. The girl who used to cozy up with a math workbook and do math problems for fun is now the girl who avoids her math homework, cries and protests when doing it, and says she no longer likes going to school. She’s also developed behavior issues at school, too, mostly in her math class.

Box of Shamehow she feels lately

We have yet to pinpoint what could be causing the issue, but needless to say it’s distressing. In 2014, we’re hoping to have her psychologist shadow a day of school to determine what could be causing the problems, and hopefully all of our detective work will result in a better school experience for Cordy and her teachers.

My position as an advocate for Cordy also turned into becoming an education advocate on a larger scale. I didn’t plan or want to get involved in the school district’s levy issue in the fall, but found myself drawn in once I learned more of the details and realized the lengths the city and school district would go to in order to push a bad plan through to pull more tax money into questionable projects. I couldn’t in good conscience sit by and not be involved when they city was trying to take over the school district in what felt like a move towards the new “education reform” model that is really privatization. (See Chicago and Philadelphia schools as examples of this model.)

So I did what I could, which mostly involved writing, explaining what was and wasn’t included in the district’s plan, and bringing up questions about parts of the plan that were too open-ended and could be abused, and parts that weren’t developed at all. It was painful to be against a school levy, but this wasn’t the right plan. Did I make an impact on voters? I don’t think my words reached that many folks, but hopefully I helped sway a few minds. Considering the overwhelming defeat of the levy, I don’t think our campaign changed the outcome, but hopefully it helped more people think about what’s needed for our district.

While I may not have made much of an impact, my vocal opposition to the city and school district possibly landed me on the radar of a few officials. It’s impossible to say with any certainty, but it’s mighty unusual that Aaron and I received a city tax audit timed two days after the election, along with another vocal opponent of the levy. Since then, a third person tied to the opposition is having his business audited by the city, too. Coincidence? Possibly, but the odds of three out of eight vocal opponents being randomly audited by the city after the election are so unlikely that I’d be more likely to be struck by lightening…in my house.  I’ll be submitting a public records request for more information on how our audit happened and why.

On noticeyou’re on notice, Columbus

So it’s possible I now have a few enemies at City Hall, which is amusing considering we’re all in the same political party. And if the audit was politically motivated, they failed in any attempts to intimidate or silence me. Instead, it’s making me look even closer at the problems within my own city. 2014 will bring more questioning, more investigation of our school district, and likely more writing about the issues affecting the education of my kids (and other kids in the district).

I’m done with making goals to do more each year. Truthfully, I’m doing more than I can handle, and it’s probably better to make a goal to scale back a little. Instead of doing more in 2014, I’d like to do less, and do everything better: work smarter, use my free time more wisely, be engaged and patient in the time I spend with the kids (aka: get off the computer more), truly relax when it’s time to relax, and follow through better with promises made to family and friends. I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel mostly comfortable and confident in my skin, and it’s time to put that confidence to use.

As I wrote earlier, if 2014 is at least on par with 2013, I’ll consider it a good year. If we can make it even better than 2013, it’ll be a great year.

funny facesAnd when in doubt, make funny faces.

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