Category: Living Local

Living Local: Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe

Happy Friday! Today I’m here to share Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe as the second local business in my Living Local series. I first discovered Dog Ears while I was running. I kept passing by this eclectic little spot nestled between Potters Rd and Abbott Rd in South Buffalo, right on the other side of Cazenovia Park. I finally stopped by for a coffee and have gone back at least once a week ever since. I’m highlighting Dog Ears today because it’s Free Coffee Friday! You can get a free small coffee before 2pm every Friday. Need a bigger caffeine boost? A medium is just $0.25. Did I mention they also have a coffee card you get punched each time you order coffee? Between this and Free Coffee Fridays I’m in there all the time!

I reached out to the director of the non-profit bookstore and cafe, Thomas McDonnell, and then had a chance to meet him in person a few weeks ago. He shared a ton of information about various community literacy projects they’re running and showed me the upstairs space where they hold programming. They also do a great job of supporting the local community which is receiving a boost from South District Council Member Chris Scanlon. I always check out the flyers covering their entryway for upcoming events. While I could go on and on about this, I know you want to hear more about why it’s my favorite kid-friendly bookstore and cafe in all of WNY. The menu is fresh and healthy (don’t worry–you can follow it up with one of their baked goods), and the entire place is open and welcoming. Their kids menu options all come with a side of fresh fruit. They have this cozy space for kids in the back where I have spent many a hot afternoon enjoying an iced coffee while Lily perused their books. If you’re looking for a publication they don’t have in stock, they can order it–I’ve chosen to do this instead of Amazon-priming myself. They also meet my criteria for baby-friendly space: you can maneuver a double-wide stroller through the bookstore and cafe (plus they have a ramp in the back where their outdoor seating is), and they have a huge, spacious, clean bathroom that also has extra diaper-changing essentials if you forgot anything! It’s the perfect spot to relax on your own, or to meet some moms and babes for a mommy date.

I asked Tom a few questions and he shared some more info about current and upcoming programming for families and youth. So here we go!

Dog Ears Bookstore and Café is a really unique place. When you walk in, you’re met by the perpetually friendly and down-to-earth staff, and the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Coupled with the homey assortment of seating options and walls lined with books for all ages, you can’t help but feel welcome. Tell us more about the café and bookstore, and what they have to offer.

 What we really want the community and our customers to know is that we are a non-profit, and choosing to spend your money here helps us with our mission which is “Our programs are designed to develop life skills through reading with encouragement, facilitation and education while offering a bookstore to cultivate and support the reading and writing process.” My cry to all my fellow teammates is customer service and being part of something special. I never mind hearing good or bad stories about the place–it makes me feel good and gives me cause to improve. Here’s more about our establishment, from our mission statement:

It is the classic “around the corner” bookstore that is quaint, inviting, and a place where all readers want to go. Knowing that major bookstores can crush small neighborhood stores, it is necessary to apply for grants and operate on a not-for- profit basis. The sales from the bookstore help to pay employees and more importantly, the furtherance and continuance of the programs. With the bookstore generating 50% of our revenue, we show the community that we practice our preaching and offer more to the people than just programs. We offer a place of knowledge, gathering, shopping and friendly service out of dedication to books. Employees are not people that just point customers in the right direction, but readers who care about what customers are reading. How you are treated in a store and what you read are key factors in the return stages of any successful reading environment. The programs are very successful because of the bookstore as young and adult readers need encouragement and direction.

What does it mean to be a Literary Enlightenment Center?

It means that we are community-minded and want to give people the best opportunity to succeed in life, the workforce, school and being a contributing member of mankind and helping others. The Enlightenment Literary Arts Center is vastly different than the for-profit institutions to send children for help when they are faltering at school, which are usually in suburban communities and cost money.  Our goal is to staff the programs in a similar manner as learning centers but  offer facilitation paid for through the grants and bookstore sales, and not of the pockets of our community members with a desire to learn. We won’t just provide books. We go beyond that – as a center to encounter reading and writing.

What kind of programming do you offer families and kids in the community?

Our Puppy Tales program for 2-4 year olds is a 6-week program that includes stories, crafts, and snacks. Each child gets a book at the end to build their “Libraries for Life.” South District Council Member Chris Scanlon sponsors our Family Literacy Nights (the third Monday of each month) where family members get together to read, do crafts, and have a healthy snack. We also do movie nights the third Friday of each month, and have a free summer reading and writing camp. There’s always more information on our website and Facebook page about our program and upcoming events.

Where do you get the inspiration for your cafe menu? My personal favorite is the Turkey Garden Club, but you have a huge variety of options that I really enjoy and feel good about offering to my kids. Plus your hot drink menu and seasonal specials are a sleep-deprived mom’s dream come true.

We originally named all of our stuff after authors and still strive to listen to our customers and please them (while still being cost effective) . We had a teaching chef some time ago who managed the café and helped design the menu, but now Lainie is diligent in staying on top of trends and tweaking new and original ideas. Krista Van Wagner, formerly of Curly’s, is now helping and we look to stay fresh, relevant and here for the community. And we only use fresh and the best products for our menu.

What else would you like to share with families who might want to visit Dog Ears?

Just that we are here and have a mission and can help anybody through books, stories and words. We give people a chance and just like a Christmas song we work with 2-92 year olds. You can come in as a toddler and walk up our stairs of programming and we will be here when you are 92 ready to make your life fulfilling.

Maybe I’ll see you at Dog Ears today when I grab my free coffee!

Living Local: The Blue Eyed Baker

Hi everyone! When I started writing this blog (again), there were a few things I wanted to do. Since my first pregnancy, I’ve been so curious about other mom’s experiences: how they chose their OB/GYN and what they thought of them, how they did or didn’t prepare for their births, what their hospital experience was like, what their day looks like as a SAHM or WOHM or WAHM mom, what their childcare situation is like. Part of this is because I was completely new to Western New York when I had to choose my OB. I literally picked the first OB that showed up on Google, and I ended up leaving the practice after one visit. I had a really hard time finding helpful info about providers, and stories about labor and delivery in specific hospitals. I know others are curious too, because these are often the topics that get conversations started between us as moms meeting for the first time. That’s why I’m going to be featuring a Birth Story series, and a Day in the Life series. I would love for you to share your unique experience, from natural home births to planned C-sections, and stay-at-home-moms to single parents working full time. Contact me if you’re interested!

But the other thing I wanted to do with this blog was to create a place to showcase some of the awesome places to eat, shop, and play in WNY. There are so many fantastic restaurants, independently owned stores, and places for kids to get out and move, but half the time it takes stumbling across one or a chance encounter to find out about them. Today is the first feature of my Living Local series, which will explore what WNY has to offer! Do you have a favorite locally-owned clothing line for kids? A nearby art studio that offers low-cost lessons for little ones? An outdoor space with hiking trails perfect for preschoolers? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll feature them on the blog!

But today I am so excited to introduce Alex, also known as the Blue Eyed Baker! When I thought about who to feature for the first post in this series, Alex automatically came to mind. She’s a Western New Yorker and mommy-to-be who went out on a limb and started her own business in her early twenties–phew! The Blue Eyed Baker creates some of the most beautiful and delicious cakes, pastries, and, of course, French macarons you can find. I admit I let Lily have a French macaron every Saturday morning during the East Aurora farmers market season, where the Blue Eyed Baker has a tent. So without further ado, meet the Blue Eyed Baker!

Hi Alex! Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

I am a mama to be who owns a small bakery business. I operate out of a commercial kitchen we put in our basement, doing mostly farmers markets, weddings, and supplying desserts to restaurants. I also take on personal orders. While it can certainly be challenging at times owning your own business, I love what I do and feel very lucky to bake for a living. 

Before you moved back to WNY and devoted yourself full-time to baking, you were living in California and working in a completely different field. How did you get into baking, and what made you decide to start the Blue Eyed Baker?

I was working a corporate job for 5 years and eventually moved out to California for it. I’ve always loved baking but my love really grew when I moved to LA and found myself venturing into all the beautiful pastry shops. I knew I wanted to leave the corporate world, that it just wasn’t for me. I began searching for an education in pastry and found a school that worked with my schedule, allowed me to go at night while continuing to work, and study French-style pastry. From there my love for baking took off and while studying the business of food I began creating ideas for my own business. When my now husband got into school back here in Buffalo, the time was right for us to move back and in turn I decided it was also the right time to take a leap of faith, leave my job and start my business.

What are some of your favorite events and occasions to bake for?

I love creating dessert bars for weddings and showers / parties. My favorite thing to make are my French macarons. They are decadent and its fun to get creative with flavors!

What do you get the most requests for?

Mostly French macarons! I also have a lovely following at the East Aurora farmers market.

What is your favorite thing about living in WNY?

I love that we have seasons, living in California will make you appreciate that! And the cost of living is great for raising a family. I also love the people here!

A lot of us will be celebrating our little one’s first birthdays soon. How can we reach out to you to ask about ordering a cake?

Email me! … I don’t work with fondant but can certainly create a cake, smash cake, or cupcakes for the celebration!

Thanks, Alex, for being our first Living Local featured business, and congrats on your growing family!

A Birth Story

It’s been three years(!) since I last wrote a post. I’ve been wanting to get Maggie’s birth story written down since it happened, so I’m going to jump right back in with it.

Margaret Emmelise O’Connor was due, according to me, on April 24th, 2016, and according to my OB on April 21st. With this pregnancy, like my first, I had experienced Braxton Hicks since about 13 weeks on. This time, however, I had been having real contractions since about 36 weeks, and my midwife let me know it was prodromal labor and could occur for several more weeks. The good news was that prodromal labor preps your body for the real thing. The bad news: I was exhausted. It fortunately came in waves, so I sometimes had a few days reprieve.

My main midwife had been really enthusiastic about my plans to have a natural birth after having been induced with my first. At my 38-ish week appointment, things changed. I had my first cervical check, and her face just dropped. She told me my cervix was posterior, which is unfavorable for labor. With a posterior cervix, you can experience strong contractions that don’t result in progress. She said I would likely go past my due date, and might end up getting induced. She assured me we would try all of the natural labor induction methods first, and I went home and chugged my raspberry leaf tea.

The next Monday before my Thursday due date was uncharacteristically beautiful for late-April in Western NY. I was walking in the park near work thinking about how nice it was going to be to have a few weeks at home with Lily before the baby was born. After finding out I qualified for extended medical leave, I had decided the next day would be my last day of work. I really wish I had gone out earlier than 39+ weeks, but I hadn’t known I could use EML. At my appointment on Tuesday, my other midwife agreed I still had a few more weeks to go. That night I had some pretty intense contractions, but ultimately fell asleep.

I spent the next day at the zoo with Lily and my mother-in-law, breathing through inconsistent contractions. My MIL later said she had no idea I was having contractions then and that she couldn’t believe I spent hours walking around the zoo and even carrying my 2 1/2 year old. A big part of me figured I had a few more weeks of feeling like this, and that I needed to carry on like normal. That afternoon while Lily napped I baked and prepped a real dinner, which I hadn’t done in weeks. I started timing my contractions but ended up stopping because they were anywhere from 1-13 minutes apart. After she woke up we spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening playing outside. I chatted with my dad on the phone a bit and joked that maybe there’d be a baby that night. It was such a nice day and evening.

That night I started having more contractions around bed time. I again started timing them. I kept having to get out of bed to walk through the contractions, so I ended up going downstairs to sleep on the couch. I was able to sleep in between them until at least 2 or 3 am. I remember after my first birth thinking it was crazy people could fall asleep between contractions spaced less than 5 minutes apart, but here I was doing it. They were again inconsistent and I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain. I was mostly just annoyed that I was going to have to deal with this every night for a few weeks, because again, they were inconsistently spaced. I had a few that were 45 seconds apart, and some that were over 10 minutes apart. Around 4 am I got in our jet tub to see if that would help. It slowed everything down a bit and felt awesome. I decided to call my office, though, because I had been having contractions for such a long time at this point. It was really exciting getting to select the “If you think you’re in labor, please press 3” option! I explained what had been going on and that I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain but wondered if I should get checked. They said yes, and I said I wanted to wait to get to the hospital until about 7am because my MIL needed to come over.

We called my MIL and she got to the house about 6:30am on April 21st, my due date. Lily was still asleep while we got everything in the car. She woke up just a few minutes before we were going to leave, and I carried her downstairs. I remember thinking how little her hands looked. I set her down at the bottom of the stairs and let her walk into the living room while I had a contraction. I could tell my MIL was a little annoyed we had asked her to come over because I didn’t look like I was in labor. We got into the car and I cried about saying goodbye to Lily. It still makes me want to cry thinking of it.

On the way to the hospital my contractions slowed way down. I only had I think 4 during the entire 20 minute drive, and they weren’t strong. I had one on the way from the car to the maternity floor, and we arrived at about 7:05am. I was only 2cm dilated when the nurse checked me and a bit embarrassed. She said that I should walk the halls and if I didn’t progress after four hours, they’d send me home. We asked about walking in the park right outside and they said no which I was bummed about because it was nice out. About 7:55 we started walking the halls, after Ryan did some work in the room and they got me all checked in. We walked past the jam-packed nursery where there were at least 12 babies. A few minutes in, Ryan told me some joke and I started laughing. Suddenly, liquid splattered all over the ground and I said “Either my water just broke, or I peed my pants.” I was SO excited that my water broke! It was just like the movies. A nurse came over and I apologized but she said “You go girl!”

We headed back to the room and they tested the fluid and said it wasn’t my water. I was pretty convinced, so when I felt another gush in the bathroom and also lost my mucus plug and had my bloody show all at once, I had them test it again and it was positive. Suddenly, I had my first real contraction. This was at about 8:55am. I now know that I was in transition. After another 2 of those I was yelling at Ryan to get off the phone and that I didn’t care he was finishing up work. The nurse checked me and I was 7cm dilated. They shuffled me to the delivery room and onto the bed where I promptly curled into the fetal position. They couldn’t convince me to move so I stayed there a bit. Another nurse who had read my birth plan which included my desire to labor in a tub came in, took one look at me, and said “Oh, you’re not getting in the tub!”

In line with my birth plan they dimmed the lights and kept it quiet. I wouldn’t open my eyes, and told Ryan I didn’t think I could do it without an epidural. They said there wasn’t any time, and somehow got me to roll onto my left side. My midwife–not the one I usually had, but I was ultimately very happy with her–came in and said “Are you kidding?!” She was so surprised to see me in labor. She wanted to do a cervical check but I refused–the last one had been so painful. My body was bearing down on it’s own and every time I was convinced I was going to puke but I didn’t. They made me get on my back, which I was terrified to do because I was in so much pain. Then all of a sudden I was out of transition and ready to push! Just like in the movies again, I felt awesome between each push and was carrying on a conversation with this student. My midwife applied a warm compress like I had requested, and I attribute this to not tearing and having very limited swelling. The experience of pushing was so different this time, and strangely I didn’t feel like I was doing as great of a job. I pushed for about 20 minutes total. I remember thinking my entire body was going to rip open, and saying this in wonder after one push. I was excited about going through the experience of each stage of labor. And then suddenly she was here! They put Maggie on my chest and I said “She’s so tiny!” She was longer and a little skinnier than Lily so looked so scrawny. Margaret Emmelise O’Connor was born 9:53am, 21 inches and 8lbs 3oz. She just lay on me for the longest time, just like I had requested. The cord was wrapped around her neck but they still asked if I wanted to wait to clamp it, according to my birth plan (“No!”). We had extra skin-to-skin time before she was washed up because there weren’t any rooms available. Eventually they brought us to our room and Maggie to the nursery for her shots. I took a shower and was amazed at how much better I felt after Maggie’s birth than Lily’s. I also wasn’t starving. Ryan texted our family while we were still in the labor room and they were all shocked to see pics of the baby. My mom actually said to her friends at work “Who’s baby is this?” because it had gone so quickly. I was in active labor for under three hours!

My delivery could not have gone any better. I think the only thing that was harder this time was them pushing on my stomach afterwards. That was worse than the entire birthing process, and my contractions were bad for the days following. I had some retained placenta as well and actually had to get an ultrasound after passing some tissue. I was, and still am, so excited to think about her birth. It was incredible to be able to recognize each stage as I was in it.

To this day, Maggie is such a chill baby. It was like she didn’t want to impose on us with her birth. We convinced them to let us go home the next afternoon instead of staying another night. We had already spent several nights in the hospital just over a month earlier when Lily had RSV, and we were ready to go home. We didn’t even go straight home though–we went to my in-laws where everyone got to see her again and we got to pick Lily up. I felt so dramatically better this time around that we really launched right back into our lives. We even went out to a bakery for cookies the next day and people were amazed at how new she was. Even in the hospital, I felt like myself so much more quickly than I had with Lily. It’s been a whirlwind since Maggie was born, and so difficult dividing my time between my two girls. She is the sweetest thing though, and I can’t wait to watch her grow into a little girl.


Itty-bitty week-old Maggie Moo.