Cupboard Under the Stairs

Don’t worry, we don’t have plans for a new room for Natalie a la Harry Potter.

Rather, this is dealing with our basement.

image(3)This is what it looks like on a good day. Sean just cleaned yesterday.

image_1(3)Like any typical American, our basement holds a lot of stuff. But what I’m focusing on right now is all of our SCA garb and gear. Currently, it’s hanging on this rack (which has collapsed on us before)…

image_4(2)…and in these bins. Which means I have to dig any time we go to an event. Ignore the laundry basket on top, please.

image_2(3)My solution? The crawl space under the stairs. It currently holds all of the paint in our home, which we haven’t touched in years. Our water shut off is under there, so we can’t completely block it, but here’s the plan:

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  • clean out and safely dispose of all the paint
  • cover up the insulation on the right hand wall (see the pink fluffy? yeah, that)
  • put up a closet rod by the front of the opening
  • sort through the bins and store them in the back
  • pick up a plastic drawer set to store our socks and other accessories
  • hang all long clothing to cover the space

understairsbeforeOur home is meh on storage space, so this is the start of my efforts to think outside of the box in order to make what we do have work for us.

Mother Runner

I’ve begun running again in the last couple of months and, with the exception of October, have had a lot of success with getting up in the mornings and running before the kiddos arrive. Believe me, it’s more of a shock to me than to most. But I have gotten a lot of comments about how they couldn’t get up at 5 to run. I used to think that too. Here’s what’s changed my mind:

  • I’m a wife and mom. 5 am means a solid hour and a half of ME time.
  • Coffee. I set the pot brewing when I leave and it’s a welcome celebration when I get back.
  • I find I’m more awake when my alarm goes off at 4:45 than when I ignore it and sleep til 6.
  • My first kid arrives a little before 7. This ensures I have time to prep for the day instead of rushing to catch up with it from the time my feet hit the floor.
  • It forces me to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Someday this will be 10pm.
  • No one is awake when I get home, which means a nice hot shower for me, no rushing.
  • This time of year, with my schedule, the only time I can run is when it’s dark out. It’s safer to run the streets in the morning, when there are a lot less cars. (My husband knows my route anyway for safety’s sake)
  • It sets the tone for your whole day. You either start with a win or a loss. It’s amazing the funk I’ve felt having losses most of October.
  • You feel a bit like a bad ass saying you get up at 5am to run ;)

Maybe this will change your mind, maybe this will inspire you, maybe this was just an activity to motivate myself on bleary eyed mornings.

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Second Chance Sunday: London and Natalie

Wow…sometimes you start writing a post and it just never gets published. But it really should have, because it was a gem. This was one of those that I found in my drafts folder.

So I’m having my own version of Throwback Thursday: Second Chance Sunday.

This post featured my “first born”, London, and was originally written back when Natalie was only a few months old:

A lot of people have been asking how the cats are adjusting to the wee princess. Thankfully I can say pretty well on both accounts. London was always a mama’s boy, in my lap at every opportunity. Once my belly got in the way he begrudgingly sought solace in daddy’s lap instead, and still has to for the most part. He does look for every chance to steal the lap or even share it with Natalie. It’s a very competitive relationship.

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Today I snuck into Natalie’s room to take some pictures while she napped, and London decided he couldn’t just let her be the center of attention.

So first he showed off by nailing the high jump into the crib.

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Then he checked to make sure he had good light.

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Shook out his fur.

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And posed.

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As a follow up to this post, at 21 months old, Natalie is extremely good with animals of all kinds, and I attribute that to learning with the cats. From the get go we taught her to be gentle, and nice, and to not play with their faces. I’ve only had to remind her a handful of times about not grabbing the tail. “Kitty” was one of her first words, and she loves her big brothers. London will allow her to pet him as long as she’s slow, but Malcolm will still dart away rather than risk it. Eventually he’ll realize she’s another source of scritches and wise up.

London has a nasty habit of scratching our door jambs, and Natalie has picked up on our reprimands of him. She’s taken to admonishing him with a “London, no!” if she thinks he’s up to no good…which is 75% of the time. The other day she scolded him for knocking a tape measure off the bookshelf, then discovered that he wanted to chase it and began wiggling it like a wand for him. This only furthers London’s disillusion that I gave birth to Natalie only so he could have a devoted playmate and petter.

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Marilynn Esther Benedix Gage (1922 – 2013)

This past week has been hard on my family. We had to say goodbye to an incredible woman, my grandmother.

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It started last Tuesday, when she was admitted to the hospital for what they originally thought to be a UTI. Things quickly turned for the worse, and by Wednesday evening she was gone. Just like that.

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Half of my grandmother (it’s the only older photo I have) with my parents. Yes, my parents are hotties.

Less than a week later, the funeral was done, and we were getting back to life as usual.

Life goes on. A sentiment at once promising and heartbreaking.

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December 2012, reading to Natalie, 11 months old.

She’d been declining in health for the last 2 years, waffling between her home in Maine, my mother’s home here in Massachusetts, and finally, a rest home in Worcester for her final year. There she was visited daily by her daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchild. I am eternally grateful that she was so present in Natalie’s life, the brief amount of time that was in the grand scheme of things.

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From June 2012, when Natalie (6 months) and I took care of her in Maine for 3 weeks.

She was the only grandmother I knew. My father’s mother died before I was born. Some may feel sorry for themselves, and I wish I could have known my other grandma, but I never felt deprived or lacking in only knowing Grandma Gage. As a matter of fact, I considered myself luckier than most. Now I have the extremely difficult task of keeping her memory alive so that Natalie will know who this loving, elegant lady was. When the opportunity arose to speak at her funeral, I jumped at the chance. Not only so I could tell others how blessed I was to have had her as my grandma, but also to create a record for myself and Natalie in the years to come, while the emotions were fresh.

Briana speakingI prayed for the right words, and here they are:

“Hi, my name is Briana, and I am a ‘Gage Girl’. For those unfamiliar with the term, it was lovingly coined by the men who have joined our family through marriage. What defines a ‘Gage Girl’? Well, we are notoriously running a little behind schedule, we are all beneath the average height for a normal adult woman (some more so than others), we like tea with our cream and sugar, and we bounce our feet in unison when sitting on the couch like a troop of vertically-challenged Rockettes. Grandpa would be proud. [side bar: Grandpa had a soft spot for the Rockettes.] But growing up a ‘Gage Girl’ meant so much more than that. After all, these men married us for a reason. We were brought up by the best, whether directly or indirectly.”

mom_janet“As a new mom, you question every choice you make in raising your child. I wish Grandma had written a book, because she has built a legacy that I only dream of rivaling when my days here are over. But in a way, she did. She kept notebooks of quotes and thoughts that appealed to her or made her giggle. In rifling through one of them, I came across this:

Mom: prays, laughs, gives hope, believes, cares, blesses, supports, comforts and encourages.”

Natalie_cuddle” Grandma did all of those things. Her faith was rock solid, and it shone through her service to her church, family and friends, her quiet grace, and her thoughtfully crafted prayers over home-cooked meals. Her smile lit up a room, and she’d sit quietly for a half hour only to chime in with a witty joke or funny anecdote from her youth. Laughter fills our family gatherings. People were drawn to her because she cared so much for others. Everyone was important. To be a Gage meant knowing you were unconditionally loved. She was proud of each and every one of us, and she showed it. Whether she was announcing our visits in church, remembering the little things in one of her many handwritten notes to us, or wanting to know the latest in our acting, music, gymnastics, writing, schoolwork, family and careers. We’ve all had our trials, our bumpy moments, but she was always there to love us. It didn’t matter if you were her child, grandchild, great grandchild, spouse, steprelative, just a date, or the person she met at the post office…you were FAMILY.”

salute“As I grew older, Grandma and I found more ways to relate: our enjoyment of recreating history (though she admitted she and the other ladies at the Revolutionary War camps would seek refuge overnight at the hotel), our love for mystery novels, or most recently, over war stories from being a new mom. I see now that so much of who I am, who we are, is founded by her. How she raised her children and therefore how her children raised us.”

present“Proverbs 13:22 says ‘a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children’. Well, we are all vastly wealthy thanks to this good woman. Thank you, Grandma. Because of you, your inheritance will continue to bless many generations to come.”

Now excuse me while I go use up a box of Kleenex.

State of the Garden Address: Fall 2013

I can’t say my garden has been terribly successful this year, though it is much better than last.  About half of my plants perished from the heat, swimming after downpours, neglect, or simply not being harvested. The victims? My lavender, the spinach (though I did get one small harvest out of them, yum!), the cauliflower, the dill, the lettuce.

What did survive is slowly being transplanted in hopes of allowing it to expand. I’m starting to think ahead to next year and what I’ll do differently. I need to keep a journal and do some more research into what I’m buying and how it grows best. This year I put them in dirt and hoped for the best.

When I say I transplanted them, I mean I did it last week. Sean built me planters back in June, and there have been bags of dirt sitting in them since. I finally pulled them out and dumped them in. Bad news: leaving bags that long deceives the local 8 legged population into thinking they can move in. Good news: the grass below was killed and worms had made their way into the bags, so my planter boxes have some wriggly soil enrichers. Natalie got a kick out of the worms, asking to hold them and laughing uncontrollably when I put a wiggly one in the palm of her chubby little hand.

Here’s what the blueberry bush looks like now. Forgive the insane pine needlage, we were gone for the weekend and it was insanely windy.

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Here are the strawberries, which are still producing.

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The tomato plant, which have only produced mini tomatoes so far. At the top of the picture is the pepper plant.

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My sunflower circle was a success! Giant sunflowers grew, interspersed with smaller ones. I’ll be harvesting the head of the furthest right flower in the picture below so I can improve upon my design for next year.

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Contentment Challenge

It’s October…how did we get here already?

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Oh right. First Sean was a two-headed cow and tuberculosis (From Orchids to Octopi), then we were Iago and Desdemona (Othello), then we were Mollie Ralston and Sgt. Trotter (The Mousetrap), now I’m Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (Steel Magnolias).

I love theater, always have, always will. It’s how Sean and I met, and a passion we share. And this has been an incredible year for roles. But it never seems to fail that I allow a show to bring discord into my home. I’m gone 3 nights a week. My home falls into disarray. We eat like crap. I feel like I’m always kissing my daughter good-bye as I head out the door. Natalie now mimics me, purse over her shoulder, waving bye and blowing me a kiss. I ask her where she’s going, and she says she doesn’t know. Now, as a daycare provider, I’m with her all day, it’s not like I’m an absentee mother. But for some reason this strikes a chord somewhere in me. Looks like I’m the one with separation anxiety issues, not the toddler. We’ve been constantly on the go, so much that it feels weird and I get antsy if we don’t have anywhere to be. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to just BE.

So I’m calling a time out.

Ok, maybe not a time out…a sabbatical?

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Something has to change. I read about a Contentment Challenge first on photographer Nancy Ray‘s blog, then on my friend Lara Casey‘s, and I thought ‘maybe this is what I need’. But I decided that, instead of throwing myself into it immediately, I’d pray about it. Ask God if this is what he meant for me, if this is what I truly needed. I prayed for 2 weeks, and the pull never left my heart. Then, sitting in our friends’ apartment last Friday for our first Financial Peace University class, Dave Ramsey talked about how people forget about true contentment.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  (Phil 4:12-13)

Ding Ding.

My life is over run with STUFF. Clutter. Both physical and mental. Natalie’s incredibly impressionable, and I want to provide the best environment for her as possible, because this is her foundation.

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The Contentment Challenge : October, November & December 2013

We will give up shopping for clothes, accessories, household decor, and “stuff” for 3 months, to focus our hearts and minds on the root of true contentment. We will actively pursue fulfilling activities that will replace our addiction to material things.

The Guidelines:

• For the next 10 days, your homework is the following: prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need, and the opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Target.)

• Choose 1-3 inspiring books to read during this time. There are so many great options at your local library. I will be choosing Love Does by Bob Goff and Captivating by John and Stasi Eldridge

• Gifts are okay! If someone gives you a new dress or piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously! If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so. The point is not to be rude, but to learn more of ourselves and the Lord. Personally, I have a gift card to Ruche from my birthday that I am savoring  and will be utilizing at some point, but it will be for an item that is needed to .

• Necessities are okay! If you drop and break your phone, please go get a new one! If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. (“I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”) My exceptions to the challenge include a few extras for Natalie’s birthday (maybe some balloons to surprise her in the morning) and a Christmas tree.

• You must actively pursue something – anything – that replaces your tendency to buy stuff. Begin thinking about something you love or a hobby you’ve always wanted to do, and make preparations to actually do it. I will be focusing on creating, simplifying and creating memories. Gifts for Christmas, planning my garden for 2014, purging our home and having a yard sale.

So, who’s with me?

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Another Week of Smart Shopping

While nowhere near as thrilling as getting a free item, today’s shopping trip had me spending less and saving more than last week. I saved 40.42% and only used 3 coupons! The store was having a mega meat sale (40-50% off in some cases) plus a few other buy 1 get 2 free sales. I was able to get a lot of freezer stock for the next few weeks of meals. Now, the pic below is my total for today. And while almost $90 isn’t anything to brag about on any Extreme Couponer board, it’s the savings and the items I got that have me doing a happy dance.

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This included:

 - 12 chicken breasts

 - 2 marinated pork tenderloins

 - 6 pork chops

 - gallon of milk

 - 2 boxes of cereal

 - 3 packs English muffins

 - 3 loaves of bread

 - 3 boxes choco chip cookies (craft night ladies, we’ll be eating well!)

 - 4 boxes brownie mix (see? what did I tell you ladies?)

 - 2 bottles laundry detergent

 - box of fabric softener

 - 20 yogurts

 - dozen eggs

 - 2 boxes Jello pudding

 - 2 boxes of tea

 - 2 bunches of bananas

 - 3pk of sponges

So I’m pretty pleased with myself.

And P.S. that $0.67 off a gallon will make filling the van a little less painful next time.

Smart Shopping with Coupons

Have you seen that TLC show Extreme Couponers? The one where people will dive into dumpsters, spend 60 hours a week clipping and planning 6 hour shopping trips, and sacrifice interior aesthetics in the name of bringing home thousands of dollars worth of products for free or pennies on the dollar? I would watch it on occasion before we cut cable, but a couple weeks ago I discovered it was on Netflix.

Guess what my nap time TV indulgence has become?

Now, I have no intentions of committing that much time, effort and space into my grocery trips. I haven’t even made a solid habit of meal planning for the week. Plus, I hate math, and the lists these men and women go to the store with scare me. But as a result of our complacency, the grocery budget is always the one that gets out of line month to month. We love to travel, and want to go visit my sister in law in San Diego this fall, but the money is never there. If I can shop smarter, and take some tricks from these people, then perhaps that grocery budget can lose some weight and we can siphon it into a more enjoyable and indulgent savings pot.

I’ve been passively couponing for a while. My mom and mother in law both give me their Telegram & Gazette circulars, and they’ve piled up. So this week, while the kiddos snoozed away, I popped on an episode of EC, pulled out a file box and some folders, grabbed the pile, and began getting organized.

After watching several episodes and seeing the systems these people used, I decided the easiest way for me to keep on top of it would be to file the circulars whole, then clip the coupons I need when I plan my trip. See my set up below and add in a computer.

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Big Blue, the file box – Each manila folder holds a month of circulars (Smart Source, Red Plum, or P&G) chronologically with spines up so I can see the printed dates quickly. Circulars are tossed when their coupons expire.

Notebook – Holds my Emily Ley meal planning pages, which have spaces for your meals and a large space for your shopping list. I have to plan for my own family, plus the daycare kiddos.

Circulars – I have 2 grocery stores within 5 minutes of me (I know, spoiled) so I pull their weekly flyers out to check the deals. Some people go all out and shop 8 stores withing a 50 mile radius…I think 2 is good to start with.

Computer (not pictured) – Because I don’t have 60 hours a week to devote to this, I use the resources available. There are several blogs that do the deal matching legwork for you. I simply googled “Price Chopper coupon deals” and “Stop and Shop coupon deals”. They typically match up the sales in the flyer or on the shelves with coupons online (printables) or in recent circulars (referenced by title and date, hence my filing system for quick hunting). Having a printer that works (and hasn’t been blinking it’s LOW INK light at you for a month) will allow you to access even more savings with the online printable coupons.

Husband or Mother-in-Law (not pictured) – Useful for wrangling the wee princess if she’s awake. She thinks it’s fun to steal mommy’s laptop or pen and scribble all over my planning sheet.

This week I happened to get lucky, and achieved my biggest milestone yet – a free item! And what’s better, a free item that I NEEDED. My hubby has 3 staples in his beauty…I mean grooming…routine: Head and Shoulders 2 in 1, Old Spice deodorant and Old Spice body wash. I like to smell him after he showers.

Anyways…

Head and Shoulders is usually $5.79. This week it was marked down to $3.99.

The store had a coupon that I could load onto my membership card worth $2 off of 1. So now it was only $1.99.  Awesome.

But wait, there’s more.

This Sunday’s circular had a $2 off 1 coupon…thereby making my purchase -$0.01.

That’s a negative, folks.

Sadly I only had one of each coupon, otherwise you better believe I would have stocked up.

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I’ll keep you updated with other hot deals I nab and tips on “Smart Shopping” as I’ve deemed my less than extreme version of couponing. I’m still very much learning, but I believe in sharing what you know!

A Haven in the City

I grew up in the sticks, and I was very happy there. Now I live in the city, a fact that I haven’t yet come to complete terms with.

It seems the longer I live on this busy street with the grocery store a mere 500 feet away, the harder my spirit is retaliating and yearning for country life, animals and simplicity around me. I have this romantic idea of becoming an urban homesteader, with a garden that shames the best produce departments and chickens that lay sunny yolked eggs for only my family. My thumbs itch, they want to be green SO badly.

Last year’s attempt at a garden wound up dying of dehydration and failure to plant. I hung my head in shame. But did I learn? Nope. I’m back at it again this year.

However this year I’m making more progress than last. The big difference is that I’m spending at least an hour outside with Natalie each day and she adores nature. She is enthralled by plants and flowers and bugs and dirt. So my plants are in containers and are getting a nice daily watering.

Here’s what we have going on so far:

Strawberries – I’m very excited about these. They are my second plants, as the first two got too dried out and didn’t recover from transplanting. But these second ones are already berrying up! 
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Blueberries – The bush is in a large container for the moment. Once the yard is more settled, I’ll find a place to properly plant it to let it flourish. But it’s already flowering!

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Spinach and Cauliflower – The cauliflower was an accident, I meant to grab broccoli, but the canisters were all mixed up at the store.

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Sweet Mint and Dill -

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Tomatoes -

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Pepper and Cabbage – The cabbage was an accident, I meant to grab lettuce, but again, I blame the messy shelf labeling over my inability to  double check what I’d pulled.

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Red Lettuce -

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And what I’m most excited about, the Sunflower House! I’ve planted 2 varieties, one will grow about 4 feet in height, the others 12 feet!!! So *green thumbs crossed* we get some mammoth flowers. The robins will love the feast the heads will provide. However, I realized after the fact that this would become a mowing nightmare for Sean, so I’m kicking around some ideas on how to remedy this. My leading thought is to make the inner circle a sand pit for the kids to dig in. Any other suggestions?

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Natalie and the other day care kids adore being outside, and it’s my favorite time of the day as well. So I want to really make our yard a magical and enjoyable place for both  kids and adults. I have many other ideas swimming about in my brain, and I’ll do my best to keep up with updates on how things are changing!

Fifteen Months

You keep us going these days, Natalie. Fifteen months old and you grow by the minute.

The biggest news is, you are walking now! A week or two ago you really became a walker, as opposed to a crawler who occasionally walks. You always look pleased as punch when you’re toddling about, elbows bent and hands raised, ready to wave at passersby or catch yourself when you stumble.

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You are a ham and cheese sandwich these days. You’ve learned which things are silly and funny, and you’ll do them just to get a laugh out of us. Whether it’s pinching and holding the spoon between your teeth, or dropping things and uttering the cutest little “Uh Oh!”, you know what gets us to smile.

As with all toddlers who are independently mobile, you get into EVERYTHING! As I type this, you are pulling bowls out of the cabinet in the kitchen. We’re trying to teach you what is ok to touch and what are “don’t touch” items. We’ve got a pretty long road ahead of us on that one.

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You are smart as a whip. You have figured out the home button on our iPhones, and you’ve nearly uploaded photos (that you’ve taken) onto flickr! You’ve also mastered the signs to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, and you ask for them frequently.

Writing is your favorite thing to do. We’ll give you a pen or pencil and a piece of paper and you will scribble away. You’ve spent an entire church service writing on papers. Occasionally you’ll pause, hold out the page and study it with furrowed brow, as if to see what it’s missing.

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You are becoming much more communicative. We’ve been trying to allow you to make your own choices on some things, because you do have your opinions! From what to wear that day, to whether you watch Curious George, Busytown, or Babar during special TV time, to what you eat for snack, you’re not shy to tell us what you do and don’t want.

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We’ve also started introducing manners. First are “Please” and “Thank You”. You are very good at signing or saying them when prompted, but what has impressed me is how often you say them unprompted. You may turn into a little lady yet!

That being said, we’ve also entered Tantrum Territory. Like I mentioned before, you know what you want, and you don’t like hearing the word “no”.

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We’re starting to see your imagination at work when you play. You like to tuck in your dollies, feed your fish stick to your chipmunk stuffy, and you LOVE to pretend to talk on the phone. Funny thing is, when we actually call someone, you clam up!

Little things give me glimpses of the little girl you’re turning into. I’ll catch you flipping through a book while sprawled on your tummy on the floor. You’ll ask to put on a vest after several attempts to put in on by yourself. You’ll pick up a bag and carry it about as if it were a purse.

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One of my favorite things about you so far is your love for the cats. You love to toddle after them, pet them, and give them hugs and kisses. And I very rarely have to correct you on grabbing their fur.

Your love for hugs and kisses aren’t reserved to the kitties. Lately you’ve been snuggling up as I sing you to sleep, and I wish I could stay there all night, just like that. You’re no longer a baby, something I thought I’d mourn, but I’m enjoying watching you blossom.