Snapshot of right now

I didn’t intend to let this blog sit on a negative note for so long, but somehow days, weeks, months pass and I just don’t get around to posting all that I would like to write about.

Right now I have a few minutes (hopefully a bit longer than that) while both kids nap. This morning we woke up early – 6:30 a.m. is the norm these days, especially for early bird Mara – and read and played in the nursery for a while before breakfast. I’m off work on Wednesdays, and while typically we head to a 9 a.m. women’s Bible study at church, today the study is on “spring break” so we had the morning to ourselves.

After early bird Mara went down for her first nap at 8:30 a.m., Corban and I washed dishes (he could stand on his step stool at the sink all day rinsing things) and made a broccoli salad to bring to a playdate set for later in the morning. He played independently in the sunroom while I blow dried my hair, then we got to work “training” for the Easter egg hunt our nanny is taking him to tomorrow morning. I showed him the concept, then hid some empty eggs around the sunroom and had him search for them while toting around his cloth Easter basket. Instant success in the fun department.

Mara didn’t wake up from her nap until 10:15, so as soon as she woke up I quickly fed her and got us packed up and out the door to our playdate. I’ve been part of a really fun, active moms Meetup group since Corban was 9 months old, and while my schedule doesn’t allow me to make it to a ton of playdates, there’s almost always something planned for the days I’m looking to get out with the kids. This morning it was an Easter party at a fellow mom’s house. The Easter egg hunt tomorrow is organized by a few of the moms in the group, and Friday (my other day off work) we may head to a meetup at a bounce place. Most weeks we are not nearly this active with the group!

The playdate was a hit – there were tons of toys, kids from 6 months to 3.5 years old, brunch food, a craft (which Corban lost interest in after 2.5 seconds so I meticulously finished). I got to catch up with some of the moms I hadn’t seen in a while (I can’t remember the last time we were able to make it to a meetup!). Mara just chilled (as usual) and ate a few bites of egg yolk (the one food besides milk in her diet at this point). It was a really fun morning.

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We didn’t leave till close to 1 p.m., which is Corban’s usual nap time, so I was faced with a dilemma. I needed to stop at the dollar store to pick up a few larger Easter eggs and then drop the eggs off at another mom’s house for the hunt tomorrow. I debated, do I push my luck and get this over with while we’re already in the car, or wait till after Corban’s nap? I pushed my luck, and Corban was overtired and crying by the time we got home at 2 p.m.

Thankfully sweet Mara was (barely) OK with hanging out in the jumperoo while I put out the Corban fire and finally got him to sleep. Next was Mara’s turn to eat and go down. She fell asleep rocking in my arms and I held her longer than I needed to after she was out, just to relax and enjoy her snuggled up there.

Since my last post, I’ve really tried to avoid being out of the house by myself with the kids anytime close to Corban’s naptime. It’s the easiest way to avoid meltdowns and it works – no surprise – because crabby goes hand in hand with exhausted. Today clearly I failed at that (sorry, Corban) but thankfully it wasn’t too bad.

Corban is at such a fun age – he loves to sing, read (by himself and with us), play boat (on any piece of furniture) and airplane (in any small space), wrestle, help me in the kitchen, spot animals in our backyard. He picks up on new phrases and concepts all the time. He loves being outside (spring, we are so ready for you!), stuffed animals, playing with his friends from church and being around people. He’s also able to play independently more and more, which is so sweet to watch. He calls lemons “lemonades” and requests the “teacher song” every time we’re in the car (it’s a song about the 10 commandments on a children’s catechism CD). When I close my eyes and picture him I see his little eyebrows raised in surprise and delight as he gasps, “oh!” at an exciting discovery. Everything is exciting.

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Mara is amazing. She’s along for the ride, whatever it may be on any given day. Her legs are epic-ly chubby and her cheeks are just so kissable. Most people comment on her eyes, which are a striking gray-blue-turning-brown color. She is a happy girl and laughs a lot. She loves shaking rattles and toys, grabbing books and stuffed animals (really, anything), practicing sitting (still wobbly and will occasionally face-plant and make me feel horrible for not catching her) and “flying” up and down in my hands – an excellent arm workout since she weighs probably close to 20 pounds.

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Other notable items in this snapshot of right now: We are now aunt/uncle/cousins thanks to the birth of my sister’s little girl last week, Peter started a new job this week and I got my first Stitchfix in the mail yesterday (I know that absolutely pales in comparison to the first two items, but it made me giddy and if I had more time right now I would blog about it. Maybe later.)

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Hope you’re having a good week and can stop to capture the “right now”… in words, a photo or just in your memory.

The border of crazytown

After Mara was born, I just knew that working full time was not what I wanted for my family at this precious stage. I am grateful that my employer was supportive of my request to switch to part time and feel so thankful that I am able to continue with the job I love and still be home with my kids two days a week. It’s close to a perfect situation for me.

But it’s still really hard. It’s hard to leave them when I go to work… it’s hard to leave my work when I go home… and on days like today it’s hard just making it through the morning with a disobedient two-year-old.

If you want to drive yourself to the border of crazytown, try getting a toddler who doesn’t want to listen/obey/leave strapped into a car seat. Then try doing it again when you leave your destination. If you’re feeling really masochistic, then follow through with your desperate promise to stop for a treat (snack/coffee for mom at Starbucks) and go through it all again when it’s time to head home.

So many tears. From both of us (almost… I didn’t actually cry but I wanted to).

It’s enough to make me question whether I really want to be home instead of at work.

OK, I know I do want to be home and it is a huge blessing…

But some days are just a struggle. I guess that’s just parenthood/life in general.

It would be hard if I were working full time. It would be hard if I were home full time. It’s hard when I’m somewhere in the middle.

It’s all a reminder to rely on God. In my frustration I forget that He’s in control, that He’s bigger than me and that these two are His beautiful creation. And we have so many more lovely moments than tough ones!

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Being a mom is a humbling experience.

On a practical note, though, anyone have advice for getting kids to cooperate when getting in the car? Is this a universal two-year-old thing or am I just lucky?

Mara at 6 months

My baby girl is six months old today! In my mind she’s still fresh and tiny and helpless, but in reality she’s a solid little snuggler who loves two activities more than anything: grabbing and bouncing. Mara could spend all day and night in the Jumperoo and be content. Or so it seems.

I want to say these past six months have gone by so fast, but they haven’t really. Warm fall days seem so distant from where we sit now in this never-ending winter. The truth is Corban is so demanding (and deserving) of my attention right now that I don’t notice the little changes in Mara as much. She’s just my happy little baby sidekick, and I half expected her to stay a little baby forever.

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Mara is so easy. She is just happy. Like, all the time. I feel so in tune with her needs (I think paying attention to how long she has been awake is the biggest key to this) and that just makes everything a lot less stressful.

A bit has changed since my last Mara update (at two months!). Here’s the rundown.

Sleep

She started developing more of a routine around two or three months old, and as long as we don’t keep her awake longer than her maximum, she’s (usually) a cinch to put down for a nap. We’re up to around two hours of awake time between naps. Mara naps three times a day – the first is always around 9 a.m., then after that the schedule changes a bit each day depending on how long her naps are. Usually she’ll take two 45- to 50-minute naps and one longer nap that can be 2+ hours. We still swear by the swaddle for naps and nighttime.

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She was close to overstaying her welcome in the baby bunk in our room when we finally moved Corban into his big boy bed and let Mara take over the nursery. That was around 4 months old. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), her nighttime sleep habits haven’t changed much since two months. We’ve had some better and worse patches, but she always levels out to about two wakings/feedings a night. We’ve had a few unexpected full nights of sleep (6:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. for first waking, or something similar) but based on how long it took Corban to sleep through the night I don’t get my hopes up. Mara likes her 6:30 bedtime and has been extremely consistent with that, which I’m thankful for, though a little sad if I get home from work late and have to put her straight to bed.

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Speaking of work, I went back when Mara was four months old. I am so grateful for such flexibility with my maternity leave. Four months didn’t seem long enough, but it was the right time for me to return. We had to find a new nanny, and Mara and Corban have adjusted quite well to her. I’ve been working three days a week, so it’s nice to still have a couple weekdays with them. It was much, much harder going back to work this time – not really because of Mara, but because Corban is at such a vibrant stage. He’s exhausting, but so much fun.

Eating

Mara still is on a 100% breast milk diet. She nurses (or has a bottle) after each nap or about every three hours. She’s still a fast eater – five minutes on one side and we’re done. Since she moved into the nursery, I now feed her in our new glider (yeah, it took us 2 years, but we finally got one) with the Boppy pillow instead of lying down in our bed.

Now that she’s at the 6-month mark we should be starting solids, but I’m not exactly in a rush. It’s just… more work, ha. We unofficially did baby-led weaning with Corban, and I’d like to do it again and maybe learn a bit more about the official method this time. From what I remember, they recommend you start when your baby can sit up, and Mara’s not at that point yet so I’m okay with not rushing into solids.

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Milestones

Let’s see… laugh, vocalize, grab… check. Roll over? Sort of. She has rolled front to back a time or two, but I’ve never seen her go back to front. She really wanted to at one point and got close, but recently she hasn’t seemed to be as interested in rolling.

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Play

Mara is very social – we look at her or talk to her and she smiles. Laughing comes easy too.

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I mentioned her love for the Jumperoo – just being in that thing and bouncing makes her smile and laugh, and those little legs just can’t stop jumping once they start. For a while she just loved hanging out on her play mat and grabbing at her “friends,” as I call them (little birds and toys hanging from it). But now she’s all about the bouncing.

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I love giving her new toys and textures to grab. She has pet Biggles a few times and (bless his heart) he hasn’t seemed to mind.

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She grabbed my glasses off my face today and tried to eat them. That is, of course, the next step after grabbing – tasting. We read cloth books so much more with Mara than I remember with Corban because she is so happy to grab and touch the pages.

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She’s still very easy to take along on whatever adventures our days hold.

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Sibling love

Mara will smile and laugh if Corban and I are doing something silly, and Corban just gets a huge kick out of her reaction. While most of the time he is still self-absorbed, he has started to interact with her more. Every night he says, “Night night, Mara,” and gives her a kiss on the head. He loves to give her kisses and involve her in his play. Except when she’s interfering with his fun, of course.

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One of my favorite moments was lying in Corban’s bed reading with the two of them, and they just turned to one another and started giggling. It was one of the first true one-on-one interactions I’d seen between them, meaning I wasn’t the one facilitating it. I almost felt left out for a second, which is silly, and something I’d better get used to since I’m sure it won’t be long before they’re plotting together without me.

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It’s pretty much impossible not to love this little bundle with all my heart.

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Stats

Height and weight: To come after her 6-month checkup
Hair: Finally starting to grow! Her fuzz is getting fuzzier.
Clothes: Size 6 month, but moving quickly into 9 month
Diapers: Cloth snapped at maximum tightness, but size 2 disposables at night (which leak often enough that it’s time to move up to size 3)
Nicknames: Marabelle, Mariella, Marzipan, Ladybug, Miss Mara Mack (love it when Corban calls her by her nicknames)

Toddler Valentine’s Day

In all the hype surrounding the romantic side of Valentine’s Day… gifts, cards, dates, chocolate recipes (especially when you’re planning content for a lifestyle site – I have been living and breathing all of those topics), I had almost forgotten how much fun Valentine’s Day was as a kid.

Disney Princess valentines torn along the dotted lines. Candy hearts. Stickers. A pink hair bow. An exciting whirl of an afternoon slipping cards into your classmates’ decorated shoeboxes.

Peter and I did go out for a nice dinner this year on Valentine’s Day eve. It was romantic and very adult. I tried foie gras. But Friday morning I was reminded how fun and festive the holiday of pink and red is for those to whom a kiss is the thing that makes an owie better and a heart is one of the five shapes you can identify.

We went to a little party with some of Corban’s best buds and their moms. It started with lots of playing – with 11 kids ranging from age 5 months to 5 years it’s more like strangely choreographed chaos interrupted by occasional tears – and eventually moved to craft time for the older kids.

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Yes, Corban is now one of the “older kids.” I don’t know when that happened and why it now seems like he’s always been one.

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They decorated picture frames for their dads with fun Valentine’s Day stickers.

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Then they made drawings to put in the frames.

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Somehow the pictures make this seem like a calm and controlled affair, but it was more like trying to keep a bunch of cats sitting at a table. I’m glad I was able to sneak away to snap some pictures, but crafts with a two-year-old are always very hands-on adventures!

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After Corban completed his frame, he decided to rip all the stickers off and throw them on the floor. I may have done a bit of reconstruction.

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Next on the agenda: cupcakes.

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Not hard to keep kids still for the approximately 2 minutes it takes to eat a cupcake!

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Then, the valentine exchange.

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There are so many cute ideas out there for DIY kid valentines. Oh, the puns! I promised myself I wouldn’t get too ambitious this year, but I wanted Corban to have some sort of hand in what he gave to his friends. Here’s what we ended up making:

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These were very easy to throw together the day before. I made a heart stamp from an empty toilet paper roll and had Corban (admittedly with the help of his nanny, not me) stamp hearts with white paint onto folded pieces of red construction paper.

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Then I filled resealable sandwich bags with about an inch of Valentine’s Day M&Ms…

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…and folded the tops down and stapled the construction paper sandwiched over the bag.

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So simple and fun to put together.

If you’re wondering what little Mara looked like on her first Valentine’s Day… well, I’d be happy to show you.

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Sweet and smiling as usual.

Hope you had as lovely a Valentine’s Day as we did. I’m hoping to get back here with some more updates soon since it’s been a while!

Mara’s birth announcements

I’ve been a madwoman these past few weeks (months), with mile-long to-do lists and never enough sleep or time. But quality time playing with Corban and Mara is always first priority, so we’ve had lots of fun hanging out at home and getting together with friends. And let’s face it… it’s not possible to get anything done when your 2-year-old is awake, so playing with him is the only realistic first priority. Naptime is crunch time.

So forgive me for writing about Mara’s birth announcements when clearly her birth is old news. (Don’t worry – we sent them when she was still pretty new, so I’m not THAT behind.)

Before Mara was even born, I had been eyeing birth announcements (for both boys and girls — but truthfully I was more interested in the girl ones). I wasn’t sure if we’d do professional newborn photos this time (we didn’t for Corban), but I knew we would send a birth announcement. There’s just something special about sharing your sweet sleepy little one with faraway friends and family in the form of a mailed photo announcement. Facebook is great for instant sharing, but you just can’t beat the fun of receiving a card in the mail.

After Corban’s birth, I wrote about my failed attempt at printing my own birth announcements and how it ended up being way easier and not much more expensive to just buy them from Tiny Prints. Well, Tiny Prints came across that post and offered to send me some complimentary birth announcements for Mara. I had already been bookmarking birth announcements from their site (they really have the best designs) so I was grateful for that opportunity (we paid for additional announcements beyond what they offered as well).

As with the design of Corban’s birth announcement, it was love at first sight with the design I chose for Mara. When selecting a birth announcement, it definitely helps to choose the design first so you know what kind of photo to take. In this case, we needed neutral space at the top and bottom for words and embellishments, and I’m glad I knew that before we had photos taken.

So, yes, we did end up having newborn photos taken by the photographer who took my maternity photos, Jamie Zellmer. I’m so glad we did. Jamie had all the right equipment, patience and editing expertise to get some beautiful shots of Mara.

There wasn’t even just one money shot — it was hard to decide which photo to use! (Here are some of the others.)

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On the back, we added my favorite family photo of us.

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Envelopes are not to be forgotten, so we upgraded from the plain white to metallic silver. The only negative with the metallic paper was that the ink of our return address stamp smudged off on it, so I ended up ordering some return address stickers with another family photo from the shoot on them.

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I know social media has made birth announcements less necessary these days, but I still love to send and receive these joyful pieces of mail!

 

 

Basketball-themed 2nd birthday party

If only every birthday could be as joy-filled as a 2nd birthday!

My baby Corban turned two years old yesterday, and if I stop and ruminate on that for too long I’ll get teary eyed. He had a most wonderful day celebrating with family, and I had the best time watching him enjoy himself so much.

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We decided for birthday #2 to do a family party, and since none of our families live in the same state as us, we moved the festivities to my parents’ house. One of Corban’s main loves right now is basketball, so a basketball-themed party it was. This was definitely an easy theme to pull off.

Basketball eating paraphernalia…

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Basketball cake on a basketball court table cloth…

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Basketball cookies…

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Basketball mandarin oranges…

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And (not pictured) basketball cutouts hanging from the ceiling and other assorted basketball decorations. I had to resist buying a basketball piñata from the party store…

The menu:

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We just did appetizer foods since the party was at 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s not easy picking a party time for a 2-year-old, and we failed miserably with our 2:30 gamble. Corban would not fall asleep for his nap when we put him down at noon. I’m sure the fact that he knew it was his birthday and that we were having cake later did not help. As our final last-ditch effort, Peter lay down with him until he passed out… at 2:15. So we let the birthday boy nap for an hour and be late for his own party.

After being woken up from his nap and presented into a basketball-laden basement full of both strange and familiar faces, Corban was a little overwhelmed. He quickly warmed up, though.

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Aside from his little sister, C was the only kid at his party. And Mara snoozed almost the entire time.

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He I was honored to have some of my dear high school friends in attendance, though.

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After a while, Corban got ahold of a dessert plate and a fork and made it known that he was ready for cake.

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“Cake? Cake?”

He had this very disconcerted look on his face the entire time as we sang to him. His head turned from one side of the room to the other, slowly taking it all in.

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But at the end of the song, he knew what to do.

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And then he stuck his fork in the cake, claiming it as his own.

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I debated telling guests not to bring a gift, like we did for Corban’s first birthday, but I’m glad I didn’t because Corban had SO much fun opening gifts.

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He reacted with such genuine pleasure after each one. He wanted to stop and play with each gift immediately after opening it.

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We had to whisk them away from him to keep things moving along.

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“The first Elmo that hugs back” — a little creepy, but C is in love with “Big Elmo.”

Corban slept on our long, snowy drive back home last night. He woke up as we pulled in, so I sat him in my lap in his room to read a book before putting him back to sleep. After we read, he groggily murmured, “Birthday,” followed by, “cake…” and “people…” and I could see the little wheels turning in his head as he processed the day and his very special party. It makes me so content to witness such pure toddler joy and wonder every day, and when it comes to joy and wonder his second birthday just couldn’t be topped.

Since I probably won’t get the chance to write a separate two-year update, here are just some of the things I don’t want to forget about my sweet little Corban at age two:

  • The way he pumps one arm up and down so fiercely when he runs.
  • Playing fire truck on the basement couch. He demands that I drive (fast), he honk the horn and we both get out and fight the fire with pool noodles.
  • His little voice saying, “Miss!” when he or someone else misses a basketball shot.
  • His backseat renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
  • His repeated requests for “Monkey song” on my phone.
  • The way he counts — adding emphasis to every third number or so (“one, two, THREE!! four, five, six, SEVEN!!”)
  • The way he eagerly points out, “Open eyes?” when Mara wakes up, and always looks out for his sister’s wellbeing by putting her pacifier back in her mouth, alerting me when she spits up or rocking her car seat if she starts fussing when we’re at the grocery store. He also points out when she smiles, or asks me to make her smile.
  • The way he pronounces Corban (“Corgo”) and refers to himself in the third person.
  • His love for Biggles and daily requests to have him sit in his lap or come play with him.
  • How his imagination is just beginning to blossom: he treats his stuffed animals like best friends, soaks in the pretend games I teach him (like fire truck, picnic and singing performances) and reads to himself.
  • The irrepressible fun he has with his little friends, and how he mentions them by (mispronounced) name when he’s not with them.
  • The feel of his snuggly head on my shoulder as I hold him and sing to him before bed.

I finally did a quick glance through all the video clips I’ve collected over the past two years and put together a snapshot of Corban’s life thus far to screen at his party. Here it is. Amazing how quickly these two years have gone by!

Fall front porch

My DIY wreath, which had such potential to change with the seasons and be a happy, holiday-appropriate fixture of our front door, is finally living up to its potential! Last year I attempted to update it for fall and then for Christmas, but both were fairly sad attempts. I am pleased with this round though.

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Our entire front porch got a tiny bit festive for fall.

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See the neighborhood watchman?

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I just tucked some fake leaves behind fall-colored felt flowers that are attached with bobbi pins.

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Our previous doormat lasted five years — and by lasted I mean it lay there for five years. It probably should have been replaced much sooner, but this find was worth the wait. It ties our blue door trim in with the fall colors.

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Corban helped us pick our family of pumpkins from Cozy Nook Farm’s pumpkin patch. They aren’t quite to scale.

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We learned the hard way that mums apparently require sunlight. Or at least that’s why I’m guessing ours died and our neighbors’ across the street are thriving.

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Happy fall! Although now it’s pretty much time to change over to Christmas decor. I’ll share that as soon as I get it up!

Mara at 2 months

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Two months old already!

I sat down thinking that not much has changed in the past month – Mara is still sleepy, sweet, snuggly and overall a great baby – but she has hit a few exciting new milestones since my last update.

Most notably: smiling!

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And also cooing!

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We finally started offering the pacifier, around 6 weeks. It took her a few days to learn how to keep it in her mouth, but now that she’s got the hang of it the pacifier really helps during her evening fussy time. Before, she would act hungry then cry when I would try to feed her, then pass out for a few minutes, repeat. All during dinnertime and bedtime for Corban… so evenings were rough. The paci has helped a bit with that.

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Speaking of eating, Mara is the opposite of Corban – she eats super fast and doesn’t like to linger and suck for comfort. 5 minutes is an average nursing session. We have had some issues this month as my milk supply regulates and found that nursing lying down works best for us so the flow isn’t as fast.

It’s hard to believe, but until last night I hadn’t been apart from Mara for more than an hour (to run an errand once or twice). Last night Peter and I went out for the first time without her, so she had her first bottle (no major issues). It was nice to have a tiny bit of freedom! We were only gone for two hours, though. Baby steps.

As my dad put it, she’s like an appendage.

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Mara goes where I go, and I don’t hesitate to get out and about. The Moby wrap has been essential!

Top of the tower at Holy Hill:

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At the park with my mom:

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Bundled up at the park with Corban (we’ve had a drastic shift in weather this month, as these photos demonstrate!):

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Pumpkin farm:

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She has now graduated past the newborn hold in the Moby, so her little legs dangle out. This helps me look like I’m actually carrying a child and I’m not just an oddly shaped person.

We switched fully to cloth diapers around 6 or 7 weeks. They fit her much better now. She’s growing so fast!

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I’ll write an update on cloth diapering soon! Quite a bit has changed since my initial posts.

I love that Mara still will sleep anywhere. I know those days are probably numbered and am taking advantage of it before we have to start planning outings around her naps.

Nothing better than a baby snuggled on your chest!

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I still sometimes pause and marvel at the fact that I have a daughter. Two months later, it still seems surreal. Two kids. A boy and a girl. Whoa. (In the best sense of the word!)

One thing is certain: baby girl outfits are irresistible! Mara has been outfitted quite well with gifts from family and friends.

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Baby leopard?!

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She has outgrown this outfit since the beginning of the month. She seems so small here!

Tummy time has become a fun game for Corban, and Mara has become quite advanced at it. She actually loves being on her stomach.

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And although most of the time he’s doing his own thing, Corban has melted my heart with some tender moments with Mara. There have been a few times when he’s been touching her head and talking to her, and she just looks up and smiles at him. I am looking forward to seeing their relationship grow.

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The stats:

Height: 22.75 inches (62nd percentile)
Weight: 11 pounds 14 ounces (62nd percentile)
Clothes: Size 3 month
Naps: All the time, no regular schedule
Night: Sleeps in our room; wakes twice to eat
Diapers: Cloth, or disposable size 2

My mini mouse (an easy DIY costume)

My mom made almost all of the Halloween costumes I can remember from my childhood. Bride, witch, Barbie doll, Grinch (my brother)… she found patterns to sew, and when there was no pattern she made up her own. I didn’t realize at the time just how much work it was, but I loved every Halloween costume and went all out with it every year through high school, and even college (though by then I was putting together my own costumes).

I would love to do the same for my kids, but this year I found myself browsing Pinterest with less than one week until trick-or-treating, still undecided about Corban’s and Mara’s costumes. At that point, it had to be something simple if it was going to be homemade.

Then I found a pair of mouse ears from my sophomore year of college, when two friends and I dressed up as the three blind mice.

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(I forgot how un-mouse-like that costume actually was…)

Bingo! It would be easy to make him a simple mouse costume, and Mara could even be a cat.

It only took one (long) naptime to make this costume, and I didn’t have to buy anything at all!

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Here’s what I used:

Gray sweatshirt or jacket (light gray is best, but I used what we had)
Gray sweatpants
Two 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheets light pink felt
One 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet gray felt
Needle and thread
EyelinerMouse ears

I cut one sheet of the pink felt to make the pink belly, and sewed it onto Corban’s gray fleece jacket using only a handful of single stitches spaced a few inches apart. I wanted to be able to easily remove it after Halloween without any damage to the jacket.

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I just pulled it over his head to put it on him come trick-or-treat time.

I decided to make mouse paw mittens, which aren’t really essential to the costume, but ended up being my favorite part. If you have gray mittens, you can just sew the pink paws onto them instead of making the mittens themselves, but for some reason I find that hand stitching a pair of mittens is less stressful than going out shopping to find a pair.

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I used Corban’s mittens as a pattern and cut a mitten shape about 1/4-inch larger than them. Then for each mitten I hand sewed two pieces of mitten-shaped felt together. If you have a sewing machine this will only take a minute, but it took me a couple episodes of “The Mindy Project.”

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I turned the stitched mittens inside out and prayed that they would fit Corban (he was still sleeping). Then I cut a few rough circles of pink felt and stitched them onto the palms of the mittens.

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Lastly, the tail. For this, I just hot-glued some pink felt into a roll, including in the middle of the roll a thin piece of wire we had lying around. I ended up making the tail way too long (this is what happens when your child is not in your range of vision — you forget how short he is!) so I pinned it pretty high up inside the back of his jacket once he was wearing it.

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For the nose and whiskers, first I tested out some homemade, all natural face paint by mixing a little bit of baby lotion with cocoa powder (for brown) and frozen raspberries (for pink). I did not want to put face paint on my babies for fear of exposing their gentle skin to potentially dangerous chemicals.

The homemade face paint was a giant fail! If there were a natural way to make black face paint, that would be one thing, but the brown just looked like chocolate (or you-know-what) on my face when I tested it. The pink actually turned out OK, but I don’t think it would have lasted very long on Corban’s or Mara’s noses.

So I went the eyeliner route instead. I’m sure there are chemicals I don’t want to know about in eyeliner, but I just told myself since it’s made to be applied near one of our most sensitive areas (the eyes) it can’t be that bad on baby cheeks and noses.

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My little kitten wore cat ears we already had, a black onesie, black tights and a small boa tail.

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Trick-or-treating was on Sunday in our city (I know, the Milwaukee area is weird and every city has its own trick-or-treat day and time, which is often not on Halloween). We went with friends who have two toddler girls and it was such a blast watching the little ones scramble up to each door on our street and reach their mittened little hands into bowl after bowl full of candy.

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Corban also helped me carve our big pumpkin that afternoon.

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It all reminds me once again what a fun age he is at.

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Your turn: What are your little ones being for Halloween? Or what were you as a toddler? Toddler Halloween is the cutest!

Baptism celebration and easy, make-ahead menu

Mara was baptized on Sunday. Such joy!

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Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Corban talked through our time up front, asking for his “boc,” a.k.a. pacifier. No amount of discreet shh-ing can quiet a toddler who wants to be heard!

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

After, he got his wish.

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

We were blessed to have Mara’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunt and uncles there to share in the occasion.

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

After the service, we had lunch at our house with a simple, make-ahead menu.

Mara’s baptism lunch:

Since I knew we’d all be arriving back at our house at the same time, and right around lunchtime, I wanted to have everything pretty much ready to go when we walked in the door. The key to making this work? Using the slow cooker, delegating side dish duties and getting the house 100% ready the night before.

Peter’s mom brought her signature dinner rolls. My mom brought the potatoes, ready to just pop in the oven for 20 minutes, and the green beans (haricot verts from Trader Joe’s), which she sautéed in olive oil for about five minutes and tossed with sliced almonds. My grandma brought the appetizers. Their help really made the meal come together easily!

I set the two tables the night before with a simple, fall theme.

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I used my Goodwill mismatched “china,” dollar store placemats, my favorite (er, only) chargers and homemade coffee bean candles.

Just like when Corban was baptized, Peter chose two verses of scripture for Mara. The first, from our perspective. The second, from her perspective. Cards with the verses also went on the table to share with our family.

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3 John: 4: I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the truth.

Psalm 139: 14: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are you works; my soul knows it very well.

I also made a point the night before to get out every serving dish, pitcher and utensil that I’d need. That way it was all out on the counter and I wasn’t digging through cabinets when our guests were here.

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The slow cooker Italian beef turned out great – juicy, tender and full of flavor. I mixed all the spices the night before then zombie-walked out of bed at 5 a.m. to put it all in the Crockpot. The recipe is, appropriately, from our church cookbook (and too good not to share so it’s at the bottom of this post).

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I made two easy cocktails, one alcoholic and one not.

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Sparkling Cranberry Punch (left) and Champagne and Cranberry Juice Sparkling Punch. And that’s her birth announcement (more on that in another post) and newborn footprint and handprint in the background.

I also have to mention the cake. I had high hopes for the cake recipe I selected, White Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Add a Pinch.

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It’s a triple layer cake, which I had never attempted before. Sadly, I greased my pans but forgot to flour them, so one of my layers would not come out of the pan, and ended up in a huge pile.

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Fortunately, I was able to piece it together as the middle layer, and you really couldn’t tell the difference! Unfortunately, my layers didn’t seem to rise as much as the photo at Add a Pinch, so while I thought the cake had an excellent flavor, the texture was denser than it should have been. There also wasn’t quite enough frosting to cover all my messy crumbs from the jumbled layers.

Despite its imperfections, we enjoyed the cake and I have had no trouble polishing off the leftover pieces over the past few days.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon enjoying time with family and, of course, enjoying lots of Mara snuggles.

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I was in love with her little outfit and didn’t want to take it off her at the end of the day.

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How wonderful it is to be able to celebrate God’s covenant to us and publicly welcome Mara into our church family.

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marabaptism12-

Slow Cooker Italian Beef
Makes 14-18 servings

6 pounds boneless chuck or rump roast
1 packet onion soup mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used a pinch each of basil, oregano and parsley)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon Ac’cent (I didn’t know what this was so I used Mrs. Dash — don’t ask why I own that…)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup water

Place meat in slow cooker, sprinkle spice mixture over it and add water. Cook on low 8 hours. When beef is done, slice or shred and leave in juices (the longer it sits, the better it tastes) until serving on buns.