Archive | a picture an hour

Lena turns three!

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Well, never has a day been so anticipated in our house, I don’t think. Lena has been talking and singing and dreaming about this day for weeks and months. I was a little worried there might be a crash of disappointment when the actual day came and went, but thankfully (unlike Gil’s birthday) I don’t think there were any tears all day. Hooray for that!

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Gil and Lena woke up at exactly the same time that morning, so Elliott grabbed Gil and we walked into Lena’s room together singing “Happy Birthday.” She was thrilled when she saw her presents and cards piled on our bookshelf in our room, and she chose “the big pink one” to open first. That one was from us, and I’d filled it with fresh craft supplies: a new notebook (since her old one went everywhere with us and is totally full of stickers and drawings), crayons, markers, stickers, and her first pair of scissors.

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For breakfast, she requested oatmeal with “yots and yots of brown sugar” and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice.

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Gil fell head over heels in love with books about two weeks ago, and now he’ll sit in his bed or the kitchen for 10 minutes at a time, studying each page and pointing out animals. I frequently discover him cleaning off the kids’ bookshelf, too, and then sitting down happily in the middle of a pile of board books.

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After breakfast, we waved goodbye to Daddy like we do almost every morning…

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… played on the living room rug for awhile…

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… and then Lena ate her much anticipated birthday treat: a pink yogurt with M&Ms. She spotted it for the first time back in November at the grocery store, and I answered her request with the vague, “Maybe for your birthday.” I thought she’d forget, but of course she didn’t forget. For the past six months, she’s looked for it on every grocery trip and reminded me weekly, “That’s the yogurt I’m going to get for my birthday!”

I’m sure all the anticipation made it taste much better than it actually did.

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She asked last week for a raspberry cake, so I went to great lengths to find a recipe and even tried  [unsuccessfully] to track down fresh raspberries (which I’ve never seen for sale in Sicily). At some point during her birthday morning, Lena said, “Mama, next year I would like a strawberry cake.”

Now why couldn’t you have asked for that this year, baby girl, when we have strawberries coming out of our ears?!

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Around 9:30 we put Gil down for a nap and opened another of her presents. This one was a beautiful balancing game from her grandparents. The goal is to put as many of the wooden pieces onto the pirate ship as you can before it tips over. We’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I think it will be a lot of fun as the kids grow up and have friends over, too. I recommend it!

We mixed up Lena’s raspberry cake while Gil slept, but it was super messy and I didn’t get any pics.

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Gil is up (I don’t think he slept), and we opened this wonderful gift: a doctor kit. It was a huge hit with both the kids, and her poor doll has had surgery every day since last Thursday.

Now let’s just all take a moment and enjoy how cute this is:

becca-garber-lena-3rd-birthday-4 Future Dr. Garber, following in his veterinarian father’s footsteps? I hope so!

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After lunch, we took a walk to the playground in our town. Along the way we stopped at “Nonno’s store,” the little shop where we buy our wine, pasta, Nutella, and other sundry items. Nonno (“grandfather” in Italian) always gives Lena a piece of chocolate when she comes, and she usually shares it with Gil.

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After deciding for about two months that he preferred to crawl, Gil decided that day to start walking on his own. His flailing arms made me laugh so hard as he toddled from place to place!

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And picking his feet up so high! Lena, meanwhile, continues to be our little acrobat/monkey.

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Back at home, the kids napped for a couple of hours while I baked Lena’s cake for that night and cupcakes for her party the next day. When she got up, she watched birthday videos from her family. They were a huge hit last year, too!

We mixed up frosting together, and both kids were thrilled to lick a beater.

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As I was grabbing my camera, I asked Lena to help me spread the frosting on the cake. She obliged by slapping her hand into it and obediently spreading it around!

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Despite that delicious mishap, the cake turned out fine. A hungry little boy followed me around as I attempted a photo shoot. My favorite part was that the pureed raspberries in the batter turned the cake a pretty pink color.

Elliott arrived home around then, and we ate dinner (stay-in-bed stew and biscuits) and then opened the final presents. There was much glee!

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And then — at last — the cake!

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The next day we had a small party at a playground in Maranai, the U.S. military housing compound where some of our friends live. Lena and Gil shared a swing, and Gil toddled everywhere with his arms in the air…

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… and Lena’s friend Matthew gave her a bottle of bubbles, which were the best thing about the party!

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Little Lena, your dancing, jumping, and singing are joys in our lives, and we love to bake, hike, build block towers, and read books with you. You are just beginning to sound out words in books, and you’ve started to tell long, imaginative stories that leave us laughing with amazement at your imagination. You are such a cheerful big sister to your adoring little brother, who is literally grumpy if you are not around to make his world spin.

You’re snuggling me now after you nap as I type this, and I love the weight of your body on my chest and the scent of your hair next to my face. You have been one of the greatest gifts of my life, and I love you more than you’ll ever know. Happy birthday, Lena!

10 :: in a picture an hour, family, Lena

how we spend our days {Part 2 of 2}

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(If you’d like to see Part 1 of this little series, click here.  Just for fun — and for myself in the years to come — I’m documenting a day with my family in our home in Sicily.  The day also happened to be my 27th birthday!)

When I left off yesterday, it was about 11am on November 14, and Gil was still napping.  Lena and I moved out to the balcony to hang our bedroom sheets from the railing; they billowed and retracted with the breeze.  I asked Lena to take the dry cloth diapers off the rack for me, and she stacked them while I “stuffed” the diapers with absorbent inserts.  She’s a good helper!

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She found a millipede, one of many in our house.

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Diapers are stuffed and stacked… and ready to be snapped back onto Mr. Gil whenever he needs them.  Lena reached through the balcony to touch the dark blue sheets as they dried.

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Back into the kitchen.  I gave Lena a snack of frozen berries mixed with organic vanilla yogurt.  We can’t get very many berries locally here in Sicily (besides picking wild blackberries in season, that is!), so I try to feed Lena mixes of various berries.  She ate her snack while I washed the dishes and put them up to dry in our over-the-sink drying cupboard (an Italian kitchen feature that I love).  When she was almost done, she brought me her bowl.  “Can you get one more bite for me, Mama?”  I scraped her bowl and found three more bites.

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It’s 12pm and someone’s awake!  Lena runs to him first, saying, “Gil!  Aww, Gil!  You got up so early, Gil!”  I love how she repeats whatever she hears me say… well, most of the time I like to hear her repeat it.

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On the left, this is where Gil is whenever I come into the room after his nap: pressing his head into the mesh and waiting eagerly for us to come racing in, scoop him up, snuggle him.  Right now Gil is sleeping in a pack ‘n’ play in the guest room while Lena still sleeps in her crib in her room.  I thought we’d transition them to the same bedroom with Gil in the crib and Lena in a regular bed after Gil was a few months old.  However, it’s made more sense to keep them separated because we usually have two bedrooms at our disposal and they sleep/nap much better apart.  Also, Lena still can’t get out of her crib by herself… and I am not going to encourage any escapism around here!

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I quickly dress my children and pack a picnic lunch, and then strap them into the back of our Honda Civic.  Two kiddos are excited for “da playgroun’ an’ yunch wiff Daddy!”

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In 10 minutes we’re parking, and I text Elliott to come meet us.  I love to see him walking towards us, stretching his legs after a long morning in the vet clinic and so happy to see his family!  It’s a beautiful day on base, and we let Lena run around for awhile before sitting down to eat.  Unfortunately, I’m learning that Lena rarely eats a full meal when there’s a playground nearby, so I’ll probably have to feed her something else by the time we get home.  Oh well, it’s worth it to see her joy… so much so that we’ve made this a weekly tradition.

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After the meal, I had a few errands to run in the commissary (grocery store) and NEX (military version of Target).  The kid are troopers, but they were tuckered out by the time I finished!  (Lena is faking, Gil is not.)  Time to head home for naps.  I strapped them into the car, and by the time I parked in front of our house, Gil was fast asleep.  I carried his car seat to his room, slipped him out, nursed him, and laid him down, and then Lena and I read a couple of stories together before I tucked her in with a song and a prayer.

On most days, I usually get an hour or hour-and-a-half to myself in the afternoon.  Precious, precious time!  Some days I use this whole time to blog, other days I curl up hungrily with a book or knitting project I’ve been itching to enjoy all day.  Today I needed to get various things done around the house, so off I went…

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I gathered my supplies for my knitting class that night.  It was the last one in a series of four classes, and I was excited to help my students finish up the hat and handwarmers they had started.  I teach classes through MWR (community activities organization) on base; this was the second class I’ve taught, and I’m teaching an advanced class in December.  They’re a lot of fun!

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I also folded and delivered some laundry…

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… and put the clean, dry sheets on our bed.  It won’t be long before I’ll need to change out the light blanket for our toasty-warm feather duvet for the winter months.  Our house has no central air and electricity is prohibitively expensive in Italy, so it gets cold in the wintertime!

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I walked back into the kitchen just as the sun lit up the valley below Mt Etna.  I love this enormous kitchen window; it’s like having a painting on our wall that magically transforms with the changes in weather and seasons.

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I frosted cupcakes for dessert that night… and might have treated myself to an extra one!

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And finally I prepared dinner, because I wanted to have everything ready by 5pm so we could eat before I left for my knitting class at 6:15.  I put the final touches on this delicious recipe, made baked potatoes according to this great tutorial

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… and made my favorite salad: greens with dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, and goat cheese, and usually finished with a blush wine viniagrette.

And then the kids were up and Elliott was home!  How did I only take two pictures of Elliott all day?!  But there he is, handsome stranger.

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We opened presents and cards before dinner, where there were many fun surprises.  I was so excited to get this sweater from my parents, which I’ve been eyeing for awhile.  There were other gifts and gift cards from sweet family members, including these books and immersion blender (thank you, Elliott… soups all winter!!!):

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And then we feasted, and then we ate cupcakes!  I couldn’t find a birthday candle for me (and Lena) to blow out, but my family did sing me “Happy Birthday,” Lena with a gigantic smile spreading across her face as she realized we were singing one of her favorite songs for a real birthday, not just for fun.  I love them so.

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And that is where I forgot to keep taking pictures… oh well.  After dessert we dashed around in a flurry as Elliott bathed the kids and I put food away, and then I put Gil to bed and raced out the door.  The knitting class was so much fun, as was coming home to find my hubby had once again cleaned the kitchen.  Elliott and I spent a quiet evening together, reading and talking as we always do, thankful for this peaceful time at the end of the day.

I know I’ll look back on these days and probably be amazed by the simplicity of our lives.  I will remember being bored at times, overwhelmed at others, and often numbed to the joys because of the endless needs of my young family.  But I hope I also remember that I knew I was richly blessed, and that I was very happy, and that I was so well loved.

8 :: in a picture an hour, Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, home sweet home, life lately

how we spend our days {Part 1 of 2}

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Right before Gil was born, I did a two-part blog series documenting a regular day at home with Lena.  I knew those days were precious, and I wanted to capture the whole day in images as best I could (mostly for my own sake!).  Little did I know that Gil would be born the next day.  That really was the very last day in that stage of our lives.

Just like last January, change is on the horizon for us now.  We will only be in Sicily for another 8 months, and after that I don’t know where we’ll be or what my everyday life will look like.  I could very well go back to work, and/or my children might be in school or daycare.  Who knows?

There is also change in the weather here, as the autumn winds begin to whistle around our house on the cliff and the fields below us once again turn lush and green with the winter rains.

And there is change in our children.  They are not the same from day to day or even moment to moment.  When I took these pictures last week, Gil preferred to scoot everywhere, hoisting himself forward on his two arms and dragging his legs behind him.  Now, just four days later, he’s marching around on all fours with military precision.  Lena has probably learned 10 new words.  How can I keep up with all this change?

Of course the answer is that I can’t keep up with it.  I can only enjoy these fleeting days filled with growth and development and constant newness.  So, in order to capture a little bit of these days for my memory, I grabbed my camera on the morning of November 14th — my 27th birthday.  It was a special day in some ways (hot breakfast and cupcakes and presents, oh my!), but in others it was just the same as most others, because sameness — rhythm, routine — is necessary with young ones.

How we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our lives. (Annie Dillard)

So here is a day in our lives.

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On that morning, Elliott let me sleep in… which was blissful!  We’re terrible at going to bed on time, and so we end up getting 6-7 hours of sleep most nights.  It just isn’t enough for either one of us, but we are starved for time to work on projects and spend time together after the kids are in bed, so I doubt our bedtime will change anytime soon.  To cope with this, we’ve started helping each other sleep in, which makes a monumental difference in our attitudes.

As soon as I stepped into the living room, Lena ran towards me holding a birthday card, her face lit up like the sunrise and words bubbling out of her with excitement.  She showed me the balloons, heart, and letters she and Elliott had drawn together, and then she opened up the card to show me five globs of scribble, which she pointed to in turn and described as, “A blue lion… and a red lion… and a yellow lion… and a green lion… and a… a pink lion!”  Except “lion” was more like “yion.”  You could have cleaned me up off the floor with a sponge; I totally melted into a little puddle of love.

I scooped her up and took her back to bed with me for some snuggles while Elliott disappeared into the kitchen…

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… and returned a short while later with breakfast on a tray!  Hot coffee, bacon, an egg, and two pancakes (one with syrup and one with Nutella and banana, just the way I like them).   He then took Lena and left me to eat and read quietly in bed.  For some reason, this seemed like the very height of luxury to me right then.  I didn’t have to jump up to grab anything, and I didn’t have to feed anyone but myself.  And I could read!  “Honey, that was wonderful,” I told Elliott, “We have got to treat each other to it more often!”

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Elliott had to run out the door to work, so I took over duty in the kitchen.  He gave us each a kiss and dashed out the door as we made plans to see him later for a picnic on the playground.

Out the kitchen window, I drank in the view of Etna, the volcano that dominates the eastern Sicilian skyline.  On winter mornings there’s barely a cloud in the sky.  Breathtaking!

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My little ones were finishing their breakfast.  They are both huge fans of pancakes and eggs, a treat in our house!

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Lena and Gil love to “snuggle” in Gil’s bed, where they play with toys, roll, and tumble.  Lena particularly enjoys this because it’s the only time she gets to have a pacifier (Gil’s, of course), which she still misses very much.  Sometimes she seems so mature, and sometimes I see glimpses of the little girl that was Gil’s age… wasn’t it just last week?!

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Since they were safe and happily playing in Gil’s bed, started a load of laundry in our tiny Italian washing machine.  Afterwards I moved them to my bed for more snuggles as I got ready for the day.

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Gil’s gets busier by the day.  Drawers, cupboards, and doors are his favorite things, and he loves to open and close them and see what’s on the other side.

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Caught ya!

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I moved into the bathroom, and they followed me… and disemboweled my toiletry bag.  Lena found something for her lips…

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I caught Lena jumping on the bed — a forbidden but also an irresistible temptation for her! — and moved the group to the living room rug, where we keep a rotation of toys.  Gil pounded one of the cat’s toys onto a vintage Fisher Price xylophone, which I was stoked to find at a junk antique fair last week.

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Lena asked me to help her make a “choo-choo train,” which is a line of blocks that she can then roll her cars over.

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Gil found an actual choo-choo train.

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Siena, our constant companion.  I have been so grateful for her tolerance and even fascination with my children as they’ve grown.  She lets Gil almost smother her before she disentangles herself, and she has always been gentle but firm in letting the kids know her limits.  She’s eager to be right on the periphery of our activity, a quiet shadow following us around the house.

After this, it was about 10am and Gil was ready for his morning nap.  I changed his diaper, zipped him up in a sleep sack, and then nursed him on the guest room bed.  Lena — who is not very good at amusing herself — quietly slipped into the room and snuggled up next to us, doing her best not to talk.  After a few minutes I laid a drowsy Gil down in his bed, and Lena and I tiptoed out of the room.

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In the kitchen, clouds obscured Mt Etna already.

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Lena read a library book while I gathered ingredients for carrot cupcakes.  I had to teach a knitting class at 6:30 tonight, and we like to eat and put Gil to bed before I go.  Because of this, I needed to have dinner ready by 5pm.  I wanted to make it special — it was my b’day! — and fun for my family.  I’ll cash in on my birthday reward of a husband-cooked meal some other time!

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As the cupcakes baked, I mixed spices to marinate the meat for this incredible recipe

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… and chopped onions, tomatoes, and peppers as part of the criolla salsa to accompany the meat.

That’s about half of the photos from that day.  I’ll pick up tomorrow with some cloth diaper-folding, a visit to base, my task list during the kids’ nap time, and a birthday dinner!

6 :: in a picture an hour, Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, home sweet home, life lately, Mt Etna

my last day as a mother of one {Part 2 of 2}

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Exactly two weeks ago today I gave birth to our precious little baby Gil, an adorable bundle of love.  Of course, that bundle of love has currently had me dancing for the last two hours to keep him happy and get him to go back to sleep.  (Welcome to my new life!)  While I would never go back to live without this precious baby, I must admit that this day I am in the process of chronicling — my last day as a mother of one — is looking very restful right now!

I know this last day with just Lena and myself was an unusually good one; we had no errands or activities on our plate and spent the entire day enjoying each other, mother and daughter, and peacefully playing, eating, walking, and talking together.  I also know that these days will come again, perhaps in six months or so, once Lena and I and Gil all have a routine.  But until then, this day with just Lena and myself is very much a thing of the past, even though it still seems close enough to relive in the blink of an eye.

Anyway, back to the agenda at hand.  We’re picking up again at lunch, where I had leftovers (veggie enchiladas and blood orange salad) and Lena had Ramen (so easy…), blueberries, and yogurt.  We shared an apple.

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Lena: “My?”  (Meaning “more” noddles.)

Me: Drink your soup, Lena, and then you can have more.

Lena: *gulp gulp gulp*

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After lunch I got to wash the lunch dishes, something which I knew then would be impossible with two little children.  (I was right.  So far it is impossible.)  Lena occupied herself for a few minutes while I did this… apparently by climbing back up into her high chair and shaking her water cup upside down. Making Room BLOG3

I try to make my household tasks into a game and include Lena as much as I can.  Helps me get more done!  In this case I had to get the stubs of candle out of the top of the candlesticks.  She enjoyed playing with the bowl of warm water while I dug out the soft wax.  Then we set up the candlesticks with fresh candles to be ready for dinner that night. Making Room BLOG4

Time to do something that she wants to do.  We spent the next hour or so playing on the living room rug.  One part of playtime was all 150 blocks through the shape sorter.  Whew!

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Siena, our Maine Coon kitten and ever-present companion.

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Bathroom break.  Lena’s playing with a jar of chocolate chips, one of which will be her “teet” (treat) when she is finished.  We’ve since moved to giving her a goldfish after each successful trip to the toilet, which works extremely well if you only dole out goldfish as a reward!  She loves them and always wants the parent who is with her to enjoy a goldfish as well.

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Good girl… cleaning up after herself.

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And back to playing, this time with the kitty and also the punch and drop toy we got her for Christmas. Making Room BLOG6

Naptime again!  These very yellow photos are due to the mellow, sleep-inducing (we hope) lamplight in her room.  Siena snuggles down in her new favorite spot until I nudge her out so I can snuggle there with Lena for storytime.

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Two naps in one day… I know I’m blessed!  I use the 1.5 hours to clean the bathroom…

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… put a few more things in my bag for the hospital…

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… and do some dinner prep.  On tonight’s menu: Sausage, Potato, and Fennel Chowder with fresh sausage from a butcher in town.

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She’s up again!  Someone’s happy to see her.

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She helps me finish up a little dusting, which for her means using a paper towel for about 3 seconds before announcing that it is “tash” (trash) and running off with it to find a garbage can.

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Back to the kitchen to finish up dinner before Elliott gets home from work.  Lena tries a sip of my “doose” (juice), Pom and sparkling water.  She’s not a huge fan.

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We’re in the bathroom again when Daddy walks in!  Lena runs to him for a hug, telling him excitedly that she just earned another “teet,” which earns an extra enthusiastic hug and kiss from him.

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I stopped taking pictures at this point.  I think I thought the routine would be the same with two babies as with one once Elliott got home.  But I forgot that newborns don’t go to sleep at 7:30pm and wake up at 7am like Lena does.  I forgot that they like to be held, especially while you’re eating dinner.  I forgot what it’s like to put your baby in the Moby wrap and rock from one foot to the other while you wash the dinner dishes.  I forgot that I might be nursing a newborn in the evenings while Elliott and I are watching Downton Abbey or dong Bible study together or attempting to blog.  Basically… I think I conveniently didn’t realize how much a newborn would transform our whole lives, not just the 9-5 weekdays that Lena and I spent together.

So yes, the newborn is here.  Gil is here, all adorable 8.5 lbs of him, with his beautiful thick hair and sleepy blue eyes.  He has completely transformed our lives in every way, and it is taking an enormous amount of sacrifice so far.  We’ve sacrificed having free hands.  We’ve sacrificed our free evenings.  We’ve sacrificed sleep… oh, so much sleep.  We’ve sacrificed snuggles with our daughter (and turned them into double snuggles, which aren’t always easy to do!).

But we’ve gained so much.  Welcome, little Gil.  How will our days look with you in our pictures?

11 :: in a picture an hour, Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, Gil, Lena, motherhood, thoughts

my last day as a mother of one {Part 1 of 2}

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Two weeks ago today was my last day as a mother of just one child.  I didn’t know this then, of course, but I did know that it could be just a matter of hours before Lena would no longer be my only baby.  I decided to photograph our day so that I would have a record of everyday life with just me and Lena.

Even though these pictures are from just two weeks ago, I can’t believe how much Lena has changed, much less our whole lives!  One example: when she plays with her alphabet puzzle now, she knows about 75% of the letters by name and doesn’t need any help to put the pieces in place correctly.  Children grow up so, so quickly.

So, if you will, take a walk with me down memory lane!

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That morning, while Elliott showered and shaved, I got the day started in the kitchen.  I served Lena a bowl of Raisin Bran (her favorite because she knows nothing else) and a cup of milk.  I started coffee brewing for Elliott and me.  And then I packed a lunch  for Elliott.  That day his lunch included leftover sweet potato and black bean enchiladas, carrots and dip, a pear, soft gingersnap cookies, olives from the market, and Triscuits.

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These cold days, instead of serving cereal, I’ve been making oatmeal for Elliott and myself.  Lena is usually finished with her Raisin Bran by then and asks for a small bowl of oatmeal to eat with us.

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While Lena is eating, I like to do her hair.  It’s the only time she’ll sit still for me because she’s strapped into her high chair!

After this Elliott left for work and Lena and I ventured out into the cold for a short walk.

Making Room BLOG1 She’s pointing to Mt Etna for me, which is unfortunately invisible in this photo.  We then wandered through the old streets of our neighborhood and Lena tried out our key in different doors.  She was unsuccessful in opening any of them, to her chagrin.  I, meanwhile, was relieved that there was no one at home behind any of the doors she tried!

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We headed back home to “pay!” (play) for a little while before her morning nap.  She loooooves this wooden alphabet puzzle; I think we have completed it at least three times a day together for a month.  It’s such a fun, easy way to learn the alphabet, though!

Below is a video I took of her working on the puzzle with me.  It’s not great quality and my voice annoys me (I’m learning — slowly — to cut down on the baby talk), but it does capture so well how we spend our days together.  Here it is:

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After this it was time for her nap.  I read a few books to her before laying her in her crib, singing her a song, and murmuring, “Sleep well!  I love you, Lena!” as I shut the door.

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While she slept I worked on this blog post.

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She’s awake!  Time for a trip to the bathroom.  She was in the middle of potty training at this point, able to tell us when she needed to go but not to be trusted without a diaper on.

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We taught her to empty the pot and clean it after she’s done.  Finally we found a use for that bidet!

Even just two weeks later, the routine is totally different.  She is sitting on the adult toilet now on a kid-sized seat and hasn’t had an accident in awhile.  She also doesn’t need a pacifier to get her through the drama of it anymore.  Growing up so quickly.

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We moved outside to the balcony so that I could fold the laundry that had dried overnight.

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Lena — wearing a pair of “big girl underwear” and no pants to help her remember that she doesn’t have a diaper on — played with my muddy boots from a hike we took last weekend.   She then asked to be lifted up to make the wind chime sing.  I held her up (cautiously, for we live on the edge of a cliff!) after taking this photo.

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These are the last cloth diapers of Lena’s that I will wash for awhile, I think!  We’ve moved entirely to training pants and underwear.  The end of an era.

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After that we moved inside to make and eat lunch together.  I’ll pick up at this point tomorrow to finish chronicling the day.

If you stuck with me this far, thank you!  If you don’t have kids, what surprised you the most about a day at home with a one-year-old?  If you do have kids, what looked the most familiar to your routine, no matter where you live in the world?

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20 :: in a picture an hour, Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, Lena, motherhood, video

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