Five Years

08.28.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Five years ago, we stood together in a garden on the banks of the Susquehanna River. We held hands and exchanged rings and promised to love each other in sunshine and in rain.

This is the man I chose to be my partner, my traveling mate, my sous chef, my champion, and the father of our children. He surprises me every day with his ambition and his devotion. And I foresee so many more adventures in our future. Happy anniversary to my best friend!

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Why Whole30 + Week 1

08.20.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I first learned about Whole30 earlier this year when my girlfriend started the program. It seemed so restrictive and impractical. No cereal and milk or cheese and crackers or pasta and garlic bread? No cream and sugar in my coffee? No chocolate chip cookies after the kids go to bed? Basically, no fun. But then she started to see and feel real changes — the changes the program claims to deliver. Not just weight loss, but more energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, improved focus. She was a believer, and I was intrigued.

I bought the book, It Starts With Food, and after just a few pages, I decided this was something Nick needed to do. Why? Because he has an incredibly demanding schedule and eats when he’s stressed. He doesn’t have time to exercise or sleep and was drinking far too many cups of coffee every day. Plus he has a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease. I promised to plan his meals and pack his lunches if he promised to stick to the plan for 30 days. And he did! He declined cake at my sister’s graduation party and beer at our neighbor’s picnic. And by the end of the 30 days, he had lost 16 pounds and felt healthier and happier.

I was still exclusively breastfeeding Nora at that time and was hesistant to make big changes to my diet. But after (finally) finishing the book and reading testimonials from fellow nursing mommas — not to mention a summer of weddings and indulgent eating — I decided I was ready to jump on board. And Nick was more than ready for round 2.

So here we are! Week 1 done. No sugar. No alcohol. No grains. No legumes.

So what have we been eating?

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Breakfast always includes some form of eggs. Scrambled with sausage and peppers or spinach; topped with avocado or salsa; or over easy on a plate of roasted potatoes. Also always accompanied by a bowl of fruit and a cup of (black!) coffee.

Yes, mornings are hard. The kids are hungry and whiny. Lucy is begging to go out. Nick is trying to get out the door to work. And, somehow, I have to get breakfast on the table. Cereal and fruit or muffins were always an easy option. But, this week, I’ve had to prepare a hot meal. And you know what? I think it’s worth the extra time.

Lunch is typically a salad of hearty mixed greens, shredded chicken or tuna, and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Apples and avocado typically make an appearance. And our current favorite dressing is a simple basil oil + white balsamic vinaigrette (2:1 ratio).

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Late afternoon can be tricky. I’m usually tired (and sometimes a little bit cranky) from a morning with the kiddos and am ready for a break and a treat in the form of caffeine and/or sugar. The Whole30 plan does not recommend snacking, but because I need to ensure I get enough calories and keep up my milk supply, I do it.

A handful of nuts and raisins usually fits the bill. Or almond butter with celery or a banana or an apple. I also made a pretty tasty and refreshing Coconut Chia Seed Pudding (1 can coconut milk + 1/4 cup chia seeds + 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes. Refrigerate overnight. Top with pineapple and sliced banana.)

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If mornings are hard and afternoons are tricky, then dinners are fun! Seriously. I have loved experimenting with fresh ingredients, and I do believe I have rediscovered my passion for cooking. This is not to say that it’s not tough to prepare a wholesome meal for a family of four while simultaneously entertaining a toddler and a baby, but I’m proud to say I’ve done it every night so far.

Turkey Burgers (1 lb lean ground turkey + 1 egg + 1/2 cup almond flour + 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning) topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Served with roasted mixed potatoes, homemade dill pickles, and pineapple.

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Steak Fajitas (1 lb flank steak or skirt steak + 1 red onion + 2 bell peppers + fajita seasoning: 1 Tbsp almond flour + 2 tsp chili powder + 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp paprika + 1/2 tsp onion powder + 1/2 tsp garlic powder + 1/2 tsp ground cumin + 1/4 tsp black pepper) topped with homemade guacamole.

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Pork Schnitzel (pork loin dipped in egg, followed by a mixture of almond flour and Italian seasoning, then cooked in olive oil) with sauerkraut, potatoes, and brussels sprouts.

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Coffee Mocha Steak (1 Tbsp black pepper + 1 Tbsp ground coriander + 2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp ground cloves + 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa + 2 tsp ground coffee) with mashed potatoes and green beans.

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Stuffed Peppers (1 lb lean ground turkey + taco seasoning: 1 Tbsp chili powder + 1/4 tsp garlic powder + 1/4 tsp onion powder + 1/4 tsp oregano + 1/2 tsp paprika + 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin + 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp black pepper. Cook on the stovetop, then stuff into peppers and bake at 325°F for 20 minutes.) with homemade pico de gallo and plantain chips.

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Zoodles with Chicken Meatballs (1 zucchini, chopped + 3 carrots, chopped + 1/2 cup parsley, chopped + 3 cloves garlic, minced. Pulse in food processor. Add 1/4 cup almond flour + 1 egg. Add 1 lb ground chicken + 1 tsp salt + t/2 tsp black pepper. Process until combined. Drop balls onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes.) topped with compliant marinara sauce.

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I am happy to report that we both survived the first week “hangover.” Surprisingly, I didn’t experience any headaches, though I felt extreme fatigue during days 2-4 (and my arms and legs felt all tingly and tired). We resisted chocolate peanut butter frozen custard from The Meadows and sweet Lebanon bologna from the local butcher. Though Nick dreamed about pizza, and I dreamed about corn on the cob. I haven’t had any crazy and uncontrollable cravings, though I do miss my nightly bowl of Cheerios.

Onward, we go!

Visit the Whole30 website to learn more.

Summer Staycation in Dover

08.15.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I decided to take the kids (and Lucy, too) and spend a week at my parents’ house between Laura’s bridal shower and her bachelorette party.

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Poppy really appreciated having his little helper there to assist with deck painting. And every night Sam helped Nini to water the flowers.

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Stephen took Sam for a long hike to the creek; they picked raspberries; and the two of them spent an entire afternoon on the slip ‘n’ slide.

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And Auntie Laura got lots of quality snuggle time with her niece and nephew.

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While Nora was napping one morning, I sneaked out with my big guy for some playground time — at my old elementary school! I think he was impressed by my agility.

 

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We spent another afternoon with Sam’s favorite girls. Lots of jumping and swimming and giggling! And I got to catch up with their momma — one of my favorite girls.
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We visited my grandparents, and it was the perfect day for deck swinging and bubble blowing.

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We even enjoyed a quick visit from Oma and Opa while they were staying with family nearby.

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We took an impromptu trip to Fuller Lake with Laura, Stephen, and Emma. And we bought a big bag of cherries to eat on the drive home.
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And we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon and evening at Codorus Park following Laura’s bridal shower. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs while throwing the frisbee on the lawn. We counted the boats and the kayaks. And we watched a pretty awesome fireworks show over the lake.

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Sometimes staycations are the best vacations.

Tiny Wonder Time at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve

08.14.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

The Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve (founded by wife of local golf legend, Arnold Palmer) is a 20-minute drive from our house, and they host a fantastic preschool program called Tiny Wonder Time. The program runs year-round on the third Wednesday of every month and costs just $1! Each session includes a story, a craft, an interactive activity, and an outdoor activity. Needless to say, it’s a pretty popular thing to do with toddlers. And babies, too, in our case. Fortunately, Nora is perfectly content to tag along!

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We definitely plan to return for the fall session!

Little Sprouts at Schramm Farms

08.12.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I love that Sam is approaching the age that he can participate in sports and science camps and organized activities. Yes, he still has a short attention span, but Schramm Farms does an incredible job entertaining and educating kids with their Little Sprouts summer program.

We participated in 4 of the 12 weeks: Trucks and Tractors; Barnyard Friends; Strawberries; and Little Chefs.

Sam got to “drive” the big blue farm tractor and make mud tracks with toy trucks.

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He met the cows, goats, and chickens that live on the farm. And then he pretended to be a barnyard animal.

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We picked — and ate! — lots of strawberries.

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And, finally, we harvested tomatoes and basil from the garden. Then we prepared caprese salad, zoodles, blueberry smoothies, and fruit kebabs.

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Letter to Nora: Seven Months

08.06.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora Kathryn,

Seven months is tons of fun! You have grown and matured so much this month. Sometimes I feel sad that you are no longer my cozy, cuddly, cooing infant, but I love watching you explore the world around you.

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You are still very calm, content, and easy-going. Though you have become more confident and more vocal this month. You are now quite comfortable taking toys from Sam, and you yell at him if he’s too close. Which, let’s face it, is all the time. He may roar like a dinosaur in your face and try to bounce you out of the jumperoo, but he adores you. He loves to hug you and hold you, and I don’t think there exists a photo of the two of you that he’s not holding your hand.

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You have discovered a few new sounds this month. You say mamamama, which melts my heart, even if it’s not necessarily directed at me. Sometimes you pant and wheeze like an old man, which is hilarious. And you love to scream, mainly at mealtime. Also, nobody makes you laugh like Sam, especially when he dances circles around you.

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Your bright, blue eyes still stop strangers and guarantee compliments. Sometimes you are bashful and bury your face in my neck, but you typically flash a big smile in their direction.

You have started to reach for me if you want to be held. You tug on my shirt and pat my arm and give me high fives or hold my hand while I’m nursing you, and it’s pretty much the most awesome thing ever.

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You are now strong enough to sit on your own for long periods of time. And your ability to play independently is amazing! You need very little interaction or stimulation and easily find things to entertain yourself. Favorites include egg shakers, anything that lights up or makes noise when you bang it, the Little People Zoo, and, of course, Sam’s cars and trucks. You will sit in your pack ‘n’ play with a pile of toys for up to 20 minutes, which has made meal prep and picking up the house much easier to do! Now if only I could get your brother to remain quiet for that long.

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Now that you are able to sit on your own, you are more comfortable using the toddler side of your bathtub. And you love when Sam joins you for bathtime! You play with cups and kick your feet and laugh at his antics. You have also enjoyed our neighbor’s swimming pool several times this month.

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Things have drastically improved in the sleep department. In fact, you have slept through the night at least five times this month! I suspect that you could permanently phase out the 4am feeding, if I let you, but it’s honestly the best nursing session we have all day. There are no distractions, no noises, no big brother trying to squeeze into the chair beside us, and so I will continue to tip-toe into your room and feed you and snuggle with you as long as you let me.

Naps gave also become longer and more predictable. If we’re home, you will nap for about an hour in the morning and almost two hours in the afternoon. You have always been a back sleeper until about a week ago when I peeked at the monitor and found you laying on your belly with your little booty in the air. This was Sam’s favorite sleep position, and I had forgotten how darn cute it is!

You have mostly dropped your short evening nap, unless we’re in the car or on a long walk. This means you are ready for bed by 7:30pm. And you wake up with a smile by 8:30am every morning.

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You love, love, love to eat. I now give you three solid meals per day, and you get so excited when I put you in the highchair. You often squeal and bang the tray until I fill it with food. Favorites include cheese, watermelon, peaches, avocado, sweet potato fries, rotini pasta, and banana muffins. You’ve become very good at picking up the pieces and getting them into your mouth. Though Lucy wishes you still dropped crumbs on the floor for her!

I continue to nurse you 4-5 times per day. Though for about a week this month, you decided it would be fun to bite me while breastfeeding. It was awful! And we both ended up in tears several times. But we stuck with it and, fortunately, you outgrew that silly phase.

You have also outgrown the nursing for comfort stage, which makes momma just a tiny bit sad. I know I should be grateful that you have mastered the art of self-soothing, but I sometimes miss the days when you would fall asleep while snuggled against my chest.

Stop growing up so fast, little lady!

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Everyone still thinks you look a lot like your Daddy. But you have my eyes and my nose. We’ve also spotted a few more rolls in those sweet legs. I suspect you’ve gained more weight this month than previous months, thanks to that healthy appetite of yours!

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Nora, we love you to the moon and back!

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Bachelorette Party at Harpers Ferry

07.29.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s very rare that I’m able to take a break from my motherly duties. But I thought my sister deserved a weekend without interruptions from a toddler and a baby. So I left the kiddos with my parents and led our caravan down to West Virginia for some fun!

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Laura requested not to spend her bachelorette party at the bars, so I organized a trip perfect for her — outdoor adventures and camping!

We started with a two-hour zip line tour that included seven zips, a sky bridge, and awesome views of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland (thanks, Harpers Ferry Adventure Center).

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Next we hopped into tubes and floated down the Potomac River.

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Then we packed up and headed to our treehouse in the woods! It was very rustic — no electricity, no running water. And Laura just loved it.

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Before we set up camp, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at The Main Cup in nearby Middletown, MD.

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The weather was perfect, and the bride-to-be had a blast!

Sunflower Bridal Shower

07.15.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

The Summer of Laura continued with her bridal shower in June. We rented the Classroom Building at Codorus State Park in Hanover, PA for the festivities. It was the perfect location for Laura! Not only does she love the outdoors and the water, but it’s also where Stephen proposed.

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When we arrived that morning, the circular building was completely empty. And we had less than two hours to transform it into what I envisioned for Laura. Tablecloths, navy polka dot runners, and mason jars of sunflowers really cozied up the tables.

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We hung bright yellow paper lanterns from the windows and displayed chalkboard signs plus a canvas print of one of their engagement photos.

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Of course, the arrival of the guests really made it feel like a party!

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And here comes the guest of honor! We kept the location of her shower a secret, which made it so much fun. And she was just the most beautiful bride-to-be.

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We prepped most of the food the day before and kept it simple: ham and turkey wraps; croissants stuffed with chicken salad from the local market; strawberry and spinach salad with avocado and slivered almonds; quinoa salad with mangoes and a tangy lime dressing; plus fruit kebabs and a tray of veggies.

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I had a little fun with the cheese plates.

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And this cream cheese dip for the apples was a big hit!

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The dessert table included a two-tier cake (lemon and blueberry plus strawberries and cream) from Providence.

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And bouquets of sunflower cookies from a local baker.

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We played two games: bridal bingo and how well do you know Laura? Plus we asked each guest to write a date idea on a Jenga piece (which Laura had so much fun reading later).

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I had also included blank recipe cards with the bridal shower invitations. And it was fun to fill Laura’s recipe box with favorites from her family and friends!

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No shower is complete without stacks of wonderful gifts!

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It was such a lovely afternoon. And Laura was so appreciative of the details.

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I can’t wait to celebrate Wedding Day with this great group of ladies!

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{Thanks to Mandy for taking the beautiful photos!}

Graduation Party for the Nursing Student

07.14.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

This summer has been named The Summer of Laura! The celebrations started in May with her graduation from nursing school.

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Laura’s college experience was drastically different than mine. She did a lot more studying and a lot less partying. And I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments — and discipline!

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My mother planned the perfect party to celebrate her graduation. It was a small gathering of family and friends — with lots of appropriately themed treats!

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The cake was designed and baked at a local bakery (Amy’s Custom Cakery). It wasn’t only beautiful, it was delicious, too!

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The lollipop bandaids were purchased from Etsy.

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And the heart shaped EKG cookies were from another local baker and friend of my mom’s.

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We filled pill bottles with M&Ms.

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And stuffed plastic bags with “sterile” utensils.

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And for the “after party,” we enjoyed s’mores and pina colada jello shots from specimen cups.

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A Pinterest-worthy party, indeed! Way to go, Mom. And congratulations, Laura!

Letter to Nora: Six Months

07.13.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Nora,

Happy half birthday, little lady! Plus one week because Momma has had no time to sit down and write your letter. Life is certainly busy these days. But, oh, so wonderful.

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You are such an active and attentive little peanut! You are always on the move, and it’s become impossible to keep things out of your reach. You squirm and scoot across the floor to get to Sam’s cars or Lucy’s bone, and that pretty vase of flowers is no longer safe on the kitchen table.

You sit straight up and out of your bouncy seat, and you arch your back as soon as I loosen the straps on your car seat. You easily bounce and spin in your jumperoo, and you are able to turn complete circles while laying on your belly in the pack’n’play. You also now ride like a big girl in the stroller and the grocery cart!

You can sit without assistance for several minutes, but you usually spot something across the room and topple over to get to it.

As active as you are, though, you seem to be less destructive than Sam was at this age. Your movements are more graceful, and your grasp is more gentle. Perhaps it is your petite size, or just that feminine touch.

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You got two teeth this month! Both on the bottom. The first popped up totally unannounced, and the second wasn’t far behind. So that explains all the drooling and the constant need to have something in your mouth. Of course, most things still end up there. You are especially fond of napkins, washcloths, tags, and the nylon belt used to buckle you into your high chair.

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Speaking of your highchair, you’ve been spending much more time there this month. You never took much interest in purees — you would purse your lips together every time I tried to give you a spoonful. So towards the end of the month, we gave baby-led weaning a try. I put a slice of pear on your tray, and you reached for it right away. It was a bit slippery, so I helped to guide it to your mouth, and you started sucking on it immediately.

As expected, you love food much more now that you are in control! Since that first slice of pear, you have also had roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash; avocado; roasted apples with cinnamon; watermelon, cantaloup, and honeydew; banana pancakes; pasta and cheese; and lemons (!!). You also love to play with Cheerios while I prep our meals. It’s amazing how quickly you have learned to grasp and guide and release bites into your mouth. And you get so angry if I take the food away before you’re finished!

Most of your meals still end up in the pocket of your bib, or on the floor (Lucy doesn’t mind!), but a surprising amount gets ingested, as is evident by the new surprises in your diaper.

While we’re on the subject of eating, let’s talk about the bottle. You absolutely refuse to take it! Mommy had to spend a night away from you this month while celebrating Auntie Laura’s bachelorette party. We “practiced” several days leading up to that weekend, and you screamed every time the bottle touched your lips. I figured you would take it if you were hungry enough, but I was wrong. Nini tried everything, and even resorted to giving you spoonfuls of my milk and sips from a tiny shot glass. It was awful, and it broke my Mommy heart to see you so distressed (and likely a bit dehydrated) when I returned on Sunday morning. Needless to say, I will NOT be leaving you again anytime soon.

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Another cause for anxiety this month came after your six-month visit with the doctor. The doc heard a “clicking” in your hips and instructed us to take you for an x-ray to rule out hip dysplasia. Of course, I was a nervous wreck waiting for the results, but I am so very thankful that the tests came back normal.

In fact, you are a very healthy and happy baby girl. You weighed 13 lbs 9 oz (9th percentile) and measured 27 inches (89th percentile) at your appointment. Even though you are still so long and lean, I swear I’ve noticed little rolls and dimples on your legs. And you still have those chubby cheeks that I have loved since the day you were born!

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Sleep was quite a struggle this month. Prior to our 10-day trip to Dover and during it, you were waking up between 4 and 6 times every night. And I almost always had to nurse you back to sleep. We were both exhausted! So as soon as we got home, we got a little more strict with nighttime sleep. It took just two nights of listening to you cry before you figured out how to self soothe. It helped that I also stopped swaddling you, which means you can now grab your WubbaNub and put it back in your mouth. You still wake up between 2am and 4am to eat, and I am totally fine with that. I’m just grateful for a few more solid hours of sleep.

Naps have only gotten slightly better, however. I’m lucky if you get a total of two hours throughout the day — usually dispersed among several cat naps. When we’re home all day (which is rare), I put you down around 10am and again at 1pm. You do so much better on this schedule, it’s just nearly impossible to stick to it right now. So I’ll keep taking what I can get — in the car, in my arms, or in your crib.

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One of my absolute favorite things is watching you interact with Big Brother Sam. You just adore him. You give him the sweetest smiles and watch him with such curiosity. You’re both learning to “play” together, and I can’t wait to see the things he will teach you! Sometimes, of course, he still likes to roar like a dinosaur in your face. But you have gotten much better at “yelling” back. You certainly let him know if he’s bothering you, or if he’s squeezing your hand too tight.

You’ve also started to pay more attention to Lucy and usually try to grab fistfuls of her fur. Poor puppy is going to be outnumbered very soon!

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Nora, you are such a doll, and you make our lives so much fuller. We love you, sweetheart!

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