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5 Super Simple Bottled Gifts

I kind of have a thing for jars (who doesn't?).  Baby food jars, mason jars, little Boston round bottles...total sucker.  Here's a list of 5 easy bottled gifts that take a couple minutes each, max.

1. Homemade Vanilla.  There are a thousand "recipes" out there, but basically steep fresh cut vanilla beans in alcohol (we discovered we prefer rum to the more traditional vodka).  It usually takes 6-8 weeks to mature, but if you're short on time, just stick a sliced open bean with the alcohol in the jar you're gifting and write a "ready by" date.  This year, we did a set of extracts - coconut, almond, mint, hazelnut.  Wouldn't it be so fun to get a bunch to try?

2. My beloved coconut honey sugar scrub.  Love this stuff.  It's so simple but seems fance.

3. Rosemary Essential Oil.  I love the millions of uses she has for this.

4. I, for one, would certainly be grateful for this lip balm.

5. Marinated goat cheese.  Seems so special, but is so easy.  Take a chunk of whatever size you like of goat cheese, stick it in a jar and cover with olive oil.  Add whatever herbs you like - I love some fresh rosemary and a whole clove of garlic, with a pinch of red pepper flakes.

10 Holiday Activities in Washington DC

DC has so many fantastic holiday activities.  Music, trains, shows, etc. etc.  It's the best.  Makes for a crazy month, but what is December for if not a little fun-filled exhaustion?  Here are my top 10:

  1. Train display at the US Botanic Gardens - Trains woven in with the gorgeous plants, tons of poinsettias, Christmas trees, etc.  Lovely and fun.
  2. Hot Chocolate - We are serious hot chocolate lovers over here, and tried out Artfully Chocolate for the first time a few days ago.  So many amazing flavors.
  3. Old Town Alexandria - after hot chocolate, you can continue on to Old Town to see the lights, gorgeous window displays, and partake in some old-fashioned holiday cheer.  Old Town is always gorgeous, but especially so at Christmastime.  I highly recommend taking a candlelight tour.  It is just so so lovely (and you can almost always find a deal of some sort, so don't pay full price!).
  4. Christmas concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - We attended another concert here a couple of years ago and the tone and the quality of music was just gorgeous.  Their Christmas concert is always delightful.
  5. Ice skating - The National Gallery sculpture garden gets turned into an ice rink in the winter and, I mean, ice skating at the NATIONAL GALLERY.  It's pretty cool.  Also, the Kettler Capitals Ice Plex in Arlington has county sponsored skate times in which you pay $1 for admission, including skates.
  6. Handel's Messiah - So many sing alongs and performances, it's so so great.  We've attended ones at St. Peter's, Truro Anglican, and the First Baptist Church of DC.  We also always attend the (paid) performance at the Kennedy Center (glorious).  The Kennedy Center also always has a sing along, but since tickets for that one are free, you have to wait in line and it's not quite as family friendly as some of the other sing alongs (we like to take the kids to the sing along, and do the performance as a date.  We're intense about Messiah over here.).
  7. The Nutcracker - Too many performances to name.  We've attended the one put on by BalletNova for the last couple of years and loved it.  It's low-key enough to bring kids if we want (maybe next year) but still really well done with great talent and costumes.  Not a million dollars like some of the professional ones, and we can feel good about supporting local dance education.
  8. Zoolights - I mentioned to Dan that this cost lots of money in another city.  We're so spoiled here with having so many things be free.  Nat was pretty much beside himself with all the lights of animals and such here.  Also includes trains and gingerbread house habitats.
  9. Washington DC Mormon Temple Festival of Lights - So many lights, gorgeous music, a creche exhibit, tons of trees.  Just lovely.
  10. White House tour/National Christmas tree lighting - This last one is the trickiest to figure out, but is worth it.  The lighting is fairly self-explanatory - the lights turn on.  The tour is a little harder; you have to either request tickets from a Congressperson or get them through an agency.  I was lucky enough to perform with a group there this year, so we got to tour, as well, and the Christmas decorations were spectacular.  If you can swing it, do.

DIY Ultra Healing Lip Balm

I have majorly dry skin.  Especially every year when the weather starts to turn cold, my hands turn into total alligators, and my lips get all flaky and cracked; they even started bleeding a bit last week.  Most chap sticks do nothing for me; they make them feel better momentarily, but don't actually do anything to heal them.

A couple years ago, I happened to notice the lanolin sitting on my nightstand and thought that if it helps cracked nipples, it probably helps cracked lips, too.*  If my lips are really bad, I'll sometimes put a little straight lanolin on them before bed, but it's way too thick/tacky to wear by itself during the day, I think.  I also love coconut oil, but I it slides right off in about 4 seconds.  So I meshed them, of course.

I really should've taken a before/after, but of course I forgot.  You'll just have to take my word for it that this stuff works dang miracles.
Here's the not-really-a-tutorial-at-all:
1 part lanolin
1 part coconut oil
1-2 drops honey
Mix ingredients in a small container.  (You only need a teensy bit, so I used probably about 1/2 teaspoon of the lanolin/coconut oil.)  Heat in the microwave for 15-20 seconds until smooth and mix it all together.  Apply to croc lips and watch the miracles unfold.

*I've never actually needed it for nursing so it didn't weird me out to put it on my lips...if that just brings back too many painful memories for you, feel free to pass this right on by.

Crockpot Chipotle Four Bean & Butternut Chili

(Foreward: chili never ever photographs well.  End.)

For a long time, I've been wanting to figure out an easy crockpot chili that uses dry beans.  They're cheaper and better for you and I far prefer the texture, especially after they've been cooked into a chili.  But pre-cooking the beans adds an extra 30 seconds of putting them in the pressure cooker that I evidently don't have, what with all my reading of Christmas books and snitching of (still) leftover Halloween candy.

My schedule, I know.  It astounds you.

For those of you similarly afflicted, this chili is it.  THE chili.  Lots of beans, veggies, great smoky flavor even while being vegetarian.  And uses plain old dry beans!  Hallelujah.

Crockpot Chipotle Four Bean & Butternut Chili

1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry black beans
1/2 cup dry white beans (I used Great Northern)
1/2 cup dry kidney beans
1/2 cup dry garbanzo beans (I've also subbed quinoa for one kind of beans)
1 small or 1/2 one large butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled & diced*
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (or two if you like a little more kick)
2 T cumin
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder 
2 t cinnamon
2 t oregano
2 t salt
6-7 cups water (enough to cover your beans by about half an inch)

Add everything to the crockpot and stir.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.  Serve with cornbread and a big salad.

*I've also thrown in other assorted root veggies we've had lying around from our CSA - most notably turnips, which fit in just fine, bless everything, since we have them coming out our ears.

A Christ-Centered Advent for Toddlers

(Disclaimer: I realized after writing this that it maybe sounded like I was dissing (pretty sure that's geriatric-speak by now) other advent calenders, or ones that are more "fun"-focused?  Because I'm not at ALL.  This is just what works for us - not perfectly, but it's a good goal.  Also, the Interwebs makes me want to slap a disclaimer on everything.) 

I will probably get all kinds of flak for this, but we don't do Santa.

I know.  I'm crazy.

I just never believed in Santa growing up, and I'd much rather focus on real things for my favorite season.  I'm not opposed to having fun with it and recognizing it as a sweet tradition, knowing that while the magic is fun, it's also pretend.  I feel zero desire to actually try to make my children believe the jolly man is real.

Instead, I love taking the advent season to take time each day to reflect on my Savior.  I have this terrible habit of trying to do too much and staying up too late and being grumpy with my children and then wanting to lay around and do nothing all day.  I feel pressured to come up with ideas, but then am too tired to execute them.  I forget what ACTUALLY most important about this season.

Last year was the first time we did an advent calender and it was, by far, my favorite Christmas tradition.  There are lots of different calendars out there, but I wanted to incorporate several together.  It was important to me to have some short scriptures, a song, a book, a simple (and toddler-friendly) act of service, and maybe an easy craft each day.  And treats, of course (some special ones, hot chocolate, s'mores in our fireplace, etc.).

Last year, I had an idea of all these traditions.  This year, I have my giant master list of daily activities, as well as special outings and activities (performances, parties, sing alongs, etc.).  I am so excited for all those things, but mostly, I'm thrilled for the 10 or so minutes we'll spend as a family each night reflecting on our Savior.  It was so lovely having this leading up to Christmas Day last year.

Each day has just enough to help two toddlers learn a little about the meaning of Christmas, but is short enough to keep their attention.  Each day has:
There are also activities, but to me, those are less important than the special "Jesus time" in the evening.  There's also a talk from a Church leader for Dan and I to read together after the kids are in bed.  I print out the whole list, cut it into strips, and put the strip for each day in the appropriate bag.

I just really love it, and hope it helps someone else organize their Christmas reflection, too.

Here's the link to my master doc!

A Traditional Vegetarian Thanksgiving

My whole life, starting at the beginning of November, people (who have found out I'm a vegetarian) have asked me, "So do you celebrate Thanksgiving?"

Um, yes.

Forgive me for thinking you're a dummy, but a) Thanksgiving is about more than just the food (although... not by much), and b) pretty much everything except the turkey can be vegetarian-friendly.  And maybe I'm mistaken, but I feel like a number of people have told me that the turkey is much less exciting than PIE.

Here's our lineup this year:

My beloved Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Pumpkin Curry Soup (recipe to come one of these days)
Mashed Potatoes
Cornbread (my fave is the basic one from Mark Bittman); in the past, we've also done a savory one)
Pumpkin Stuffed with Bread & Cheese
(In the past, we've also done this yummy Parm & Root Veg Lasagna for a main)
Cranberry Sauce or Cranberry Jalapeno Cream Cheese Dip
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Perhaps Pecan Pie

Also...stuffing.  So here's my confession - I don't really love stuffing.  I know, I know, it's everyone's favorite part of Thanksgiving, yada yada.  I just haven't found one that I love and I'm not sure if it's me or the recipe or maybe just stuffing in general?  I've tried basic ones and even boxed ones (WORST) and fancy (pear pecan, anyone?) and just...meh.  It's kind of supposed-to-be-soggy bread and soggy is my nemesis.  So, any stuffing advice?

Maple Pumpkin Pie Bars

I am extremely picky about pumpkin pie.  It has to be not too thick, creamy but not goopy, pumpkin-y but not bland, creamy and not rubbery, THE CRUST CANNOT BE SOGGY, etc. etc.  I have issues.

I've been making hacking this pumpkin pie for several years now and generally love it EXCEPT for the crust part.  I love all-butter crusts, but with pumpkin pie, it just seems to get lost and get soggy.  And as mentioned, I cannot handle soggy (to this day, I refuse to eat cereal with milk).

So I threw my version on top of a gingersnap crust, did it in bar form for ease of group serving, and voila - new Thanksgiving dessert.

Maple Pumpkin Pie Bars

8oz gingersnaps
6 T melted butter

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained canned yams from 15-ounce can
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the Crust:
Preheat to 325F.  Finely grind gingersnaps.  Mix with melted butter (directly in the baking pan if you're lazy like me) until evenly moistened.  Press into 9x13" baking dish.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Make the Filling:
While crust is baking,  combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, and spices in large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

While pumpkin mixture is cooking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl.  Let pumpkin mixture cool slightly and combine with cream mixture.  Immersion blend until smooth.

Pour pumpkin mixture over crust.  Bake in preheated oven  until set, about 35-40 minutes.

Cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Layered Dress

Dress: Target (out of stock in this color); Sweater: H&M; Booties: Payless; Scarf: H&M; Belt: from another skirt; Purse: thrifted; Bracelet: c/o YuniKelley; Watch: c/o Daniel Wellington

Dresses are sometimes hard for me because they don't always have a lot of dimension or texture.  Sometimes I just have to appreciate them for what they are - simple - but other times, I manage to pull them into an actual outfit.  I loved how this came together and can see myself wearing versions of it all winter long.

5-Minute Crockpot Creamy Tomato Soup

I am a complete sucker for tomato soup.  Paired with grilled cheese sandwiches, it's the vegetarian equivalent of comfort food.  I've been trying to settle on a crockpot version I love, one that deepens the flavors and isn't just the same thing as letting it simmer on the stove for half an hour.  And this is it.  It is ridiculously fast to put together, perfect for the slow cooker, and most importantly, so so delicious.  I know we'll be eating it all winter long.

Note #1: The original recipe roasts the tomatoes.  I've done it both ways, and the flavor is slightly improved when the tomatoes are roasted.  But not so much so that it's usually worth upping the prep time by half an hour.  If you would like to roast, though, just spread the whole peeled tomatoes on a  baking sheet, sprinkle with the brown sugar, and bake at 450F for 30 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to color.  Choose whichever way you like.

Note #2: I used to always make this recipe with whole milk instead of cream.  And then I actually tried it with cream.  It is...unmistakably better.  I needed a lot more milk to make it feel creamy, and the flavor just wasn't all there.  Even with a dialed back amount of cream, it's just so amazing.  #justusethecream

Crockpot Creamy Tomato Soup
adapted from here

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved - see note)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups water or vegetable stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste (I hardly needed any)

1. Heat butter in large saute pan.  Saute onion until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in tomato paste, allspice, and flour and combine well.  Cook 1 minute.

2. While onion cooks, open 2 cans of crushed tomatoes and pour in crockpot with brown sugar.  Add in onion mixture and water.

3. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours (although the timing is relatively flexible; I made it overnight and it was just fine in the morning).  Stir in cream and salt and serve with grilled cheese sandwiches, of course.

Fall Maxi

Sweater: H&M; Skirt: Target; Shoes: Target; Necklace: F21

Hey, look!  I still own clothing!

It's been...rather a while since I've posted an outfit.  I wasn't entirely conscious, but mostly just the lazies and life.  And I decided I was okay with that.  Blogging in general has been taking more time away from other craziness lately, and I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'll just have to be okay with some pauses now and again and not worry about it.  I mean, it's blogging!  Not the place for worrying.  Running out of cheese in my fridge: cause for much worrying.

Anyway, I loved this, it was cozy, it sometimes makes me trip when going up stairs but mostly because I'm a klutz.  The end.

Indian Coconut Cabbage Curry

Our CSA lately has provided us with mass quantities of greens.  As in, my entire bottom shelf of my refrigerator is filled with them.  This recipe uses none of them, but it did make a dent in the head and a half of cabbage that's also been accumulating in my fridge.  (Bless cabbage's little green heart, it keeps excellently for a very long time.)

Did I mention that it takes about 20 minutes to throw together?  And is delicious.  Seriously, if you have cabbage (and if you don't, this recipe is worth going and purchasing some), go make this.  Tonight.

Indian Coconut Cabbage Curry
adapted from here

1 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coconut or olive oil
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp black mustard seeds
2-14oz cans coconut milk
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp ground coriander

1. Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan on medium-high for 1 minute. Add mustard seeds and cook until you hear the first popping sound, about 1 minute. Immediately turn off the heat. (The popping sound means that the seeds have cooked and are beginning to burn.)

2. After 5 minutes, turn on heat to medium and add in rest of spices.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring so it doesn't burn.  Stir in coconut milk and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the oil glistens. Add cabbage and stir well to completely combine cabbage and masala. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until cabbage is firm-tender.

Serve over rice or with chapati.

One-Hour Astronaut Costume

(Otherwise known as Astronat.  Because of course we had to.)

Nat's been saying he wants to be an astronaut for Halloween for a couple of months now.  I mostly ignored him for a while because I'm the sort of mother who values listening to her child.  But really, there was no way I was going to spend $30-40 on ONE costume.  And then I had no other ideas so I decided to maybe try to make one?

So I found this tutorial and changed it up a bit.  I found a white shirt and rando white pants at Goodwill, which I quickly hemmed.  I took a silverware tray and stuck on out printed out pictures of flags/Apollo 11 patches/USA letters and stuck star stickers all over eeeerrything.  Stuck some duct tape together for straps, duct taped all around a couple of old milk jugs, cut a hole in an old white Halloween bucket, done.

Dan donned his white shirt and tie and stuck on a Mission Control patch, I made kina a paper mache balloon and stuck a flag on there so she could be the moon, and I wore my all-black for the concert in which I played 45 minutes later and stuck a large white dot with "hole" written on it to my front.  Yes, we're THAT cheesy family, but that cheesy family just happened to win best family costume, so I'll take it.

Basically, one of my favorite costumes ever.

And Thus Endeth Birthday Season

Between birthday, birthday party, family pictures, Chicago wedding, Utah, furlough, recuperating from vacation, Pennsylvania wedding, birthday, birthday party, Halloween/costumes, it's been a bit of a crazy 6 weeks.  It's been so fun, but I'm sort of glad for a bit of a break before the rest of the holiday season hits in full force.

Still, Nat's party this weekend?  Was just SO fun.  Since we were out of town for a wedding on his actual birthday last Saturday, we did his party this past Saturday.  It was just a low-key affair at the park behind our place with lots of really terrific people.  And cake.  Lots of cake.  And it was just perfect.

There was some crafting (my favorites were the airplanes silhouettes cut from old atlas pages), but it was fairly minimal, fun, and made for fun projects with Nat.  We made airplane sandwiches with a cookie cutter and Nat had fun inviting newly-arrived guests to partake.  Basically, it was just a really fun time.  And it thrilled me to no end seeing how much fun Nat was having with all his favorite friends.

Best of all?  This kid.  He's a gem.



Mascarpone & Mushroom Mac

Usually I'm pretty domineering about what we eat for dinner.  My way or the highway, fam.  But I figured I could allow Nat to choose his own birthday meal.  (I know you are v. curious for my tips on how to become so generous.  Stay tuned.)

I was surprised not at all when he choose mac & cheese.  We rarely have it, but he loves it more than all the foods.  So because I am excellent at not going overboard, I made one basic cheddar version and one with mascarpone & sauteed mushrooms.  I was delighted when the later was his favorite, too.

Mascarpone & Mushroom Mac
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

1 pound small pasta (I used fusilli)
2 T butter
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/2/ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup more bread crumbs (I used freshly toasted bread cubes)

1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it.

2. Cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain it and put it in a large bowl (or, if you're like me and hate using extra dishes, directly into the baking dish).

3.  Heat the butter in a large pan over medium heat.  Allow to brown slightly until fragrant (but don't burn it!).  Add the mushrooms and let cook until they've released their moisture and are tender.

4. Mix together the milk, mascarpone, and Parmesan in a large bowl.  Add the pasta, sage, and mushrooms, sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste, and stir to combine.

5. Spray a 9x13 baking dish and add pasta & cheese mixture.  Top with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and crumbs have browned slightly, about 15 minutes.


Sweet Natty,
Happy, happy birthday, babystar!  The fact that you are three whole years old surprises me less than how much you've grown and how independent you've become in the last year.  As I've reminisced the last few days and have peeked through old pictures, I'm amazed at all you've learned, how smart and handsome you've become, and how kind of a soul you are.

You've learned so much this year in terms of factual information and of how the world works, and I love observing your little mind processing everything it sees.  You've developed a fascination with letters in the last few months, and know most of them with their sounds.  You've also finally, finally! started to enjoy drawing.  Seriously, for the longest time, we could not get you to do more than pick up a crayon, you were just so bored with it all.  But in the last couple of months, you've suddenly decided you love to color and draw.  We've started learning to write a few letters, and I love seeing your joy as you work to learn and succeed.

For your birthday this year, we had to go out of town for a wedding.  I couldn't bear the thought of leaving you behind on your birthday, so we all drove up together, enjoying some absolutely gorgeous fall scenery.  We visited a fall festival at a farm along the way, and it was just the perfect way to spend the day.  There were corn mazes and pumpkin picking and tractors.  Many, many tractors.  Little ride-on tractors and old stationary tractors and big giant tractors for the hayride.  I feel fairly confident it was near to your vision of heaven.

One of my biggest joys has been witnessing how your relationship with your father and your sister have grown this year.  You were always a complete mama's boy before kina was born, and you still are.  For comfort and hugs, it's usually me you want (thank goodness).  But it just makes my heart sing to see how much fun you have with your daddy.  You trust him and love for him to help you, and love helping him in return.  It's the sweetest little friendship.

Just as touching to my mama heart has been seeing you grow to adore your little sister.  I have to admit, while you were kind to her and were amazingly un-jealous even at the first, you were not particularly interested in kina for some time after she was born.  But now.  Goodness me, you are the best of friends.  You poke and prod each other to the extreme, but you just can't get enough of each other.  When your Amma asked the other day if you wanted to come over to her house, the very first thing you said was, "And kina can come, too!"  If kina wakes from her nap before you, there are usually several instances of me retrieving her from banging on your door, in hopes that you will come out to play (see also: gratitude for sound machines).  You both think it's hilarious to climb on your bed and bounce and play with all the animals.  You're always retrieving her little bear for her, and if you're ever dilly dallying coming up the stairs to our apartment, the fastest way to get you up is to say that kina has some pressing need.  You are already her protector and friend, are proactively thoughtful, and my heart wells up for it.

You're also such a generous little soul.  If you have a snack, you will always share with me or kina or anyone else who is there.  You had a little treat a couple of months ago and you made sure to give some to Amma, even though there was very little of it.  You always want people to feel included and loved, and if someone gets up to go to the bathroom, you ask where they are.  If we're out somewhere and one of us falls behind, you want to wait, so that we'll all stay together.  You have such a way of watching out for and over those around you, and I'm so thrilled by your goodness.   I've loved watching your faith grow and seeing your trust in and reliance on your Heavenly Father.  I love seeing you express sweet prayers, and watching them be answered.  That is magic.

Most of all, you're kind and generous and true.  Last night, for your birthday dinner, I asked for your request and you said mac & cheese, a rare treat.  We had over Amma & Ajja and Priya and it was lovely.  We finished our food and dessert (brownies with ice cream), and we packed up your little backpack so you could have your first elective sleepover at their house tonight.  While I may lament your growth, I'm generally not the type to actually be sad over it - I love seeing you grown and learn and enter new phases of life.  But tonight, as you confidently headed out the door with Amma & Ajja, fully aware and appreciating that you'd be staying at their house by yourself and coming home tomorrow, the tears started to swell.  You just seemed so BIG - choosing to sleepover at their house and knowing what it meant and taking your little bag with you.  You just seemed so independent and my heart ached a little (kina noticing you were leaving and leaping out to want to be with you and bursting into tears when she realized you were leaving did not help).

But then.  You came over to me and put your little arms around my neck and said, "I'll miss you, Mommy.  I love you."

You'd think I would've learned this long ago, but I've recently recommitted to letting messes happen, to letting you be a kid.  Somehow in the course of wanting to train you up right, I became a stricter, less fun, more uptight mom.  I realized I want to have fun with you and enjoy you more, and oh, it is glorious.  The day I started trying this more, you responded so much better when I was happier and kinder, and we just had a ball together.  You are the kindest, best little boy and I want to remember that always.

Natty, thank you for being my little boy.  Thank you for growing and learning and choosing to be good.  And thank you for, all the while, loving me back and still being my little boy.  I adore you.





Other random facts:
You continue to love sticks (has morphed into more imaginary play - batons and wands and the like) and the park and basically anything outside.  You're enamored by fall and all the leaves (and jumping in them).  You love trains and cars, of course, and have been in a phase of asking for hugs at regular intervals throughout the day (hope that never ends).  You love to pretend - taking on the phone (generally calling up Penny & Rae), playing house ("I'm the daddy and kina is the mommy and daddy is the baby and mommy is the other baby!"), making the couch/bed/whatever into a train/boat/airplane.  You still adore reading and could do it for hours.  You love to do whatever we're doing - cook or paint or fix things.

You love making new friends, usually warm up very quickly, and are great about being left with any sitters (your favorites being your grandparents, of course).  You love to jump and run and be silly.  You think rhymes are hilarious and make up nonsense words all the time.  You love to sing and constantly do it in the car and especially if kina is ever sad.  You've learned an Article of Faith each month this year, and we're on track to finish reading the Book of Mormon.  You're great about eating whatever we do, and always surprise people with the quantity of food you consume.  You're still a crazy chatterbox and we still get surprised by your level of speech.  You love your bear, and still have your paci for naps and bedtime.  You've been potty trained for 7 or 8 months, and although I haven't tried night training yet, you've been waking up dry more frequently.  You still nap for 2-3 hours each afternoon, and sleep about 10-11 at night.  You love to travel and see new things and experience new places.