New Orleans: Food, Music and Inspiration

I spent two and a half hectic days in New Orleans this weekend and it was truly inspiring.  The music, the food, the survivors, the fellow bloggers, the hot HGTV hosts…

It really was a great trip.  It wasn’t without a few glitches and a few things could have been a little more organized, but I’m certainly not complaining.  I ate a lot, slept very little, met some great people and saw just how much work still needs to be done down there.  I think the highlight of my trip was talking with a homeowner in the Gentilly neighborhood named Brenda Wheeler.  She was amazing, so encouraging, filled with faith and really blessed my heart.  Despite the horror of the last five years (after Katrina her marriage fell apart, her mother died, she was displaced and she suffered serious heart problems) she was the most peaceful person I’ve ever had the privilege of speaking with.

I will be sharing her story over at 5 Minutes for Mom this week.  I can’t wait for you to read it.  I’m even putting together a short video of our conversation so you can see her and hear her words first hand.  It was such a blessing to hear her talk about how God has blessed her life and given her strength to endure despite the hardships.

I was able to see the goodness in people as hundreds rallied to help rehabilitate homes that remain in disrepair so that New Orleans residents could finally come home.  The average income in the neighborhood where I worked was roughly $16,000 a year so it is no wonder that most houses remain uninhabited, or in a state that is not healthy or safe for the residents.  That region still needs help, they still need support, both financially and in basic labor.  It was eye opening for me.

I got to drive throught he lower 9th Ward, where I did not see Brad Pitt (Sad Panda) but I did see the houses he built.  They’re beautiful and amazing, but they sit next to wasteland.  Overgrown lots and dilapitated homes leave a stark reminder of the destruction that happened.  And the day I drove through it was pouring down rain.  It was almost eery to see the community in the rain like that.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend, including one with me and Carter Oosterhouse who, I must say, is more adorable in person than on TV.  I’ve never watched his show, but I know who he is because how can one not be aware of someone who looks like him?!  Just sayin’…

And now I’m off to edit video, write a few more posts and get some coffee.  I’m at the gym using their free wifi.  The gym has become my office as of late.  The kids get to play, I get work done and everybody wins.  Well, except for my body which is just getting soft and squishy…

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These women are three generations who have been displaced since Katrina hit.  Their house should be completed and ready to move back in in just a few weeks.  The older woman, Lula, lived in an apartment or “ghetto,” as she put it, her whole life.  Her daughter Lois bought this house in 1998 because she wanted her mother and children to know what it was like to live in a home and in a safe environment.  She wants to bring her aging mother home.

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Many of the abandoned homes still bear the water marks from the floods.  The X on the front indicated where the water peaked.  The numbers are the date that the house was checked and on the bottom the number indicated if any bodies were found.  Thankfully this one bears the mark of 0.

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I helped build a fence with a group of kids from the Americorp.  They were all between the ages of 19 and 23 and when they asked how old I was one of the boys literally let his mouth drop open.  “You’re 32?!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, I know right?” I replied.  “I’ve got one foot in the grave.”

“No!  It’s just that I thought you were one of the college helpers.”

I almost kissed him, but I resisted.  Instead I asked if I could adopt him.  Then it got awkward.  *sigh*

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I was interview by the 2nd City Comedy Troup film team who were working with Sears to capture some of the events of the weekend.  It was very awkward.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to be funny or serious.  I felt like Ricky Bobby.  I don’t know what to do with my hands. Good times.

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Chris Grundy of HGTV’s DiY, blogger Greta, Hotty Mc-hot-erson Carter Oosterhouse, and me.  :)

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One of Brad Pitt’s cool looking homes in the lower 9th.  But no Brad Pitt.  I know, right?!

Finally, I leave you with a compilation of clips that I took the night that I explored Frenchmen Street with two of the other bloggers.  I harkened back to my college days and stayed out until 2:00 am.  It was awesome.  I’m totally paying for it today, though.  The music in New Orleans is everything you hear.  It’s amazing.  Enjoy…

…but I always remember to brush my teeth

When Lee and I were first married, I lived the good life as a freelance writer/gymnastics coach.  I realized early on that the typical 9-5 job wasn’t for me.  It cramped my style.

Such a Prima Donna…

So I got a sweet job coaching gymnastics at the top gym in the nation, where I didn’t have to go to work until 3:00 in the afternoon and I spent my mornings ghostwriting and editing books, writing corporate newletters and walking the mall that was .2 miles from our Frisco, Texas apartment.

That was the good life.  I miss that life some days (read: many days).

One of the more productive ways I filled my time was meeting every Tuesday morning with an amazing group of women from our church.  Most of them were stay at home moms, save for one other woman (my dearest of friends) who had no children like me but worked as an actress so she also had a flexible schedule.

I’ll never forget one Tuesday morning as we all began our time of study and Allison, a new mom, threw open the door, her hair all askew, her eyes wide, her clothes wrinkled and a look of total bewilderment on her face.

“Getting out of the house with a baby is hard!” she exclaimed.  You had to know Allison to understand how sweet and cute this moment was.  We all laughed and I shook my head, totally not getting it.  I mean, how hard is it to get a shower and change your clothes, right?

Fast forward three years when I myself became that wide-eyed, bewildered new mom.  I would wake up each morning resolved to be cool and smooth and put together, and inevitably by 10:00am I could still be found in my wrinkled pajamas (which, of course, weren’t really pajamas but rather the clothes I had been wearing for the past several days because who had time to change her clothes on a daily basis?), my hair knotted and gnarled in tufts around my head, my eyes bloodshot and red and my bladder full because I couldn’t figure out when I was supposed to go to the bathroom.

You know…first baby syndrome.

Was I supposed to put him down and let him scream just so I could pee?  But then it would take all that time and effort to get him calmed back down and God forbid the kid wants to nurse again because there’s a good chance that certain necessary parts of my chest might literally fall off if he nurses one more time…

And so I stood and bounced for hours on end.  Not because he needed to be bounced, but because I needed to pee and because it kept me from thinking about the grungy state of my appearance.

It took a few weeks for me to snap out of that daze.  It took some time for me to figure out that it was indeed okay to put the child down for moderate stretches of time.  Good Lord, when I figured out that I could put him in the bouncy seat for 2.4 minutes of quiet and jump in the shower, I became a different woman.

One with hygiene.

Within a few months, we had settled into a nice little schedule of two solid naps a day, which allotted me all the time I wanted to make myself presentable.  Glory day!  Until child number two entered the picture.  Then, gasp! There were two of them.  If I got the baby to sleep, I still had the two year old to contend with.  I don’t think I showered for a month.

But again, thanks in part to Tia being a freak of nature and sleeping roughly 19 hours a day for the first six months of her life, we eased well into a schedule that allowed me to at least pull a brush through the nest on my head and run a toothbrush over the fuzz on my teeth.

Enter kid number three.

I gave up on showers all together.  Because when you shower, crazy things happen, like kids cutting each other’s hair, or small children taking a Sharpie to the walls, or any number of unimaginable craziness that can happen in the few minutes I leave them unattended.

So if you run into me in public and I look…questionable…just nod your head, smile and take heart in the fact that I always brush my teeth.

Almost always, anyways…

The one where I want to be cool

So I’m leaving in two days for New Orleans and I’m starting to have a small panic attack. 

Whatever for?! You may ask.

I’ll tell you what for.  It’s not just because I have to interview CEO’s and CFO’s and Presidents of large corporations, including Sears (although I am nervous about that, but I’m pretending I’m not because if I think about it too long, my hands start to shake).  It’s not because I might get to hob nob with influential public figures or meet other fantastically talented writers, because chances are I won’t actually be hob nobbing with much, although I like to pretend that when it’s all said and done I’m going to be BFF’s forever with all sorts of artsy creative folks.

Oh no.  I am nervous because I don’t know how to pack.  I don’t know what to wear.  This is serious stuff, folks.  I have to look cool and put together.  What do I wear when I’m in a position of working as a volunteer while simultaneously being listed as part of the Press Corps? 

I have literally googled the phrase photos of Extreme Makeover Home Edition to see what the ladies on that show wear when they’re working.  I’m that desperate for ideas.  Pitiful, yes?

I have dug through my wardrobe and have questioned all manner of clothing and have come to the conclusion that I could really benefit from a stylist.  Darn Hollywood stars who set the fashion bar so high…

I need functional cute clothes for working and casual cool clothes for evening events and fun party clothes for going crazy on Bourbon Street.

Just kidding…not that last part.  I don’t think I’ll be going to Bourbon Street.  Or maybe I will – I dunno, actually.  I have to get up at 3:00am on Thursday morning and be ready to go by 4:00 when a car service will pick me up.  Upon arriving at my New Orleans hotel, I have an immeditae meet and greet with the PR company putting all this together.  So I need to look presentable.  Something tells me that I’m not going to up for late night galavanting after a long day of working and travelling.

That and the fact that I’ve never been much of a galavanter, anyway.  I’m not even sure if I know how to galavant…

So what are your suggestions?  How should I dress for something like this? Literally, my itinerary suggestions casual and cool clothing.  Um…I’m not sure what casual cool means or looks like.  I’m heading to the mall now in the hopes that there will be some wicked sale racks filled with clothing that screams CASUAL COOL.

Wish me luck…

Methinks it’s time

A little over seven years ago we installed a crib in a little bedroom in our home.  In seven years that crib hasn’t moved.  It’s been warmed by three tiny people and has rarely seen it’s sheets stand cold.  Sloan stayed in the crib until he was a little over two years old.  I was pregnant with Tia and we decided to move him out of the crib a little early, anticipating a long adjustment period to his new, big boy bed.

He never climbed out of bed once.  And wouldn’t for many months to come.  And I regretted transitioning him so early.

Tia wasn’t two yet when Landon was born and the plan was for her and Landon to share a room with him sleeping in a pack and play and her in the crib.  Little did I know that he would be the noisiest sleeper on planet earth and Tia would start climbing out of her crib the second we brought Landon home therefore throwing all of my well laid plan out the window.

We put Tia in a big bed in the hopes of keeping her from breaking her neck as she spilled over the side of her crib each day and, for the most part, she transitioned easily.  She never came out of her room, but we would often go in to find her laying between every shoe and toy she owned.

And then there’s Landon… My free spirited child tasted freedom for three weeks this summer when he slept on an air mattress in Florida.  I won’t mince words – he was a nightmare.  Putting him to bed made having a root canal sound fun.  And when we returned home, I gladly plopped his little behind back in his crib and did the happy dance out of his room.

It’s never occurred to him to crawl out.  And I’ve threatened the other two with their lives if they show him how. 

“I’ll tell Santa and the Easter Bunny if you show him how to climb out and it will be a slow holiday season for you guys…”

But the thing is…*sigh*  Here’s the thing.  The poor child appears to be ready to transition to a big kid bed.  Sleeping has been a bit of an issue in the couple of weeks since we’ve been back from vacation.  He is scared in his room (we’re going to buy a night light today) and is waking up through the night and, in general, seems to be restless.

And suddenly the idea of taking the crib down has caused panic of massive proportions in my heart.  So much so that I’ve wondered if we should go ahead and have another baby just so I don’t have to take down the crib.

That’s just crazy talk…

So we are slowly, but surely, plodding toward the task of disassembling the crib.  I’ve already warned Lee that I’ll probably blubber inconsolably, then I’ll need a stiff drink (or five) to get through the process.  We likely won’t pull the trigger on this until the end of next month because with Lee and I going out of town for ten days, I would feel terrible leaving our parents with the task of getting that child to stay in bed at night.  It would be cruel and unusual punishment for them, and I won’t do it.  No I won’t.  I’m not gonna do it.  I’m not taking that crib apart!

Plus, I’m (clearly)  just not ready.  I’m not ready to say good bye to babydom and I’m not ready to deal with the mischevious little fox that is my third child.

I will survive this milestone, right?

A blogworthy path

When I started this blogging thing a few years ago, I had no idea what blogging really was.  And I didn’t get it.  It seemed like a terrible waste of time (and it sometimes can be) and I didn’t see how it could be interesting at all for someone to read about my life.  I mean, my life isn’t much to brag about.

Then Tia ate Landon’s umbilical cord.

I realized right then that I was going to need some support in this motherhood thing because if I didn’t have people to laugh with I might cry, or you know…vomit.

As I delved deeper into the world of blogging, I somehow found myself a part of a blogger’s guild, where I got to know some wonderful people, like Dana, creator of Mamalogues and radio talk show host extraordinaire.  Or Gregg, who is hysterical and fun and has a multitalented family.  Or Melody and Lisa who would ultimately become my partners in the joint venture that is STL Family Life.  And many other wonderful and interesting people along the way.

Most recently I’ve joined forces with the St. Louis Women in Media group to develop more of a community among St. Louis women in all aspects of media, be it traditional or online social media.  There is so much to learn and there are so many interesting people to meet!  I love it.

It’s been a fun journey, this blogging thing, and I feel like I can finally call this my job, if you want to call it that.  I’m sitting here in my pajamas with a cup of hot tea, so you know…

I confess that sometimes I have a hard time taking seriously the notion of blogging as a career.  But I’m not really a blogger so much as a writer who has found a voice in the online world.  I’m okay with that.  Because it lets me develop my craft in my pajamas with a cup of hot tea.

Right on.

Blogging has given me a confidence in my writing that I didn’t have a few years ago.  The people I work with are so encouraging and so quick to build others up, and it’s been an honor to work alongside them.  Blogging has also afforded me some fun opportunities.  From book editing to public speaking on writing to free swag that comes in the mail, like chocolate.  Sometimes my job can be yummy.

Last week, I was contacted by Janice from 5 Minutes for Mom where I do a bit of contributing.  The subject of the message said, “Do you want to go to new orleans?”  Fast forward to this week when I received my itnerary in the mail for an all expenses paid trip to New Orleans next weekend where I will take part in a Katrina rebulding commemorative project alongside hundreds of volunteers, celebrities (pleasebebradpitt, pleasebebradpitt, pleasebebradpitt), and families who are still in need of help and repairs.  The project is being head up by Rebuilding Together and Fifty for Five and their aim is to repair and renew fifty homes in five days in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans.

Honestly, I have no idea what to expect.  I am extremely excited and equally nervous, mostly because I have no idea what to expect.  But I look forward to a new opportunity and to stretching my wings a bit.  For those who know me well you know that being alone in a crowd of people I don’t know and being expected to talk, conduct interviews, take photos and essentially make my presence known is scary for me.  We’re talking so far outside my comfort zone it might as well be a different planet.

Lucky for me I’m good at faking it and pretending I’m comfortable.

That’s what she said, that’s what she said!

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

So inappropriate.

So that’s what’s happening next week.  I leave in the middle of the night on Thursday (actually it’s a 6:00 am flight, which is practically the middle of the night) and I will be back on Saturday night late.  I am really, really excited and honored to take part in this event and to be able to use my skills in writing to document it.  This little hobby of mine is providing great life experiences while still allowing me to pour time and energy into my family, which is my first passion.  I’m feeling immensely blessed.

Now I just have to figure out what to wear.

Oy.

This I Pray

With first grade in full swing, I’ve found myself impressed this year more than ever to be bathing my children in prayer.  This is something that I’ve always known was important, but if I’m being honest I’d confess that I haven’t been faithful in daily lifting them up.  But for some reason, this year, I can’t really brush aside or ignore the need to send my son out under the protection of God who is able to keep Sloan in ways that I cannot.

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 I pray that Sloan is a light among his peers.  I pray that he is a bold leader.  I pray that he is an encourager to others and a helper to his teacher. 

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 I pray that Sloan has fun.  I pray that he laughs often, learns much and finds joy in each and every day. 

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I pray that Sloan will be strong in the Lord and that he will be filled with wisdom as he grows into a young man of stature.

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I pray that waking up in the morning gets less painful every day.

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I pray that his relationship with his brother and sister doesn’t suffer despite the fact that he will be absent seven hours a day.  In fact, I hope that the separation makes them appreciate each other more.

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I pray that he never forgets how deeply he is loved and that he can always seek refuge in our home.

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Most of all I pray

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that he always remembers

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he’s under the watchful eye and faithful protection of a God who never slumbers. (Psalm 121)

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I pray that this first grader has the best first grade year and makes memories to last a lifetime.

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A Mom Is Born

TODAY IS THE DAY!!!  JOIN US STARTING AT 11:00 FOR THIS UNIQUE VIRTUAL BABYSHOWER. DETAILS FOR HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE AND WATCH ARE RIGHT HERE!  This is a sticky post, which means it will remain at the top of my page until after the August 25th event.  Don’t forget to tune in for the Mom Is Born virtual baby shower honoring Channel Four’s Virginia Kerr.  I’ve listed all the information on this exciting event in this post so you can read more about it and I even have the UStream link up so you can tune in!   I hope you enjoy yourself.  

Ice Cream Surprise

*update – if you’re having trouble with the video constantly stopping and buffering, click on the numbers in the bottom right hand corner.  I don’t know what they mean but if you click it it should change from 360p to 480p and then the video should play without stopping.  At least that’s what worked for me.  I think it has something to do with pixels, but I dunno really…

I got this idea from my friend Nicole a few months ago. 

We put the kids to bed early last night.  Sloan stomped and groaned and bemoaned the fact that the summer is over and school is starting and “why won’t you let me stay up and enjoy my last night of summer – WAAAAAAHHHH!” About five minutes after laying them down, we went into their room and flipped on the light (only to find them both sitting up in the same bed…so much for them actually going to bed) and told them we wanted to go get some ice cream.

“Would you like to come with us?” we asked.

Their reactions were priceless.  And you can see them for yourself.

*a quick disclaimer: Lee got a little ahead of me and flipped the kids light on before I had the camera going so I missed a little bit of their reaction.  Bummer.

I think my favorite part of the video is when Lee begins talking about third nipples (nubbin’s) and Sloan starts laughing so hard he almost wets his pants.

Welcome to crazy town.  So glad you came.  Leave your shoes at the door…or leave them on. Whatever.  We talk about third nipples.  You can do whatever you want.

Have I mentioned lately I love my family?

Yay for the Ice Cream Surprise!

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And now I’m off to shower so I can take Sloan to school to meet his teacher.  I’m taking my kid to meet his first grade teacher.  I’m taking my child to his elementary school where he’s going to be spending the entire day at school.  I’m having a panic attack while I think about taking my kid to see his first grade class.

I’m feeling old.

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A conglomerate of all that is rolling through my head.  You can hardly contain yourselves – I know it.

- I got to go to a wine bar last night with a group of beautiful, successful working women and discuss writing and reporting and what it means to be a woman in media.  It was relaxing and fun and I met new people, made new contacts and discussed the possibility of a new freelance gig.  All around I had a great time.  And then I went home and watched So You Think You Can Dance and envisioned myself being able to actually dance and not just bootie shake.  Then I went to bed.

- School starts Tuesday.  At the beginning of this summer I was actually really thinking about homeschooling.  I enjoyed having the kids home and I liked not having such a rigorous schedule.

Um, yeah.  That’s not gonna happen.  It’s laughable even, if the thought of it didn’t make me want to cry.  I can’t wait to greet Routine with a gigantic hug and kiss next Tuesday.  I might even make her cookies and invite her to come share my bed.

- Tomorrow I have to leave my house a little before 5:00 am to catch a flight to Dallas.  I don’t know why I always choose the earliest flights possible, but for some reason I do.  The plus side is I get to see dear friends when I arrive and I will spend the weekend catching up with some of the people who hold sweet, sweet pieces of my heart.  I am very excited.

- There is a book that I need to write and I’m scared.  I’ve needed to write it for seven years now, but for seven years I’ve been scared.  It’s a personal book and I have been plagued by self doubt.  I’ve pushed it aside and made myself to believe that I’m not the right person for the job.  And maybe I’m not.  But if I don’t do it, I’m not sure anyone else will. 

I feel like I have the angel and devil characters sitting on my shoulders.  Only in my mind the angel character is a small girl with pigtails and mistmatched clothes.  In fact, she looks a lot like Punky Brewster.  And she keeps telling me things like, “You can do it,” and “Think of how this would honor those around you,” and “Man your hair looks good today.”  Okay, not that last part.  But it would be awesome if someone would whisper that in my ear daily.

The devil character is on the other shoulder and he’s a fat, sweaty man with a long knotted beard and a hairy chest sitting in a recliner eating cookies and chips.  He yells in my ear too.  He screams things like, “You’re not good enough!”  and “There’s no way you could possibly pull that off in any way shape or form!” and “Nobody’s gonna want to read that!”  And everytime he yells at me, flecks of sour cream and onion chips smack me in the chin.

*sigh*

Have I mentioned I have an overactive imagination?

In all seriousness, I really am trying to get past this crippling fear.  I hate being held back by something so lame.  The very fact that I am so scared makes me think that I probably am supposed to do this.  But it’s going to be hard and it’s going to take work and I don’t want to mess it up.  So we’ll see.

- The kids are watching a Star Wars movie (shocker!) and are consequently having a light saber fight.  It’s getting out of hand.  I should step in and stop it, but it’s making me laugh a little bit.

- The St. Louis heat has taken me by surprise.  It’s unbearable.  Which begs the question, why do we not live in Florida?  If we’re going to endure this type of heat, there should be the option of a beach close by.  Just my own personal opinion.

- The kids really want to go swimming today, but I have a lot to do so I’m not sure if it’s the best idea.  On the other hand, it’s 412 degrees out and nothing but sitting in a pool sounds appealing.  So we’ll probably go swimming.  Or maybe we won’t.  I’m feeling a little flighty this morning.  What? You could tell?  Oh…

- I need to work harder at speaking russian with the kids.  I really struggle with this.  We’re pouring time and energy and money into lessons to help them learn so by me not working harder on conversation with them I’m really doing them and myself a disservice.  On the other hand, it’s really, really hard to speak russian to them when they all gang up on me and they’re all different levels and my language just isn’t good enough to accomodate them all.  So I’ll keep doing the best that I can.

- Okay, the light saber fight has gotten out of hand.  I hear wails.  It’s probably time to step in and put a stop to it.  Or is this one of those situations where I’m supposed to let them work it out on their own?  That’s the more appealing option because it lets me sit on my behind a little longer.  But I don’t want to be one of them there lazy parents so I’m going to head out.

- Did I mention that school starts Tuesday?

He needs to stop growing…like, yesterday

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to take Landon to a quiet section of Clearwater beach and take a few pictures of him. Because we usually go to Florida in July, this means that I have gotten a nice sequence of pictures of his growth. And after looking at them, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to find a way to slow down time or maybe even stunt his growth, because dangit, it’s just moving way too fast.

Remember when he didn’t do anything but eat the sand?

THEN - He was 7 months old and enjoyed immensely the taste of sand.

Six months

 This year he wanted to do nothing but roll in the sand.

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Remember when he liked to lay on his belly and feel the cool sand and water on his body?
Landon

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He still likes to do that, although at two and a half I thought it might be inapporpriate to do so naked.

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For some reason he still likes to show crack at the beach.

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Two and a half

Landon, or Captain Sassypants as I’ve taken to calling him, has changed a lot in the last year. He is speaking full sentences, has developed a love for potty words, is a total goof and is falling comfortably into the role of the “free spirit.” He’s happy and funny and always good for a laugh. We recently got his hair cut much shorter than I anticipated and while it looks cute, I must confess that I’m not crazy about it. It is far too serious a haircut for such a crazy little boy.

Mostly, though, I just wish he’d slow down. I see no reason for him to grow up so quickly. I keep telling him that and he continues to defy me. We’re gonna have to do something about that…

Six months

Six months

 

He is one handsome little boy.

 

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