Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Summer Fun!

Summer has essentially hit Austin, and I'm excited! I love each of the seasons for different reasons. 

What do we want to do this season? 
  1. Build a mud pit 
  2. Get a plastic child's pool for the deck
  3. Get the backyard landscaped
  4. Build a pool! (I need to write a whole separate post about this to explain why we are making such an environmentally and fiscally irresponsible decision). 
  5. Swim in creeks
  6. Make popsicles
  7. Harvest vegetables
  8. Travel to Michigan with family
  9. Invite friends over for backyard movie nights
  10. Host a movie "walk-in" (instead of a drive-in) for our neighbors
  11. Go for lots of evening walks in the neighborhood
  12. Go for lots of family bike rides (now that Tate is almost a year we'll be able to start using the bike trailer we got as a gift during his baby shower!)
  13. Wear dresses
Please share what you want to do this season! I would love to add to my list! 

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kitchen Island Chalkboard

It's finished! We finally converted our kitchen island wall into a chalkboard. I had the idea to do this before we even built our house (I just though it would be the perfect place for our boys to have a big open canvass). Once we started using the space (picture lots of scuff marks from feet), I realized it made even more sense to turn it into a chalkboard. 

  1. I wish I would've sanded the wall to smooth it out. Note to self for next time! I think the bumps look okay, but they make writing difficult.
  2. Tape around the edges. I prefer Frog Tape to regular painter's tape.
  3. Cut in the edges with a paintbrush and this paint.
  4. Roll the rest of the space.
  5. Wait the requisite drying time.
  6. Repeat one more time. 
  7. Wait the requisite amount of drying time and then rub up and down the entire wall with a piece of giant sidewalk chalk to "cure" it. 
  8. Erase the whole thing. 
If I were more ambitious, I would have put a couple coats of magnetic paint under the chalkboard paint for even more fun! 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Update on Breastfeeding and My Post-Partum Body

I am so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to breastfeed my second child, just like I did for my first. I breastfed Henry for 14 months and am planning to at least cross the 12-month mark with Tate. I am happy to report that it has been so much easier this time! The first time around, my nipples were incredibly sore (think tears every time he latched on), I fought clogged ducts left and right (hello, cabbage compresses!), I had a couple of mastitis scares, and Henry took at least 45 minutes to eat for the first three months of his life (at least eight times a day!). It was a labor of love for sure. 

This time around has been much, much smoother. Thank you, Body! I even managed to avoid pumping all together for the second time. With Henry, I spent so much of my day breastfeeding that I couldn't bear the thought of also hooking myself up to a machine. On top of that, I was never very successful at pumping very much milk. I feel so fortunate that I was able to continue the no-pumping trend with Tate. In a sense, it's a good thing that the nanny share fell through. Now that we have a nanny for ourselves, I'm able to ask her for extra help when I need it, such as the time I needed to observe a teaching candidate in San Antonio and the times I needed to attend all-day trainings. In the case of the trainings, she brings Tate to me after his first nap. She parks right out front and I run down, feed him in the car, snap my bra back up, and run back upstairs. 

I'm also glad that I started running sooner this time around. With Henry, I walked until I was nearly done breastfeeding because my midwife said that running was hard on the joints (particularly when breastfeeding was altering your hormones). Really, I was just using it as an excuse to procrastinate about getting back into the habit of exercising. 

As summer approaches, I am particularly eager to reclaim my body. I decided to use MyFitnessPal again. I actually prefer Weight Watchers, but I appreciate that MyFitnessPal is free. 

I set it up so that my goal is to lose 0.5 pounds a week. Even with a very mild goal, my allocated number of calories feels so low! On Sunday I had a protein bar for breakfast, barley with stir fry for lunch, and three pieces of pizza for dinner (from a restaurant) and I was way over my recommended amount (the pizza slices had 400 calories each!). And that was even after I got credit for running for 45 minutes! 

That's why I find healthy living apps so helpful. They help me recalibrate my sense of portion size. I'm never good at keeping those kinds of things going, but hopefully I'll do it long enough to retrain my mind about how much I should be eating on a daily basis. 

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Relationship with Screens

When I was little, I watched a lot of TV. I mean, a lot of TV. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I distinctly remember having a TV in my room, and I remember turning it on right when I got home from school (hello, Gem!) and watching it through the night (Silver Spoons, anyone?). When I was in 7th grade, I recall taking a survey at school that asked us how much TV we watched. I remember thinking: "Ha! I watch a lot of TV and still get good grades! I'm the opposite of what this survey expects." Even now, my family has a TV in every room: One in each of the three bedrooms, one in the living room, and one in the family room (which can be seen from the kitchen). 

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember when the shift occurred in my life. I can't remember when I stopped keeping the TV on for background noise and got more intentional about only having it on when I wanted to watch something. And when did Matt and I make the shift all together about not having a TV in our house? I suppose it started when we moved to Colorado. We had a tiny house, so we kept the TV in our bedroom. We kept up that trend when we moved to Houston. However, we started watching more and more things on our computer. We finally got rid of our TV at that point. Then we started saving up money for a projector and eventually realized they weren't as expensive as we anticipated. Now we keep a projector in a basket and set it up if we want to watch TV on Friday and Saturday nights after the boys go to bed. We also got a great deal from Woot on a giant screen that we can set up when we have friends over to watch something. 

Watching shows is such a peripheral part of our lives, and I really like it that way. I like how it creates more of a slow, intentional, open kind of childhood for Henry and Tate. We fill up our time with so many other things. Henry collects rocks in the front yard. We turn on the hose and spray him. He creates mud pits to play in. He rides his bike on the deck. We go for walks in the neighborhood. He builds pretend airplanes and tents with all the blankets stored in the ottoman. He cooks scrambled eggs and peels hardboiled eggs. He fills up the bird feeder.

We've got so much wide-open space in our free time. We aren't rushing around to different music/soccer/art classes. Henry has time to figure things out, ask questions, notice things. 

The one exception is when we're sick. Parenting is already hard, but the difficulty triples when we're sick. In those rare cases, we break out episodes of Caillou on Netflix. I worked really hard to find something that was based on reality (since Henry is still trying to understand the world: "If that man on the motorcycle isn't wearing a helmet and he falls off will the doctors be able to put his head back on?"). I also didn't want something that showcased conflict/difficulty/bad behavior for the majority of the time and then resolved it in 1-2 minutes at the end. I want Henry to see good behavior modeled if he's going to watch something. We tried watching animal documentaries, but he really needs our support to stay engaged for a longer period of time. When we're sick, we really don't have the energy for that. 

Caillou fits the bill almost perfectly. I love how focused it is on helping children cultivate a growth mindset. Caillou struggles with things, but he doesn't give up. Instead, he works harder and then accomplishes it. 

I recently went to a workshop at Henry's Montessori school about reducing screen time and the amazing benefits it can have on child development. The speaker showcased various examples of how children who grow up in screen-free/reduced homes develop the most creative and elaborate types of play, and they tend to be particularly observant and curious. 

Although we will not be fully screen-free (I'm looking forward to Friday night movies as a family once Henry is about six, and Henry already does "research" on YouTube about things that he sees in real life like blimps and motorized paragliders), I'm happy with the limited exposure our children get. Henry doesn't beg for screen time or try to negotiate with us because he gets so little. It's working for us now. I'll let you know how it goes! 

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Montessori Moments

These "Montessori Moments" posts are meant to highlight some of the ways we implement the Montessori method in our home. Many of the activities that are featured--cooking, cleaning together, going out into nature, etc.--overlap with other parenting philosophies or might seem like things that parents just do with their children intuitively. I've still chosen to highlight them here because they are integral to the Montessori approach to parenting and education and fit within a comprehensive continuum of activities that support children as they undergo the important work of forming themselves. For more information about incorporating Montessori into the home, I recommend How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way for a basic overview. For more insight into Montessori as an educational philosophy, I recommend Montessori Today. When trying to implement Montessori with infants and toddlers, I recommend Montessori from the Start and Joyful Child, as well as my favorite resource, which is a DVD documentary of Montessori at home with a 20 month old called Edison's Day.

Creating an environment of yes's: There are some people who love rearranging their furniture constantly. I am not one of those people. I prefer to set it and forget it. But that isn't possible when you try to create an environment of yes's. Once Tate started pulling up on shelves around six months, I took some time to remove all the fragile items off the small bookshelf on the end of our kitchen island and instead store them inside a drawer. This drawer is low to the ground, so Henry can easily access it.

Following our curiosity: While walking down by the creek behind our house one day, Henry and Matt found an animal's jawbone. Matt set it on top of our fence, and we didn't do much else with it. This past Saturday, Henry saw it out our bedroom window and asked about it again. He wondered what kind of animal it was from. I got my notebook and we brainstormed a list of guess. I guessed possum, raccoon, coyote, or dog; Henry guessed hawk, deer, or bear. We looked closely at the jaw and realized that we could actually pull one of the teeth out and put it back in. So amazing! We could also see some teeth that had not broken through the gum.

We searched for images on Google, but the jaw didn't seem to align with any of our guesses. I'm thinking we might need to visit a professor at the University of Texas to figure out the mystery once and for all. 

Adding to our nature bowl: While we try and figure out the mystery, we are storing the jawbone in our nature bowl. It also houses a feather, rocks, seed pods, etc.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Finished: Front Yard!

I don't tend to write about a lot of "afters" in my life; I'm much more motivated to use this blog as a planning space. But I figured I should share our finished front yard!

We asked three different landscapers to come up with designs and estimates. We mainly got recommendations from neighbors whose yards we like. The first landscaper charged us to create the design; the second and third did not. The estimates varied widely, and we ended up liking a design in the lower-middle range of the three estimates.

Matt and I wanted a low-maintenance, drought-resistant front yard. I also wanted space to garden. I love, love, love how there's automatic watering for the plants around the yard (drip) and the vegetables/fruits in the garden beds (spray). Maintenance should be incredibly easy. It should only involve cutting a couple things down to the ground each winter (no mowing!).

In the end, we are very happy with the final product. Henry loves running on the straight line that cuts across the yard. I love how organized and calm everything feels now that it no longer looks like a construction zone.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Stitch Fix Experiment

One of my board members was wearing a lovely shirt, and when I asked her where it was from, she introduced me to Stitch Fix. The idea is pretty simple. First you create an account and answer some questions about your style preferences (with a fun little quiz that include pictures of outfits). You pay $20 to have a box of clothes shipped to you based on your general preferences. You only purchase what you like and send the rest back via free postage. If you purchase at least one thing, the $20 fee is waived. 

One of the things I inherited from my mother is an intense dislike of shopping. I really get little to no pleasure out of trekking to stores, trying things on, and always feeling like I'm settling for things I don't really like just because I'm eager to get back home. 

But at the same time, I need professional clothing. I don't need a lot; I'd be content to have five professional work outfits for summer, five for spring/fall, and five for winter). In my year of "making a clearing," I'm excited to try out one more strategy that helps free up some time. 

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014


As I start this post, I'm sitting on our front porch. Henry is making mud in our in-progress garden. What a simple formula: water + dirt + bare feet = pure joy. He dug up a grub and moved it over to the grass. Then he stopped by the porch to tell me there was "something with teeth" in the grass. Apparently it's either "a grasshopper" or a "Japanese spider crab."

This morning was the groundbreaking ceremony for the school. What an amazing feeling to simultaneously be a staff member and a parent. 

It took a lot of years to get to this place. There were times when I had to take jobs that weren't exactly what I wanted to be doing but were very aligned with helping me build the skills I needed to pursue my dream of opening a school. There were financial sacrifices (for example, I worked full-time for nearly two years before starting on the payroll). There was a lot of delayed gratification and waiting. 

There are times when life feels so full that you can't help but worry about it tipping over and spilling out. I don't want to lose anything. 

But instead of going to a place of fear or worry, I simply hug my boys a little tighter and enjoy the breeze on the front porch. And then when Henry asks, "Will you come make mud castles with me?" I respond with yes. 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Party Time

I am so eager to host a party for some of our new staff members this Friday! When we were choosing the design of our house, we intentionally tried to create a casual, comfortable hang-out space. The kitchen has a giant island that connects to the dining area with a large table which connects to the living area with a large sectional which connects to the deck. Now that we finally have furniture, the deck is also a fun place to hang out. 

The truth is that we don’t use our house as a hang-out space nearly enough. Mustering up the patience needed to calmly and cheerfully parent an infant and a three year-old pretty much takes all our energy these days. For the most part, we’re good about staying calm, patient, and cheerful, but it’s definitely draining—especially because Tate is still not sleeping through the night (at 9 months) and we are often awake for up to 1.5 hours in the middle of the night. Oy! 

Of course Matt and I could make this difficult period a little easier on ourselves if one of us didn’t work full-time, but we both want to be fully engaged in the outside world. I honestly wouldn’t want another 14-month maternity leave at this point. I missed work too much. 

So for now we basically just tuck our chins and walk straight into what feels like a wind storm at times. 

I don’t mean to sound whiny. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the little family we have grown. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am so, so glad we made the decision to grow our family. There was a while there when we thought we would stop at one. 

But it’s a hard period in our lives right now. The boys’ needs are very different, so we are constantly tag-teaming. Matt gives the boys a bath while I clean up from dinner. I read Henry a story while Matt gets Tate dressed and ready for bed. I feed Tate while Matt talks with Henry. I take Henry to the childcare room at the YMCA so I can run on the treadmill; meanwhile Matt pushes Tate in the stroller on trails. 

I’m just tired all. the. time. 

So those are all the reasons we are not inviting people over all the time. But this Friday we are! And I am immensely happy about it. My questions are: What do we want to serve for a meal? How do we build conversation and connection among people who are meeting each other for the first time? 

My mind immediately jumps to the name tags we made for our wedding. We had everyone complete this prompt with three things: “Ask me about _____.” Everyone was really creative and interesting. It’s a small thing, but it might be fun. 

And what about food? We are going to have upwards of 20 people! My top contender is Tex-Mex. I could buy some stuff from Chuy’s (tortillas, chips, queso, and rice) and then make the rest myself: guacamole, black beans, shredded cheese, and roasted vegetables). For dessert we could have chocolate fondue with cake, pretzels, bananas, and strawberries. We could also set up a S’mores making area with sterno cans by the sectional on the deck. 

And maybe frozen margaritas? 

And we definitely need to hang up the white lights around the deck. 

I’m so excited to be planning a party! I really need to list out my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly needs again. I’m realizing that I’m missing some things in my life. I love planning get-togethers! 

  • Send out e-mail (with embedded form to have people complete their name tag info in advance)
  • Make name tags
  • Set up sign on the front door that welcomes people
  • Set up name tags right by the front door when you enter
  • Purchase the following from Chuy’s: flour tortillas, corn tortillas, rice, queso, creamy jalapeƱo sauce, chips 
  • Purchase the following from the grocery store: peppers, onions, mushrooms, avocados, cilantro, lemon, tomato, cream cheese, sour cream, pepper jack cheese, butter, pretzels, bananas, strawberries, sterno cans, graham crackers, chocolate bars, marshmallows, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, condensed milk
  • Borrow fondue forks
  • Cook guacamole, beans, roasted vegetables, cake
  • Hang white lights
So excited! 

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meal Ingredients Delivered

While I was writing this post about batch cooking, I did an internet search and realized that I could use Greenling to get organic/local/sustainable products delivered to my door and that I could actually order all the ingredients (already chopped/prepped) to cook five Engine 2 meals (for two people). 


For those of you who aren't familiar with the Engine 2 diet, it was developed by a firefighter in Austin (I'm actually friends with his awesome wife!). It's a plant-based diet that focuses on whole, healthy foods. 

The total cost for 10 meals (5 separate meals for two people each) was $89.99. 

And just when I was about to feel guilty about the carbon footprint associated with having groceries delivered to my home (so indulgent!), I read that it actually uses less carbon to deliver 100 orders in one van than to have all those people drive to the grocery store separately. 

Don't get me wrong; I don't want to be the kind of person who gets groceries delivered. In fact, I want to be like Barbara Kingsolver who grows all her own food and cooks homemade pizza with her family! But I'm okay with it for this year (if it actually works out well). I'm trying to make a clearing so that I can balance everything. Parenting is so, so hard. Parenting two children is even harder. Trying to do it without getting very much sleep is even more overwhelming. And then throw in two parents who are working full-time+. It's a lot!

But when we start to get overwhelmed, Matt and I remind each other: "Let's be grateful."

Even if this system works out for us, we'll still go to the grocery store every week so that our children learn the very practical skill of shopping for food; it's just that we'll only shop for breakfast and lunch stuff instead of every ingredient needed for every meal. (I guess we won't be reducing our carbon footprint...). I'm eager to see if we can buy breakfast and lunch things and pay $90 for our meals and still stay within our weekly budget for groceries. 

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Planning the Spring Garden

I'm sorry it took me so long to post the plan for our front yard! It's kind of hard to tell what's going on without any of the labels, but the short version is that the four squares near our front porch steps are 4x4 raised beds made out of wood. The bed to the right of those is an herb garden. The bed along the sidewalk has five blueberry bushes in it. There is also a pomegranate tree, kale, basil, and some other edible things. The whole thing has drip irrigation which will help us save water and minimize the amount of work that is going into the front yard.

The good news is that we've finally saved up enough money to have the landscaping done. Woo-hoo! And since it's only April, there's still time to get stuff planted in the garden for the upcoming season. 

I've consulted the Vegetable Garden Planting Guide for my county, and it looks like we can plant things every couple months all year long (thanks, Texas!). Here's what we're planning for April:
  • Sweet potatoes (4 per square)
  • Greens 
  • Okra (1 per square)
  • Watermelon (1 per two squares)
  • Carrots (16 per square)
Of course we reserve the right to modify the plan once we get to the garden store and see what's available and hear some of their recommendations! 

We'll be following the Square Foot Gardening method, so that we can maximize space and make the process easier for ourselves. I don't come from a family of gardeners, so it's not second nature to me. It's something I'm trying to learn. We'll see how it goes! 

Now that I'm sitting down to write this post, I'm realizing just how excited I am about this. I started this blog seven(!) years ago. My first post was about how I was starting to cook at home more and about how I wanted to take up gardening. The name "Feeding the Soil" came from an old organic gardening adage. My friend Camella shared it with me to describe the kind of education we were trying to implement in our English Language Arts classrooms (using the reading and writing workshop model). The idea was that education needed to be transformative and get to the very core of who we are as people (versus just dealing with the surface stuff). 

Matt and I attempted gardening with full gusto when we moved to Denver, but it was a big failure. Too hot. Too much work to water. Too little reward (if anything did ever grow, Hoss would eat it before we could). When we moved to Houston, our yard was too shady and we couldn't bring ourselves to chop down any trees to let in light. Then we moved to Austin and were in a rental house. And now we are finally settled in for the long haul. I opted to use our front yard for gardening because a) it's sunnier than the backyard b) we can keep Hoss and the chickens out of it more easily (although I am nervous about neighborhood cats) and c) we travel through it at least four times a day. We literally have to walk through the garden to get to our cars, so it will be easier to monitor and keep up with. Also, I'm hoping that the drip irrigation takes the hardest part out of gardening. Matt is skeptical that we'll be able to do it (given our previous lack of green thumbness), but I'm optimistic and excited! 

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Monday, April 7, 2014

April: Reflection & Rejuvenation

Hello, April! It's great to see you. 

I didn't have much time to accomplish my goals this month, since I set them in the middle of March, but I surprised myself by actually accomplishing a lot of them! 

Here's a review:
  • Run at least two times a week and stretch at least 3 times weekly. The good news is I have a system in place for fitting in two to three runs a week. The problem this month is that I had a lot of work obligations in the afternoons/evenings, so I wasn't able to run. I did manage to run on every Saturday and Sunday that wasn't already occupied. And I'm getting better at making time for my yoga stretches! This goal has definitely been a work in progress. I still have a lot of work to do to get my body back in shape after everything my babies put it through. 
  • Turn the bottom of our kitchen island into a chalkboard: Yes! 
  • Purchase dining chairs for our back deck: Yes! I hemmed and hawed about what chairs to get. In the end, I pushed myself to get over my sometimes paralyzing perfectionism and just buy something. Matt and I agreed on these chairs from IKEA. Once we shlepped the whole family there, we decided we should go ahead and buy furniture for our whole deck: a table, an umbrella, and a couch. It feels amazing to have all of that knocked out. We've lived here for eight months already, and our deck has been largely uncomfortable and not as usable as it has the potential to be. 
  • Finish our white board for real this time: Yes! 
And as I move forward and set my goals for this month, first I need to revisit my yearly goals:

I want to strengthen my habits of health and wellness:  
  • run at least three times a week and go to yoga once 
  • drink at least 80 ounces of water a day 
  • add new meals to our weekly rotation 
I want to continue to put down roots and connect with those around me: 
  • attend church potlucks 
  • sign up to support people by delivering meals, etc. 
  • regularly invite people over  
  • send birthday cards 
  • completely organize our house 
  • finish our front- and backyard landscaping 
  • do service learning with Henry 
  • start a garden 
I want to create the kind of school I want to send my own children to. 

So here we go:
  • Run at least two times a week and stretch at least 3 times weekly. 
  • Get a garden planted--so exciting! 
  • Organize Henry's and Tate's closets--get rid of baby stuff that we no longer need!
  • Update the guest bathroom
  • Host a get together with colleagues
  • Update Tate's scrapbook
That sounds about right for this month. Most of my to-do list is comprised of work-related stuff these days, so I don't want to overdo it with my personal goals. 

Have a great month, Everyone! 

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Electronic Organizing System

Phew! A OneNote version for Mac is finally available and free! I'm such a planner kind of person, but I couldn't keep up with everything in a pencil-and-paper format. I love that OneNote gives me the best of both worlds. It's organized like a notebook, but I can copy and paste things, etc. I still carry a notebook with me everywhere, but I use OneNote on my computer and phone to keep track of my specific to-do items. 

Sorry for the short post! This past weekend and past few days included a visit from my mom, a trip to Dallas to present at the American Montessori Society conference, a board meeting, and a visit from an out-of-state lender (for school facility stuff). 

I hope all is well with you! 

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Happiest Nine Months, Tate!

Oh, Happiest Birthday, Little One! 

You continue to be the sweetest. Seriously, you bring smiles and laughter into our lives on a daily basis. 

You are now a little moving machine. You get anywhere and everywhere very fast. You are obsessed with splashing in Hoss's water bowl and climbing into the dishwasher. You love, love, love being outside--especially going on walks in the stroller. You are still Henry's biggest fan, and have also developed a strong interest in touching the chickens. 

And you eat real food! We are officially done with baby food. You eat cheese cubes, broccoli, blueberries, cauliflower, sweet potato lasagna--the list goes on! You are the sweetest little thing, but you get downright cranky if we don't feed you fast enough. 

What else can I say about you? You love your pacifiers. You can sit for five minutes and contentedly switch out three different pacifiers to find which one you like the most. But mostly you love people. We're running a start-up out of our home, and you couldn't be more content with the influx of people you get to see every day. You always have the biggest dracula smile and the happiest kick-legs. And those thighs! They are getting rounder by the minute. I can't decide whether I'm more obsessed with your cheeks or your thighs. 

Thank you for making our lives complete, Sweet One. We are lucky to know you.  

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