Friday, January 27, 2012

Play Dates 101

When I first started taking Anna to play dates, I really didn't know what to expect and I was kind of nervous. Anna was usually one of the youngest at any of the play dates, and a lot of the other moms had multiple kids, so I was always anxious that I would do something unintentionally rude or stupid. Well, I am decently confident that I've managed to avoid any major faux pas, and now that I've got a bunch of play dates under my belt, I thought I'd share some tips on successful play dates for other moms dipping a toe into the baby social scene.

For attendees:

* Offer to bring a snack but don't stress if the host says not to worry about it.

* Don't bring toys - the host will usually have a ton and it will just be a headache to find all of yours after the play date is over.

* Do bring a sippy cup for your little one.

* Stay home if you or your kiddo is sick...there will be more play dates in the future, I promise!

* Be prepared to take off your shoes. It's very rare for me to go to any play date and not see a pile of shoes by the door, and I always plan ahead by wearing socks or tucking a pair into my purse. Or minimally, I make sure my toes are painted!! 

* If you have told the hostess that you are coming, then do everything in your power to get there. We all know that things come up, especially with unpredictable little ones, but if you consistently blow off your play dates, then you will most likely find yourself left off the invitation lists in the future!

For hosting:

* Have a few snacks and drinks for the parents and kids. No need to go all out, but some bottled waters, light snacks, and some healthy and kid-friendly finger foods are always great to have out. Raisins, muffins, Goldfish crackers, cheese cubes, fresh fruit, etc. are all good and relatively low-mess. If you want something a little heartier, deli wraps or sandwiches are usually appreciated for a lunch-time play date! When Anna was still a baby, I also usually had a pot of coffee ready to go, but I get really nervous about hot drinks around active toddlers, so I usually opt for the water or iced tea instead now that she's older.

* I learned from my playgroup that it's a great idea to have kid-sized seating. I don't think you need to go out and buy something if you don't already have it, but if you have a kid picnic table or chairs or anything, set it up in the kitchen for the kids to have a place to put their snacks.

* Lock up any animals, no matter how kid-friendly they are. It's also generally a good idea to give people a heads up ahead of time that there are animals in the home in case there are any allergy concerns.

* Clean your house, especially the floors. Also consider pushing tables or furniture out of the way to give the kiddos a wide open space to play. When Anna was an infant, I would always lay down a bunch of clean quilts or our foam playmats for the babies, especially given our hardwood floors.

* Do at least some minimal babyproofing - even if your kid is good at avoiding danger, other kids might not be and a few preventative measures like a stair gate and outlet covers would be very helpful.

* It's also a good idea to have a few extra sippy cups clean and ready to go. Most parents bring their own but sometimes they forget and once one kid has one, all the kids want one.

Above all, just relax and have fun! I love all of Anna's play groups because she gets to play with "new" toys and all of her little friends, and I love getting the chance to chat with other moms. Any other mommas - any tips that I'm missing or that you've found helpful?

Happy playing!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Date night! And a care.com review

Steve and I have been saying for months that we really want to find a local babysitter, especially now that Anna is a little older. There are apparently a bunch of high school girls in my neighborhood that babysit but I just feel that's a little young to babysit infants and toddlers. And this is coming from someone that was babysitting a 6 year old and toddler twins all at the age of 12 - I like to think that I actually did a good job with them but looking back on that as a mother, I can't believe that ended well, haha.

Anyways, I finally took the advice of several of my mommy friends and signed up for care.com. I posted a short ad on there and was promptly bombarded with over 40 responses to it. The nice thing about care.com is that you can really take your time and examine profiles and pictures to narrow down your search - once I started looking at profiles I got a good feeling for what was important to me and what kind of criteria I needed to look for. It is also nice that you can access background checks and references.

I got the profiles narrowed down to 3 or 4 favorites, and then Steve looked at them and picked his favorites out of those. And then we got a little frustrated- we set up a time for the favorites to come by the house during the day to meet Anna and chat with us for a little bit. Our top favorite walked in REEKING of smoke, despite her profile's claims that she is a non-smoker. The second girl stood us up, and then the rest of the favorites never responded to my email. Needless to say, I was a little disheartened by the end of that week. I went back to the drawing board and did my own search on care.com, and found some new favorites.

We finally met Lisa, who is a recent transplant here to Atlanta. She has ample experience working with kids, especially kids around Anna's age. And I love how her personality seems similar to mine - she really seemed to let Anna take the lead when they were playing, she is soft-spoken but assertive, and she just seemed really responsible and down-to-earth. So we promptly booked her for our 2 January date nights and we are so happy to finally have a local babysitter!

We did our first date night last weekend - we had dinner at On the Border, and then went to play at Dave & Buster's (which is like a Chuck E. Cheese on steroids, if you don't have one in your area). We came home with an armload of prizes to add to Banana Bean's toy collection, and we loved having a night off to ourselves!

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Samoa ice cream is definitely one of the best ways to end an evening :-)

All in all, I do recommend care.com. Just make sure to take your time with it and definitely meet your sitters before leaving them for the night. I also recommend searching for a promo code before putting down your credit card - I was able to find a 20% off code very easily and hey, every little bit helps!

16 Months Old!

Banana Bean is 16 months old today, big girl!

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I'm not gonna lie, this past month brought us a few challenges. Out of nowhere, my happy-go-lucky, chill little girl developed quite the set of opinions and a determination to do things HER WAY. My toddler discipline techniques have come out in full force, but I do consider myself lucky that so far there are only a few truly naughty things that she likes to do. Her naughty list includes: snatching my glasses off of my face, playing with Daddy's XBox, grabbing our iPhones, and playing with Kingsley's food and water. A firm "no" works surprisingly well, especially followed up with a quick attention re-direct. It's a little funny to see her face suddenly look contrite once she realizes my "no" is serious!

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The temper tantrums have started too - this girl can turn on the water works faster than the fire department and she's got a set of lungs to match!! My best trick for these are to snuggle her close and to sing or talk really softly. Anna ends up stopping her screaming to hear what I'm saying. I just hope that this trick holds up for a while until I can figure out something else to do - I have a feeling all of these strategies are only good for so long, haha.

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Apart from those two frustrations,  Bean has learned so much this month. She is very good at understanding "May I have that please?" and will generally hand over anything she's holding. She has also blown me away a couple of times when I have asked her to go get something located in another room, and she trots back holding the item in her hand looking pleased as punch. We've been really focusing on colors this month too and she has gotten pretty good at getting the right color ball for me!

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Anna also loves helping me around the house - she will hand me hangers when I'm sitting on the floor putting away her clothes, she helps me put her toys away in their baskets, and she will also bring me the books that she wants to read at bedtime. If I am ironing or putting away clothes in our bedroom, I open the doors to one of my small book shelves and I say, "Anna, I need your help in pulling ALL of these books out. Can you do that for me?" and she will sit there pulling all of the books out until I am finished with my work.

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Her new infatuation is talking on the phone. She has two play cell phones and it's hilarious to see her hold one up to her ear and start jabbering away. I'm dying to know who she is "talking" to and what she is saying. And even funnier - she will hold almost any object up to her ear like it's a phone! So far she has a cookie phone, a banana phone, a shoe phone, and a block phone.

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She made Daddy melt the other morning as he was getting ready to leave for work. She has been blowing him kisses as he leaves and as she goes up to bed for a while now, but today she ran over to him and gave him a huge snuggly hug and a kiss. It really sent him off for the day with a big smile on his face, the little lovebug!

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Look how tall she looks in this picture, holy cow.

That's all I can think of for this month - see y'all next time!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins

My friend Therese mentioned that her daughter loves these pumpkin muffins, and was happy to oblige when I asked for the recipe! I made mini-muffins today for play group and oh boy, were they tasty. I had to force myself to stop eating them all before Anna's friends got here today. And the rest are firmly in the freezer to avoid snacking, but I bet they will make a tasty breakfast soon!

Pumpkin Muffins

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Beat the eggs well, and then add the other wet ingredients and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients gradually and mix until well blended.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes for full size muffins.
Bake at 325 for 20 minutes for mini muffins.

Kathryn, what would you do to make this recipe a bit healthier? I was cringing at the amount of sugar that goes in these tasty little things but I did console myself that a mini muffin wouldn't kill a diet! Tell me your tricks please, for this recipe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rest in Peace, Tripp.

This has been weighing heavily on my mind this week. I'm not sure if any of you continued to follow Tripp's brave story after me mentioning him being in the running for the Reader's Digest contest, but Tripp went home to heaven this past Sunday. I am thankful he is no longer in pain but my heart breaks for his mother Courtney and I wanted to share their story one more time. Please keep Courtney and her family in your thoughts and prayers. She has been so brave and selfless throughout Tripp's whole journey and I wish her all the comfort and peace possible.

If you'd like to sign Tripp's online guest book, you can do so here.

Motherly Musings

Steve said he didn't think there was any such thing as chronic sleep deprivation. I think he just earned himself the next year of wake-ups duty.

There are few things more frustrating as a parent than having a baby sleeping soundly at 2:30 a.m. and you're lying awake staring at the wall.

I'm pretty sure Baby Goldfish should be considered a gateway drug. They are a slippery slope, those Goldfish. Just say no, baby. Just say no.

Finally finding a leak-proof sippy cup is one of the crowning achievements of parenthood.

This past Wednesday I wrote out an ambitious list of things to do before we left for play group. And then I sat on the couch and painted my toenails. But I think if you had seen my feet, you would agree that I made the right decision.

I wish diapers came in half sizes.

You know it's not going to end well when your baby toddles off with a full sippy cup of milk and then comes back empty handed with a sneaky grin on her face.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Zoo and SuSu and Hot Dogs Too

We've been battling some nasty colds this week, but we all felt better today and the weather magically warmed up (snow yesterday, what?), so we joined SuSu at the zoo! It's been a few months since we've been able to go, and it was fun watching Anna run around, play, and actually enjoy the animals. Her favorite things this trip were lunch (she got to try hot dogs for the first time!), the monkeys, the pigs, and the benches. We also rode the train and the carousel for the first time! Oh and she also LOVED the slides at one of the playgrounds there. It was a fun day and I'm glad that we were able to get out of the house - and you know it was a successful trip when I already can't wait to go back!

I took my new lens with us but I am having some difficulties with getting it to focus properly. I realized when I got home that I had forgotten that I changed the focus setting over Christmas so I'm really hoping that it fixes it...or maybe if one of you photog readers know what I'm doing wrong, holla at me and tell me what to do to fix it! So sorry some of these pictures are out of focus but hey it's a learning curve.

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Anna was very interested in all of the plant life at the zoo.

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Zombie stare, haha.

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Look, monkeys!!!

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I snapped this picture before I could adjust the settings so it's way too bright but I love this picture - look how excited she is!!

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Hugging SuSu but really she just wants her sunglasses.

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Lion cub!

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And then she stuck her head all the way through just like a turtle.

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Meerkat baby!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quick Shrimp Chowder

This recipe came from one of the cookbooks I got for Christmas, Southern Living Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites (thanks Hayley!!). Whenever I get a new cookbook, I read through every recipe and stick a post-it note on the pages that I want to try. And this recipe definitely got a post-it note! I only slated it for one night, because Steve doesn't usually like soups for dinner because he says they don't fill him up, but this was a very thick soup and Steve gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. We had a ton left over (obviously, with it being 8 servings!) and so we took the cookbook's advice to freeze the leftovers. The soup was very good and I'm excited that we will be able to have it for another dinner soon!

 The cookbook says it will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 4 days, or keep in the freezer for a month. I served it with french bread on the side. I do think that the next time I make it, I will contemplate trying to sneak some other veggies in there. I think some chopped red peppers maybe? Any other suggestions?

Quick Shrimp Chowder

Yield: 8 Servings
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of potato soup, undiluted
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium-size fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (or you can use frozen, thawed)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, and sautée 8 minutes or until tender. Stir in cream of potato soup, milk, and pepper; bring to a boil. Add shrimp; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Stir in cheese until melted. Garnish and serve immediately.

**I also added a small handful of chopped green onions to it just to add a bit more color.**

Source: Southern Living Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites

Spicy Bean Burritos

I follow a bunch of different cooking blogs, and one of my all-time favorites is Annie's Eats. Her food photos always look beyond amazing and although my baked goodies never turn out as attractive as hers, they sure taste good. A week or two ago she posted her top recipes from 2011 and one of those was a recipe for Spicy Bean Burritos. It caught my eye because a) it looked good, and b) it looked inexpensive to make, and c) it's a vegetarian recipe. Steve and I are most definitely not vegetarians (mmm NY Strips) but I do make vegetarian dishes frequently just to keep it healthy and budget-friendly.

Last week I got adventurous and made these burritos, and Steve couldn't stop raving about them. We are definitely adding these into the regular rotation. I served these with rice. I don't really know if I would consider it 6 servings (at least with a hungry husband), but this easily made enough for two nights of dinners. Yay leftovers!

***A tip about the minced chipotle in adobo sauce - I have found myself using it a lot recently and after finding myself with the majority of the can left over after making this recipe, I looked it up online and found that you can freeze it. I followed the website's suggestion to puree the chipotle and adobo sauce and then freeze, vs. trying to mince a frozen chipotle. Google tells me that the pureed chipotle and adobo sauce will stay good in the freezer for 6 months. Google also suggested dropping it in 1 tsp drops on a plate and freezing the drops, then storing the drops in an airtight container. I didn't do that but probably should have.***

Spicy Bean Burritos
Yield: about 6 servings
Ingredients:

For the bean filling:
2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. minced chipotle in adobo sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water, vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
6 tbsp. fresh salsa
For serving:
6 (9- or 10-inch) flour tortillas, warmed
Shredded cheese
Diced tomatoes
Shredded romaine lettuce
Chopped green onions
Low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt

Directions:
To make the bean filling, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, chili powder, chipotle, cumin, salt and cayenne; stir, cooking just until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.  Add the beans and the water or broth to the pan.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the salsa and mash the mixture with a spoon or fork.
Spoon about a third of a cup of the bean mixture down the center of each tortilla.  Top each serving with a pinch of shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, green onions and sour cream.  Roll the tortilla up tightly, burrito style, and serve immediately.

Source: Annie's Eats, from Pink Parsley Catering, originally from Cooking Light

Monday, January 9, 2012

Joy to the World (and joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea)

The other day we were at the mall playground and as Anna played, I found myself watching the conductor on the children's train that runs around the lower level of the mall. His "train station" is right in front of the playground, and part of his "track" goes around the playground walls, so he was going by us just about every 5-7 minutes. And I was captivated.

I realized that day that every time we've been at the mall, he has been the conductor. No matter what day or time we are there. So this guy, who is easily in his 70's, is here all day, every day, running the same track over and over, all for people willing to shell out $2 a ticket. But it really seems like he's having the time of his life. Every single "All aboard!" is as chipper as the last. He waves enthusiastically at all of the kids, and the whole time he has a huge smile on his face. He loves his job, and you can tell just by looking at him.

Watching him made me remember a compliment a stranger once paid me, and it was one of the sweetest compliments that I've ever received. A little old lady told me, "I can tell that you really love being a mother. And I know you are going to do such a good job because enjoying your job is the most important part of being a parent." Such a random thing for a stranger to say in the checkout line at Marshall's, but you know what? She was absolutely right. And seeing the train conductor reminded me that no matter how repetitive, how unglamorous, or how seemingly unimportant your job might seem at any given time - there is magic to be found and that joy makes all the difference in the world.

I always want my children to know that I love being their mother more than anything in the world, and while it might seem unimportant or meaningless to scrub floors and do endless loads of laundry and read the same Dr. Seuss books until the pages fall out, I really do find so much joy in giving them a happy, healthy life. Are some days harder than others? Of course. We're not robots and we're not Stepford wives (or Stepford train conductors). But I know, from the bottom of my heart, that keeping that joy is the key to my success as a loving, patient, and kind wife and mother. Even if it sometimes takes a cheerful "All aboard" to remind me of it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Picture Post!

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I had to convince her that the playground would be more fun if she wasn't dragging my purse around with her!!

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Safety Sue would be so proud!

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Picking out which crocheted animal she wants Mommy to start with.

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Such a bookworm!

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Anna found one of her old pacifiers and popped it right in her mouth - I was nervous she was going to get herself hooked back on them after 8+ months of no paci's but luckily she just wanted to chew on it.

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Whoa static electricity! At the playground with Mommy and Daddy.

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I sent Steve into the playroom to play with Anna and this is what I find when I go in to join them. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

2012 is on like Donkey Kong and unless the world ends, we've got a whole new shiny year stretched out before us. I've never really put much weight behind New Year's resolutions, but Steve and I did come up with a few this year that we really are going to stick to. And some projects are already in progress! I'm also going to sprinkle in some pictures of Anna from today.

1) Get the house in better order. I consider myself to be a fairly decent housekeeper usually so this isn't so much referencing cleaning, but there have definitely been some areas of the house that could use some streamlining in terms of functionality. The first area I have started tackling is the kitchen. And it's funny because Steve has been saying for months that we should reorganize the kitchen and my stubborn self just brushed him off. But then the other day he actually told me a few of his ideas and damn it, he was right. We had a ton of low-use items taking up some of the best storage space in the kitchen, and a lot of the practicality and functionality was lost. I was just so used to it that I never really thought about how to make it better. I'm not going to bore you with all the details, but this is one of the parts of the reorganization, which cleared up an entire cabinet and also now nicely displays my little cookbook collection:

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We've got a few other areas of the house on our tackle list and I'm looking forward to getting those knocked out.

2) Get our budget back in order. We actually did a pretty good job this year in terms of keeping to a budget, but we admittedly got a little slack towards the end of the year. And we were able to drop some bills (peace out, cable) and we also added some new ones in terms of new insurance, etc., so my mint.com budget really needed some updating. Plus we know we will have some pretty significant expenditures over the course of this year (stupid roof) and we want to make sure we're saving all we can. I've spent a few of my evenings working on it and it's almost done, so hopefully we will have it fully functional very soon.

3) Go on a monthly date night. Steve and I have seriously only been on like...3 or 4 dates, just him and I, since Anna was born. Which is pretty pathetic. We are both homebodies though and so this hasn't been some huge source of conflict, but we both agree that now that Anna is older, it would be nice to start having a regular date night again. We are going back and forth between one date night a month or two, and it's probably going to be more budget-dependent than anything. Because going out is expensive, yo.

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4) Get back into our social routine. Anna and I used to have a pretty consistent, but not overwhelming, list of activities that would get us out of the house at least a couple of times a week. We do have our Wednesday play group which has been awesome, but ever since mid-November and the holidays hit, our schedule has gone completely out the window. I'd like to get back into a few of our old favorites, like the library story hours and our walks, and maybe find some new ones too. And I think Anna would appreciate a change of scenery too.

5) Schedule in more "me" time. It sounds pretty self-indulgent to type this out, but oh well. One thing that I very much underestimated in regards to being a parent, and especially a stay at home mom, was how mentally exhausted you can be at the end of the day. I've got a lot to juggle, and one thing that I've realized about myself recently is that I have a bad habit of not recognizing when I am getting burned out until I'm officially burned out. And then I get snappy and irritable and tired. There have been SO many weeks this year that the only time I have been "off" mom-duty was when I was grocery shopping, and I have nobody to blame for that except myself. Steve is usually a very good sport about watching Anna if I need to go do something, and I just need to start penciling in a couple of hours on the weekend to go take some time for myself. It would be nice to be able to go for my walk without having to focus on entertaining Anna, or it would be REALLY nice to go sit in the squashy comfy chair at Starbucks and read my book without being interrupted. And I think making some recharge time a priority will help me be a better and more patient wife and mother.

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I think this list has given us a good direction on things to work on this year. Anybody else have some resolutions they want to share?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!!

Steve and Kingsley and I had a quiet New Year's Eve, eating pizza and watching one of his stocking stuffer movies (Men in Black, if you are curious!). Anna Bean slept soundly even through all of the fireworks.

In the spirit of the New Year, I was inspired by some of my other blogger buddies and wanted to recap some of my favorite highlights from 2011. We were fortunate in having a good year and I know we will always look back on this one with fond memories. I would be very curious to hear Stevo's favorite highlights, maybe I can sweet-talk him into sharing his, too.

Sarah's Top 2011 Memories

1. Anna starting to walk and babble. I could literally sit here all day and watch her scamper around, and I love hearing her chattering away, even if I don't speak the language!!

2. Celebrating holidays with my family - everything seems so much more magical when there is a child involved! My first Mother's Day and Anna's first Easter were particular favorites. And of course, Christmas!

3. Being a great team with Steve on the me staying at home/him working situation. It felt good to keep things in order at home while he went to the office, and I think we did a pretty good job this year.

4. Joining a consistent play group with kiddos Anna's age. I love watching the girls (and Owen) play together!

5. Having my family enjoy good health all year. Despite a few baby colds and Stevo catching some kind of flu, we were healthy and happy all year and I consider ourselves very lucky!

6. Snowpocalypse 2011 - I know some other Georgians will think I'm nuts for putting this on here but as I was skimming through my 2011 blog posts, I couldn't help but smile when I got to this one. We are homebodies and I loved being holed up in our warm cozy house with my whole family, getting creative with the food supply and playing in the snow.

7. Getting to meet so many WONDERFUL new mommy friends. It is great having friends who are always willing to meet up for a walk or coffee or just to let the kids play while we talk, and I'm so glad to have formed these friendships over the last year.

8. Our Beach trips were so much fun and created a lot of great memories for our family. I loved going back through all of the pictures (here and here) and I am so excited to be going back this year!

9. Spending the summer at the lake led to a lot of fun and adventures, and although I did get a little "laked out" by the end of the summer, I very much enjoyed all of the time we had there with our family, extended family, and friends. And I know by the time May rolls around, we will all be itching to go back!

10. Anna's first birthday party was so much fun to plan, and it meant SO much to us see so many of our friends and family there to celebrate.

11. Maxing out our zoo and aquarium passes. I was a little hesitant to buy passes for these at first but it has been so much fun going to both places over the last year and see Anna's enjoyment progress further every time we go.

We are very excited to see what 2012 has in store for us. Hope all of you have a healthy and very happy New Year!!