7 Books I’ve Read in the Past 7 Months

Despite the fact that I haven’t written about books since before Maeve was born, I have been reading since then! There was that lovely period of time right after she was born when I stayed in bed for awhile and Tom was home, so I got to read a lot while nursing/holding a sleepy newborn. Then followed some stretches of fussy baby waking up to the world, and far less reading, and then a bit of a crazy spring /summer, during which I was supposed to read Brothers K for book club (still working on it- halfway there!). But I’m confident that I’ll finally be able to get a lot more reading in, primarily because we moved Maeve’s crib into the nursery. So no more tiptoeing in the dark to get ready for bed, and worrying that every whisper and creak will wake her up, much less turning on a light.

Anyway, of the books I read, there were some hidden gems, some that were just ok, and a couple I won’t be rereading!

(All links are Amazon affiliate!)

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The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Where has this hidden gem been all my L.M.M.-obssessed girlhood??! This is a such a different story! Her heroine starts off as just the most awful, pitiful, mousy character, and her transformation is glorious. L.M. Montgomery shines, as she always does, in painting vivid characters, hysterical caricatures, fun plot twists, and glowing descriptions of a place that sounds heavenly. I started this shortly before having Maeve and finished it the night we brought her home. I highly recommend it, especially if you were a fangirl of Anne, Emily, Jane, Pat, and any other L.M. Montgomery series. Since the main character is just a bit older (late 20s) than most of Montgomery’s female protagonists, it especially makes great reading for a grown-up Anne fan.

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Willa Cather strikes again! This book is long-ish, but I had a lot of nursing sessions in late February through March! 😉 I particularly found it interesting because the main character is a plucky young girl from middle-of-nowhere Colorado who has an extraordinary singing voice and sets off to conquer the world of opera. Cather evidently did a lot of research for this one into the world of music, vocal performance, opera, etc. I really enjoyed the character development and Cather’s gift of making the settings come to life.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I read this towards the end of college, and I remember being really struck and impressed by it and wanting Tom to read it as well. So Tom and I picked it up as our next read aloud during the winter and early spring. As you might guess from the title, it’s about an adulterous affair that has recently ended. The narrator is the man who carries on the affair, and the book moves back and forth between his memories/retelling of the entire affair; his present day depression since his lover, Sarah, has died; and Sarah’s journals that he is reading.

Let me just say that I had forgotten the intensity of this story! It explores deep and heavy issues, but it’s ultimately the story of Sarah’s response to a Greater Love than what she thinks she has with Maurice. That said, it was a much more difficult read as a married person and Greene does have some rather explicit descriptions of the affair. So it’s gritty at times, but Greene also does a really amazing job of diving into the emotions and thought processes of people who are hurting, searching, and ultimately seeking fulfillment in God. I still highly recommend it, though it isn’t exactly light and uplifting!

(Also, quick caveat: NEVER EVER watch the movie with Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes. It is complete trash and misses the entire point of the book. Ugh).

Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Ah, Waugh. Such a funny, witty, smart, and engaging writer. This is a short little novel, following St. Helen’s life and journey to find the Cross of Christ. He really does such a fun job showcasing the absurdity of so many key players and events in the Roman Empire at the time with lots of tongue-in-cheek dialogue, in a really British way. Also, he wrote that this book was his own favorite of all his works, so if you love Brideshead, you need to read this one.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

This one I actually read in like, 9th grade, and promptly forgot it in its entirety. Upon re-reading it for summer book club, I’m not at all surprised. I mean, it’s Hardy. So yeah. It still was a bit ponderous to get through, even now. It was pretty good, though, once I got through all the sheep-herding explanations and demonstrations. I’m not a huge Hardy fan, but this is definitely better than his others. And then we watched the recent film adaptation with Carey Mulligan, and it was really well done: super faithful to the book, beautifully shot, and superbly acted. Bottom line: just watch it. You’ll get the story and skip all his Victorian rambling.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I never would’ve picked this up had it not been for book club. I’m really, really not a fan of Romantic writers. This story was just so not my thing, and the writing style irked the heck out of me: framing devices within framing devices within framing devices (yeah, you’re confused, right?!), overly flowery language, moralizing, etc. No thanks! That’s about all I’ve got for this one, sorry…

A Room With a View by E.M Forster

I’m no great Forster fan either but this was for summer book club. It was ok, but Forster is clearly trying to push his ideology of progress and Romanticism: good! and tradition and moral values: bad! So that was annoying. But his characters were really funny and well done, and the lush Florentine backdrop is a pleasure to take in.

Whew, well, that’s that for the late winter/spring/summer! I’ve got some good stuff waiting in the wings, but would love any additional recommendations you can throw my way!

Linking up with Queen Kelly for Seven Quick Takes!

End of Summer Quick Takes

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Wow, I really lost my blogging mojo for, oh, about a month there. Oops! In my defense, that month contained:

  • Tom’s last week of the grad school semester
  • Our 4th anniversary
  • A big road trip up to Vermont with my parents and the girls, for a week-long Smith fam reunion
  • Recovery from said trip
  • A crazy hot heat wave
  • Potty training Lucy
  • Somewhat-sleep training Maeve
  • Selling our Pilot, buying an Odyssey
  • Staycation adventures with Tom during his time before school starts
  • Home projects, trying to keep the house clean, actual cooking now that my sous-chef/child-wrangler is home in the evenings again!

So not much time left for tapping out updates or thoughts or book reviews or anything of that sort. But a good, full, stretching-ourselves-in-a-good-way type of busy!

 

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Fuzzy, cheese-y mornings #allthejammies #allthechins

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I’m starting to plan out what I hope our fall “routines” and daily “schedule” will look like (fully realizing that both terms are used very loosely!). But Lucy definitely needs a little more structure to her day to avoid boredom and serious acting out/torturing sisters/destroying property. I realize now why people send off 3-5 year olds to preschools. So we’re just going to improvise here at home.

She loves all kinds of fine-motor and crafty type activities, so I just got  this book for us, and will eventually stock up on the very basics: glue, safety scissors, good quality watercolors, finger paints, homemade play dough, etc, to make it happen. I am woefully un-crafty, but I think I can handle this level, where the kids don’t really care what it is, so much that it is. Art/fine-motor– check!

This adorable book will be fun to go through with the girls, and Tom takes them to local nature centers several times a month. Nature study/science– check!

Lucy also really likes alphabet-related activities so I may start doing some of these with her. Pre-reading/religion– check!

We dug up some old-school Wee Sing books from my parents’ (i.e. from my childhood) and Lena and Lucy both LOVE going through and singing the songs and doing the finger plays. We’re compiling a classical faves playlist and Lucy likes to listen to it for the approx 3 minutes she lays on the couch for quiet time, if she isn’t listening to audio books.  Music– check!

Any ideas for good quality children’s lives of the saints and Bible stories? I’m looking for something with good prose and beautiful illustrations to read aloud to the girls every day (no dumbed down text and no ugly cartoons!). Help!

We’ll continue, as always, to read a plethora of books, and Lucy will probably be happy to take on some more memory work from Children’s Garden of Verses (we have this one, and it’s beautiful), Mother Goose (we have this one which I loved as a kid), and The Harp and Laurel Wreath.

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Perhaps we’re being overly optimistic, but starting Sunday we’re going through 30 Days Grain Free.  I did a zero-grain protocol for about 3 months 5 years ago, and it did wonders for my health, so I’m hoping for similar results, as well as building better snacking habits. Tom’s also going to be starting this, kind of in tandem, so…yeah…pray for us!

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I just signed up for the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Women’s Blogging Network Conference. I loved it last year, and can’t wait to get out to beautiful Front Royal for this year’s! Definitely check it out if you’re a local blogger.

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Links!

The Weeds and Wheat in Children’s Literature

Yes, yes, yes! I always hated hearing, “But at least they’re reading!” as a teacher when the content was absolute drivel!!

I instantly knew which school the author here was referring to– my dear husband’s alma mater! He always lamented about the phenomenon she’s talking about, and it happened with fair regularity at my alma mater as well.

I’m curious about whether or not the upcoming Netflix original about the current royal family, The Crown, will be any good. I like Clare Foy from Little Dorrit and several other BBC things, so we shall see!

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Photos!

 

 

Lena's baptism day celebration

Lena’s baptism day celebration

A series of selfies and shots that the girls are constantly taking on my pilfered phone…

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And this cutie just turned SIX MONTHS … and is CRAWLING all over!

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Have a fun weekend and stay cool!

Linking up with Kelly!

Weekend Links/SQT

Well, happy weekend! I need to express that it’s been absurdly hot and humid and at this moment a really intense cloudburst is dumping sheets of rain, while the sky just a few houses over is bright and blue. Summer weather at its weirdest. However, 3 out of the 5 family members are napping (two of whom are Lucy! and Maeve!) so Lena is staring at the rain/trying to catch a dying fly on the window, so it’s a good time to do a really quick Quick Takes post.

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You watch the Great British Bake Off (or Great British Baking Show for us Americans), right?! WHO KNEW that a show about amateur bakers could be so fascinating? But between the pastel baking stations, the British flag bunting adorning the white competition tent, and the little black lambs bleating in the scene transitions, it’s beautiful. Then, there are the contestants, whom you grow to know and root for (or against) as the season goes on,  the quirky hosts, and the wonderfully British judges who provide the most quotable food critiques imaginable. It’s just pure fun. Plus, of course, the “bakes” all look amazing. This article at The Kitchn is helpful to understand some of the baking terms that are just so foreign to us, though it doesn’t explain the obscure British  cultural references that we have to look up throughout watching (like “Tatty byes!“). Tom and I love to watch this at the end of stressful, busy days when drama/anything heavy is just too much.

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I was inspired by Deirdre to actually address my rather persistent diastasis recti since the whole doing-nothing-about-it approach was proving futile. I bought the Mutu System this week on the day it was 45% off, which makes it cheaper than a pair of new running shoes or high-end yoga pants (so definitely worth it, for the ease of having it totally guided). I’m looking forward to actually starting it…probably next week? We’ll see. The nice thing is that I now have permanent access to the program and can start it when Tom’s schedule is a little lighter.

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My parents saved my childhood dollhouse, and we’ve talked about sprucing it up in time to give it to the girls at Christmas. I may be slightly optimistic, but how fun and beautiful is this dollhouse remodel?!

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One of the (ongoing) travails of my daily life is Maeve+sleeping. As in, there’s not much of it and it’s hard-won. Por ejemplo, last night, she woke at 9:30 for what I thought would be a typical “first wake” of the night from which she’d nurse quickly back to sleep (as she usually does). But this time, she did not. She did not want to nurse, at all, ever, no, no, no. Didn’t want to be rocked. Didn’t want to cry herself to sleep. I’m still not sure what it was she needed/wanted, other than to be UP and AWAKE and SOCIAL! So finally, when the crying herself to sleep was also a bust and keeping us from sleep too, she acquiesced to nursing in a rocking chair and passed out. At 12:30 AM. Yeah.

Now I’m thinking we’ll have to really buckle down and help her learn to fall asleep on her own, especially for naps, because I just won’t have another Lucy-type sleeper!! Hannah mentioned this site and I’m really finding it helpful since she takes all the baby sleep research and books and distills it into short, practical, helpful posts. So we’ve dug up the infant swing and trying to get her to fall asleep in it, since the other day she ended up finally falling asleep at my mom’s in the outdoor baby swing (granted it was 103º out and crazy humid) when nothing else had worked. So far, she has fallen asleep for two naps today in her swing with just minor struggle, but it’s a little battery-operated one so she wakes up as soon as it stops swinging. Ha, well, it’s a start.

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I’ve been really into gazing at Carl Larsson’s paintings lately. He and his wife Karin, were both artists and raised 8 children together in this totally idyllic and beautiful Norwegian country cottage. I want all their textiles, art, furniture, etc!! Here are paintings of his lovely, cozy bedrooms.

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And some photos from Tom’s phone, from the last few weeks months! (He often forgets to open his Amazon Prime Photo app, and thus I never see the treasure trove of snaps from his perspective).

Such as...this one from Mother's Day!

Such as…this one from Mother’s Day!

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Girls in Rompers

Me in a pic?! Wonder of wonders.

Me in a pic?! Wonder of wonders.

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Father-Daughter Selfie time at the winery

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Tom took the girls to the hardware store and Lena freaked herself out when she almost knocked some screens over.Tears.

Tom took the girls to the hardware store and Lena freaked herself out when she almost knocked some screens over. Tears.

Big sis entertainment to the rescue!

Big sis entertainment to the rescue!

Lucy's baptism day celebration on the Nativity of John the Baptist, with the traditional pazookie + baptismal candle

Lucy’s baptism day celebration on the Nativity of John the Baptist, with the traditional pazookie + baptismal candle

Morning, sunshine!

Morning, sunshine!

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That’s all I got. Go see Kelly for more Quick Takes!

 

RIP, Paci

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In what has turned out to be the soggiest, dreariest spring in my memory, we’ve had nearly 16 days of straight rain so far. This has come in conjunction with a never-ending Cold Virus from Hell, which reminded me why mothers of little ones should never, ever, ever get sick. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. It’s also coincided with Lucy’s spontaneous giving up of her paci, one random night three weeks ago. She’d been really mad because her teeth made little lacerations in the paci and she could “hear a sound” (the air whistling through it), and after a few days of tantruming about it, she just looked at and said, “Maybe I just don’t need to use a paci anymore!” And that was that. Talk about cold turkey.

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In memory of Paci, here’s a little trip down memory lane…

Unintentional paci-selfies

Unintentional paci-selfies

Pro tip: always keep one in your mouth and another close by, juuuust in case

Pro tip: always keep one in your mouth and another close by, juuuust in case

Ohhh, fancy focus there, Luce

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As glorious a milestone as that is, it has meant (as I predicted to myself) that her sleeping has gone way, way south. Like perhaps as far as Hell, south. We find ourselves back at Square One of Sleep Training (which took us a year the first time!), and she has either screamed, cried, or whined herself to sleep most nights, after being forced back into bed multiple times. Also, no more naps. I have no idea how she can wake up at 6:15 AM, not actually fall asleep until about 7:30 or even 8 on terrible nights, and not nap all day. Is this even normal? Ugh. And she absolutely refuses to even do “quiet time” (it very quickly turns into screech-like-a-banshee time, forcing my hand to let her out of her room so she doesn’t end up waking up her sisters). We may have to move Lena to the Pack-n-Play in the other room for night time as well as naps, because Lucy loves nothing more than to entertain/terrorize Lena when they’re supposed to be going to sleep at night. If anyone has any advice/insight we’d love to hear it! It’s killing me.

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I don’t have anything profound to say since my brain’s been pretty mushy over the last week or so. I’m just praying that the sun and warm weather returns sometime SOON (especially because I’d already switched out most of our wardrobe, and have been digging back into the boxes waiting to go into storage), and that one of these days I can wake up feeling normal-ish and not go through an entire tissue box throughout the day.

Enough of the boring/depressing/mundane details of our glamorous life. Onto some better content…

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We really enjoyed this post from a father of 13 on how they’ve been able to save money and plan for retirement despite the financial burden of a big family. It’s fascinating and flies in the face of what society tells us is possible, financially speaking.

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This is probably one of the best articles on baby sleep I’ve read to date. I found myself nodding along to so much of what she was saying. I only wish that I had read this when it came out, right before Maeve was born…I can already tell I’ve created some sleep crutches for Maeve and they’re really hard to break! But in an ideal world, this is how I’d do it.

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And here’s a really great article that Tom wrote for a Catholic men’s blog about how he reorganized his schedule with a time-tracking app. I will admit that I teased him at first for timing and recording every little thing he did all day but it gave him some great insights and was well worth it.

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That’s all I’ve got, as Lucy has literally JUST started her daily afternoon scream-time AND WOKEN UP LENA. (Deep breaths, deeeeeeeep breaths…..)

Check out more quick takes at Kelly’s

7 Things That Are Making Winter Bearable!

We aren’t really huge fans of the sub-freezing temperatures and arctic winds this time of year (though I hear there are some people that actually prefer this weather…??). Mostly because said weather makes it nigh on impossible to get the kids out of the house, and then there are very few places to actually go once we’ve done that.

But there are some things that definitely make winter bearable, even pleasant, and it’s nice to sing praises once in a while instead of griping. Also, we have electricity, heat, and plenty of food, so…everything else is just gravy.

1. These leggings. I initially bought them with a Nordstrom gift card intending them to be for comfy postpartum wear. Then I tried them on and realized that they actually worked really, really well as maternity pants/leggings and are incredibly comfortable. Probably wear them like 3 times a week, when I want to feel slightly less like a bum than yoga pants. They are very thick and sturdy, really more

I initially bought them with a Nordstrom gift card intending them to be for comfy postpartum wear. Then I tried them on and realized that they actually worked really, really well as maternity pants/leggings and are incredibly comfortable.  I probably wear them at least 3 times a week, when I want to feel slightly less like a bum than yoga pants. They are very thick and sturdy, really more ponte pants than leggings which I love. Sadly, the charcoal gray that I have seem to be out of stock but I’m sure the black would be great too and I highly recommend them for maternity and non-maternity wear.

2. The girls finally playing well together and entertaining each other for pretty long periods of time.

It’s taken many months, but it seems like Lucy not only tolerates Lena’s existence but actually enjoys being with her and playing/interacting with her for long periods of time. Not only is it totally adorable when Lucy exclaims things like, “Come on, Layns! Let’s go to a casplore*!” and Lena responds super enthusiastically, “YEAH!”; but it also gives me time to do stuff around the house, and I know their companionship will be clutch when the baby is here.

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*[explore, in its noun form, of course]

3. Homemade body butter.

I made this recipe (minus cocoa powder and peppermint, and just some orange essential oil instead), which I’ve used before. It’s super soft and creamy (a little oily because it’s made with a lot of oil, so you just have to be careful to let it dry before, you know, putting your shirt back over your huge pregnant belly). It feels great on my dry, dry winter skin, which Lena sadly seems to have inherited. She looooves asking for “ocean” and smearing it all over herself as well.

4. Stuff that helps me look more awake/alive and motivates me to get dressed and somewhat groomed for the day:

-This under-eye concealer which is pretty cheap and happens to work better than any of the many, many concealers I have tried since high school. You take your under-eye concealer seriously when you have crazy dark circles permanently, no matter how much sleep and hydration you get and this stuff works

Leave-in conditioner/detangler. This smells really refreshing and I can basically spritz it on and let my hair air dry with pretty great success. In tandem with my beloved dry shampoo, and a handy-dandy new curling wand, second-day hair and dry winter hair aren’t quite so bad.

5. Prenatal yoga.

I bought a Groupon deal for a local prenatal yoga studio when I suddenly realized that I’d entered the third trimester and my main form of exercise consisted of hauling toddlers in and out of car seats. I have NO success with doing free online yoga videos or DVDs, because 1) toddlers like to climb on mom in child’s pose or down dog and 2) I can’t stay focused or motivated if it’s not a real class I have paid for and have to leave the house to attend. So it’s been really nice to have a class to go to every week or so and I know my lower back thanks me.

6. Great books to curl up with that make you realize your winter could be so.much.worse.

I just finished reading two books which take place in barren, sub-sub-zero winters and thought, “Thank God. I will never have to experience the winters of Northern Canada or the plains of Minnesota in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.” I’ll post some book reviews soon but both Mrs. Mike and Giants in the Earth happened to be perfect frigid winter reads.

7. An amazing husband who lets me sleep in every weekend or snow day morning. Enough said.

Linking up with Seven Quick Takes at Kelly’s AND with Modern Mrs. Darcy and her link-up on Things that are saving my life this winter!

 

Currently

1. Listening to…
Magdalena gulp down her 3rd lunch/afternoon snack #2
The upstairs, for the sounds of the inevitable Lucy wake-up

2. Drinking…

Second coffee with raw milk, finally! So far, the baby hasn’t staged a gaseous rebellion, which is probably because it’s raw. But, not getting my dairy hopes up, and will wait a bit before reuniting with my long-forsaken and dearly beloved yogurt and cheese.

3-4. Laughing about…
Nine or so of our close friends, helping us roll out our new area rug, lifting all sorts of furniture out of the way, hastily cutting the too-wide rug pad, and the hullabaloo of everyone shouting different directions for rug placement. Such a fun night and fun people.
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Lucy’s hysterical “sentences”:
“Souah dough bett!”
“Uh oh! Baby! Cying! Sat.”
“Punge! In it!” (as she runs to the sink with her little sponge and begs for water “in” it).
And the sweetest, “Holdju!” Which she frequently requests as I’m trying to get her to walk down the stairs while I’m also holding Magdalena.

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5. Cooking…
Whatever’s quick! Or utilizes the slow cooker. We made a really tasty “pasta” dish with yellow squash peeled into ribbons in place of pasta. Sautéed with pesto, tomatoes, and lots of Parm. Super tasty/summery/speedy. Also got back on the sourdough train and it’s glorious. Lucy agrees.

6. Reading…
I finally made it to our local library for story time, and got a card. The system has tons of e-books and e-audio books which I’m pumped about. Tom and I started a Trollope novel together, and I’m going to start Helprin’s A Winter Tale. I’d love suggestions as well!

7. Clicking
Well, Lucy is officially a toddler, with the behavior to go with it. We have had several broken items (pulled down from a surface, so we’ve learned our lesson…), and LOTS of sneak-attacking Magdalena.

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These articles are helpful:
5 Reasons We Should Stop Distracting Toddlers
Effective Limit Setting with Toddlers

Enjoy your weekend…(as I finish this post a full 24 hours later, in the exact same position: nursing babe, napping toddler). Go see Jen for more lists of seven!