Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12, 13, and 14 to come

Happy belated holidays once again. I have a few hours remaining to post some final thoughts for 2013. Wishing everyone a safe, healthy, and happy 2014!

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Take a step back to 2012. One of our hardest years ever. It was the year of Amelia's eyes. Strabismus eye surgery number one. Then heartbreak. A repeat eye muscle surgery. Hope. Then defeat once again. And a final eye surgery to round out the year. I know other things happened that year, but my mind is filled with the ups and down of our eye journey.

2013 began a bit rocky, as we put Amelia under anesthesia yet again for an MRI. It came back clear, and we began the process of figuring out glasses. Over time, we saw more and more success. It was not going to be another "year of the eyes"! Finally, we were able to step away from that roller coaster ride. So instead, we went through the dips and curves of buying a new home and selling ours! We moved into a new school district, about 4 miles from our other home. We worked ourselves nearly crazy with all the cleaning, showing, packing, and moving. And during this? I discovered I was going to have our second child! Big news and a happier year. (Although moving during first trimester? Not recommended! Whew, that was a challenge.)

Amelia also began kindergarten this year! She has truly matured into a "big kid", becoming more outgoing and excelling at school. She is reading books! Teaching me about science! Making us proud day after day. AND, her eyes have stabilized very well. Glasses fix her now minor crossing, and we could not be more pleased. 2013 was definitely the year of change. Good change all around.

Onward, friends! Onward to 2014. I enter it as a barely balancing mom of one, and in a few short weeks will take a step down a path as mom of two. Not only as a girl mom, but as a boy mom too. I am afraid of the struggle, reluctant for the change, but optimistic. It is going to show me a whole new world. And I get to learn just how big a heart can grow with another love in our home.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

She won't see Santa anymore...

Well, here are last year's Santa photos from our trip to the mall. I have to share these because my "too big" Kindergartner has absolutely no interest in visiting Santa. He was even conveniently at a school event last week with no line and no ridiculous expense to buy a photo, but she would have nothing to do with him.

I'm too big, Mama. 

I can send him a letter, Mama. 

You could probably even email it, Mama. 

So we did send a letter. She told him of her Kindergarten accomplishments and requested three items to appear under the tree on the 25th. She thanked him and expressed her love. She still wholeheartedly believes, in both Santa and our silly elf Sparkles, but she no longer needs the photo. The lap. The little candy cane. She is a busy little lady in a high-tech world who knows exactly how to get things done efficiently.

So, please enjoy our mall and Santa photos - 2012.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A hearty winter soup from childhood: Beef Tomato Noodle

I love soup in the winter! As soon as the temperatures drop, I begin pulling out my recipes and planning delicious and comforting soup dinners. One of my favorites is based on an old family recipe. It doesn't even have a real name, but I used to call it "orange soup" as a kid, since it is tomato based and has an orange color. I guess you would call it something like Beef Tomato Noodle Soup.

Now, my great aunt used to slow cook the post roast all day and simmer the soup for hours, but BalancingMama doesn't cook like that. As I've mentioned in several posts before (see Gouda, Bacon, Garlic Grilled Ham and Cheese and Cute Pin-worthy Cupcakes), I am a semi-homemade kind of mom. I have a need for speed in the kitchen!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Make your tree special with captured travel memories

My husband and I share a love of travel. Our first trip together was Las Vegas. We have been across the U.S., into Canada, and even in Europe together, sometimes pre-kid and sometimes with Amelia in tow. Having a child never stopped us from enjoying our adventures and vacations together! There is something special about being away from home. Imagine... family togetherness in a hotel room and having no chores to do! Perks like this are worth the effort it takes to plan and pack for a trip.

Each year just after Thanksgiving, our Christmas decorations come out. Each year, we put up the Christmas tree and begin to carefully unwrap our collection of ornaments. Each year, we reminisce about where we have been and what we have seen, because we always brought home a Christmas ornament from our adventures.

Christmas ornaments are a fantastic way to capture memories! Because they are not out all year long, the ornaments provide that special "ooh, I remember" feeling each and every year.

Happy holidays to all! And may your 2014 be full of exciting places and experiences.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Medieval Times Atlanta: Rowdy, messy fun for the whole family

We finally got our chance to visit Medieval Times in metro Atlanta this weekend! Having never been to a "dinner and tournament" before, none of us had any idea what to expect. I was not sure if Amelia would like knights and lances, or if she would be scared, or if she would eat any of the food... I really had no idea. We drove across town with the hope that it would be a fun family night for all thee of us.

It was! Medieval Times was a lot of fun. Amelia threw herself into the role of cheering for our section's knight, the Green Knight. She was initially shy about booing, because she is just a sweet person. But as Mommy and Daddy got into it with some banging and booing ourselves, she loosened up and had a lot of fun with it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New "Saving Mr. Banks" featurettes now available! See it 12/20!

Saving Mr. Banks opens in theaters limited on December 13th and opens nationwide on December 20th!

Inspired by true events, “Saving Mr. Banks” is the extraordinary, untold story of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen—and the testy relationship that the legendary Walt Disney had with author P.L. Travers that almost derailed it.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pregnancy is just weird.

Thirty-two and a half weeks along now. I started out the model pregnant patient, marveling at how I did not need to call the OB's office for months, when I could remember calling about every little lump and bump and tweak the last time around. This time, I did not have ten weeks of excruciating headaches. I had only brief nausea, which quickly went away once I began taking the prescription prenatal vitamin at night. I was not worried, not stressed. I was just going to cruise through this pregnancy like an old pro.

Enter third trimester. I have now talked to multiple nurses and had two "work-in" appointments at the OB's office. I seem to chat with someone over there at least twice per week! First it was illness, then a chronic and very gunky cough, then mystery pains and more pains.

Now? I have shingles!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter fun at SNOW Mountain! @StoneMtnPark #Atlanta

Where can you find snow for weeks on end within the Atlanta metro area? Only at Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain Park!

This was our second year enjoying the fast snow tubing runs. Well, this mama had to just watch with baby due in only 7-8 weeks. I was sad to miss out on the fun:

But my other two kids (er, I mean my husband and daughter) had such a wonderful time! I did enjoy seeing their smiles, cheering them on, and snapping a couple photos:

Snow Mountain has a 400-foot family tube hill where 3-5 people can ride together, as well as an individual run and a snow field for giggling snow play and snowman creation. Visit the website for Snow Mountain information including details on each attraction, what to wear, and what to bring.
After I got my few photos, I wandered around Stone Mountain Christmas where there are many more things to see and do. The toy shop, Polar Express 4D theater, cookie decorating, shows, and the Snow Angel palace are just a few of the wonders of the season you can enjoy. We did not see the parade or lights this year, since we did a morning/afternoon visit. But we saw them last year and I highly recommend them if you have time!
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Note: I received complimentary admission to Stone Mountain Christmas and Snow Mountain as part of their Media Days promotion. However, all opinions posted here are 100% mine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#WW: Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Little Mermaid

Last year, we stayed in the Lion King family suite thanks to an unexpected upgrade.This year, we were in the smaller Little Mermaid wing, but it was still a nice experience. Disney goes all out with the decor, as usual.

I requested a room with a lake view. It was nice to see the lights of Pop Century, but take note: this is the farthest from parking. I may request closer to parking the next time! Or have a bellman help us lug our stuff form the car.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: how we packed it all into a magical 6 hours @disneyparks

What happens when you mix the joy and wonder of Walt Disney World with the beauty of Christmas?  

Last year, we enjoyed a quick day trip to the Magic Kingdom prior to our visit with Florida family. We purchased a day ticket, took advantage of resort guest Extra Magic Hours, and hit the park before the sun was fully up. We enjoyed 11 hours of strategic running back and forth to see and do everything. The park closed at 7:00 so the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party could begin.

For nearly an entire year, I wondered what we missed.

Last week, we were passing through Florida once again to visit family. We decided to skip the day tickets and purchase only the Very Merry Christmas Party ticket...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#WW: Thanksgiving kid art

Happy almost Thanksgiving! 

I am thankful for the creativity of children. Our home may not have the fanciest holiday decor, but I love it more than anything that could have come from a store.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kids can make their own ice cream with a shake (and some patience)

Here is another fun holiday gift idea for the kids - Ice Cream Magic! This hand-held "shake it to make it" is a fun little gadget for kids to create and enjoy their very own ice cream flavors.

I received one Ice Cream Magic at no charge for the purposes of this review. It comes with an individual serving size hand-held mug with a spoon, both in a cute ice cream cone shape. Also an easy-to-follow instruction guide with recipe ideas on the back.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Enjoy The City #coupon books - holiday sale!

 photo EnjoyTheCity_zps98563d21.jpg
Enjoy the City is getting ready for the holidays! Everyone is making a list and checking it twice - so don't be naughty, you had better be nice!

Enjoy the City coupon books are a great holiday gift! We have enjoyed the North Atlanta books for a few years. The books are full of coupons for restaurants, attractions, entertainment, rental cars, and more! Enjoy the City coupon books feature thousands of dollars in savings at many of the area's most popular places.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Five Elf on the Shelf ideas: Funny, rated G, and "Busy Mama Approved"

Thanksgiving is almost here, which means that our elf, Sparkles, is preparing for his upcoming visit to our house. I, for one, am looking forward to his arrival. My daughter had five solid years of being sweet and almost always good. Lately, however, she has really brought the sass! I am hoping that Sparkles can whip her back into shape a little bit. And if he doesn't? Well, Santa will get a lot of questionable reports this year!

Our elf isn't as creative as some, he is just too busy! But it looks like some elves are quite the funny guys and gals! Some others are even PG-13 or worse... yikes.

Here is my favorite collection of funny and child-friendly Elf on the Shelf poses from Pinterest (ones even the busiest mamas can handle):

Click on the images to be taken to the Pin, where you can click through to any original posts as well.

Elf and Barbie on a date...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to insert a smile into those blah pregnant days

Let's face it: pregnancy does not always bring out the gorgeous glow and happy feelings.

Especially when it is not the first child; the excitement and wonder of the new miracle-to-be just is not there, and instead it is replaced with a busy schedule and the often incessant demands of another human being.

Pregnancy can be downright miserable - from aches and pains to poor sleep to ill-fitting clothes. I have been pretty worn down this time around, which means I immediately eye the gray comfy sweatpants each and every morning. I feel like a frumpy blob, so I usually want to dress like one.

But sometimes, having a good day means allowing myself a little bit of pretty. A couple minutes of makeup and decent clothes often make me feel better. I feel more awake, less like a monster who crawled out from under the bed after tossing and turning in discomfort all night.

If you can muster up a tiny bit of effort, it is possible to insert a bit of smile into your pregnant days:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Didn't even need half the tank! Ford One Tank For Good, C-MAX hybrid

This past Wednesday was cold! I was finally 80% improved from my awful 10+ day illness, however, and bursting to get out of the house. So very thankful that I made it to the Ford One Tank For Good event!

I was provided with a Ford C-MAX Hybrid for the week (still driving it and having so much fun!) as well as three generous gift cards to host a group of local mom bloggers for breakfast, a hands-on preview of the C-MAX, and a shopping challenge for toys which would go to patients at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

We oohed and ahhed over the hands-free lift gate, the completely quiet engine, the push-button start, and the sassy styling.  
Watch a video of the hands-free lift gate here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

15 minutes for Mom

I admit, I have forgotten most of what it is like to have a newborn. I am worried about handling two kids when the little guy is born. I am especially not looking forward to sleepless nights, constant feedings, and diapers.

But this time around, I will depend on knowledge that, surely, will surface again. I vow to be less frantic, less confused, less stressed. Most importantly, I know how crucial it is for busy moms to take time out for themselves - and I will do that. If "me" time isn't there, I do not think I will survive the first year as a mom of two.

I was recently introduced to the Graco Little Lounger; it is a rocking seat and a vibrating lounger in one.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My stylish, fun, and efficient ride for the week! #FordOneTank

Do you know what?

It is a lot of fun to play with a new car for a week! The new Ford C-MAX Hybrid was delivered to my house today.

I am already enjoying it. I don't know what I like more; all the glowing lights, the push-button start, the hands-free lift gate, or the efficiency (rated 47 MPG highway and city!). Winter winds and cold air arrived in Atlanta today, so perhaps the heated seats! I will be using those tomorrow for sure.

Stay tuned for fun photos and a recap our our upcoming #FordOneTank event, benefiting Children's Healthcare of Atlanta!

A bunch of fabulous bloggers.
A cause dear to all of our hearts.

And the Ford C-MAX.

- - - 
Ford supplied the vehicle loan at no charge and will be funding the Atlanta blogger event, including the shopping spree money for toys to go to the children's hospital. However, all opinions are 100% mine. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When blogging gets pushed aside

Every day for the past several days, I have awoken thinking that today will the the day I feel ok again. But alas, I am still sick. Each morning I hack and cough until doubled over in pain. But I have managed, somehow, to trudge through it. Packed lunches, checked for schoolwork, sat in car line. Although I stayed at home, I kept an eye on email and work needs. I made it to my 28-week glucose test appointment after a painstaking hour in rush hour traffic (passed, thankfully!). Dinner, dishes, managing a house and a kindergartener.

Moms do not get sick days. But bloggers do. This is the one thing I can release when life is dragging me down. I know it will be here when I am ok again. It is the one thing for ME, which means it understands if I just can't make it happen sometimes. Thanks, blog. You are a good friend.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A board book for young children in glasses - #kickstarter

I have written 29 posts with the label "eyes".

Most are related to the chronicles of our experience with strabismus and eye muscle surgery. Last year was a whirlwind of heartache, stress, and a virtual roller coaster of hope vs. hopelessness. The Little Four Eyes support group provided the hand-holding that I needed, and I continue to follow the journeys of others around the globe via this amazing group.

Today's post is written by a dear guest, the founder of the Little Four Eyes site and group. 

- - - -
A board book for young children in glasses
Ann Zawistoski

I am a librarian, but even before becoming a librarian, I was a lover of books. I’ve always thought books could be a wonderful way for anyone to explore new ideas and situations, and to feel a little less alone in whatever it is that we’re facing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#WW: What my week looks like

Ugggggghhhh....  sick is not fun. Pregnant plus sick is even worse! I am hoping to join the land of the living again soon.

Wishing a much better Wordless Wednesday to everyone else.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Holiday gift idea: Bright Light Pillows

Note: I received a free pillow for the purposes of this review. All opinions are 100% mine. 
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Kids love lights.
Kids love rainbows.
Kids love soft and fuzzy things.

So... how about a soft and fuzzy pillow that lights up in rainbow colors? That would be the ultra plush Bright Light Pillow. Each Bright Light Pillow has multi-colored, softly changing LED lights for a soothing glow at bedtime and super-cool room decor during the day. The pillow has a simple on/off switch and automatically turns off after 15 minutes for the little ones who fall asleep.

Amelia was so excited to get this pillow! As soon as I installed the three AA batteries (not included), she took it into a dark room and ooh-ed and aah-ed over it's ever-changing glow.  She slept with it at night and said it was soft and comfortable with no feeling of bumps or wires from the lights. I intended on creeping into her room to turn it off (to save batteries), and realized that it has an auto-off function.

Bright Light Pillows come in three shapes: Square, Star, and a limited edition "beach ball". Recommended for ages 8 and up (but responsible 5-year olds may like it too!).

From Idea Village. See more of their fun products including adorable Flipeez hats via IDV Products on Facebook@IDVproducts on Twitter, or via You Tube.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Epic battle. Squirrels.

Hello, my name is Julie and I am a warrior.

There is an epic battle happening in my home. I sit alert in the darkness, listening, waiting. Vigilant, with a taste for victory.

We have squirrels.

I have always been fond of small and furry creatures. I have been known to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting anything scampering across the road. I have hit a couple, and felt guilty about it for the rest of the day.

Now I see them differently.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

High-quality spa products at home! Plus a #giveaway from @SpaSydellATL

The soothing sounds of soft music or gently flowing water... 

The calming scents of lavender or eucalyptus...

The quiet atmosphere that transports you far away from the chaos of a home with kids....

Who doesn't love the spa?
One of my favorite all-time "me" treats is a spa treatment at Spa Sydell, one of Georgia's most premiere day spas. Spa Sydell focuses on whole-body health and fitness, and has become an ultimate destination for reflexology, skin care, and massage therapy in Atlanta.

And if you want to take the spa home with you?

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Mummy" and Me Monday: Pumpkin

We have some friends who host a pumpkin carving party each year, and everyone comes out with their creative and fun carving talents to win the coveted pumpkin trophy.

This year, I wanted Amelia to be able to participate on her own, but without wielding a knife. The mummy pumpkin was inspired by a Pinterest pin originally sourced from Better Homes and Gardens:

BHG cheesecloth pumpkin instructions

This mummy pumpkin is incredible, but a bit more involved to create than I was hoping to find for our five-year old. Cheesecloth, fabric stiffener... just a bit too much for a backyard party.

So I modified it to be easy and kid-friendly:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Recycling: Baby Clothes #WW

Amelia's stuffed animals are wearing her baby clothes!

Since we are having a boy this time around, I can remove and donate three huge bins full of mostly pink, purple, or flowery attire.A few of the smaller items have already been donated - to Amelia's playroom. She likes to dress up her stuffed animals, so I figured we could provide them with a few more outfits. 

This one was Amelia's very first shirt, ever. They put her in it at the hospital...

Happy Wordless Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Medieval Times 2nd Annual FIGHT FOR THE CAUSE -- #MTatlanta #giveaway

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Medieval Times, Atlanta has joined the Second Annual FIGHT FOR THE CAUSE! 

They will donate $1 for each NEW LIKE that their Facebook page receives during the month of October. All donations will benefit Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. (Hurry... only a few days left!)

To support this important battle, one lucky BalancingMama reader will win a Family Four-Pack of tickets to one of Medieval Times, Atlanta’s shows Sunday-Friday through the end of December! I look forward to taking my family to a 5:00 show soon; Amelia has always wanted to go inside "the castle"!

Please help spread the word on your networks, via twitter #MTatlanta, and on Instagram @mt_atlanta and #MTatlanta. This is one battle we need to win!

Winner: Amber Ruth

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2nd child: Then vs. Now

We are blessed to be adding another little one to our household. I know this, I really do.

But... when am I supposed to get excited about this second kiddo?

When am I supposed to feel the overwhelming joy and love?

I am only about one week away from the third trimester, and I have yet to move past the "oh my gosh, what the heck did we do?" stage. Maybe it is because my daughter is already 5 1/2 years old. I have had way too much time to settle into life with an only child and to forget most everything about childbirth or babies.

I know that the mornings with a newborn will be difficult and will be made even more miserable because I have to get Amelia ready for - and to - school on time. She isn't a baby, where I would be able to stay home with both kids and ease into my day. Nope, it will be up-and-at-'em at 6:30 a.m., regardless of baby's sleep schedule. We will be at soccer some evenings and on Saturdays. We will have birthday parties and school events to attend. When my husband is traveling, I will need to put two children to bed and somehow manage to fall into my own bed before I turn into a monster.

I am beyond overwhelmed and he is not even here yet. I already feel like a mom failure to this little guy.

Then, I could have told you exactly how many weeks and days I was in my pregnancy. Now, I sort of guess - or I look it up on the Internet if I really need to know.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cute pumpkin cupcakes: Pin-worthy and easy #Halloween

I love browsing Pinterest and collecting recipes and ideas that I will likely never make. I share and pin and dream, but when it comes down to actually making something, I am all about quick and easy.

I recently made a couple Pinterest recipes for a neighborhood party, but my latest baking endeavor was really the best-tasting, cutest, smile-inducing treat of them all. And it was incredibly easy.

If you are a semi-homemade, 'gotta be quick' baker like me, this is for you: I call it "how one simple kitchen gadget can make gorgeous cupcakes every time". Pin-worthy cupcakes that look like they came from the bakery.

(1) Make cupcakes. Store-bought cake mix is all I use. For this example, I used French Vanilla cake mix.

(2) Once batter is mixed and beaten, add food coloring if you wish. Here, the cake is a light orange.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wedding plans at age five

I am three decades past preschool and kindergarten, but a few big memories still stand out. Like the time I was cast out of the ballerina role in the preschool graduation event ("too short", apparently). Or the time a boy I "loved" in kindergarten was kissed by another girl (devastating!).

Now that I am Mom to a kindergartener, I am glad that I still have a couple of those memories. Especially now that my girl is dreaming up wedding plans at age five and a half.

She is in love.

The boy is apparently the ladies' man; he hangs out with all the girls. Amelia says they all want to marry him, but she is the one he sits next to at lunch. She is the one whose hand he grabbed as they ran through the playground. My little girl is already tallying her wins vs. the other ladies and imagining the rest of her life with this boy. She was shocked when I told her that marriage is a good twenty years away!

Frankly, I am wearing thin from hearing his name. Tonight, I found a drawing of a boy with his name  written (in rainbow, of course) all over the page.

No matter what, it isn't very comforting to see such behavior in a child so young. My child! But it does help that I am able to conjure up memories of similar feelings and behaviors from my own childhood. I survived and married the right guy when I was in my mid-twenties. I suppose there is hope for my smitten darling too.

I'm just really, really tired of hearing his name!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Getting Spooky! Halloween decor #WW

Our first holiday decorating event in the new house - it was fun to figure out where everything should go! We pulled out boxes and dug through the memories with repeated "remember this?!" nostalgia. Welcome home, Halloween creatures!

Giant Black Widow - eek!

I love our front door - and Mr. Ghost

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Magnificent TN Aquarium for the family! #Chattanooga #familytravel

It was a gorgeous and warm Sunday, and we had plans to meet my family in Chattanooga for an aquarium visit. I know Chattanooga well; I lived there for four years as a UTC student. But that was quite a while ago - and I had not seen the Ocean Journey building of the aquarium.

What a fun time! We all enjoyed meandering through the paths by each and every brightly lit window, full of amazing and interesting creatures. Amelia and I even got up close and personal with some Giant Japanese Spider Crabs!

Friday, October 11, 2013

They didn't know veggies were hiding in that juice! #healthyfamily

My family had a little taste-testing party last night with two flavors of V8 V-Fusion® Refreshers.

New V8 V-Fusion Refreshers are a light and crisp juice drink with a 20-25% blend of fruit and vegetable juices that come in four flavors. Made with both fruit and vegetable juices, this new V8 juice is naturally sweetened, contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and is an excellent source of Vitamin C.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Love does not live happily beside fear. #DomesticViolence

It's an old joke; my husband and I laugh about buying a shotgun when our daughter begins dating. We all want to protect our children from any hurt whether it be physical or emotional. No one messes with our babies!

But sometimes life takes people down a dark path and they can feel helpless.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Ladies, know your worth. Understand that your worth is bigger than you may have ever imagined. You are powerful, strong, beautiful, and have the ability to overcome life's hurdles. Sometimes love sneaks in and turns everything we know upside down. Sometimes, and unfortunately, it is not for good. Love does not mean being told where to go, how to dress, to when to speak. Love does not live happily beside fear. Or manipulation. Or spite.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

#WW: My only... for now

"They grow up so fast" is not cliche. It is totally real! My sweet and amazing only child is growing up so much faster than I could have ever imagined. Like a flash of lightning.

"My only" will soon have a new title; Big Sister. More than anything else, I look forward to seeing her love and teach her baby brother.




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