A Long Weekend in Belgium (February 14-17, 2014)

We finally ended our traveling drought and took a weekend trip to Belgium. Connor was excited, but a little confused; he kept signing and saying “bell-gym” and then “girl” because he was thinking about the two little girls in his gym class. Overall, it was a great trip! We survived rain, wind, map-reading mishaps, and a toddler who wanted to walk (or run) everywhere.

Friday
We arrived at our hotel in Brussels in the early afternoon after hitting a short stau (traffic jam), stopping for gas and one restroom break, and tackling confusing roads surrounding our hotel. Connor and I had a nap in the car, so once we checked-in, Charlie napped while Connor and I explored the hotel. Now that everyone was rested, we left for our first adventure with Rick Steves’ guide in hand.

Our view as we walked

Our view as we walked

It was a 20-minute walk to the Grand Place, which was Brussels’ market square for 1000 years. Our map didn’t have every little street labeled, so once we were close, we weren’t sure exactly how to get to the Town Hall in the Grand Place. Thinking it would be obvious, we kept following the signs, and when we reached a large, impressive-looking building, we thought we had found the Town Hall. I pulled out Rick Steves’ “Grand Place Walk” and started narrating. I was confused when the book pointed out buildings across the street or next door that I didn’t see, and finally realized we weren’t at the Town Hall! (For those of you who have been to Brussels, we were actually at the Bourse. Whoops.) We got our bearings and felt pretty silly once we actually arrived in the Grand Place. It was quite an impressive sight! It had been lightly raining since we left the hotel, but our spirits lifted as we finally experienced the heart of Brussels. A group of girls asked us to take a picture of them, so Connor found his “bell-gym girls” after all :).

Town Hall in the Grand Place

Town Hall in the Grand Place

The King's House in the Grand Place

The King’s House in the Grand Place

Another Grand Place view

Another Grand Place view

Thankfully, I was able to navigate the rest of our walk without any mishaps. The rain continued, but we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate (Connor’s first, and he approved!), bought a tin of Neuhaus chocolates, and explored the rest of the sights near the center of town: Galeries Royales St. Hubert (a large, glass-covered fancy shopping mall), a busy “restaurant row,” Church of St. Nicholas, the Bourse (stock exchange), 13th-century convent ruins, and finally the famous Manneken-Pis statue. Yes, the statue is just what it sounds like: a little boy peeing into a fountain. It’s one of the more famous tourist sights in Brussels, but it was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a huge statue, not one that was less than two feet tall!

Manneken-Pis...Connor was not amused!

Manneken-Pis…Connor was not amused!

The rain was coming down harder by now, and Charlie managed to navigate us back to our hotel with our sub-par map. We didn’t want to go back out or sit down at a restaurant for dinner, so I picked up Chinese food from the restaurant next door to the hotel. Yes, we ate Chinese food on our first night in Belgium and we aren’t afraid to admit it!

Relaxing in the hotel after a rainy afternoon

Relaxing in the hotel after a rainy afternoon

Saturday
During our hotel breakfast, Connor enjoyed pointing out the people while eating his weight in eggs. With a 0% chance of rain and a blue sky, we were ready for the day’s adventures. We walked just a few short minutes to the metro station and took the train to Parc du Cinquantenaire. The huge arches of the park were impressive! The arches were built in 1880 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. Our first stop in the park was the Royal Army and Military History Museum. We spent most of our time in the aviation section, where Connor excitedly ran around yelling “Eh-PLANE! Biiiiii!” as he marveled at all of the big airplanes. I was grateful for a wide-open hangar with few other people there so that Connor could get a little energy out. Charlie enjoyed all of the planes and other military aircraft, and the highlight for me was seeing how happy my boys were!

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Royal Army and Military History Museum (You can see that my little blur is already off and running towards all of the "eh-PLANES!")

Royal Army and Military History Museum (You can see that my little blur is already off and running towards all of the “eh-PLANES!”)

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Love his cheesy smile!

Love his cheesy smile!

After walking through to the opposite side of Parc du Cinquantenaire, we walked about 15 minutes to see the outside of the European Parliament building. We stopped inside the Parlamentarium, which is a free hi-tech tour of the Parliament, but decided we weren’t interested in taking the tour. Connor was starting to get sleepy, but we thought he would be excited to see the dinosaurs at the nearby Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences before he took a nap. We quickly figured out (the hard way) that the location I had marked on the map wasn’t quite accurate, and after asking for directions at a hotel and still not finding the museum, Connor had fallen asleep. (Luckily, he didn’t ask where the dinosaurs were when he woke up later!) Charlie and I decided to continue our windy walk and go on to the Musical Instrument Museum. It was a really neat museum spread among several different floors. The audio guides played musical examples as you walk near each exhibit. Connor woke up about 15 minutes into it, but he stayed pretty happy as we took turns letting him walk around while the other perused the exhibits.

On the 10th floor, we sat down in the crowded café for a much-needed late lunch. The view from the café provided a great birdseye view of Brussels. I secretly started to panic because all of Connor’s toys, snacks, etc. were in the backpack which we had to leave at the coat-check before entering the museum. Thankfully, he was content eating from our plates, with a few breaks to have one of us walk around with him. Charlie ordered a sausage and sauerkraut dish, and I chose black and white pudding with mashed potatoes and apple compote. A trip to another country just would not be complete without a menu blunder from yours truly. I knew that black and white pudding wasn’t “pudding,” but I was still caught off-guard when my plate arrived with two sausages. Charlie mentioned that the dark one might be blood sausage, but that didn’t really sink in at the moment. I must have been too hungry! I ate it, and Connor enjoyed the sausages, too. As I’m writing this blog, I looked it up online, and sure enough…blood sausage. Yum. I suppose that will help our iron count??

A view of Brussels from the 10th floor of the Musical Instrument Museum

A view of Brussels from the 10th floor of the Musical Instrument Museum

Refreshed after eating, we ventured back to the Grand Place to look around the shops. We bought beer, more chocolates (or, as Connor started saying, “chot-let”), and bought frites to munch on while we walked back to the hotel. (Frites are basically French fries, but they are fried twice so that they are extra-crunchy. They are probably the most popular Belgian street food, along with waffles. This was Connor’s first French fry experience, and he was happy to continue sampling!)

Stopped for a family shot as we walked back to the Grand Place (You can see the top of Connor's hat...does that count??)

Stopped for a family shot as we walked back to the Grand Place (You can see the top of Connor’s hat…does that count??)

We walked back to the hotel, unloaded our goodies, then went back out to look around at the shops near our hotel. As soon as we told Connor that we were going to the store, he started signing “orange.” Lucky for him, we found an express grocery store where we bought an orange for Connor and bottled tea and water for Charlie. Next door was a little café with prepared foods that you could eat there or take with you. We picked up salads, soup, and sandwiches to take back to the hotel for dinner. Connor scarfed down the entire orange faster than I could cut it up for him!

Playing in the hotel room after a long day of sight-seeing, and excited to discover that his letter magnets stick to the radiator!  (Don't worry, the radiator isn't on...)

Playing in the hotel room after a long day of sight-seeing, and excited to discover that his letter magnets stick to the radiator! (Don’t worry, the radiator isn’t on…)

Sunday
After another hotel breakfast, we hopped on the train to spend the day in Bruges. After a transfer from the metro to the Belgian Rail, we settled in for a one-hour train ride. The train was full, so we ended up sitting on the floor between a second-class car and a first-class car. The first-class car was nearly empty, but we didn’t have the guts to take any of the open seats. Good thing we didn’t bother trying, because when they came through to check tickets, they kicked a few people out that didn’t have first-class tickets! I thought Connor would love the train ride, but he suddenly decided that a morning nap was more appealing.

Enjoying the train ride to Bruges

Enjoying the train ride to Bruges

Once we arrived in Bruges, we followed the rest of the tourists across the street and started heading towards the center of town.

It was a beautiful day in Bruges…
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After a 15-minute walk, we arrived at the Markt (Market Square). Charlie narrated Rick Steves’ “City Walk” for us. We saw the Belfort (the bell tower that has stood over the Markt since 1300), Basilica of the Holy Blood (it wasn’t open yet so we couldn’t go inside), City Hall, and walked through the basement of a hotel to see the ruins of a fort and church from 900 A.D. By this point, Connor had finally perked up and he wanted to walk or run everywhere instead of staying in the carrier with me. Rick Steves clearly didn’t have a toddler in tow when he planned his walks! We managed to enjoy several canal views, followed by a quick look inside the Church of Our Lady. All three of us were ready for a break, so we stopped at a café for lunch. Charlie had a panini while I had quiche and a salad, then we shared our first Belgian waffle. The waffle definitely lived up to all the hype!

Market Square

Market Square

City Hall

City Hall

A canal view

A canal view

We headed back to the Belfort so that we could climb the 366 steps for the best view of the city. The line was long when we were there in the morning, and it wasn’t any shorter at this point. Connor had fallen asleep on our way there and stayed asleep the entire looooong wait in line. That was definitely a blessing, because there was no way he would have wanted to wait in that line if he had been awake! He woke up when we were about halfway up the narrow, winding staircase. I certainly didn’t see anyone else climbing the stairs with a toddler on the front and backpack on the back!! (Did I mention that there were 366 steps??) We made it all the way up to see the carillon bells and a fantastic view of Bruges, and even survived the walk back down.

We walked alllll the way up the Belfort!

We walked alllll the way up the Belfort!

Views of the Market Square from the top of the Belfort:
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This is the face of a man who just got pooped on by a bird. At least it didn't land in the frites he was holding...

This is the face of a man who just got pooped on by a bird. At least it didn’t land in the frites he was holding…

Heading back to Brussels on the train

Heading back to Brussels on the train

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a waffle truck. This waffle was even better than the one we had earlier in Bruges! After we got settled at the hotel, I walked down the street to pick up burgers for dinner from the Brussels Grill. Poor Connor…I told him we were having meat and green beans for dinner, but the meat was too red for us to feel ok about giving to him (which seemed pretty ironic after I realized I fed him blood sausage earlier that day), and they accidentally gave me fries instead of green beans. He didn’t complain, and found enough to eat from the food we had brought with us from home.

Monday
After the best night’s sleep of the whole weekend (for me, at least!), we packed up the suitcase and had one last breakfast at the hotel. We loaded up the car, and on our way out of town, we took a detour to see the Atomium, which was the symbol of the 1958 World’s Fair. Charlie pulled over to take some pictures from the outside, and then we hit the road towards home. Connor fell asleep halfway through and didn’t wake up until we got home. Vacation is hard work!

The Atomium

The Atomium

Where should we go next?

Our Holidays and Connor’s Latest Update

2014 already?? Although this was Connor’s second holiday season, it felt like his first because he was truly able to enjoy all the decorations, gifts, and excitement. (I promise…he was much more excited about the holidays than he looks in the picture!)

Ashley Brokovich1

Thanksgiving
Charlie’s woodwind quintet performed Christmas carols at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center early in the day. Connor and I had fun at home baking pecan pies, green bean casserole, and playing with his Lego train. After Charlie came home, we had Thanksgiving Dinner with our town’s German-American Social Club. It was a potluck hosted by one of the members, and there were lots of people there. I think Connor only ate the turkey, but Charlie and I enjoyed lots of nostalgic holiday food. We were able to Skype with many of my family members who were gathered at my dad’s house for all of the annual Thanksgiving traditions back home.

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My sous chef (yes, he wanted to wear my apron :) ) taking a break to play with his train set on Thanksgiving morning
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Christmas
Connor learned many new signs as he experienced all of the holiday magic: Christmas, reindeer, snowman, Santa, calendar (for our Advent calendar), wreath, ornaments, stocking, angel, and gift. It was so much fun to see him pointing out holiday things that he recognized anywhere we went. We bought a music-box Advent calendar at a holiday bazaar, and Connor loved to open the doors each evening. We hid some sort of small gift inside, like stickers, a new ornament for the tree, a box of raisins, etc, but if we had a busy evening or weren’t home, luckily he didn’t remember what he was missing! I bought a beautiful Advent wreath at our local florist, and Connor enjoyed the routine of praying and lighting the candles at dinner each evening. He would put his hands together to pray, and every time I asked who or what he wanted to pray for, he immediately said and signed “Da Da!” He loved our mini-Christmas tree and all the ornaments, especially the colored lights. We saw Santa Claus at the BX the week before Christmas, but Connor wasn’t interested in sitting on his lap. That was fine with us, because we were definitely not interested in having an upset Connor! Connor didn’t open his gifts until December 28, after we had returned from Hirrlingen. He was spoiled rotten by his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Santa, German relatives, and our landlord!

Inspecting the Advent calendar
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Decorating the tree
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Playing with his felt tree
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Decorating gingerbread cookies
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Visiting Santa
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Charlie was busy with four holiday performances throughout December. I was disappointed not to see any, but Connor and I enjoyed lots of quality time at home while Charlie was gone. After all of the concerts were finished, the unit hosted a great holiday party for the soldiers and families. We even won a few raffle items, including a beautiful handmade quilt and a 3-liter bottle of beer!

On Christmas Day, we drove to Hirrlingen to spend the holiday with my German relatives. This was the fourth time we have visited them, and they always make us feel right at home. Once we arrived at Annette and Gerd’s house (and their three teenagers: Elias, Julian, and Lillith), Charlie helped them finish preparing the midday meal while I helped Connor settle down for his nap. He stayed asleep while we enjoyed roasted leg of lamb, knödel (bread dumplings), roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spätzle, potato salad, and a green salad. Don’t worry, we saved a plate for Connor, and his favorites were the spätzle and knödel.

After everyone relaxed and dozed after the meal, we drove to a church in a nearby town to see the Krippe. The Germans use the word “Krippe” or (crib) to describe what we would call a nativity scene. Krippe are found at most churches (at least in the area of Germany where we were), and they are very large and elaborate! Afterwards, we all went to Friedrich’s house (Annette’s brother). We enjoyed coffee and cake (including a homemade Linzer Torte that my grandma had sent to us), followed by singing many German Christmas carols. Luckily they had song books, so Charlie and I could sing along, even if we didn’t know what we were saying! I forget the word that Annette used, but it’s a tradition to compliment the beauty of someone’s Christmas tree with words or by singing, and then you receive a shot of schnapps for being so kind. We all sang our hearts out, and the schnapps was served! Connor had fun playing with some cars and trucks that one of Friedrich’s sons got out for him, and he also was intrigued by the cat. Unfortunately, the cat did not feel the same way, and Connor ended up with a very mild bite on his arm. He was upset and cried for a few minutes, but the skin wasn’t broken. It’s now almost two weeks later, and we still hear Connor randomly say throughout the day, “mrow mrow…boo boo” as he signs the word cat and then points to his arm. Once we got back to Annette and Gerd’s house that evening, I put Connor to bed, then the four of us grown-ups enjoyed a light meal of bread, sliced meats and cheese, and tomato-mozzarella salad.

The day after Christmas was Lillith’s thirteenth birthday! We had a nice breakfast with the whole family, and then Charlie, Annette, Connor, and I went to Mass. I’m embarrassed to say that was only the second church service that Connor has ever attended, but he made it through with flying colors! After walking home, it was naptime for Connor, and then lots of relatives arrived for Lillith’s party. These relatives were from Annette’s mother’s side of the family, so we had never met most of them. Most of them spoke English and we enjoyed getting to know them, and lots of delicious food was served (soup, chili, bread, cheese, roasted vegetables, and various dips). Later in the afternoon, Alex (Annette’s cousin) arrived to bring us to his house for the evening. We enjoyed coffee and cake with Alex’s family (his wife, also named Annette, and their two kids Sven and Nina), as well as Alex’s parents Elisabeth and Matthias (Elisabeth is one of my grandma’s first cousins), and Annette’s parents. Alex and Annette’s parents left after a while, and then Annette cooked a huge dinner of schnitzel, spätzle, potato salad, cucumber salad, cabbage salad, and green bean salad. In the meantime, Connor was having such a blast playing with Nina! Charlie and I were obviously stuffed from all of the wonderful food served to us throughout the day, but we were also overwhelmed with the constant offerings of coffee and wine/beer! I think I had more coffee and wine during our three days there than I normally have in a month!

Connor stuck to his usual vacation sleep routine of going to bed later than usual and thus waking up even earlier than usual…so we enjoyed the wee morning hours with Annette while everyone else slept in. Charlie made it downstairs for a light breakfast with us, then Annette and I went on a walk with Connor and the dog while Charlie took a nap. Annette and I enjoyed the sunshine (did I mention it had literally been raining constantly for the past 48 hours??) while Connor took a much-needed nap in the front carrier. Once we got back to her house, her father (Bernhard, another first cousin of my grandma) was walking over to see us. He had a big surprise for Connor to see…his TRACTOR!! Connor got to sit in the tractor, and I have never seen such a huge grin on his face! (I think Bernhard was equally ecstatic to be able to provide Connor with that experience!) He has been obsessed with cars, trucks, steering wheels, trains, and tractors for a while. Lately, every time he sees one, he signs “in,” and now he finally got to sit IN a tractor! He couldn’t get enough of the big steering wheel or honking the horn. Now, when he starts talking about tractors (which is often!), he will say “Buh buh” for “Bernhard,” and when we ask him what he did in the tractor, he will pretend he’s using a steering wheel and say “meep meep!” for the horn.

Annette served everyone a nice lunch of noodles, homemade meatballs, gravy, and tomato salad. Afterwards, Charlie, Connor, Bernhard, Annette, and I drove to the Wasserschloss (water castle) in the Black Forest, about thirty minutes away. Bernhard wanted to take us there during our first visit, but we didn’t have the chance. He took us to the cafe inside the castle, which was decorated ornately and had lots of interesting things to look at. We looked at two cuckoo clocks for sale, but neither was the style that we are looking for. (According to Charlie’s dad, we had better find a cuckoo clock soon, otherwise we will leave Germany with a new baby instead!) After looking at the clocks, we sat down for coffee and a giant slice of Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwald torte). Yes, we had Black Forest Cake IN the Black Forest! Connor tasted a little of the cake, but was much more interested in the foam on my cappuccino. We said goodbye to Annette and Bernhard (which is always emotional even though we know we will be back again) then hit the road towards home. It should have taken about two and a half hours, but it was closer to three hours with traffic. I was sure that Connor needed another nap, but he was content for the whole ride home. Around 5:30pm – literally ten minutes from home – he fell asleep. I figured he would wake up when I got him out of his seat, but he didn’t, so I laid him in bed. He woke up a few hours later and I changed his diaper and put on his pajamas, but then he went back to sleep and slept until early the next morning! Christmas vacation wore him out! As usual, we had an absolutely fantastic time in Hirrlingen and we are already looking forward to our next visit.

Can’t leave out the Christmas sweater shot!
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New Year’s Eve
We had absolutely nothing special planned, which was fine by us. Connor and I went to bed fairly early, followed by Charlie not too long afterwards. At midnight we started hearing fireworks. Charlie got up, but Connor didn’t wake up until about 15 minutes into the show. I tried to get him back to sleep, but he wasn’t happy about it, so I decided I didn’t want to ring in the New Year with a crying little man. We got up and joined Charlie near our upstairs windows, which are huge and overlook the other side of Hochspeyer. The fireworks show was amazing! Individual people set them off from their own homes, but as we looked over an entire part of town, it was quite a show! Connor loved it. Charlie went back to bed once it started to die down, and I cuddled with Connor in the glider while we were still able to look out the windows and see the last of the fireworks.

Connor’s latest update (almost 21 months!)
I will try to keep it short this time since I rambled about our holidays :)

Signs
New this month: caterpillar, turkey, dinosaur, animals, brown, white, pink, full, empty, table, garbage (truck), forklift (you made it up yourself by combining “fork” and raising an arm!), doctor, sad, don’t like, boy, girl, broccoli, rice, Christmas, Santa, stocking, gift, ornament, reindeer, snowman, angel, (Advent) calendar, wreath

Talking
Not many new words: whoa, oh nooo!, and you say a few letter names very well (A, B, C, D, E, O). Speaking of letters, you can (usually) identify, say, and sign those same letters!

Favorite toys
Legos (train set, duplo blocks), trucks (garbage, tow, and dump trucks), pots, pans, and lids, anything with a steering wheel that you can use

The pots and pans just never get old…
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The new train set combines with his first set!
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Favorite books
There’s a Hole in the Bucket, The Snowy Day, I’m a Little Teapot, Cars and trucks and Things That Go, Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever

Mama’s little helper
You will load an entire basket of laundry into the washer, from the washer to the dryer, and from the dryer to the basket. You love to empty the water from the dryer (not something we will have to do once we are back in the states!), put the lint filter back in, and help me carry one end of the basket into the living room. Helping in the kitchen is another favorite activity of yours, and you especially love to stir anything, pour ingredients from a measuring cup/spoon, and put lids on. You like to climb into your high chair and car seat by yourself, and you can do the buckles mostly by yourself once I help you with the straps.

He climbed up all by himself and started trying to snap the buckles!
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Sleeping habits
We took off the front of your crib and moved it alongside our bed, so now you have your own space instead of sleeping in our bed all night. Your “new normal” is to stay asleep between 6 and 8 hours at bedtime before you wake up for the first time. I can usually soothe you back to sleep without nursing until around 3:00 or 4:00am, and then you like to crawl in next to me and nurse to sleep for the rest of the morning. You usually wake up too early (and I mean that it’s not enough sleep for you, not that it’s too early for me!) and I’m working on trying to help you get enough sleep.

Connor at 19 months

I can’t believe that you are now closer to your second birthday than you are to your first. You have changed and developed so much this month! We are trying desperately to soak up every precious moment.

Signs
Your signs are so useful for communicating with us. You make the same sound for several different words (for example, when you say “mama,” it could mean mama, lid, pumpkin, mushroom, monkey, water, or music), but when you use the sign along with the sound, we know exactly what you’re talking about. New signs this month: big, small, yes, different, work, silly, frustrated, black, dirty, smoke (we see lots of chimney smoke from our window), wood, pig, bug, tiger, rabbit, whale, cow, barn, baby, police car, carrot.

Talking
Your words that sound like “real” words: mama, dada, bye-bye (“bah-bah”), one (“wuh”), two (“dooo!”), tea (“ti-ti”)
You “say” MANY other words that daddy and I can understand perfectly…but no one else would! We love to hear you trying to imitate any sounds we make. It’s so funny when we let out a big sigh or grunt, only to hear you repeat it a moment later.

Favorite toys
Of course you still love your kitchen tools and gadgets, but you have been expanding your preferences lately! Trains are a new favorite. As soon as something is stacked on top of something else, it immediately becomes a train in your eyes and we hear, “choo choo!” as you push it along. You love to stack wooden blocks. I looked over one day and you had stacked several round green blocks on top of each other…then a few minutes later, you stacked all the yellow square blocks! Cans are another favorite object to stack.

Favorite books
She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, The Cat Came Back, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Our little bookworm
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Favorite activities
-Reading books, pointing out all the pictures that you recognize, and chiming in during certain stories
-Helping to cook or clean
-Unpacking the groceries, stacking all the cans, and hiding fruit on the bookshelf
-Swatting bugs and pointing out bugs for us to swat
-Going to Musikgarten class
-Climbing on everything in your gym class
-Playdates with friends
-Listening for sirens every time we go outside or in the car (“Na-na? Na-na??”)

The expert grocery unpacker and can stacker :)
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Any dishes left for me to wash?
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Relaxing during a play date
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New animal sounds
Turkey, chick, goat

Mama’s little helper
You are still my #1 helper, but now mama has another helper! My friend Amy comes over on Wednesday mornings for about an hour and a half to play with you while I take care of things upstairs. You have SO much fun with her and you don’t even miss me!

Teething…?
Nothing new, but you are chewing on your fingers all the time and drooling sometimes. You aren’t a big fan of brushing your teeth lately.

Eating habits
Not much new…Your favorites are still eggs, dried fruits, and cooked carrots or sweet potatoes. You also love frozen blueberries (thawed, of course). Sometimes you eat like a bird and quickly sign “all done,” and other times you have second and third helpings. I make hot herbal tea everyday and you love to drink it! Homemade almond milk is another favorite drink.

Sleeping habits
We made big changes this month. You still sleep with us, nurse to sleep and again early in the morning, but you no longer nurse during the night. It wasn’t your choice and you weren’t happy at first, but mama and daddy were always right there to soothe you back to sleep. Eliminating nighttime nursing, combined with letting you fall asleep in bed instead of my arms, has finally resulted in longer stretches of sleep! Your record is about 7.5 hours. Most nights you still wake up a few (or several…) times, but you are almost always soothed back to sleep within moments when I sing to you or tell you a story. Instead of my usual lullabies, you now request “choo-choo,” “meh-meh,” or “ooooh” (She’ll Be Coming’ Round the Mountain, The Cat Came Back, or Bingo). Bedtime is around 7:30-8:00, and you take your nap around 11:30-1:00ish…depending on how early you woke up that morning!

A Visit from Oma and Aunt Ellen

My grandma and Aunt Ellen visited us in Germany! My great-grandmother immigrated to the US from Germany, leaving behind nine siblings, so my grandma has first cousins and many other relatives living here. She has visited Germany several times and thought she had already come for the last time, but once we moved here, she decided to come for one more visit. I’m so glad she made the trip and that Aunt Ellen came with her! It was Ellen’s first trip to Germany.

Friday & Saturday
Charlie picked them up from the airport on Friday, and Connor was Mr. Shy for a few minutes once they arrived. He soon warmed up and was ready to show them all of his toys! We relaxed for a while, then took them to a nearby mall to show them what the German stores are like.
Our landlord came to visit on Saturday morning while our heat was getting fixed, and she was thrilled to meet Grandma and Ellen and speak to my grandma in German! Mid-morning, we hopped in the car and drove about 40 minutes to Burg Lichtenberg. Charlie had performed a woodwind quintet concert in this castle a few weeks earlier, so I was glad to finally see it since I couldn’t go to the concert. We started with a fantastic lunch at the castle’s restaurant, then walked through the musical instrument museum. Finally, we walked through the castle ruins. I naively assumed we would be touring the inside of the castle, but I quickly realized there WASN’T an inside! It was just ruins, which we were able to explore at our own pace. Connor certainly enjoyed running outside and climbing rocks much more than he would have enjoyed an indoor tour! On the way home from the castle, we stopped at the BX so that Grandma and Aunt Ellen could see it.

Beautiful fall leaves at the castle
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Sunday
We drove about 3 hours to Hirrlingen, the village where my grandma’s mother grew up. Charlie and I have visited there twice already, but it was SO special to be there with Grandma and Aunt Ellen! We had a wonderful day with our German relatives: a nice lunch, visiting the town’s church to see the “seed carpet” that is displayed annually, visiting the Atomkeller Museum in Haigerloch, then coffee at a cafe at the Schloss Haigerloch. The day ended with a long dinner at a restaurant with around 30 German relatives who came to see us! We stayed overnight at Andrea’s (the daughter of one of my grandma’s first cousins), where Connor discovered the endless joy of a simple ping-pong ball on a hard floor.

This is the Erntedankbild at the church in Hirrlingen. It’s made entirely of seeds and grains, and it’s a way to give thanks for the harvest.
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Connor walking at the Schloss with Annette (the daughter of one of my grandma’s first cousins)
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Monday
After coffee at Andrea’s, we drove to Elisabeth and Matthias’ house (Grandma’s first cousins) for a leisurely breakfast. We took a short trip to the cemetery in the village and saw the graves of many relatives. Elisabeth had lunch ready for us after that, but Charlie, Connor, and I really needed to hit the road home. Elisabeth graciously packed up the food for us and we enjoyed it as a delicious dinner at home. Grandma and Aunt Ellen stayed in Hirrlingen for the following week and enjoyed lots of adventures with their German family! Annette brought them back to our house the following week.

The next Monday
Annette and her husband Gerd brought Grandma and Aunt Ellen to our house late on Monday night. After three trips to Hirrlingen throughout the last year, it was great to finally have Annette and Gerd in our home!

Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday
Charlie had the car for work, so Grandma, Aunt Ellen, Connor, and I stayed at home during the day. On Tuesday we went for a walk around our town, and once Charlie got home we drove back to where he works. He and I had to attend a meeting, but it was a good excuse to show Grandma and Aunt Ellen where he works. I planned for us to have dinner at the Flammkuchenhütte on the way home, but it turns out that it’s closed on Tuesdays. Oops. Charlie dropped off Connor and me at home so I could let him eat and get him to bed, and meanwhile they went to an Italian restaurant in our town and brought home calzones for everyone. Wednesday was another relaxing day at home as we enjoyed our last day together.

I loved seeing Connor bond with his Oma and Great Aunt. Connor only says two words besides “mama” and “dada,” and one of them is “Ohhhh-mahhhh!” We tried to teach him to say it before she arrived, but he mastered it during her visit :). He says “Ne-Ne” for Aunt Ellen. They have been gone several days already, but Connor still randomly says “Ohhhh-mahhhh,” which of course is always followed by “Ne-Ne!”

It was a tearful goodbye as they left the house. It was so sad to know that we won’t see each other until we move back to the states in the summer of 2015. We had such a wonderful visit together, and I will never forget the special memories that we created!

October 2013: 18 months already??

You are the sunshine on our chilly, dreary Fall days! You are constantly finding new ways to amaze and entertain us, and we are so blessed to be your Mama and Daddy. Your clever and curious personality shines through more and more as each day passes. You have been extra clingy lately and often only want mama, but last night when I tried to wash your hands with you, you cried for daddy!

Signs
It’s so much fun to continue learning new signs with you. It seems like at least once a day we come across a word that we want to add to our signing vocabulary. You are able to learn a new sign and start using it immediately, which amazes me! You can identify a few colors by using signs, particularly orange for some reason. New signs this month: Mama, Daddy, chair/sit, fan, paper, lid, sand, balloon, slide, pumpkin, helicopter, boat, penguin, crocodile, dinosaur, pants, shirt, warm, wet, cookie, popcorn, cup, plate, excuse me, where is…?

Talking
No “official” words yet! You’re starting to say, “nahhh” for “no,” which is pretty cute. It’s usually in response to a question like, “Connor, do we stand on chairs?”

Favorite toys
Yep, still kitchen stuff :). You also like to ride on your horse and dump truck. And when we leave it within reach…you love the fly swatter! You whack it on the ground and laugh like crazy!

A pot AND the dump truck? It doesn’t get much better than this!
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Favorite books
She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, The Cat Came Back, Zoo Poo, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Sometimes you just want to go straight to your favorite pages instead of hearing the whole story!

Favorite activities
-”Where is it?” is definitely one of your favorite games. You like to cover something up and put your arms up as if to ask, “Where did it go?” In our bedroom you back up between the wardrobe and dresser, “hiding” until one of us asks, “Where’s Connor?” I love the grin on your face when you run out! Sometimes you hide things that aren’t toys, but luckily (for now) you WANT to show us where you hid it, and you always remember where. Hopefully that will still be the case when you manage to get your hands on the car keys or daddy’s wallet!
-You love standing on a stool…in the kitchen to play with bowls or “help” with the dishes, or in the bathroom to brush your teeth or wash your hands. When I get you out of your highchair after a meal, you immediately ask, “Doo? Doo?” (your sound for “stool”) because you want to stand on the stool to wash your hands!
-Once you point to something for us to name, you want to hear the name/see the sign over and over!

Playing on our porch…another favorite activity!
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Other fun things
-You can (sort of!) kick and throw a ball!
-Anytime we start a question with “How many…?” you enthusiastically answer, “Doooo!” It sounds like you are saying “two.” If we ask the right questions, you look like a budding mathematical genius! Must be the genes from your Uncle Jason and Uncle Charlie :)

Mama’s little helper
Entertaining the produce while Mama cleans the refrigerator
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Oh, you took everything off this shelf to clean it? I thought it was a good place for my carrots…
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Helping with the salad
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Sweeping up the dry pasta that I scattered everywhere!
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Special visitors
My grandma and Aunt Ellen came to visit us! (Even though she is your great-grandma, we call her “Oma,” the German word for “grandmother.”) You can read more about Oma’s German heritage in this blog post. I will write a separate post about their visit because they are coming back next week to spend a few more days with us!

Dog-sitting
Our new friend asked us to take care of her dog while she was out of town for the weekend. You had already met Bella and warmed up to her, so I said yes! You really liked Bella and had fun with her. You were fascinated with watching her eat or drink, and even when she went into her bed you wanted to be near her! For several days after Bella left, you would still “bark” from the top of the stairs…hoping Bella was waiting downstairs to play. Daddy can’t wait to get a dog of our own someday.

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Adventures in potty-land
We are not actively trying to get you to use the toilet, but we are just trying to give you signs and words to communicate your bathroom needs as well as give you the opportunity to try the toilet. So far, you haven’t done anything in the toilet, which is fine with us, especially since you don’t mind your diapers. When I ask if you want to sit on the toilet, you seem much more interested in sitting on the big toilet instead of the little ones we bought for you. You had one moment this month that really shocked us! We had just come home after your gym class and you were touching your nose. Daddy asked me what you were signing, and it looked like “pee.” I wasn’t sure if that’s what you meant, so I asked if you wanted to pee on the toilet, and you started signing “toilet.” We went into the bathroom and as I took off your pants I could feel that you were wetting your diaper right then! We couldn’t believe you told us that you needed to pee! Nothing like that has happened since then, but we know it will when you are ready.

New teeth
You chew on things like crazy, and that combined with some of your mysterious clinginess this month keeps me wondering if you are teething, but there’s no visible sign.

Eating habits
You have been a vegetable monster this month! You inhale broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and green beans…and you even chowed down on sautéed fresh spinach in a coconut-cilantro-garlic sauce. Raisins, sweet potato, avocado, eggs, and corn are some of your favorites. You got to try some fresh spätzle while we were visiting family in Hirrlingen last weekend, and you showed your enjoyment with excited choruses of “noo noo!” You also loved the fresh German bread.

Sleeping habits
Bedtime is around 7:30, and you take your nap around 11:30ish. Unfortunately, you are still waking up too early (between 5:00-6:00). I wouldn’t mind except that it’s obvious by your fussiness/clinginess later in the morning that it wasn’t quite a full night’s sleep for you. You start the night in your crib, but so far the longest you have continuously slept in there is about an hour and a half. It’s a work in progress!

September 2013: Connor’s 17-month update

Where has the time gone? As each day passes, you seem to grow and develop at an even quicker pace. I felt like last month’s update had so many new things that there couldn’t possibly be enough to write about until 18 months, but once again you blew me away with your new signs, tricks, and skills!

Signs
Your motor skills continue to develop, which is helping your signs look closer and closer to the “correct” signs. Daddy and I laugh almost daily when you are obviously using a sign to tell us something, but we have to stop and try to figure out which sign it is! You combine the beginning sounds of many words along with the sign, and that often helps us decode your meaning. For example, the sign for bowl and car look similar when you sign them, but if you are saying, “ba!” then we know you mean “bowl.” New signs this month: bus, motorcycle, iPad, zebra, crocodile, owl, frog, shoes, socks, blue, green, yellow, peas, raisins, noodles, egg, mushroom, blueberry, bowl, spoon, fork, hurt, fun, rain, fire, cold, in, out, on, toilet, pee, shower, exercise, toy, rock…and daddy’s favorite, touchdown!

Talking
Our friends Jes and Derek claim that you said “noodle,” but we didn’t hear it with our own ears! I had stepped away from the table for a moment to get a dishcloth, and when I came back you only said “noo noo” for me. But, then you looked right at us and said, “Mama. Dada,” with more conviction than you had ever used with those words! Sometimes I could swear that you answer with “mm-hmm” when I ask you a question. You have chosen interesting syllables for a couple of words. “Mah!” is “lid” and a strange “g” sound that I can’t put into letters is “fork.” I love how your tone of voice reflects how big something is! When you see a big bowl, your voice strains as you sign and say, “BA BA BA!!”

Your first concert
Daddy’s brass band played at the BX food court last week, and it was the first concert that was close enough, early enough, and child-friendly enough for us to attend! You sat on my lap for the first twenty minutes watching intently, then decided to check out the kids “dancing” up front. A moment later, you spotted a shopping cart with a big plastic car attached to the front, and you spent the rest of the concert climbing in and out :).

Watching daddy
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Ok, enough music, time to play in this car that I found!
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Favorite toys
I might sound like a broken record, but you still love pots, pans, lids, bowls, and spoons more than anything else. You love your kitchen tools so much that you got a terrible burn on your hand this month =(. Thankfully it has healed beautifully. We went to a “kinder basar” in Mehlingen last weekend and bought you a few new toys, including a set of wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes. What did you do with them as soon as we got home? You put them into your pot and said, “Tssss!” while stirring them!

Favorite books
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Mother Goose Rhymes (I love when you pick out a book, bring it to me, then plop down into my lap so we can read it!)

Favorite activities
Looking at trucks, cars, motorcycles, trains, and planes is your idea of fun. You ask to be held up to the window when you hear something go by, and you love to take walks around town to look for trucks…and dogs. You have quite the discerning ear! When we are in the house, you know which vehicle you are hearing as it goes by! You also enjoy knocking beer towers of blocks that daddy builds, and stacking things yourself.

Showing off your newly-discovered stacking skills
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New animal sounds
Rooster, velociraptor (Just kidding…sort of. You make velociraptor sounds when you are running around the house in your wild and crazy mood!) You can chime in with the animal sounds when I sing “Old MacDonald!”

Mama’s little helper
You are turning into quite the helper! One day you unloaded almost all of the clothes from the dryer into the basket! If we ask you to put something away or bring something to daddy or me, you can usually accomplish the task. Your new favorite chore is helping wash the dishes. You climb onto your stool in front of the sink and rub the soapy sponge on a dish that I am holding. Well, at least that’s how it worked the first couple of times! Now you just use it as an opportunity to play with a container in the water until I’m done washing :). You also like to help me stir things when I’m cooking or baking.

Other fun things
-Anytime you hear music, you start “singing” and dancing! Your dance moves now include swaying back and forth.
-Daddy always seems to teach you a new “trick” anytime I leave you two alone. The latest one is running in place. It’s so cute, and actually looks more like a tap-dance shuffle!
-Sometimes you like to hide or drop something, and then you put your arms up as if to say, “Where’d it go?”
-Here is a fun tidbit to save for your future prom date: I’m not sure how you learned this, but when daddy asks you, “Connor, did you toot?” you will lean back and squeeze out a fart. I’m sure that skill will come in handy someday…?

Adventures in potty-land
We bought you two toilets so that you can get used to the idea. So far they are mostly just a fun novelty, and you especially love the flushing sounds they make. Here is a quick story about what prompted me to go ahead and buy them: One morning I decided to see if you wanted to sit on the big toilet first thing in the morning. You weren’t interested, which of course was fine. I walked into your bedroom to start getting out your diaper and clothes for the day, and I called for you to come with me. A few moments later, you walked into the room touching your nose, which was the first time I had seen you use the sign for “pee,” and you had wet footprints trailing behind you! You came to tell me that you had peed! Sure enough, the wet footprints lead back to a big puddle right next to the toilet.

New teeth
All 4 canine teeth are through, so you are up to 16 teeth! You still chomp on your fingers, but you can’t be possibly be working on anything else right now…

Eating habits
When we ask if you like something, you will use the sign for “like” and also say “mmmm” :). I would say that you have a few quirks when it comes to likes and dislikes, but then I remind myself that you are a toddler :). I know your preferences will continue to change day by day! Right now, you will devour applesauce, but not apple slices. Apricot slices, but not peach slices. Frozen blueberries, but not fresh. Homemade strawberry jam (which is basically mashed frozen strawberries), but not fresh strawberries. You have discovered the joy of nut butters, which I love to make fresh in the vitamix. Almond, walnut, Brazil nut, or peanut…you usually eat it off whatever I spread it on and then ask for more! You also love fresh nut milk that I make at home.

Sleeping habits
You take one nap from roughly 11:30-1:00, although for the last week you have been napping 3 hours or more because you are waking up too early in the morning! Bedtime is around 7:30, and unfortunately your morning wakeup has been 5:45 over the last week. You nurse to sleep, sleep with us, and nurse during the night. A few days ago you were really interested in playing in your crib, so we started talking about how it’s “Connor’s bed” and you can sleep there when you are ready. I take a German class once a week, and you won’t go to sleep for daddy while I am gone.

Just like mama
Ever since you were born, I (along with most everyone else) have said you definitely look like your daddy. Over the last week, three different people have commented that you look like ME! One person even said that you are a spitting image of me! I will admit that I don’t see the resemblance yet, but I certainly enjoy hearing people say it. Even if I don’t think you look like me, you definitely have some personality traits that convince me you are my son :). One example is that you seem to want things a certain way…not necessarily for a good reason, but just because that’s how you want it! If I start putting away toys that you haven’t touched for hours, you will often get that same toy back out and put it right back where it was, even if you aren’t going to play with it.

Toddler woes
We are so grateful that you are an easygoing little guy. If you have something that you aren’t supposed to have or are doing something you shouldn’t be doing, we are (usually) able to quickly and calmly fix the issue and redirect you to something else. However, you had a few mini-meltdown moments recently that made me laugh when I thought back to them. The first was when you pulled out the removable “bowl” from your toilet as I was getting your bath ready and your mind was made up that you were going to bring it into the tub. I normally let you bring all kinds of things into the tub, like pots, measuring cups, etc…but I knew I had to draw the line at the toilet!! You were not so happy to oblige. The other meltdown occurred while we were reading a hardcover book. You were SO MAD that you couldn’t separate the glued-on lining from the inside of the cover. Of course, other of these occurred near bedtime on days when you woke up toooo early in the morning.

Here are a few more pictures from this month!

Having fun on the swings at the Bannasch’s farewell BBQ
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Awesome new hair-do after wiping your oatmeal all over!
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Taking a ride on your new car that we bought at the kinder basar
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August 2013: Connor’s 16-month update

Your personality is really starting to develop and shine. You are so curious, and you pay so much attention to everything going on around you. There are plenty of times when you notice a noise, animal, etc. before daddy or I can even have the chance to point it out! I love seeing your skills and abilities develop. For example, now you can put all of the shapes through the matching holes on your mailbox toy all by yourself, you identify SO many objects, body parts, foods, etc., and you can “walk” up the stairs instead of climbing on hands and knees.

Signs
You are really learning quickly. It shocks me when you use a sign that I haven’t shown you very many times! New signs this month include: music, book, tree, moon, stars, sun, cloud, bells, window, light, car, truck, shoes, bath, strawberry, kiwi, smoothie, bread, peach, tired, hungry, thank you, I love you, red, sit, lion, giraffe, elephant, monkey, fish, octopus, bear, horse.

Talking
Even though you are not speaking any words yet, it is amazing to see your verbal skills develop. You say the beginning sound of several words, like “bah” for bath, ball, bear, and banana, “ck” for car, or “muh” for music. Sometimes the middle sound is what sticks out to you, or else it’s just easier for you to say, such as “guh” for hunGry, and “ck” for truCKs. Although you have said “mama” and “dada,” you still don’t consistently use the words towards us.

Favorite toys
You still LOVE pots, pans, spoons, bowls, and any container with a lid. New favorites include the salad spinner and cookie sheets.

Don’t get between a man and his wooden spoon!
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Ok, now how do I put this salad spinner back together…?
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Sorry for the poor picture quality…the budding chef never holds still!
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Favorite books
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Rumble in the Jungle, Little Lion, Dear Zoo

Favorite activities
Going on walks around town and stopping to pick up leaves, rocks, etc.
Playing Peekaboo (it’s so cute now that YOU can do it!)
Giving us raspberries on our bellies
Climbing on everything – if I turn my back for a second, you’re standing up on a chair!
Pointing out dogs, pigs, cars, and trucks everywhere we go by signing and making the sounds

New animal sounds
Cat, dog, owl, chicken

Mama’s little helper
You help put clothes in the washer, take them out of the dryer, etc…but after loading/unloading a few pieces, your attention turns towards climbing into the laundry basket on top of the clean clothes!
I got out a step-stool in the kitchen so that you can watch up close, but most of the time I end up holding you because you don’t want to miss anything! You love pots SO MUCH that you get extremely agitated if there is a pot on the stove and you can’t have it. You fervently use your “please” sign while saying, “Tsss! Tsss!” for the hot pot until someone picks you up to see it. Even if we pick you up to look, you often are still upset because you want to take the lid off or stir it.

Other fun things
When music plays, you “sing” along and dance! It is so cute. Your singing is kind of a sing-song humming sound, and your signature dance move is swinging your arms back and forth. If you want us to turn on the music, you stand by the iPod dock while making the sign for music and saying, “muh!”
Sometimes you carry around a phone, hold it up to your ear, and yell loudly into it. We aren’t quite sure how you learned to do that! Sure, you have seen us on the phone now and then (but not so often in this age of email, texting, and Facebook), but we certainly don’t talk THAT loudly :).

New teeth
Immediately after your molars cut through, you decided to go ahead and work on the next round. One canine cut through at the end of the July, another just the other day, and the others are bulging and ready to cut.

Eating habits
We are so thrilled that you are such a great eater. Let’s hope it continues! You now prefer to bite off from bigger pieces of foods instead of having them cut into small pieces. Eggs and peaches are new favorites, you still LOVE avocado and applesauce, and this week you had salmon for the first time. You are really good at eating with your spoon…whether it’s your small spoon, or a big one you swiped from mama! It’s fun for you to work on getting a piece of food onto your fork.

Sleeping habits
Jetlag recovery only took about a week once we got back from the states. You settled back into your “normal” routine, and once you were actually getting consistent nighttime sleep, you were ready to just take one nap each day instead of two. We have so much more time to explore and play when you only nap once :). Nighttime has been roughly 7:30pm-6:30am, and naptime is around 11:30-1:00.

Hand-me-down toys from friends are the best! Giddy up!
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