Friday, October 31, 2014

Chef Daddy: Chili

You know the chill in the air has descended on southern Arkansas when it's too cold for me to walk outside barefoot.

I'm like the groundhog or something. I had to actually pull on my fuzzy slippers before loading the car for school. Classy. I'm even seeing words like "freeze warning" and the little blue counties on the overnight low map seem dangerously close to mine. What a perfect day to talk about a very easy recipe that'll warm your family. Today I'm spilling the secrets behind Chef Daddy's famous chili.

Tonight all your little ghosts, goblins, and snow queens will fill their buckets and tummies with all the candy they can find. However, dinner may need to be squeezed in somewhere. The taste of this recipe only improves over time, so this is something you can make this afternoon and heat and eat after trick-or-treating. It's your basic no-frills, no-beans kind of chili, but it's really, really good. This is what you will need to make it:

{Maybe I forgot an important ingredient and added it in post-processing. You can't tell, can you?}

I suppose you can add beans to this if you want, just don't serve it to me. You brown some meat with onions and red bell pepper. You pour a bunch of tomato sauce on top of that. You sprinkle in Jonathan's mixture of spices. You give it a taste test and add a little more, then you let it simmer until you're hungry. Easy as pie.

I like mine with a layer of cheese, a layer of Fritos, a layer of diced onions, and extra cheese for good measure. You could mix in crackers, elbow noodles {usually in mine}, or fresh jalapenos if you're feeling frisky. Be creative and make it your own! Click the recipe card above to enlarge, save it, and then whip it up on a crisp autumn night.

Oh, I guess I need to give this recipe a Nathan rating. Please do not take anything away from the following other than the fact that Nathan does not like chili. He didn't even try it, but for the sake of consistency, he was nice enough to give his Daddy a single thumb up.

He decided zero thumbs would be mean. It's not too spicy for kids, though, and if yours like chili, they will love this. Get it ready for your darling little zombies tonight, and have a Happy Halloween! Check back on Monday to see how the evening went for my super trio. Also, cross your fingers that Spiderman makes an appearance. He just asked, "Can I have at least one candy if I don't wear my suit??"

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Guts, No Glory

Another year, another round of fake gagging at stringy, orange pumpkin innards.

The pumpkins we procured last week were finally cut into the spookiest lanterns around. There was even a plan. We invited the neighbors, we put on a pot of Jonathan's famous chili {featured in tomorrow's recipe post}, and the designs were drawn. Owen wanted a "bad-face pumpkin" and Nathan was determined to create a spooky clown. He begged and begged and begged me to Google scary clown pumpkin patterns, but that obviously lead us down a creepy path. He settled on a vampire-style design of his own and it turned out to be exactly what he wanted. Mean eyebrows and all.

The design is where the boys' participation stopped, though. Much like last year and also, you know, the year before, the pumpkin gut scooping was done by Daddy. Both boys started off watching the process, but they quickly decided they'd rather watch from another room. Oh, the dramatics:

I did stick Nora's little paw into the gut bucket once, but she learned her lesson and kept her hands to herself. She was happy to pose for a girls picture, though. We didn't get a big carving pumpkin for Nora this year, but she was satisfied with a tiny one carved in her likeness - hair bow and all:

Guts were flying and tiny instruments were wielded as the orange vegetables came to life. Nathan even gave the carving part a go this year and outdid me on the straight lines. His friend who joined in the fun initially had eyelashes in her design, but thank goodness she let that go. No complicated designs around these parts, just homemade drawings done by cute kids. Here are a handful of photos from the night:

My goodness, the cheese face game is strong. I figured you could use a giggle. Now, for the reason you clicked. Once the neighbors left and the stars were out, we turned off every light in the house, let Owen wrap his legs around my waist and dig his claws into my shoulder, and wandered into the yard to see the jack-o-lanterns in action. The finished products:

What did you and your kids carve this year? Do your kids touch the guts? Have you ever carved eyelashes onto a glamorous jack-o-lantern? These are the Halloween questions that keep me up at night. Let's chat in the comments! Now, have yourself a happy little Thursday and come back tomorrow for an easy recipe that you can leave on the stove while the kids are trick-or-treating. Bye!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Evolution of Halloween

Today's {semi} Wordless Wednesday is brought to you by the spookiest holiday of all.

While prepping this year's costumes, I couldn't help but look back over the history of Halloween with the Bauer Bunch. From the lone three-month-old monkey who had no idea what was going on to last year's brother/sister duo saving the galaxy from a pint-sized villain, it's been good times. We have seen a lion prowling the living room, the night Max wore his wolf suit, a skeleton with a pointy head, and the year Iron Man decided he'd rather just go as Nathan. Since I had such a good time giggling over these photos, I figured I should share. Take a peek at how this crew has evolved and grown overtime. Then go ahead and look at Owen the Carrot one more time {it's the best one, I know}.

Are your kids' costumes ready to roll? Owen is having his regularly scheduled second thoughts about trick-or-treating, but check back on Monday and hopefully you'll find a full report from our big night. This year, everybody gets to be a good guy and even gets a super power or two. Happy Hump Day, y'all!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let's Get Physical

This pretty baby is getting heavy, y'all.

Last Tuesday we visited the pediatrician for Nora's 15-month checkup and she tipped the scales at 31 pounds, 10 ounces. While this did actually keep her on the charts {99th percentile, thank you very much}, it also gave cause for my rippling biceps. She was deemed healthy and precious in every way, but our biggest concern was mobility. She's still not crawling, walking, or bearing weight on her legs. Her weight is not a huge concern and she's mastered scooting and rolling, but we're ready to push it to the next level. Her doctor suggested a physical therapy evaluation.

Today we attended the easiest doctor's visit to date. No poking or prodding, just a comfy mat, lots of toys, and a license to play. It took her a while to decide it wasn't an elaborate ruse, but she eventually warmed up. She showed off her signature booty scoot, refused to stand, and cried in a hands-and-knees position. The usual.

The good news is after watching her play and communicate with us, the therapist ruled out any neurological disorders, and he didn't feel any problems with the muscle tone in her legs. At this point, there's nothing wrong with Nora that's causing her to wait so long to get moving. She's simply stubborn. It sounds frustrating, but it's a blessing. We assumed this was the case, but I'm relieved to hear that from a medical professional. Knowing he thinks she can get there made the small worries in the back of my mind disappear.

Her scooting gets quicker and more purposeful every day, and she's recently started pulling up onto her knees. She's making progress, it's just going to be on her terms. He assured us that eventually she'll get curious about things that are higher than eye level and figure it out on her own.

The main trouble is that as she grows, it's only going to get harder to support herself. Because of her age, she is officially delayed in her gross motor skills, and should qualify for therapy sessions. Hopefully we can learn a few tricks and exercises to give her a leg up, so to speak.

I'm not sure what this level of stubbornness is going to mean for the future of our family, but who would believe that blue-eyed baby doll could do any wrong? Obstinate, headstrong girl, indeed. Happy Tuesday, y'all!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Chore Chart

{Gotta watch out for those Sassy Tuesdays.}

I've gotten in the habit of asking my kids to check their own pockets when they see the next MUST-HAVE-IT-NOW toy or game advertised on repeat.

Owen's go-to answer is, "I don't have any money, but my grandpa does." Nathan, however, has taken a different route. The kid learned the value of a dollar when he saved up his report card money and birthday money and shelled it all out for a Nintendo DS. Now, he's looking to up the ante. About a month ago, he started talking allowance.

Anyone who knows me knows any help is a blessing. If paying Nathan means I don't have to pick up dirty underwear, so be it. To make this official, we decided on a Chore Chart. Jonathan took charge {due to the fact that one can read his handwriting} and crafted a simple list for Nathan to keep up with every day but Sunday. In order to earn a cold, hard three bucks a week, Nathan has to pick up toys and dirty clothes, clear the table and throw away any dinner trash, vacuum as needed, and maintain a happy demeanor. There will be holes in this chart, because certain chores may not always be available, but if he just doesn't do it, it's a dreaded Red X. Two Red Xs void the agreement, and no payout will be given that week.

He's still getting used to remembering {and I'm still getting used to leaving dirty clothes on the floor}, but that's our method. I've already seen a difference in just a few weeks. He's less whiny when I ask him to lend a hand, and it turns out Owen thinks it's cool to pick up for mama, too. Just don't tell him I'm doling out money for it, okay?

As Nathan gets further into it, the rules will change and adjustments will be made. He's asked about helping load and unload the dishwasher, and who am I to refuse?

Expecting more from Nathan has given him a new sense of pride and a piggy-bank full of cash. Bring it on, holiday Nickelodeon commercials. Bring it on.

Have you implemented a chore chart for your son or daughter? Is it similar to mine? Does it work out for you? The main thing I worry about is the excitement wearing down, but hopefully the allure of cash lives on. Let me know in the comments and have a marvelous Monday!

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Chef Daddy: Spinach Dip

It's been a long week, my friends.

Not really with an over-abundance of things to do, but more along the lines of picking up the same toys over and over to the point I can pick them up no longer. It's the kind of week that called for warm, cheesy comfort food, and today I'm sharing. This week's Chef Daddy recipe has been a favorite in Jonathan's family for years and for some reason, his is always the best. However, I'd love for you to try your hand. I'll even let you in on his secret ingredient {just a splash of white wine}. It's the one you've all been waiting for. Let's talk Spinach Dip!

This dish is far from your run-of-the-mill dip. It's very lopsided in its cheese-to-spinach ratio {which my kids appreciate}, but it's not baked like most hot spinach dips. You do this on your stove top in just a few minutes with these ingredients:

{We ran out of the aforementioned secret ingredient earlier this week. Like I said, it's been a doozy.}

There is a printable recipe card at the bottom of this post, but it's easy enough that even I can offer a play-by-play. One of my favorite parts of this recipe is the beginning. There's nothing like the smell of onions and garlic sweating it out together. It lets me know something delicious is on its way. Once they're translucent and ready to roll, the addition of cream cheese and Velveeta just takes it up a notch.

Here are two important notes with regard to this dip's veggies. Once you thaw the frozen spinach, remove it from the box and use a paper towel to squeeze the excess water out of it {see squeezed spinach wads below}. This time Jonathan decided to get fancy and dice the tomatoes himself, but we typically just get a can of petite diced. Make sure you drain them first. Let me repeat: drain the liquid from your canned tomatoes before adding them. If you skip this step, the dip will be runny and pink. Yummy, but wrong. Aren't you glad I told you that?

Follow the easy recipe above {click to enlarge and save} and you'll be snacking in no time. This week we used pita chips for dipping, but tortilla chips work just as well. This was plenty to serve as an appetizer for my family, but double it if you're bringing it to a big party or family gathering. It's a hit with everyone I've introduced it to, especially Nathan. I don't know if he would be willing to eat spinach any other way, but he was quick to give this one a five out of five:

I hope y'all have an incredible weekend. I plan to unwind by getting rid of all three of my children for an overnight stay with their grandparents. This calls for a trip to get more of that secret ingredient, don't you think? Now I'm off to pack bags and enjoy a lunch of leftover spinach dip. Happy Friday, folks!

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Monday, October 20, 2014


{Now, those are some satisfied pumpkin shoppers.}

It turns out I had driven past this spray-painted hay bale one too many times.

Nathan could read the signs printed on posts that lined the highway. "Pumpkins coming soon!" "Pumpkins are almost here!" "Pumpkins this weekend!" The idea of taking a solo trip to let these children run free among the giant vegetables sounded complicated, so I ignored the pleas and kept driving. As the days went on, the pumpkins arrived and the begging increased. There were scarecrows everywhere, a sign depicting a story area, and the promise of the perfect pumpkin. They weren't going to last much longer. Luckily, we had a few extra minutes yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, I had parental backup.

So, we pumpkin patched. We left with two good-sized carving ones, two handheld ones for the boys, and an itty-bitty one that fit just right in Nora's chubby hands. As you can see, she was pleased:

Once we finished snapping pictures of our mesmerized daughter, we called the boys over to the photo setup and placed our three children just so. And, get this, they held still! It was a pumpkin patch miracle. After saying goodbye to {almost} every pumpkin, we grabbed a bite to eat with the grandparents and then headed home beneath a blanket of stars. When we arrived and started unbuckling our sleeping bunch, I had to pry little orange treasures from everyone's hands.

It was absolutely worth a stop.

I hope y'all had an equally festive weekend. Have you been pumpkin patching yet this year? I've never been to an actual patch that doesn't haul in its pumpkins from elsewhere and would love to find a place that like near me. Please let me know if you have any places you've been keeping secret. I won't hold a grudge for very long. Happy Monday, friends!

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Chef Daddy: Blackened Tilapia

Today marks the start of a recipe series on this little blog of mine. No, this is not a joke.

You may be wondering why there are no culinary posts in the six-year history of this blog. There's a simple reason, and it's because I can't cook. I could if I tried harder, but it seems my knowledge of the perfect grilled cheese and boxed macaroni have been good enough thus far. It also helps that my husband is really good at it.

I've posted his creations on social media and even brought one to a blogger meetup {spinach dip post coming soon}, but I never thought about sharing recipes. When I approached him about writing down his methods, Chef Daddy was all in. In the interest of alliteration and not reinventing the wheel, I figured Foodie Friday would be a good fit. You get the gist. I will take pictures of food I had no hand in cooking and share the fruits of my husband's labor for you to enjoy. This week's dish has been a popular one in the house lately. Today we're talking blackened tilapia with a side of sautéed vegetables. We've been attempting to trade fried food in for leaner fare, and this rates high on the healthy scale.

My lack of skills means I can't really explain the details, but the recipe card below should point you in the right direction. I will say the way he cooks this fish is better than anything else I've tried, and when I ask what he does, he says, "secret recipe." Consider yourself lucky. He tops it with fresh ingredients: a mix of pepper, cilantro, tomato, avocado, and a splash of lime, but it's just as good without the topping {Nathan prefers it that way}. The veggies seem like a no-brainer. Just turn the left into the right:

For the entrée, I think you take sprinkles of some sort and put it on the fish. Then you put it in the pan, pull it out when it's ready, put some stuff on top of it, bada-bing, bada-boom you've got dinner:

It should be quite clear that I have no idea what I'm talking about, so I'll let the Chef Daddy-written recipe do the talking {hint: click on the recipe to enlarge, then save}. Print it out, ignore my cues, and cook this for your family. It comes with the Jessica stamp of approval, and although I'll admit that both Nora and Owen opted for hot dogs, Nathan gave this dish three thumbs up:

In his words, "I prefer salmon, but this is pretty okay." Nathan is such a picky eater, so to get him to try this, let alone eat the majority of it, is a win in my book. If your kids are open to new and exciting stuff, give this a whirl. It's good for them and comes with all sorts of vegetables disguised with delicious flavors. Bon appetit!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Thing: Youth Ministry

I spent twelve hours of my Sunday with thirteen teenagers. On purpose.

{Today I'm linking up with my bloggy friend Brittney over at Razorback Britt for One Thing Tuesday. We're asked to filter through our rambling thoughts and focus on one thing on our minds. Today I'm writing about youth. Oh, youths.}

For the fifth year in a row, my husband and I took a group of kids from our church to join with kids from across Arkansas for the fall youth rally. This was the biggest group we have yet to take to an event during our tenure as youth ministers, and that trend doesn't seem to be slowing.

Wearing our crisp new shirts to portray a cohesive unit, we set our sights on Little Rock. In my car were five girls from different walks of life. Some came from the English Mass, some came from the Spanish. Some had been best friends for a few years, and others met for the first time that day. There was a senior and there were eighth-graders. Each one has a different home life, different backgrounds, and different struggles. Although I love listening to the keynote speaker at these events and then celebrating Mass with so many kids whose hearts are on fire, I think my favorite part is watching. If I pay close enough attention, I can see faith working in these kids.

I can see guards lower and real conversations start. I can see inside jokes that will turn into "remember that time at CYM?!" I can see friendships begin, crushes develop, and questions answered. I can see shy kids muster the strength to approach others and dynamic duos split to allow a third. The best part about all of these moments is their one common denominator.

When asked the reason behind jumping into such a busy volunteer position, I always say "I want to be a disciple making disciples." It's my go-to answer, but sometimes they're just words. Sometimes I don't really see the point. Then I have a group of students tell me they spent the night before praying together or another eager to tell me she said no in the face of temptation. Many of these kids don't go to the same school or see each other outside of church functions. However, I push for them to be a united front. The youth are not the future of our church, they are the church. I want to do whatever it takes to convince them of that. I want to convince them that they, too, can make disciples. They can encourage, they can support, they can love.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20

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Friday, October 10, 2014

When Parents Grieve

I was due to deliver my second child four years ago today.

For about six weeks, October 10 was a wonderful date. My future was laid before me and all thoughts revolved around our new life. We found out in March 2010, however, that the date would mean something different. That pregnancy ended in miscarriage and though I've delivered two babies since then, my heart still aches for the one I never held.

Over the years I've learned that I'm not alone. I sat in a memorial service as my friends mourned their son, I listened when another reached out after her third miscarriage, and I wept when another had to deliver her baby the day after he died. It's tough to know how to react to death, but it can get even more complicated when it's a baby. That's why today I'm offering a few {unsolicited} suggestions. If you've said any of these to a grieving friend, don't feel bad. I'm guilty, too. I know your heart is in the right place, but here are a few easy ways to protect feelings and provide solace:

  • Don't say: "There was probably something wrong with the baby." Even if a medical anomaly is diagnosed, do not say this to a grieving parent. They wanted that child more than anything and no medical issue could change that.
    INSTEAD: "She was perfect/beautiful/insert any other encouraging word." Whether you got to see pictures of the baby or she was gone before her features began to form, she was known and loved. She was knit together in utter perfection and she was wonderfully made.

  • Don't say: "At least you can have more." Honestly, any sentence that starts with the words at least are best avoided. There's no silver lining when it comes to the death of a child. The same goes for "at least you weren't that far along" and "at least you're still young" and "at least you already have children."
    INSTEAD: "This is awful, and I'm so sorry." It doesn't sound like it's enough, but it is. As much as you may want to fix your friends' broken hearts, you can't. Do not underestimate the power of simply loving them.

  • Don't say: "I'm praying that you're blessed with a healthy child soon." Even though you're being honest, you can't assume the couple plans to have more children. When the wounds are fresh, many parents don't want to think about a different baby. They just want the one who passed away.
    INSTEAD: "You are amazing parents." Acknowledge that this couple had a baby instead of dismissing the life that ended. One big fear is that people forget. The memories may bring tears, but the memories are all these parents have. Help them not to fade.

  • Don't say: "God needed her more than you did." Even if the parents know this to be true, it can be tough to hear. These parents are so desperate to have their child that they can't fathom anyone else needing her more.
    INSTEAD: "I know {Baby} is being cradled by Jesus now, and he's watching over his mama and daddy." Obviously keep the parents' faith in mind, but this thought is much more comforting than focusing on the baby being taken away. It's horrible to know he's gone, but it's uplifting to know he's safe.

    Every situation is different, but every grieving parent needs support. Don't assume they're getting it elsewhere, but figure out what they need and give. Remember their child and cover them in prayer. My heart goes out to anyone who can relate, either as a parent who's been shattered by a missing heartbeat or as a supportive friend. This is a devastating situation, and there's no easy fix. I hope this helps you approach the path to finding or providing a soft place to land.

    Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
    -Matthew 11:28

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  • Thursday, October 9, 2014

    Late Growing Season

    These photos were taken Tuesday afternoon. The seventh day of October.

    Owen and I were sweating as we beat the giant grasshoppers out of our way and stretched our fingers to collect as many overgrown green beans as we could. I think we made it through maybe a fifth of the patch before our bowl was full and we had to unload inside. The first two cucumbers were plucked from the late-planted vines, and they tasted just as good as the ones harvested in mid-July. I'm talking about this backyard garden nonchalantly, but let me tell you something you might not have caught back there. It's October.

    Never before have I had a garden continue to produce this late into the year. I once did fall-specific plantings of lettuce and spinach and saw success, but that was nothing compared to the bounty out there now. It started in early August, when I pulled the fried bush bean plants from the ground and planted seeds in their place to see what would happen. I did the same thing when the cucumber vines dried up and weeks later, I'm pleased to report the return of summer!

    As for the rest of my summer crops, you'll notice a lack of color. The tomatoes are toast and the melons and squash have since disintegrated and been mowed over like they never existed. Since we didn't pull them up, though, I fully expect their triumphant return next summer. I thought the peppers died with the tomatoes when our backyard was hit with severe storms, but I recently pulled back the weeds to reveal lots of baby greens. I cleaned up the bed and although all the plants are now growing horizontally, they're still growing:

    I've never tried replanting summer veggies, though I'm not sure why I didn't think it would work in Southern Arkansas. The recorded high for Tuesday was 90 degrees, for Pete's sake. I know the first frost will stop these plants in their tracks, but we'll be enjoying delicious dinners until then. Unfortunately due to the time of year, I'm sharing my beans with a collection of friends. Thankfully, they seem to only like the leaves:

    {Believe me, this is one of the smaller ones. Ick.}

    I suppose I'll share for now, as long as they leave the beans alone. Lord knows I have a lot more work ahead of me when it comes to searching and picking. My kids enjoy it for the first five minutes or so, but give up when they realize how much more fun they could be having on the swings. Do you want some delicious homegrown green beans? If you stop by and pick, I'll let you have some. Please?

    Who knows how much longer this productive October garden will last, but you'll know where to find me until then. Happy Thursday and happy harvest. y'all.

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    Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    Wordless Wednesday

    Today's {sort of} Wordless Wednesday is brought to you by my son.

    Nathan asked to lug the big camera around the front yard this weekend and snap what he saw fit. This is just a small percentage of what I found. He has a good eye for it, and had a blast showing me the world through his eyes. Maybe I need to enlist him to take more photos for this space. Happy Hump Day, y'all.

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    Tuesday, October 7, 2014

    Babies + Bloggers

    There were just as many bloggers as there were kids at the latest gathering of the Southwest Arkansas Women Bloggers.

    Yes, this included all three from my bunch. When I realized this was going to be the case, I panicked. It's hard to do anything solo with all three, let alone meet up with ladies and talk shop. The fact that our shop is usually just chatting about life is beside the point. Saturday morning I told the boys the plan, and that a few other mamas were bringing kids. They were pumped to make new friends and go to the restaurant that gives out suckers. A win-win. Nora took a good nap, the boys put on their pants without question, and everyone loaded into the car a mere ten minutes past the time I had planned.

    When we arrived, Nathan jumped right in beside Glitter Bug, whose wonderful mama writes at Simple Words By A. They're both in second grade and ended up having plenty in common. The best part about this budding friendship was the conversation. As much as I tried to get involved in the grownup talk, my ears kept wandering.

    "So what kind of math are you working on in your class?"
    "Do you like to read? Do you know the Magic Tree House series?"
    "Could you show me how to draw a mermaid, do you think?"
    "I'm sure we are going to be the best of friends!"

    That basically happened the entire time. How on Earth did you expect me to listen to anything else? Owen was a little shy at first, but warmed up to Bug, who belongs to my buddy Karen of Ting's Mom. Once they got to know each other, they were jumping all over the place. Literally. Nora was a delight as long as I kept food in front of her, and she flirted and snuggled with everyone who talked to her.

    High-fives all around, kids! This worked out so well, and the kids clicked so instantly {like their mamas} that we have vowed to do the kid thing more often. Who knows, we may be cultivating the next crop of bloggers.

    I guess until then, they'll just have to be the subjects. Good thing they're cute. :)

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