Dear Julianna: 18 months

What a fun month we've had as we've watched your personality develop over the past month. 

Your Daddy just finished the last class of his MBA and this was our first weekend together as a family without the thought going through the back of our minds that Daddy really should be studying! 

This morning (Sunday) we all slept in until about 8:15am when we heard you start to chatter in your crib. Lately you've been enjoying alone time in your crib with Daisy (your stuffed animal duck), your paci and blanket. We often hear you in there holding meetings and having conference calls with a few loud giggles and shrieks mixed in.

Daddy got you out of bed and as usual, you immediately barked orders for "noke" (milk). We quickly dressed, packed snacks and headed out to breakfast at Alexa's Cafe, in Bothell. We were trying the restaurant out for the first time, prompted by a Groupon we had purchased (these "group coupons" are the hot trend for 2011; purchasers get 50% off at popular venues, restaurants and events, and the deals are made possible by the quantity of customers buying the coupons). Breakfast was a huge success, and not just because we enjoyed the salmon egg scramble and walnut, banana pancakes we ordered. You were the reason that breakfast went down so smoothly. After returning home, Daddy and I reflected, trying to decide what had prompted such an especially enjoyable meal out with you. We decided it was because you were allowed your independence. While waiting to be seated, you wanted to sit on the bench that Mommy and Daddy were sitting on rather than in our laps. Then you proudly held the small circular from the newspaper Daddy was reading. As we ate breakfast, we gave you your own plate with small bites of omelet and potato along with the fork you had requested. You quickly gulped down pieces of your omelet when you realized each bite would be followed with a small piece of toast you had been begging for. You handed me a butter knife and requested that the toast be spread with "dip" ( jelly). In your mind you had complete control of your breakfast experience. Your milk was at arm's reach, you had a coloring sheet with crayons for coloring from the waitress, your cup of cheerios was lid free so you could dig deep to pick out the raisins. Mommy and Daddy weren't fussing with you, but were letting you have free reign of your own domain. And I must admit, allowing you to have free reign was not as stressful as one would imagine. You gently picked up your jellied toast so that very little got on your fingers, and carefully held your cheerio cup so that none spilled out. 

You are very precise, cautious and composed for an 18 month old, and your Virgo mother doesn't mind missing out on the normal toddler messes one bit. I do however, hope that these traits which are so similar to my own, don't keep you from being a self-confident, out-going child ready to face challenges and embrace life. Luckily you seem to express a need for independence (no-doubt a trait gleaned from your father), and I will do my best to not only avoid squelching it (with my desire to fix and correct), but to foster it. 

It's a hard balance, allowing you control of your surroundings while making sure that you understand there are limits. I want you to know that you have choices in life and not to be intimidated by making them.  But it is also important to realize that the world does not revolve around you (a theory to which your pediatrician assures me almost all two year olds subscribe). 

Recently, a friend of ours lent us a series of CDs called Parenting with Love and Logic. The number one principal that rang true to us was to allow you to make your own choices and let you live with the consequences (especially while you are at a young age and the consequences are really rather minimal). This will be easier for your Father than it is for me, as I have that motherly instinct to caution and protect, but it is a good reminder for me to let you be you. I want to celebrate you, as an individual. Julianna Rachelle George, you are a combination of both of your parents, but at the same time you are uniquely you. And we love you for exactly who you are.

At 18 months you:
• Love to watch "Sessy Seat" (Seasame Street), Elmo is your favorite character
• Are using more words than we can keep track of
• Can almost recite the alphabet in full!! (Missing the letters P and T,U,V)
• Drink about 24 ounces of milk a day and don't particularly like juice
• Think it's fun to brush your teeth, use makeup brushes like Mommy, look at yourself in the mirror and use soap when you rinse your hands

• Say and understand the word "cute" in reference to clothing
• Hate to have your diaper changed but still not agreeable to sitting on the potty seat
• Love bubble baths
• Like to turn on your sound machine and don't mind giving Mommy and Daddy a kiss if it means you can get in bed with Daisy and Paci
• Always request to walk when getting out of your car seat
• Dance with Mommy to the "Elmo Slide” (similar to a line dance: slide to the front, the back, lift a knee, the other knee, jump one time, now two times, etc.)
• Cry when Mommy leaves your sight (at friends’ homes or at Stroller Strides)
• Frequently request your favorite snack, raisins and almonds
• Use a spoon and fork well, when eating oatmeal and yogurt 90% of it ends up in your mouth

• Do well with routines
• Sleep 12 hours a night and take a 2-2.5 hour nap
• Have a recent interest in going in the front and back yards, requesting, “outside?”

• Don't like to climb and are very cautious at the indoor playground at the mall (would rather use the automatic hand sanitizer dispenser and put other kids' shoes away in the provided cubbies)
• Are observant and prefer to watch from the sidelines with your hands resting behind your back before joining in to play


Leavenworth Road Trip

Over President's Day Weekend, Matt had a day off work, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a one-day vacation from dishes, laundry, television and studying. We headed out on a day trip to Leavenworth. Ever since I found out about this Alpine Bavarian Village, I've wanted to check it out. A two-hour drive (from Kirkland, WA) through the mountains to escape daily life and enter a quaint village amidst the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding Alpine hills.

We planned ahead, knowing that our little angel would not make it through the day without a nap. We woke up in the morning, ate a good breakfast, got dressed, packed the car and then secured Julianna in her car seat with her snuggle blanket and Preston the puppy just in time for her mid-day nap. We held our breath and started driving in hopes that she would sleep soundly until we arrived at our destination.

We enjoyed a peaceful drive through the Wenatchee National Forest, escaping into a beautiful Winter wonderland.

Seat Warmer. Coffee. Water. Homemade Trail Mix. Diaper bag. Wallet. Check!
 Julianna slept most of the way, but (surprise!) woke just as we were opening the trail mix.

We pulled into the cute little German town and found it bustling with people, strollers and dogs all out enjoying the holiday weekend.

After strolling the streets and perusing a few shops, we stopped for a quick treat. Julianna anxiously signed more with every bite Matt gave her from a tiny taste tester spoon. Her Daddy may have met his ice cream eating match!

Leavenworth was an easy escape, a fun day trip and I imagine we'll be going back when Julianna is a little older. It has that magical quality of a lighted Christmas town, bustling with merry shoppers.

Matt has always said that I am a cheap date (one alcoholic beverage and I'm feeling slightly toasty and completely happy), and I suppose he could say the same for my love of road trips. They put me in a romantic spirit, completely refreshed and feeling invigorated about life. I love sitting cozily in the car with loved ones, the sound of the wheels on the road as we make our escape, and discovering unfamiliar lands. Filled with delight and wonder, we explore new territory – sight, sound, taste, smell - our senses rejuvenated. Then with a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment we drive home, the perfect time to reflect, unwind and exchange favorite parts of the day. Arriving on a familiar street, we turn into a well worn driveway, the garage door beckons and a single lighted lamp softly welcomes us back. Comfort, security, the intimacy of our own home. Familiar, yet renewed. Life seems fresh again.


Cheers to Best Friends

What I love about friendship is that it offers variety. There are the friends who are full of wisdom and give great advice, and then there are the attentive listeners who know when advice is not really what's wanted or needed. There are the partiers who always know how to have a good time, drawing you out of your comfort zone, and then there are the friends who don't need to be entertained and for whom your company will always be enough. There are the friends who challenge you, living ambitiously and inspiring through good example, and then there are the troubled ones, down on their luck, but who willingly accept your help and guidance, giving you a sense of value and worth.

I remember struggling as a child with girlfriends who were envious of others' friendships. It's a natural human tendency to want to connect and fit in - oh, to be popular! But I believe, to some extent, what set me apart was the realization that I didn't have to be best friends with all of my pals, and if one of them had another close friend, it wasn't a threat or something to be taken personally. Instead I understood that each person had something particular to offer, and like them, I couldn't be everything, I could only be myself. I was a good listener, but not necessarily a great conversationalist; creative, but not athletic; sometimes a leader, but mainly a follower; not picky, selective or judgmental, but on the other hand, not courageous or decisive. And that was okay. I exhibited particular traits and like a puzzle, my friends presented the corresponding pieces. None of them had to be everything, but each of them offered something unique.

Last weekend, my best friend from all the way back to the sixth grade, came to visit. We call each other "best friends" because our friendship has lasted the test of time. Knowing someone that long allows you to know one another in a way that not many others do. You know each other's parents and siblings and the house they grew up in. You know their background and therefore you understand the basis of their faults, weaknesses, strengths and aspirations.

(Trip to the OKC Omniplex, eighth grade)

Jennie and I are sort of like sisters. We've realized over the years how different we are from one another and we recognize that we both have other friends who can meet the needs that we can not fulfill for one another. However, we can share our deepest regrets without fear of rejection, and we can offer the truth even when it hurts, because we know it comes from a place of deep compassion and honest friendship.

(Ski Trip, 2001)

When Jennie came to visit, she was training for a half marathon which she'll run the weekend before I run my 10k. All my life she has been an example of determination. While I was doing my intervals of 90 second run, 2 minute walk, she ran 5 miles! But the important thing was that she motivated me to get out there and do it despite the cold weather and snow!

Clothes shopping was also on our list of things accomplished. Jennie served as my personal Stacy and Clinton. She joked that anyone who found out she was giving me fashion advice would laugh. But I was tired of wearing mommy clothes on date night. So when it came down to it, I really needed her to push me out of my rut and add some spice to my wardrobe.

And finally, Jennie talked to me about "Doing". Stop over thinking, stop procrastinating, stop adding to the list of things required to finish a project. Just plow through, finish, and feel the glory of a lightened load (ie, one more craft project completed!)

Thank you, Jennie, for offering three of the puzzle pieces I've been missing for a while. Thank you for seeing me for who I am and, better yet, for seeing me for the best I can be.


Remembering Our First Trip to the Zoo

Since Julianna has been focusing more on her ABCs (and she's old enough to handle books carefully), I thought it would be a good time to pull out this alphabet book I made for her last October. 

Last year, Jules and I took a trip to Oklahoma City to visit some friends of mine from high school, Amy, J.B., and their son, Evan, (I've mentioned them before). Amy and I always enjoy a good craft project, especially if it involves taking pictures of our little ones. However, reality has settled in, and we've realized that simple projects which can be completed during our time together (rather than add to our dust-collecting to-do lists) are ideal. 

Homemade ABC books mixed with a few pictures to commemorate our time together seemed like the perfect project. We headed to Target and each picked up a small board book from the dollar bin. The next day (after getting the kiddos up from their morning naps, slathering them with sunscreen and packing hats, snacks, diapers and extra clothes, phew!), we ventured to the OKC Zoo in search of animals representing the letters of the alphabet. 

The petting zoo was a highlight for both Julianna and Evan. At thirteen months, Jules was just beginning to walk, and she stood only a head taller than the miniature goats. She particularly enjoyed the rabbit cages, pointing out the bunnies and exclaiming, "Kitty!" We also stopped by the gift store to let the kiddos try on sun hats and sunglasses, and then fed quarters to the miniature carousel to send them on a circular safari. Fun was had by all. 

The next two evenings after putting the kiddos to bed, we trimmed and glued coordinating pattern papers and our printed photographs to the Target board books. Alphabet stickers, a few ribbons folded in half and stapled to the pictures, and a corner rounder provided the finishing touches. Voila!

We didn't worry too much about missing a few letters here and there (there weren't enough pages in the book to capture them all). Our main goal was to identify the popular animals and create a fun memory book and learning tool.

(We loved that Jules casually sat on the rhinoceros statue while eating a cracker - 
as if that's where she eats her snacks every day.)

We couldn't resist a head shot with this Welcome sign (taken by a friendly zoo keeper). The addition of a few buttons to embellish the page offers a fun touch and feel for Julianna.

The book doesn't even come close to closing with all the added papers and embellishments, but that just adds to its allure.
This is such an easy project and would also be a great way to make a family photo album to help the kiddos identify and remember extended family members.



I've been wanting to do this one for a while now...

A Game of MadGab, by Julianna George
(*Can you guess the words?)

1. putilator
2. nuke
3. chedieoh
4. cackoo
5. i luhlou

Julianna seems to be learning new words by the minute, and when she repeats words they are coming out more and more clearly. A handout I read at the pediatrician's office said that by two years of age, most of the "jabbering" has disappeared. I feel like I'm seeing this transition daily. And although it is very exciting and makes for a super proud Mamma, it's also bittersweet.

A couple of nights ago, Matt was wearing a band-aid on his finger at dinnertime. Julianna pointed to the band-aid with a look of confusion, so we told her Daddy had an "owie". At first she had a strange look on her face, and Matt joked that she must have thought the owie was gross. But then we saw her put her fist to the corner of her eye and twist it back and forth (the sign for sad or cry). Exchanging glances with one another, Matt and I questioned whether she was actually signing sad or if she was just rubbing her eye because it was nearing her bedtime. (Neither of us have used that sign before, but she has seen it on one of her DVDs.) Just as we were about to dismiss the whole thing, she confirmed her understanding by rubbing her palm on her chest in a circular motion and saying, "I sorry."

Although these seem like very simple gestures, it was astonishing to us. Not only did she comprehend that Matt was hurt, but she felt sympathy for him and then she was able to communicate her feelings in two different ways. It was the most complex display of emotions we've seen from her, and it almost felt like we had just had a conversation with her.

The following night, Matt arrived home and after seeing Julianna's dishes in the sink, he asked her, "Julianna, did you have dinner?" Without hesitation she answered, "Yes I Did."

At 18 months, we are now moving into the 2-4 word phrases.
Yes, it is truly bittersweet!
*Answers: 1. computer  2. milk  3. Cheerio  4. cracker/cookie  5. I love you


A Recent Favorite Design Project

A fun little trivia question for you: 
Why are the letters of the alphabet named uppercase and lowercase? 
It's a reference to the way Typesetters stored their letters. Capital letters were stored in the Upper drawers and the regular letters in the Lower drawers.

With inkjet and laser printers, my daughter will probably never even know about those beautiful, old metal block letters!

Probably due to my graphic design background, I have an affinity for typecase drawers, so when I came across a project on Ali Edward's scrapbooking blog using a typecase drawer to display family photos, I knew I'd love to make something similar. The idea was stored in the back of my mind as a future to-do project until a few months ago when I came across a fantastic cubby organizer at Potterybarn.

I'm not an impulsive buyer, but the moment I saw it, I knew what I wanted to do with it. I also knew it could easily be repurposed down the road as storage in a craft room, office, bathroom or closet. So many possibilities!

After making the purchase I rushed home, quickly deciding that the first six months of Julianna's life would become the current theme for my organizer. I knew I wanted to use large photos to fill each cubby, leaving a few open for a bit of breathing room. I selected 13 favorite family photos, and had them printed as 5x7s with the intention of triming them down to 5" squares. I wanted the pictures to sit up in the cubbies without curling or falling down and envisioned them sitting at different depths to emphasize the dimension of the cubbies. Using black foam core, I created L-shaped picture stands, cut at two different lengths. A few of the pictures now sit at the front of the cubby (using a longer length stand), a few sit halfway into the cubby (using the shorter length stand), and the remaining are mounted on foam core without stands, so they sit at the very back of the cubby. Each image is attached to the foam core with four double sided adhesive squares so that they can be updated with current favorites over time.

The completed project now hangs in our entryway and is a great way to recall cherished memories. Originally, I thought I'd update the pictures every six months or so, but I'm realizing that for now, I really enjoy looking back on those first few months after Julianna was welcomed into our lives.


There happens to be 25 numbered cubbies; I'm thinking there could be a fun 25 Days of Christmas project in my future!


The Vocalist

Lately, Jules has been actively participating in singing and signing nursery rhymes. She belts out a few words here and there letting me know she anticipates them and acts out the appropriate gestures. Itsy Bitsy Spider was her favorite for the longest time, but we've graduated to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Ring Around the Rosie and Pat-a-Cake.

On one particularly creative occasion she made up her own little tune, which went something like this:
"Row, row, row! 
Up in the sky! 
Open, Shut them, Open, Shut them!"
The lyrics from three different songs, strung together without missing a beat.

Today, quite unexpectedly, she began to sing The Alphabet Song. I was able to catch some of the cuteness on video.