Christmas Eve and the Seven Fishes.

Christmas Eve dinner is a meal we look forward to throughout the entire year. It is something I have grown up  eating every Christmas Eve and most definitely will be a tradition I carry on with my own kids as they get older.

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The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas celebration/tradition. Today, it’s a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes (that is us).

This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

We are one of those families who goes all out. It has turned into an entire event and is a meal I NEVER want to miss being a seafood lover. Jeremy has loved being a part of this tradition since we have been married (he is a seafood lover as well) and we really love to sit for hours eating drinking and catching up as a family.

This year on the menu there was:

Salmon, Cod, Tuna, Tilapia, Swordfish, Catfish and Mahi Mahi. (Fish sticks for Mr. Gavin). All were cooked in different sauces, marinades and spices.

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We also had Cocktail Shrimp, Shrimp Scampi, Teriyaki Shrimp, Breaded Grilled Shrimp and Popcorn Shrimp.

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Lastly there was Lobster, King Crab Legs and Bacon wrapped Scallops.

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Dipping sauces included melted butter, cocktail sauce and Cheesecake Factory’s Togarashi Aioli sauce.

Such a fun and delicious tradition.

I already cannot wait until next year!

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A VERY Merry Christmas

From my crazy family to yours, I want to take this time to wish you a Happy Holiday and hope for a fabulous New Year.

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As I have touched on before the Holidays seem to have a special place in my heart. Christmas time always takes me back to my childhood – growing up with my mom’s decorations throughout our house (which I have attempted to recreate in my own home because I loved them so much) watching Lifetime and ABC Family Christmas movies, my parents baking cookies, awaiting Santa, not being able to sleep Christmas Eve after an amazing seafood extravaganza, the excitement of Christmas day… surrounded by family and delicious food…

I can only hope I can give my children the types of holiday memories I have to look back on one day.

We have Miss. Makenna who is celebrating her first Christmas. Although she doesn’t really know much of what is going on this is the year she will get her first Christmas outfit, her first presents… her first Christmas ornament… a keepsake she will most likely take with her when she has grown, spread her wings and started a life of her own.

This ornament will decorate our Christmas tree for the next 20 some years, until she finds someone to share her life with and has her own home… it will then go with her and will adorn her own tree.

The thought of that baffles my mind. I want to stop time.

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My 2 year old… the awe, the magic in his eyes when he tells me “Mommy I love Christmastime”… This is what I live for. This is what I have waited 30 years to experience. Watching my child and the joy on his face, seeing the hope, the innocence, the belief in something far beyond his wildest imagination.

This my friends is what life is really all about.

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Reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to my kid before bed, dressed in his holiday jammies all warm and comfy has possibly been one of life’s most rewarding moments of all time for me.

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Gavin loves talking about Santa, the reindeer and the North Pole. We have watched Christmas movies, baked cookies and Jeremy and I are simply relishing in being able to be on the other side of the “Santa” story as parents.

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I have had a few different conversations this season with other parents about Santa and if we should be essentially “lying” to our children, putting on a false charade, convincing them of this “man” who does not exist. It takes me immediately to one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time.

Yes Virginia there IS a Santa Clause.

Do I look at this as lying to Gavin??

Absolutely not. To us Santa is a real living magical being. He lives in the innocence of childhood, the desire to know that there is still goodness in the world. He represents what is special, what we all should to strive to be  – giving selflessly, bringing happiness, creating memories our kids will carry with them forever.  Santa Claus lives in me, he lives in you and he is present far beyond just Christmas time.

Existing in the kind of world we live in, I would do just about anything to preserve the innocence of my children… keeping this belief alive for as long as we can is just a small part of that.

I often think ahead to the day either of my children “really” questions me about the truth of  the big guy. I instantly want to bust into tears like my own mother did the day I realized that Santa, was not “real”.

I wholeheartedly believe what she told me –  the day you don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore is the start to the end of your innocence. I am willing to do, pretty much anything to keep that intact, including fibbing to my kids for now.

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They will forgive me.

We undoubtedly spoil our kids during the holidays. Santa bring LOTS of toys, books, puzzles and goodies. Being that really this is the ONLY time (besides Birthdays our kids really get much of anything) we like to go all out and make it a crazy fun time. Yes I realize that getting presents is not what “Christmas” is really all about… but it’s fun and we like it… as long as we can teach them the real meaning of Christmas and as long as they are able to show gratitude for the things they have and charitably when they should…… I think its ok to go all out.

What we really want to instil in our children is that the holidays are ultimately all about spending time with family… We couldn’t imagine our Christmas any other way. We have been asked multiple times  how we manage running from place to place every year with no downtime… stretching our limits and sometimes even our personal boundaries as people, as parents as a family. I am not sure Jeremy and I would know another way to be… another way to have it. We thrive off our families and enjoy our time with each side. Sometimes we do find the constant running exhausting and even overwhelming but I am not sure we would EVER do it differently. To us, it is worth it.

I hope you have the same warmth in your heart, the same love for the spirit, the same joy for the season that I do this holiday. Relish in the moments, relax when you can, take more pictures and videos then necessary. You won’t ever get this time back especially if you find yourself with little ones this holiday season – really take time to BE with them…

Christmas time WILL come again, but it will never be this year, with these people at this moment…

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May your family feel the love, peace and joy that comes with the Spirit of Christmas.

And a Partridge and a Pear Tree.

Since I already caught you up on the first half of the month – I figured we might as well close out the Most Wonderful Time of the year with another recap.

We had a Mid-December snowfall which closed down work for Jeremy and I. While I had to work from home it was nice to have Jer home with the kids who had an unexpected day off from daycare. Gavin really loved playing out in the snow. We didn’t get a ton but it was enough for him to roll around and even build his first snowman with Daddy!

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We kicked off our third weekend in December with Makenna’s 6 month Well Baby Visit at the Doctors. Makenna is doing wonderfully. She is right on track developmentally and is growing beautifully. Although she’s not sitting on her own yet or trying to crawl anywhere (I am thankful for this) she is meeting milestones, is a social butterfly (I am sure no one is surprised) and steals our hearts every day.

She is weighing in at 16 pounds 9 ozs and is 26 inches tall. She’s in the 55th and 75 percentiles respectively.

She got 3 vaccines during her visit and handled them like a total champ! She didn’t even CRY!!! I was a bit surprised to say the least – my brave girl!!

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After naps and picking Gavin up from daycare Nana and Pappap came to pick up the kids for the night so Jeremy and I could get ready to go to his holiday work party downtown in Baltimore. Gavin was so excited for a sleepover with his grandparents. From what I hear they had a blast.

Jeremy and I got all prettied up and headed out on the town. We had a blast, the food was great and the drinks were flowing… all the way until 1:30 in the morning apparently. I wish I had gotten some good pictures, I apparently was having too much fun!!

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We both felt like we were in college again waking up to a house with no kids after 9am. We got McDonalds breakfast and relaxed until the kids came home from Breakfast with Santa and a Train ride at the B&O Train Museum. Obviously, Gavin was thrilled and came home with a ton of goodies.

That night we had one of my oldest and greatest girlfriends – Sam and her beautiful family over for dinner, drinks, cookie decorating and adult time (once the littles were in bed). We had a great time catching up and just hanging out.

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The following morning I woke up feeling horrible. I must have come down with some kind of virus because I had aches, chills, sweats and a fever. I was out of commission pretty much the entire day. It was awful. Besides nursing Makenna, I pretty much did nothing. I kept telling Gavin to not get to close to Mommy because I was afraid he would catch whatever it was I had. Luckily everyone else in my family remained unscathed.

Last Friday we had a family Christmas night – we got pizza and took the kids to see the Symphony of Lights in Columbia. Gavin really loved seeing all the lights and had a blast checking them out. After we drove around the neighborhood checking out the lights on the houses as well which was equally exciting for a 2.5 year old.

Saturday we spent the day running around finishing off the last of the Christmas shopping and getting some errands done. That night we attended a Gender Reveal party for 2 of our greatest friends Kim and Brian. They found out they will be welcoming a baby girl this June and we couldn’t be more excited for them.

While we were at the party Gavin was having a sleepover with his Nuna and GP and spent the day Sunday at Hershey park checking out the trains and the Christmas village they have. He had a BLAST and is still talking about it.

Here are a couple more of our Elf Pics from this year….

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All in all it was a pretty great December so far. The greatest part is soon to come and I can’t wait!!

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Not your average Blogger…

I was talking with my BFF the other day about my new found blogging venture and how I am so unsure of myself in this new “world” I have catapulted myself into.

I was complaining that I am not a crafty person, I don’t have model house to show off, I am not overly smart or versed on many subjects….I don’t dress chic (EVER) or have cute accessories or fab decorative accents in my home.  I don’t often bring up controversial subjects that generate a lot of conversation and overall I am not that interesting.

I am just a normal, everyday mom, wife and friend.

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WHY would people REALLY want to read about my everyday life?? Wouldn’t that get a tad boring after my 126th post about our weekend adventures with possibly a recipe or two thrown in?? I don’t really stand out (and in the world of blogging, its pretty important to make a name for yourself so I have come to find out).

My friend Erin told me that “REAL moms want to see messy houses and know that if dinner consists of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Moms want to know they are doing the best they can and that they don’t have to live up to something they quite frankly do not have the time, energy or desire to do.”

Which I suppose is exactly what I am all about. Should I take that as a complement?? I am not sure.

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I guess what I am trying to say is when I look around at all the amazing people who have blogs, run giveaways weekly or even daily… have millions of followers, know exactly what to post to grab attention and pull people in and really just have their “ish” together in the blogging world… I am so not that person. So I hope that’s not expected!

Not to mention, in my opinion I am not the best writer…. I clearly don’t have the best handle on grammar and editing so what you see is what your going to get, which I know to some can be quite annoying. (This is my disclaimer).

I know I have just started all of this up and I will make my own name for myself – eventually. But for now I am just your normal every day girl trying to navigate my way through motherhood, climbing the corporate ladder, keeping my home in one somewhat functional unit and being the best wife I can to my husband (although some days, that is easier said than done).

Do I think there is anything wrong with the above mentioned? Absolutely not… it is everything I aspire to be in some sense otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this right??

So you ask… why did I START a blog if I think I have nothing interesting to write about??

1) I have been wanting to do it forever. Now that I know everything that comes along with “blogging” I am kind of overwhelmed, and had NO idea it involved all of this “stuff” but I wanted to do it, plain and simple.  I wanted a place where I could write things out, put it all down on paper and share our experiences.
If this tanks and it all ends tomorrow, at least I have something to look back on years from now to remember our memories by.  MOSTLY I can reminisce on life with two babies – a time when they were little.
If it ends up taking off… well then good for me 🙂

2) More than 10 people have asked me “why don’t you have a blog” or have said to me “you should have a blog”…. I hope you 10+ people are now happy… I decided to just go for it.

3) In SOME way, I want to inspire. Even if its only ONCE to ONE person. If ANY thing I am a person who LOVES LIFE. I thoroughly enjoy being alive, my children, my husband… my family, our experiences. I love it all. If anything comes from my boring mundane existence… I hope SOME one finds something positive from something I eventually write or post…. maybe, one day.

So there you have it… I am not perfect, you will hear about it. My house is a mess on most days and my husband would much rather lounge around than tackle my “honey do list” 85% of the time. I don’t cook with all fresh produce, use organic meat or serve home grown veggies or fruits to my kids. We have our TV running 90% of the day and nothing about my life screams “Pinterest worthy” but we have fun, we love one another and I am willing to share our experiences.

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Please continue on with me if you so choose, who’s to know where this journey made lead us all 🙂

Italian Stuffed Artichokes

Growing up it was a tradition in my family to have Fresh Stuffed Artichokes on holidays. Looking back on my childhood, I can’t think of a Thanksgiving or Christmas where we didn’t have artichokes as part of our annual meal. A recipe passed on from my great grandmother is still a large part of how I celebrate with my kids now (although neither of them eat the artichokes quite yet, I am sure one day they will love them!!)

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If you are an artichoke lover, these simply will not disappoint!

Ingredients

6-8 Fresh Whole Artichokes
Any sliced seedless Italian Bread (1-1.5 loaves)
Grated Parmesan Cheese (1-1.5 cup)
Olive Oil

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What you do.

1) With a food processor/blender finely grate the bread.

2) Add Parmesan Cheese to the grated bread and mix.

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3) Cut the stem off of the bottom of the artichoke and cut the top to make flat.

4) Snip the leaves one by one to cut the pointy parts off.

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5) Soak the cut artichokes in warm water to wash, make sure to drain and let dry (about 5 minutes upside-down).

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6) Stuff each leaf of the artichoke with the cheese and bread mixture. Make sure to pull apart each leaf and stuff. When you get to the center be sure to pull and stuff generously.

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7) Place stuffed artichokes in pressure cooker with about 3/4 inches of water. You can do about 3 at a time depending on the size of your pressure cooker. Drizzle generously with Olive Oil.

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8) Once the lid is on the pressure cooker, cook on high heat until the pressure cooker valve begins to jiggle. Then turn down to medium heat and let cook for 15 minutes.

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9) Let rest/cool about 10 minutes then the artichokes are ready!

Enjoy. You can’t tell me these are not so delicious!!!

Mama Say What?!

Five years ago when I was planning my wedding I stumbled across a wedding planning website that I got really into during the whole process. I “met” some amazing girls through the planning forum and even met (in person) one woman I still see on a pretty constant basis and have formed a good friendship with over the years.

After the “I dos” were said and we all settled into married life, like clockwork  the babies started arriving and another group, this time on Facebook was formed.

The topic?? You guessed it… our beautiful babies and being moms! Over the past 3 years I have developed friendships with these woman (think along the lines of online dating, but platonic), gone to them for mothering advice, vented to them and got to know them on a level most days I find hard to explain to the outside world. I find myself on most days extremely lucky to be a part of such an amazing group of Mamas!!

About a year ago a couple of us came together to create a new “baby”, a blog… Head over to Mama Say What?!  today to see what its all about and be sure to check out some of the articles I have written or have been featured in.

Most recently I was given the opportunity to receive, use and review Baby Bullet of my own for MSW?! (How lucky am I???) I have really liked the Baby Bullet so far and definitely recommend it to all mom’s looking to make their own baby food!

The review was featured on the blog yesterday… so head over and check it out.

More importantly be sure to enter to WIN a Baby Bullet of your own through the amazing Giveaway!!!

First Half of December Recap!

I am not a fan of the cold… December is cold. One of my favorite months of the year is December…. ironic? I am not sure.

I LOVE the holiday season… so much Jeremy has coined me “Mother Christmas”. Without a doubt, Christmastime is my most favorite time of the year and having kids has only expanded my love for the holidays.

Being that there was only 3.5 short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas week (yes it needs it’s own week) this year…we had to get started preparing and decorating early. I was elated to buy our tree, break out our decorations and head out to see Santa the very first weekend after Thanksgiving!!

If if you know our family you know our weekends are packed, we are always running from one event to the next constantly. So much that sometimes I PLAN to do nothing at all for a change of pace. I foresee December as being one of those months that will never happen!

The first weekend in December did not disappoint.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, I decided to work from home instead of taking leave as we didn’t have a lot going on and I normally work from home on Fridays anyway. Jeremy took the day off to be at home with the  kids.

In the morning he worked with Gavin on a little activity of making Christmas tree ornaments for our extended family as little gifts.

I bought one of those DIY Christmas Ornament Foam package kits from Hobby Lobby and since Gavin does things like this at Daycare all the time I figured he would love it.

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I liked that Gavin could just put the stickers where he wanted and it turned into a really fun project for him. He had a blast designing different ornaments for his Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and Godparents.

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Two years ago we gave Gavin’s Godparents ornaments with his hand print on them and they all really loved them. This year I thought it was really cool that he made the ornaments himself… This may turn into a fun tradition we end up doing every couple of years 🙂

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That afternoon after work I started decorating the house… I love when the house is full of Christmas decorations!! It just makes me SO happy when it’s all festive inside and out. I really want to invest in a whole new supply of decorations…. but I am patiently waiting on when we can sell our current house and get into a new bigger house before I go buying a ton of new stuff (hopefully by next year at this time we will be there!! Keeping my fingers crossed!!)

One thing I did get new this year was Stockings. I am in love with them and crazy enough they came from Walmart!

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What I would give for a fireplace and mantle to decorate – but for now, this will have to do.

Friday evening we went and picked out our Christmas tree. If I had my way, we would get a fake tree… a lot less hassle and mess but Jeremy insists on a “real” tree. Part of me DOES enjoy the process of going and getting a real tree, and I have enjoyed it more and more since Gavin has been born.

He loved running down the aisles checking out all the different types of trees this year.  Creating memories like these definitely make a big messy tree more worth it. He was partial to the “big big trees” (Shocking? No).

It was a bit chilly outside so it was a quick event but none the less, a lot of fun to do as a family of four for the first time.

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Makenna was also really into it 😉

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Later Friday night we broke out our Elf on the Shelf for the first time. We decided this would be a good year to start as Gavin is really getting into Santa and everything that comes along with the (commercial) holiday season. Gavin decided our Elf would be named Pete. We read the story (twice) and watched the movie (with popcorn of course) and Gavin was then sold on this whole “Elf Scout” thing.

We’ve been loving waking up and finding where Pete is and what he has gotten into every morning. I have been documenting his journey…. and we have been having so much fun with the entire thing. We don’t overly emphasize being good or bad, naughty or nice… or that behavior will determine whether Santa will visit him… but in our opinion, the elf is a nice incentive for Gavin to make good choices and a good reminder to do the right thing.

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That Saturday we had our annual Tipton/Donellan family Thanksgiving with Jeremy’s side of the family. As always we had a great time, the food was delicious, the company (as always) was great and of course we ended up back at our house for wine and hanging out which seems to be turning into somewhat of a tradition (for the adult “kids”).

I got my fist lesson in making the ever famous Rutabagas (one of Jeremy’s most favorite Thanksgiving side dishes – think root form of mashed potatoes) and although I didn’t dive head first into really mastering the dish this year, I see myself maybe making them for him in the future (if he is good).

Sunday, after some tree stand issues Jeremy finally figured out (just another reason a fake tree is my top choice) we packed up and headed to Homestead Gardens to see SANTA and to pick out some new Christmas ornaments for the kids!

I don’t think Gavin could have been more excited. He waited in line very patiently like a big boy and ran right up to sit in the Big Man’s lap when it was finally his turn. He was in awe… and didn’t want to get down. Of course I forgot our camera so I had to improvise with the camera on my phone. Thank the Lord the iPhone has a decent camera.

We ended up getting some decent shots of the kiddos with Santa.

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While waiting in line Gavin found a Reindeer friend and wanted some pictures with him as well.

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Later that night we decorated the tree as a family. We put on some Christmas music and went to town. Gavin had A LOT of fun deciding where to put his ornaments on the tree and picking out the perfect branches (which all happened to be in the same general location).

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Our beautiful family tree and all my babies posing in front of it!

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After a pretty quick work week and yet another eye Dr appointment for me, another weekend was upon us.

Friday night we ended up at the Tomko house as my grandparents stopped in town on their way to sunny Florida for the winter. It was great catching up and hanging out. Gavin had a blast showing Nunnie and Pappy his cool new train set and Makenna got her see her great grandparents for the second time ever.

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Saturday morning was full of errands. Gavin and I headed out bright and early to get his hair cut, and to do some Christmas shopping. It was really nice being out and about with JUST him. Sometimes I miss getting to spend as much quality alone time with him as I used to and I know he really enjoyed being out with just Mommy. He was a perfect boy and on his best behavior. It is times like this I know I need to carve out more alone time for him and I to do special things together.

That afternoon after lunch and naps we headed to Baltimore for Disney’s Pirates and Princess’s Live. Gavin loved it. We went with some friends (Amy and Little Tony) and both boys really had a blast. It was perfect for their age and kept Gavin’s interest the entire time. Gavin was definitely more interested in the Pirate part of the show however and Mommy spent the majority of that time frame out in the lobby with Miss. Makenna since she seemed to find it a bit loud for her liking… life of a Mom.

All in all the show was a lot of fun. Gavin loved getting popcorn and talked about it the entire ride home!

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Sunday this past weekend was family Christmas picture day. The weather was pretty crappy but we decided to venture out anyway. I am glad we did because we got some AMAZING shots of our family and the kids.

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We are also celebrating Makenna turning 6 months old this week. I  have to stop sometimes to just relish her and love on her because she is getting so big so fast!! I don’t understand where the time has gone. I feel like she was JUST born… time really flies when your having fun.

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Stay tuned –  I am sure the rest of December will bring more fun adventures and glimpses into the holidays!!